Going into this trip, we knew nothing of the circumstances except this one piece of advice from the members the group we were following: "Nothing is for sure in Honduras." For Luke and I, this was already something we had come to terms with because we actually didn't have any idea what to expect when it came to filming or anything related to our gear. We didn't know if we would have electricity (we sort of did), we didn't know what would get confiscated (nothing too important did) on the way there or back home, and we didn't know how the people of Honduras would view us with a largely unfamiliar camera rig and some white guy (Luke) talking about what he is seeing and experiencing. So yes, to us nothing was for sure in Honduras so far, but we weren't even there yet.
Before I go into my planning process for all the gear I brought to Honduras, I'm going to explain my mindset. The things that I knew were this: we would have unreliable electricity which meant I wouldn't be able to charge batteries reliably or backup footage reliably. Another concern was the weather, which was also completely out of our perceivable control as clouds form within 15 minutes and pour rain in Honduras. Knowing all of these uncertainties is a huge advantage going into a third world country with the goal of filming a documentary. It is almost like a battle: will the circumstances of the environment trample my gear, or will my (hopefully) foolproof plan hold the front lines of Honduras? I could only plan and hope everything would work out, and that is exactly what I did the morning we left at 3 Am for the airport.
*all equipment mentioned is not meant to be a brand plug, its just what I chose to bring for my own personal reasons. Links are given for the purpose of anyones own personal interest, nothing more.
Everything is based around the camera of choice. For me, my mindset was that I wanted the smallest possible camera rig with the highest quality that would suffice for what we wanted to do. After doing some research I settled on the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera. First of all it cant really get any smaller and lighter than this camera. Second, it shoots in HD, has a super 16mm sensor and MFT lens mount. All of these features lend to the camera being compact and fast. I knew that I would have this rig on my person in some way (being the sole cameraman) for at least 7 hours a day, so I needed it to be lite. Thankfully Luke was able to film, which was a great help. Knowing that I would basically be guerrilla shooting for most of the trip, I wanted one lens. I chose the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens. With this lens I could get all the shots I thought I would need, and just in case I got a MFT to F mount adapter to use any of my Nikon lenses I brought along for my Nikon D800. For the rig, I knew I wanted something shoulder mounted as this is the best way to go if you are filming people talking and walking, or pulling teeth. After some tireless research I settled on the Tilta ES-T13 cage for the BMPCC. It was my plan that I would then attach this to the Redrock Micro Shoulder Mount which has carbon fiber rails to keep the weight down. I also brought a Sony Handycam handheld camcorder which proved to be extremely useful for certain shots. Along with the Sony, I brought my Nikon D800 as backup for filming. So if all else failed, I would have two other cameras with sufficient lenses and batteries to at least complete the filming, if not ideally. This is extremely important as any filmmaker/photographer will tell you that you need backup cameras.
At this point, I was beginning to fight with my budget for the trip. I wanted the best possible gear, relatively, that I could find. But as we all know, there is always better gear, and usually we are most creative when we function within some form of limitation. And it is that limitation that forces us to truly be creative and create something we never knew we had in us. This, for me, is when you really realize your potential: when it is almost hard to recognize your own work, but you just cant help to be proud of it.
Back to the rig. Batteries. What was I going to do about the need to film literally all day while also not being around anything relatively electric. Since the batteries for the Pocket Cinema last less than an hour, I knew that any amount I could purchase just wouldn't do. Theres no point in changing them out that often, and then there's the concern of charging that many every night for the next day. It simply wouldnt be possible. I ended up settling on two IDX Endura Cue batteries that supposedly would let me shoot for around 8 hours. they ended up being better than expected and not once did I run out of battery life, this was a huge relief to me during the shoot in Honduras. Attaching the battery to the rig was somewhat of a challenge. I put the battery in a large lens case, then I zip-tied that to the rig. A bit of improvisation.
In terms of audio, I wanted to keep it simple. I knew that I wanted a shotgun mic on my rig recording at all times to get the dialogue of the subject I was filming, as well as to capture the environment. I put a Rode VideoMic on the rig and the Rode SmartLav Mic for Smartphones on Luke and various interview subjects. I was skeptical about the Rode smartphone lavalier but the mic and software were top notch and ended up working out great.
Onto photography. I've always loved photography more than videography, but I'm biased as I've simply just done more of it than the latter. I went into this trip with the mindset that I would take very few photos and mainly be focusing almost entirely on filming. It turns out I did focus entirely on filming, but I still found time to take photos. I have never experienced photography the way I did on this trip (these thoughts are for another post). Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I'm glad I brought all my favorite gear to take pictures with. First, my nikon D800 which I've had for about six years now. I have faith in these cameras, it hasn't let me down yet. I also brought my nikon FM3a film camera with me because it doesn't need a battery to function and its a lot smaller and lighter than my D800, meaning I can basically have it on me at all times if I'm compelled to take a frame. I use almost all manual focus/manual aperture lenses because they work on both digital and film cameras. I brought my favorite lens, the Nikon 50mm 1.2, a Zeiss 35mm F2, and the Nikon 14-24mm 2.8. I switched out the lenses as I needed to. I ended up shooting 6 rolls of film and about 100GB of digital photos.
I may expand this blog post if there is anyone who is more interested in a more detailed description.
- Dale Booher