Production Insights – Making TV Politics Look Good with Large Sensor Cameras – KLARTEXT – Part 1

Production Insights is a new irregular cinema5D series, highlighting actual paid productions on which modern camera and production gear was used. We are talking about real-world issue-solving on real-world sets with real-world clients.

As a director of photography, there aren’t many chances in the TV world to help shape an entirely new program and start something from scratch. All too often, we have to pick up where others left off, or reiterate the same style or concept repeatedly. TV is hardly a medium of innovation these days, at least in the field of news and reporting. Narrative fiction is a whole different story altogether.


Around eighteen months ago, private TV channel ATV asked me to come aboard a new politics talk show concept in Austria. The show, “Klartext”, roughly translates as “frankly spoken” and is the brainchild of presenter Martin Thür. Martin and director Christoph Woska wanted to try something different and innovative.

klartext_logoMost politics talk shows on TV, whether at home in Austria or abroad, are shot in the same studio location time and again. They are often roundtable formats, meaning you have a bunch of people with massively different viewpoints on any given matter sitting at one table. All too often resulting in a blur of blabber for the viewers at home, as a moderator tries to prevent their guests from talking over each other. As we all know, it’s impossible to understand a word said on TV if people talk over each other. It’s annoying to watch and a major cause of frustration whilst watching political debates on TV.

Here’s one episode from season 2, dealing with jihadists in Europe. Unfortunately the video quality on the ATV website isn’t great, so I embedded one of the individual interviews from Klartext YouTube channel (just not the full episodes). And apologies, the series is in German only:

Martin wanted to switch to a one-to-one format, shot on location – each interview in a different setting, often having three people interviewed in individual locations per twenty-five-minute show. This gives the show a unique touch, as the location can change so that it is related to the interviewee and or interview topic. In fact, Klartext has built constant change of scenery into its format, which fundamentally influences the scope of any given interview.

Martin specifically approached me because of my experience with larger format interchangeable lens cameras and my focus on delivering a higher end “film look” to the projects that I handle. Their typical TV cameras are the classical broadcast ENG shoulder cameras, which we all know deliver the typical “newsy look”. Of course, this is something I never specialized in or was particularly interested in shooting.

Now, realizing a concept like this in a tight TV type budget and under time pressure for a weekly half-hour show wasn’t an easy task. Usually, we have to shoot at least two interviews in one shooting day – sometimes far apart geographically – which makes planning the shoot hard for the production people. Occasionally, the show must be edited and go on air on the same day. This happens quite regularly if there is an election date imminent, like in recent shows for the Vienna election, with the lead candidates for each party.

4 Cameras, 3 different types, external recorders for DNxHD

Due to the tight budget and shooting days that are “all over the place”, I had to go with camera setups that would be available on short notice. They also had to be replaced relatively easily, if other jobs coincided with Klartext shoots where one of my cameras was needed, for example.


In total there are usually four cameras, three of them manned (with the exception of “special” episodes with more or fewer cameras, which I’ll speak more about below). The two close-ups (of the interviewed politician and of presenter Martin Thür) are shot with a Sony FS7 and a Canon C300. There is a “moving” Sony A7s (either on a dolly, a small jib arm, or a Freefly MoVi M5, depending on the location and requirements of each individual interview), and a second unmanned A7s that shoots a static fall-back wide shot.

Why all these different cameras? As mentioned above, a very practical reason: because I own them and have them available at most times. Using multiple cameras also allows us to find a rental at short notice, rather than having to look for one specific model.

Unfortunately, all of the cameras need to record 1080 50i, as this is a technical requirement of the TV channel ATV for their own productions. I would prefer to shoot in 25p simply to get rid of the “newsy” movement that 50i injects into the production, but it’s currently not possible and we have to live with it.

Because of the fast turn-around that is required for the show (the show sometimes airs on the night of the shooting day) and the fact that we can’t shoot “direct to tape” because the interviews are shortened in the edit, we have to deliver in the editing format DNxHD straight from the cameras in order for the editor to ingest all the footage straight into AVID after we wrap.

Shooting a special episode in Athens, Greece, following their near-collapse of their economy in summer 2015.

Shooting a special episode in Athens, Greece, following their near-collapse of their economy in summer 2015.

For this, we are using various external Atomos recorders, among them the Shogun and Ninja Assassin, which can also serve as small preview monitors. We label all of the SSDs with camera names, so the editor knows right away which camera is which when transferring the footage. All the cameras still record internally for backup, and the two main cameras get fed the two audio tracks from the audio recordist’s mixer into their two XLR ports simultaneously. This is another way of having a backup of the audio recording, in case there is a problem on one of the cameras.

External recorders never come without problems. If I had a choice, I would not use them. The problems lie not so much with the recorders themselves, but with the unreliability of HDMI wires and connectors. HDMI is terrible and was never intended as a professional standard, yet cameras like the Sony a7S and many others only have HDMI as a video output – and even HDMI micro. If you think that normal HDMI is bad, HDMI micro truly is the devil. The connectors get loose or break easily and you absolutely NEED to find a way to make the connector more reliable. This is one of the biggest reasons to use a camera cage (click here to read our extensive Sony a7S cage review or here the new Sony a7S II cage review) or something similar.

My preferred solution is the LOCKCIRCLE LockPort a7M2 Kitwhich transforms micro HDMI into a proper HDMI port, which is much more reliable. For me, this is an absolute must-have for any user of Sony a7 series cameras (and many other small cameras, such as the GH4 which come with the dreadful micro HDMI connector).

The LOCKCIRCLE Lockport a7M2 Kit on a Kessler Crane Pocket Jib Traveler .... the only way to make an external recorder / preview monitor work with Micro HDMI

The LOCKCIRCLE Lockport a7M2 Kit on a Kessler Crane Pocket Jib Traveler …. the only way to make an external recorder / preview monitor work with Micro HDMI

Unfortunately, the Lockport device is incompatible with most cages except for the LOCKCIRCLE Birdcage. It’s a very basic but useful cage which gives you mounting options for things like external recorders.

Convergent Design recently started shipping their Apollo 4-channel video recorder (you’ll find our news post explaining the device here), which is a variety of their popular Odyssey 7Q+ recorder (which we have reviewed here). A paid upgrade is available to get the Apollo functionality. I’m looking into switching the production to using the Apollo recorder to record all four video sources simultaneously into one device, instead of four Atomos recorders. However, we first have to wait for the DNxHD update to be released for the Apollo, plus convert one of the two HDMI signals from the two a7S cameras to SDI, because the Apollo only comes with one HDMI-in (and four SDI-in).

I will review the Convergent Design Apollo as soon as possible on one of our shoots for season 4 of Klartext.

Matching cameras

This definitely is an odd mix of two different cameras, but we have figured out a way to make it work – it admittedly took a while and on some episodes we didn’t manage a 100% even look that we were happy with after. There was a lot of trial and error in the beginning. It’s understandable, though, as you don’t always get everything right first-time on fast turnaround TV content.

Matching different camera brands and models ... hard to do, but not impossible.

Matching different camera brands and models … hard to do, but not impossible.

We have wrapped season 3 of the show in November, where we have used a camera color settings and color grading workflow which are feasible for the fast turnaround that the show requires, with virtually no time for color grading in post-production.

Together with a colorist, we ran a series of color tests on each camera and figured out picture profiles for each camera model that would make them look as close as possible, using DaVinci Resolve and Avid Media Composer. For the fine-tuning, our colorist created LUT presets that could be easily applied to the Avid editing workflow at the channel headquarters where they are editing the show.


Inside a conference room in the Austrian Parliament

Inside a conference room in the Austrian Parliament



In most cases, our lighting setup needs to be as simple as it is effective. We generally shoot daylight (5600K) in 95% of all locations. My gaffer, Bernhard Rieber, uses different sizes of HMI’s with chimeras in front for the two crossed-out key lights, and most of the time we go for a slightly harder HMI as a kicker. Of course, lighting is the one area where I often wish we had more time for refinement, however, this is exactly where the circumstances and turnaround time of a TV shoot simply do not allow us to “go as crazy” as on a corporate, commercial or narrative shoot.



Together with director Christoph Woska, we decided from the beginning that in addition the “special film look” that we figured out, we wanted to create a high production value with the limited resources we have available. We consciously decided to “see the set” every now and then. We didn’t want to pretend that there was nothing going on behind the scenes of these interviews, quite the contrary – being a news-type report program, we want the audience to be aware of the artificial environment that is created – simply by putting cameras up and choosing angles and perspectives carefully.

That is a departure from a film-type look that is immediately associated with narrative fiction because of our viewing habits. While we wanted the film look, the film feeling of “fakeness” wasn’t the intention, which is why we are grounding the audience in reality by showing them the surroundings of the set.


Special episodes – in Part 2:

In part two of this post, I will write about some special episodes that required specific setups to the production and camera setups.

Specifically, I will write about an episode in which we accompanied Syrian refugees across the Serbian-Hungarian border, with XLR audio transmitters recording straight into two Sony a7S cameras. The challenge was to stay undercover and embedded with the refugees without attracting too much attention to us.

A series of other special episodes were the candidates for the Vienna elections in late 2015, shot with even 5 cameras, one of them a C300 on a large crane, plus utilizing a large TableConnect multitouch device for Martin to present the candidates with facts during the discussion.

Another special episode includes the Paris Attacks episode, recorded only days after the terrible terror attacks in Paris in late 2015. On short notice we managed to organize a local team to man the additional cameras.

More about all that (including embedded episodes) in the next part of this series.


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Kevin Alexander Reply
Kevin Alexander February 20, 2016

Great stuff, Nino. Can’t wait to read the next one 😀

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 21, 2016

Thanks Kevin, appreciated!

Apostolos Nikolaidis Reply
Apostolos Nikolaidis February 20, 2016

Thanks for that! Really informative.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 21, 2016

You are welcome Apostolos, thanks for reading!

Fabian Wenninger Reply
Fabian Wenninger February 20, 2016

Danke fuer die infos! Das is echt top!

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 21, 2016

Bitte gerne Fabian :)

Dan Buck Joyce Reply
Dan Buck Joyce February 20, 2016

Politics don’t deserve big sensors.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 21, 2016

Every subject matter deserves a good look, EVEN politics ;)

Stefan Haselgruber Reply
Stefan Haselgruber February 20, 2016

Super!!! Danke für den Einblick =)

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 21, 2016

Sehr gerne Stefan!

Derek McCabe Reply
Derek McCabe February 20, 2016

great article Nino. I have been rethinking my lighting gear, currently I use LEDs. I like the use of softboxes for people lighting, and currently I have not found a good solution with 512 LEDs… yet for HDMI lights there are plenty of good options. I need a four HDMI kit that is easy to travel with, let alone the cost. But I feel like pro lighting is almost more important than the cameras these days.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 21, 2016

I assume you mean HMI lights? Lighting has always been more important than the camera, good light makes the biggest difference. HMI’s are rarely cheap nor light though, so they are not always easy to travel with if you refer to flying and such.

Derek McCabe Reply
Derek McCabe February 26, 2016

Yes, i meant HMI :) i also shoot stills as well on my shoots (web ecommerce clients)… So I also have to lug around 4 monolights anyway, and stands and softboxes. I went with LED for video mainly for no heat as well as easy to run on battery. But for fleshtones, i am now looking for better quality light. Color rrndition is now more important to me than travel convenience, but I dont like to rent, i prefer to own all my gear so I know exactly what my setup works. For travel, anything with tubes is just too difficult, so Kino type lighting is out. Anyone recommend a 4-5 light kit for female cosmetic type portraits on video, that can survive airport travel. I currrntly use extra large Pelican cases, and i send them UPS Ground when I have enough advance time. Otherwise airlines crush me on oversize and overweight fees. I travel from NY to San Francisco to Los Angeles monthly. I cant afford to have gear in each city.

 Matt Grover Reply
Matt Grover February 22, 2016

Hey Nino, very interesting post, looking forward to part 2, always good to hear about actual real world work. Am curious on the camera matching side of things, you mention that you had a LUT created for dropping into the Avid, but on location with the cameras, what sort of profiles have you ended up going with? Did you shoot Log or tweak the REC709 profiles?

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 29, 2016

Thanks Matt! We ended up using non-log profiles, and the profiles we are using are already quite saturated, but they work well for this purpose. We tweaked what’s already there.

Mel Feliciano February 23, 2016

Nino, I commend you for starting this new series. Many times we get so caught up in reading news about future products and watching unboxing videos that we forget that these are tools and what we do with them is what really matters. Thank you for sharing this practical knowledge. This is really “where the rubber meets the road”.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 29, 2016

Thanks Mel! Your comment is much appreciated. Yes I thought it’s time to start something that is closer to production. These posts are much more work though, but I’ll do my best to find the time to blog about productions like this one more regularly. There is a lot to share.

Mage Tv February 25, 2016

THIS was as inspirational as it was instructional!! Thanks highly for the article! Excited for part2!!

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 29, 2016

Thanks Mage TV! Part 2 will be published later this week.

 Daniel Abrahamsson Reply
Daniel Abrahamsson February 25, 2016

I suggest you wait with getting the Apollo.. We have the 7Q+ with the quad-software and it’s anything BUT stable, so far. It’s buggy and crasches ALOT I’m afraid… =/

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 29, 2016

Good to know, thanks Daniel! Will have to test it out first anyway.

Nick Lam Reply
Nick Lam February 26, 2016

Why did you choose to mix an FS7 and C300 together especially if each are opposite over the shoulder shots of the talents?

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner February 29, 2016

As mentioned above, it’s simply down to availability – I can guarantee that both cameras will be available even if I get a short notice shoot tomorrow, otherwise I would have to buy to exact same models, which makes limited sense for me on a smaller budget production like this. We found that opposite over the shoulder shots make most sense for the opposing cameras, it was visually much more different when we tried to mix them up differently (e.g. use the C300 for one of the wides).

Nick Lam Reply
Nick Lam March 1, 2016

What is your workflow to get their skin tones to match?

Sandro E March 13, 2016

Very good article, thanks for sharing.

Senthil Ratnasabapathy May 29, 2016

Ein sehr interessantes Post.