Kim Beamish gets to grips with documentary shooting on Panasonic's AF101 in Cairo

 Guest post by Kim Beamish / edited by Mat Gallagher

Kim in action with the AF101
Kim in action with the AF101

Half way through 2012 my wife and I moved to Cairo, Egypt for her job. I was excited by the possibility that there was, and still is, so much interesting stuff happening after the 25 January revolution. Before I left I decided to set myself a challenge. I would move away from Sony cine cameras and towards a system that gave me greater control over what, and how, I was shooting. I wanted to choose the lenses and tell the story through the shot, using what was becoming hallowed ground, depth of field.

I started looking at everything being shot on the Canon EOS 5D and EOS 7D, films such as Danfung Dennis’s film ‘Hell and Back Again’, and even ‘Indie Gamer’ which is possibly less cinematic but just as absorbing. I started to have rather grandiose ideas of shooting with Egyptian activists as they continued the progress of the revolution. Of working almost clandestinely on stories that would show the workings behind those who had built the momentum behind the so-called Facebook revolutions here in Egypt, and following the story further into Libya, Tunisia and Palestine.

I liked the idea of something that had a great picture but could pass as a tourist camera in situations where a larger rig may be too intrusive. I knew what I wanted, I had justified it in my head and I was ready to sell my car and gear up.

When friends of mine got a Canon 7D and a 5D with a big rig, it gave me chance to give them a whirl. The rig on the 5D was bigger and heavier than anything I had used and instantly put me off. I loved the image and the range of lenses but once I had assembled the camera to shoot video and worked out a way of capturing audio, it became cumbersome and awkward to use. I didn’t feel comfortable and everything seemed to be in the wrong place, which it was. Perfectly set up for a photographer, not for a videographer.

I set up the Canon 7D so as to record audio externally, via radio mics to an H4n Zoom and just had the camera in hand, sans rig. It felt light and worked OK, but still felt odd. I couldn’t get my head around where things were and the ND filter issue became a big one. In the space of two small shoots I had destroyed my dreams. I didn’t really like either camera or the rigs, which seemed to just get bigger, more awkward and intrusive.

I wanted to be able to interchange lenses, I wanted the larger chip for the image quality and depth of field but I just wanted it in a video camera. Then I read the article by Sky News Beijing Bureau Cameraman Andy Portch on a year with the Panasonic AF101 and GH2 cameras. I was in love. The AF101 had everything I wanted: XLR inputs for audio, ND filters, it worked the same way as cameras I was used to, if I set it up right, and it had the ability to take photographic lenses giving me that hallowed depth of field. No one I knew had one, and I only had weeks before my departure to Cairo, so I bought it.

Andy Portch of Sky News with his Panasonic setup
Andy Portch of Sky News with his Panasonic setup

When the box arrived, I freaked out. Now, I can blag my way through a conversation about formats, apertures and f-stops but, really, I’m almost all Auto. After confirmation of the order came through, I thought, ‘what the hell have I done?’ I am no cameraman, or at least not trained as one. I didn’t know how to use the AF101 and it doesn’t even have any auto features I can use once I attach Canon lenses to it.

I thought about sending it back, saying there had been a mistake. That what I really wanted was a Sony Z1 or something like it. Instead, I sat down, had a beer, stared at the box and eventually stood up and said, “Stuff it. I’m doing this”. I decided to learn everything there is about this camera so I could shoot some great footage, and hopefully a great film.

Cairo is a crazy place, especially when you first arrive. Nothing happens the way you think it should and everything takes more time. There is a lot of noise and it is not always easy to get your bearings. That is also how I felt about my new camera. Nothing happened the way I thought it should, everything took more time and initially I couldn’t find anything I was looking for. I was, though, determined to make it work. It is not an easy camera to use, not for me anyway. First of all I had to find a way of using my Canon lenses. I was loath to buy Panasonic lenses, as now I was broke. So I eventually fell upon the LiveLens MFT Active Lens Mount by Redrockmicro, which easily mounted my lenses and gave me some Iris control. I spent the last of my budget on a wooden handle by WestSide AV, also mentioned in Andy’s article.

The Redrockmicro Live lens adapter to use EOS lenses on the AF101
The Redrockmicro Live lens adapter to use EOS lenses on the AF101

After six months of shooting I now know where everything is on my camera. It still takes me longer to shoot but that makes me concentrate more. After some adjustments, things are almost all in the right place. I bought a Kinotehnik EVF after finding that I was having focus issues using the built in EVF on the AF100. Again, my decision was made after reading the review by Matt Allard. Another Westside AV rig was purchased to mount radio receivers. I have up to three mics running at any one time and have found the best setup is to run them all through Sennheiser G3 Radio mics. I have lapels running into the AF100 and the RODE NTG1 shotgun running in to an H4n Zoom I have slung over my shoulder for folly and atmos.

In Cairo I didn’t find my revolutionaries, start shooting clandestinely or even taken my camera into Palestine or Libya. Instead, I started shooting a small street of traditional textile workers in Old Islamic Cairo, in a place called Chareh El Khiamiah. This 900 year old art form is now suffering a loss of new stitchers, buyers and tourists after the revolution of the 25 January 2011.

I have a long way to go before I know everything about this camera. However, I am getting some great footage, and feeling more comfortable every day. I have a new way of working, which makes me think a lot more about what I am doing, and will hopefully allow me to create a more professional looking film.

The teaser for my documentary film, The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah, is a rough edit. It introduces Hosam El Farouk, one of the characters as he talks about his life, the street and about the Tentmakers of Cairo. We are now into the final stages of a crowd funding campaign being run through http://pozible.com/tentmakers and would very much appreciate your support to take production to the next stage.

The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah – People know me as Hosam El Farouk from Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah on Vimeo.

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