Prides cometh before a fall….

Sleeping prides are no problem to pick off with your DSLR video rig.

Okay. You name the parable, metaphor, or simile that involves overconfidence and overweaning ambition combined with lack of experience, and you can put it in the lede of this post about my foray into being a fulltime videographer on my recent safari through Tanzania.

By day two, I had visions of myself in a second career as a cameraman for Wild Kingdom. I pretty much went through the week like that…until I got home and really looked at my work. Ay carumba! What can I say….those were just delusional dreams brought on by the strength of the sub-Saharan sun!

Oh sure, I could harp on the fact that video-enabled DSLRs have a long way to go in convenience and handling before they become viable machines for documentary work (if you have actors who can do several takes of every shot, the image quality of the video from these machines completely overshadows their handling shortcomings).

And there’s nothing like multiple takes to help cover a myriad of handling mistakes, too.

It’s no mystery that the videos Nikon and Canon are using to promote their video-enabled SLRs are more like short movie features or commercials, with multi-man crews, rather than documentary projects. As Hilary says, “it takes a village” to raise a child. To that I’d like to add that “it takes a crew” to make great video.

But if you have baboons who don’t take direction, or lions who march to the beat of their own drummers, you are in deep doo-doo if you have only one chance to capture this video action on the move with a DSLR.

Hit the jump for a rundown of the things that plagued me, and why I won’t be giving up on DSLR video anytime soon!

Photo courtesy Ben Chelf

1. Slow focus—focusing off the LCD is still glacial compared to through the lens. Using a magnifier like the Hoodman Hood Loupe, with Cinema Straps to hold it in place, is better than nothing. But the straps are clunky, interfere with access to necessary camera controls. By the end of the safari, the HoodLoupe fell apart in my hands while trying to adjust the diopter. Apparently, the Cinema Straps were unscrewing the interior optics every time I adjusted the diopter with the straps in place.

If I had to do it over again, I’d look at a more stable mounting scheme for the Loupe, like Bruce Dorn’s excellent adaption of the Hood Loupe at his IDC site.  Expensive, but much more durable than those silly Cinema Straps.

2. Mirror flops—The Cinema Straps were always snagging the odd button here and there, and the first generation VR on my 80-400mm seemed not to like Live View either, and consequently, there were times when my camera arbitrarily flopped out of LiveView so often that my Land Rover mates thought I was trying to record some kind of new hip-hop rhythm.

3. Imperceptible camera movement—With an effective focal length of 600mm, even a beanbag supported 80-400mm VR picked up the movement every time I or my Land Rover mates breathed, focused, or tripped a shutter. Course I didn’t really see that in the LCD. But when I got the clips up on a 30″ Cinema Display, that slight movement plagued most of what I shot! Nothing says, “I’m an amateur videographer” more than camera movement.  Oh vanity, thy name starts with a capital “K.”!

4. Polluted audio—Not the camera’s fault. When you’re in a Land Rover with 3 other shooters, you’re going to get “oohs,” and “ahs” and shutter clicks more often than you’re going to get rhino grunts and elephant belches, even with the aid of a great little shotgun mic like the Sennheiser MKE-400.

But….and this is a big, elephant-sized but. Video is soooooo cool for behavior and capturing more of the scene. I’m not giving up.

I’m just lowering my expectations for a while. If Malcolm Gladwell’s theory about the need for 10,000 hours of practice to master a craft is accurate, I figure I’ve already knocked a whopping 180 seconds off that after just a week in gorgeous Tanzania.

Hey, it’s a start…..

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Bob,
    Have you tried the 70-200 VR II with a TC-17E II? I went that way while I wait for Nikon to update the 80-400VR.
    Charlie Flynn
    p.s. We love the 2010 calendar.

    1. I think that Charlie is right. I also have the first generation 80-400mm and I have taken it to Africa 3 times. It offers the advantage of size, but I haven’t been thrilled with my wildlife photos with that lens. I have a 70-200mm f2.8 (1st generation) and I think that I will use it on my next Africa trip with a 1.4 and the new Nikon 2.0 teleconverter.

  2. Why not just a regular video Camera?

    1. Jim: A brilliant and utterly obvious solution! But had I done that, I couldn’t have tried to peddle it to Nikon. I might have actually gotten good video, but I couldn’t have sold it! Not that I can sell the stuff I got. But that was my so-called plan. Bob

      1. I personally feel that they are putting too much on these DSLR”s. But that just my opinion.

        1. Jim: you may be right, but the confluence is coming! BK

  3. Wait… what? There’s a 70-200 II? II! I really did not need to know that!

    1. Yes, there is, and it’s said to be great…I thought the first one was pretty spectacular, but this one is supposed to be better. Bob

      1. Better? Wow! Like you said the first one is sooo sweet! It’s a nice weight, speedy focusing, VR does its job…etc.

        Well then, guess I’ll go do a little research and see what’s what. (Can you tell I’m not much of a tech kind of guy?) ;^}

  4. Simba: Who’s that over there?
    Nala: Don’t know.
    Simba: Is that Beverly and Dereck?
    Elsa: Nah… some dude from the States.
    Simba: Cool. I’m going back to sleep.
    Nala: Me too.
    Elsa: Zzzzzzzz!

    1. Simba: But wait, he’s trying to shoot video with a still camera.
      Nala: Seriously?
      Simba: No joke.
      Nala: Well, I’ve just gotta raise my head and get a look at this cockeyed optimist.
      Simba: Yeah, you go crazy. But please pass the gnu entrails…..

      1. Elsa: Trying to sleep here!

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