Getting Great Sound and Stability with the Canon 5d Mark II in the Documentary Mode

(Photographs above by Paula Echevarria: pechez@gmail.com)

If you are a still photographer, you’re probably moving toward incorporating motion into your arsenal of marketable skills.  If you’re a videographer, you’re probably exploring the myriad possibilities opened up to you by the new 35mm DSLR video-capable cameras from Canon and Nikon.


Chapter Two of my continuing work in Overtown, one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods – Jovan “Bonna” Lamb finds redemption and a calling as a self-taught photographer, becoming the Eye of Overtown. This video was shot as the rig evolved.

Shooting stills, I used Nikon gear for twenty years, but switched to Canon when I went fully digital in 2004; now that I’m shooting motion I use Canon’s 5D Mark II.  Colleagues use Canon’s 7D and Nikon’s D3s and swear by it, but since I’m not sure of the technical differences I’ll not get into a comparison of one system with the other. My purpose here is to simply share my particular methodology for working around the most troubling shortcoming of the 5Dm2/7D/D700 – poor inboard audio capture.

I’ve had very good results while working with the system shown here and the 5D, and I believe my ideas will also apply to other DSLR systems as well.  If you like what you see here, please share a link with your colleagues, and post links to your work in the comments section.  I will add those to the links section of the blog.

Here are the inherent issues with shooting high quality video with the 5Dm2/7D/D700:

  • The inboard audio system on the cameras suck.  Even the folks at Canon/Nikon would probably agree with this statement, if a user’s goal is to create professional level video pieces;
  • It is virtually impossible to determine critical focus using the cameras’ built in LCD screens;
  • Handheld camera stabilization is difficult.

My system has the following advantages:

  • Critical focus at wide apertures, in my opinion essential for quality videos, is possible;
  • Four channels of audio are available for input allows sound to be captured as stereo ambient, mono shotgun, and mono wireless lav;
  • Mics are not in direct contact with the camera body, and thus capture less camera noise;
  • The wireless lav allows excellent audio capture from a subject;
  • The C bracket doubles as a shoulder mounted stabilizer.

I honestly don’t know how I would’ve produced my recent pieces with any rig other than the one I use.  I think it’s that good.

So here are the ingredients, costs, my recipe for great video, and links for your reference:

* Because the upper 90º angle doesn’t lock in place, I’ve stabilized mine with a small L bracket, purchased at a hardware store, and gaff tape.  You may not find this necessary, but it allows me to carry the entire rig in various ways without concern that something’s going to flop about.

As I said above, I’ve found this rig to be incredibly efficient for the kind of work I do – shooting and producing short documentaries suitable for web and DVD distribution.  Depending on your style of shooting and your goals, this system may not work for you.  As they say, your mileage may vary.  :)

(I do not have a fiduciary relationship with any of the companies linked to this post.)

20 Responses to “Getting Great Sound and Stability with the Canon 5d Mark II in the Documentary Mode”

  1. Maurice Rivenbark April 19, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    Great solutions and ideas Stretch. Thanks for sharing. -mo

  2. Danny Bull April 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Stretch,

    Thanks for the valuable insight on using this system.

  3. Candace Barbot April 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    Very Generous Stretch! Nicely done. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anne Hamersky April 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks, great to know I kept my Stroboframe for some reason. Congrats on your blog, too. Very stretchy indeed!

  5. SANNI ABIODUN, July 11, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    i love ur new website. Wonderful. keep it up. Very Very Stretch Photography.

  6. Greg August 2, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    Extremely helpful. Thank you.

  7. Ben Garvin January 31, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    This was a real education for me, thanks for sharing all that you know.

  8. Stretch Ledford January 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Thanks for taking time to check it out, Ben!

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    My prlobem was a wall until I read this, then I smashed it.

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  11. Good to find an expert who knows what he’s talking about!

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