Videoing Babajack

Occasionally, rarely, you see a band who are so good you wonder how you could never have heard of them before. BabaJack are one of those. Singer and percussionist Becky Tate has a mesmerizing presence on stage, Trevor Steger on guitar and blues harp sounds and plays like he was born on a delta somewhere. Together and with a hard hitting rhythm section their music has an obviously blues base, the raw kind of blues that I enjoy the most but with elements of folk and, to my ears, something of Africa about it but I couldn’t pin that down.

For some reason they bring to mind one of my favourite bands, Moriarty, a French group who are country with an air of the Berlin cabaret about them. It’s no that they are like one another musically at all but that they bring an air of unexpectedness with them. It’s blues/ country/ folk but not as we know it, Jim! I suppose what I am saying is that they have that rarest of attributes, originality.

The Boom Boom Club in south London, where I go regularly, is promoted by the saintly Pete Feenstra who in my opinion ought to get one of those OBE or CBE things that the government hand out to people who have served the community. Pete’s services to live music in London can’t be over-estimated. This is a guy who turns out to see a show he has promoted on a wet, cold February night, because he genuinely loves the music and the musicians he promotes. If Pete was getting fat banker’s bonuses for his efforts, I don’t think there’s a music fan in London who would object.

To photography. Where video is concerned, I am low down the learning curve. After much messing about I just shoot Full High Definition (FHD 1920×1080) video at 25 frame per second with a shutter speed of 1/50th second. The lighting level at the club is pretty low and the lighting itself basic and luridly coloured.

For stills, ISO 1600 and 125th at f2.8 are the order of the day as with this shot, so that gives an idea of the lighting.

For this video, I used the 35-100 f2.8 Panasonic zoom on my GX7. I used the GX7 rather than my GH3 because it has focus peaking and if the subject moves around a lot (and I don’t know this band and how they move), I like the aid given by the peaking. I’ve tried continuous autofocus but it gives those spasms of racking backwards and forwards and look thoroughly amateur. I’m hoping that the GH4 improves on that with its DFD (depth from defocus) information.

So, here I’m using manual focus, setting focus on Becky Tate and then moving across to Trevor on guitar and leaving focus where it is. For myself, I prefer a slightly off focus image to that awful racking in and out.

One thing to note here, I am not a young man and have somewhat shaky hands (thank you, English beer and French wine). The stabilization disguises that to an amazing degree and makes a tripod almost unnecessary. Having said that, I’d much prefer a tripod mounted camera but the denizens of blues clubs might find that a little annoying.

The trade off that I see here is between my 14-140mm zoom and the 12-35/ 35-100 combo. I am watching a band playing a song and videoing it all the way though. If I have to swap lenses, all continuity is lost. I am pretty sure that in the future I will use the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 for my music videos. When lens changes are a no-no, it’s the go-to lens. I’m entirely happy to use it at full aperture since its good performance is not greatly enhanced by stopping down.

This lead me to a disturbing thought. When I go though my stuff on LightRoom, a disproportional number of shots are made on the 14-140mm. Do I need another lens? Could I do everything I want with just this lens? Ditch my f2.8 zooms? My fast primes? Probably but occasionally not. Could I live with just the 14-140mm? My disturbing thought returns. I probably could.

Boiling it down, I probably could but I don’t have to. That’s the point, isn’t it?

8 thoughts on “Videoing Babajack

  1. Dan

    Hi Dave, thanks for writing about this – it contains info on the just the area I’m researching.

    I’m going to be videoing a performance in similar levels of lighting. I had a practice run last week using a Canon 7D and a 17-55mm f2.8 lens. I decided not to use my Panasonic GX7 as all of my faster lenses are primes and the performers move around a lot. However, when I look to make the “real” video I’ll look to upgrade to a new lens and will probably spring for a GH4.

    Anyway, you mentioned that you’d look to using the 14-140mm zoom in future. I’d like to know how things worked out as this would be a candidate lens to buy. Does it work well in the light levels similar to your peformance.? I take it that you need to push the ISO up. What was the noise like?

    Ideally, I’d experiment myself – but it’s not really possible to get a loaner lens in New Zealand to test with, and rentals are exhorbitant. Ideally, I’d like to have the GX7 operating as a second camera by someone else, so would the quality of the GX7 and GH4 be roughly matching for 1080p video? My trickiest problem was getting the right exposure levels. The lighting wasn’t even, so as the performers moved around they’d sometime get blown out. I’m guessing I’d be best to underexpose, but as I said, I won’t get the opportunity to experiment.

    Appreciate your thoughts


    1. Post author

      Hi Dan. sorry to take so long to reply, I’ve had my books to update and various other things.

      Yes, I’ll use my 14-140 for the simplest of reasons, that it covers all the focal lengths I might need. It’s not ideal because of the relative slowness but when you are shooting a music video live you can’t change lenses without screwing up the continuity. I’m not a video expert but ideally I’d set up my GX7 on a tripod with the 12-35 f2.8 set to give a general view and just let it run while I shoot individuals with the 35-100 zoom. then just edit them together. Unfortunately, among a mass of heaving bodies, you can’t do that.

      I find I’m shooting at ISO 3200 with the 14-140, 1600 with the f2.8 zooms . It’s a music video so although there is a bit of noise a (a)I find it personally within acceptable levels and (b) some noise on a music video adds to the atmosphere.

      The stabilisation works very well on the 14-140 under these circumstances so even me with my shaky old mitts can get a steady result without a tripod. The GH4 and GX7 have overlapping video settings, 1080p at 20mbs works well for YouTube, I find. If both are set the same they should match up well enough.

      Exposure, the lighting changes even when the performer moves 12 inches but I find that auto exposure copes very well. Manual is just too slow and tricky under the circumstances. Some brightness variation is acceptable but at my club it is just too much.

      Focusing, both cameras are superb on auto but mikes and stuff get via the way and put focus off. I am reconciled to the idea that with video, manual focusing is the only way under tricky circumstances. I have to say that something I thought was a gimmick, focus peaking, is useful beyond measure and I’d not want to be without it now. Live and learn! Hope some of this is useful, Dan. If there’s anything else, get back to me.

      1. Dan

        Hi David

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my questions. I did get a GH4 in the end, and I’m looking forward to videoing the proceedings.


  2. Bob Lorrimer

    Thank-you David for your well informed blog. I am on the cusp of changing all my Canon 7d KiT and moving entirely to Gh2 (which I own) plus a Gh4. As ever it is something of a stretch to see all the old kit going but for my Video purposes the weight of audio, cams tripods and lenses are simply overpowering me.

    Inevitably Video requires different disciplines to achieve a higher level of polish.

    In terms of music videos different camera angles are required to add vitality and from the artists’s perspective a high level of audio reproduction.

    So in an ideal world…get the sound right and then film the same song from a number of different angles straight through without a break. Failing that TWO cameramen.

    Or, you could do it like this:

    My 7d goes this morning.


    1. Post author

      It’s always a bit of a chance when you change a system but you’re in a good position since you know both systems. I love the video. It’s witty rather than a jokey and I think that’s why it sustains interest all the way through.

      The bits and bobs I’ve done of bands have taught me how valuable it would be to have one camera running all the way through a song on a GV so that the close-ups could be cut in with it. It strikes me that just as it requires a years doing stills to get up to speed, it is the same but even more complicated with video. I just don’t have those years or the time available so will have to make do with what I do now and what I can find time to learn.

      But on other projects, like yours, thought and wit come first. That’ll always be more important than technique. In that video, interestingly, it is the very static nature of the camera work that makes it work. If you were wearing a dress and did a long or 3/4 shot for the female sequences, the funniness would fade because the viewer’s imagination will conjure up far sillier image of the ‘girl’ singer than any concrete image could.

      1. Bob Lorrimer

        Thank-you David…filming does present something of a ‘learning curve’ not least because of the complexities of the editing ‘software’ and the number of shots or clips it requires to make a modest film.

        DSLR as Video was a revelation for myself as an ‘amateur’ as for the first time we could use Video in a way that approached filming.

        However…you will know better than most that it is not the camera that ‘makes’ the photograph.

        As an irrelevant foot note: I was photographed by Armstrong Jones when I was a small boy….he was apprenticed to “BARON” the society photographer. They were in Leicestershire to photograph my Mother. BARON sent the luckless Armstrong Jones out into the snow to ‘shoot the boys’.

        I cannot recall everseeing the images…..maybe there was too much ‘grain’ !


  3. Bob Fairbairn


    I like your process of developing your skills in video. (You already have a lot of chops in that area). The GH4 is going to be a very interesting tool in your arsenal!

    I too have the same issues with the “stable” of lenses I shoot / don’t shoot. I cannot seem to eliminate any of the less blessed ones…. I am lusting after more….


    1. Post author

      Yes, I find video interesting but there’s such a lot to learn and also, whereas with stills you can just go out and shoot off the cuff, video seems to require story planning.

      In the end I like videoing bands and making my own reviews but anything further into the area of creative video means almost starting again. What I mean is that if you shoot a still of a lovely sunset, you can show it around and people will appreciate it at a glance. Whereas a video of a sunset takes time to watch and you feel, ‘very nice but it was a sunset, so what?’

      Bob, I hate getting rid of lenses. It’s that you never know when you might need them, isn’t it? And they are just so interesting. You just want to put them on the camera and see what they can do. What’s especially bad with MFT is that so many damned lenses will fit it. I’d love to play with some old Leica lenses on my MFTs. I keep meaning to mess about with some pinhole pictures too. At least pinholes are free!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *