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Filming Nerf Wars


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#1 Webimpulse

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Posted 18 August 2016 - 11:02 PM

Hey all! Yes, I'm a new face on these forums...please don't shoot me unless it's with a Nerf gun.  I'm looking into filming Nerf wars on a regular basis for YouTube (and no, I'm not advertising myself here - if I were I'd be posting links to my channel, which I won't here because I don't have Nerf-related content yet), mainly because there's a significant Nerf presence in my hometown of Rochester, NY, or at least significant enough to hold regular Nerf events. So yeah, I guess you could say I'm the "Cameraman" stereotype from Coop772's videos. ;)

 

Although I'm a first timer in this regard, I want to both give advice and ask for advice. Before you ask, yes I did search these forums for topics on filming Nerf wars, and while I did find one, it was a few months old and I didn't want to risk the wrath of the mods for performing forum necromancy. And you're probably wondering what advice a first timer could give? Well, read on...

 

I want to give advice on how to achieve that good balance between low-budget and high-quality. I know having yet to film a Nerf battle I might not be the best qualified, but I have done some research on this and plan on running such a setup to my first Nerf war that I film. First off, Nerf does sell - or at least used to sell - a rail mount that can fit smartphones or cameras that are the size of an iPhone 4 or 5. One such place to get the attachment is Newegg; I'd post a direct buy link but it's ridiculously long. Just search "Nerf N-Strike Elite Battle App Tactical Rail Mount Accessory" on Newegg and you should find one. Most people on here probably knew this, but I'm bringing it up for reasons I'll list below.

 

Now why a rail mount camera instead of a GoPro head mounted camera? Well, a couple reasons:

  • You might not always want to wear a head mount. They can slip off and/or feel uncomfortable.
  • You can get an iPod Touch 5th generation to act as the "camera" (just be sure to buy the version that actually has a camera) for redonk cheap off of eBay or similar. I got one for less than $120 (not including shipping) recently for this purpose and it records in 1080p just fine - note that this is for less money than I can get a brand new quality digital camera.
  • Shaky camera from being on a rail mount can be edited out in post if you have the right software.

Now this is the part where I want to ask advice...

 

I hope this doesn't sound like a silly question, but...how would one make a Nerf war video watchable and popular? Obviously editing is one key aspect...maybe applying some effects or whatnot...but along what lines should I apply editing and effects? I want to avoid the Velveeta Factor as much as possible while still having things interesting. Again, I hope it's not a silly question.

 

Please don't chase me with torches and pitchforks off the forums...I did read the rules and I'm trying my best to follow them.


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#2 DX-Robert

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Posted 19 August 2016 - 01:15 AM

Welcome to the forum!  Quality war content doesn't get the love it deserves, so it's definitely refreshing to see someone interested in this.  These are the things I would recommend, but take them with a grain of salt.  Everyone has bias, and I operate cameras as part of my job, so I definitely have bias.

GoPros, avoid them.  For one, the community is saturated with GoPros, and two, they suck, relative to the price vs what you get for them.  GoPro put a tiny, $100 quality sensor inside a $300-500 priced camera.  When your input is garbage, your output will be garbage, too.  The tiny sensor just can't handle...life.  Highs are washed out, mids are cripsy, lows are blocky, field is extremely deep, there is the fisheye distortion, no real zoom that I know of, no real manual control that I know of, audio is challenged, and then it records low bitrate/fragile footage that falls apart when you go to edit it.  Pretty much the only good features they have are small size for easy mounting and water+shockproofing.  You are wise to avoid the head mounts - the camera is proven to fly off during especially intense play, or flop down and fold over itself if you are running and come to a sudden stop.

You can hack the Mission App to hold a larger phone than it was designed for.  However, I don't trust Nerf rails to hold expensive smartphones.  Attachments can work their way off the rail - consider the strength of the plastic mechanism vs the weight of a phone as your blaster whips around a corner.  A real camera has an even worse equation - don't mount that on a rail.  Please, don't.  Even if the weight is held, it will rock and creak, creating lots of shaky footage.  Edit:  Also, smartphones aren't a good choice for a primary camera.  They have slow auto-focus and lots of motion stutter.  Take an iPhone and pan very slowly...you should see it almost step across - that's bad.  A camera should only stutter when you are asking it to do something it wasn't designed to handle, like 24 FPS tracking fast action.  Your primary war cam needs to handle smooth panning.

Duct taping a camera to the rail actually works better.  Don't do this with a nice camera, though, for good tape leaves residue.

The safest way to mount a camera is to use a universal 1/4"-20 screw and permanently affix it to the blaster.  The camera screws into that and is held securely.  You can trust a 1/4"-20 to hold cameras that cost as much as a house.

I am going to tell you something you won't want to hear - a balance between low budget and high quality just doesn't exist.  When it comes to video cameras, you get exactly what you paid for.  However, low budget and "acceptable quality" is a thing.  Everyone's idea of "high quality" varies considerably, so I'm not sure what kind of look you are going for.

One thing about quality is that just because it says "FULL HD 1080p!". "TRUE 4K!", etc. does not mean that the footage will look good.  Video quality is directly correlated with the sensor size, the amount of information you are able to handle coming off the sensor, the quality of the lens, how the shot was composed, and how it was encoded.  1080p is not 1080p is not 1080p, you have to look at the specs, the fine print, and visualize what those numbers are trying to tell you.

That said, you want to go for a high frame rate if you want to capture all the action, such as darts coming out of barrels and darts landing on players.  1080p60 is a good offering made by inexpensive, consumer gear.  If a camera only offers 720p60, walk away.  I personally recommend Panasonic V series camcorders for this, they will be in the affordable $300-700 range with broadcast quality 1080p60 and 1080p120 slow motion (interpolate to 240 FPS in-camera).  Much of my best war footage was recorded with a Panasonic v750K.  The bitrate is 2-5 times higher than GoPros with a vastly larger sensor.  There are now versions with 4K, but I have only ever seen 4K30 and below.  You want 60 FPS for fast action.

I don't recommend production cameras even if they were within your budget, as 1080p60 and above is a consumer format that they don't typically offer.  Same goes for DSLRs and mirrorless, but those cameras can give you a professional film look at 1080p24 if you decide you want to tell larger stories with your events.  Depending on your skillset, that direction could set your videos apart from the crowd.  Most footage uploaded to Youtube is borderline unwatchable.  Most cameras encode your footage as a proprietary implementation of H.264 and most people leave it like that.  When they upload, Youtube transcodes it again using its own version of H.264.  This is a lossy codec - it's like re-compressing an MP3, cancer for your eyes and ears.  Thus, you want your master to be the highest quality possible when you go to upload it, preferably not in H.264.

Another thing to note is that you want fast SD cards.  UHS-1 should be good enough.  Using cards that are too slow will do strange things to your footage, as your card struggles to keep up with the sensor.

Also, consider sitting out rounds to film from the center of the field.  My blaster-mounted footage varies from good to unwatchable, but my dedicated footage from sitting out is the best stuff I have.  This strategy allows you to get super close-ups and unusual, forward angles on players from any team.  With 1080p coming off a good sensor, you can also screenshot off the footage and create stills (rather than taking actual photos).  This will give you angles and scenes that aren't possible with still photography unless you have a burst mode.

PLEASE, please, please don't load up your videos with generic effects just for the sake of it.  Only add effects on an as-needed basis, to enhance something in your story.  Always remember that you are telling a story with your footage, the story is the bread and butter of the video, the main purpose of watching.  Raw war footage is boring, but footage loaded with dumb effects is unwatchable.  If you find that no effects are necessary, put in none.  Transitions, on the other hand, are sometimes necessary.  There are times for straight cuts and times for fades/blurs/etc.  A good exercise is to rip video from your favorite movies and mess with the effects and transitions to see how your edits affect the flow and the story.  For a rich, deep sound to your footage, consider adding several audio tracks of nothing but background noise hum, matched seamlessly to the scene.

Hopefully, at least some of this was helpful.  Feel free to PM about anything, no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to filming and editing.


Edited by Duxburian, 19 August 2016 - 01:28 AM.

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#3 The2ndBluesBro

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Posted 19 August 2016 - 05:54 AM

For what it's worth, if you still need a GoPro, buy the Xiaomi Yi 2 Action Camera. It's basically a Hero 4 for half the price, and Xiaomi is a reputable make.
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#4 shandsgator8

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Posted 19 August 2016 - 06:33 AM

Use a gimbal. This is the best Nerf video I've ever watched: 


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#5 Snoop Doggy doge

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Posted 20 August 2016 - 05:05 PM

So, for if you're doing an action cam, SJCam 4000 and 5000 are decent. Those I usually use. However, as Rob said they're kinda meh. If you get these, make sure they're the legit ones as there's lots of gopros

So, get something that looks good. Here's a folder of DSLR recording from APOC, this is a Panasonic 750K recording, and the rest of my footage is off a SJcam 4000. You want to record so your rounds look like this [1], instead of looking like this [2]. There's plenty of first person nerfing footage, and unless you edit it a lot or make highlights, its not too enjoyable unless you were there (in reference to clip 2). However something like in clip 1 someone who wasn't there can enjoy it a bit more as you can see other people, you have close ups, zoom in, and go from multiple people. You don't have to go to multiple people however, you can just follow one person but it's not always as exciting. 
All footage courtesy of DX's cameras and cards. 

Listen to Rob BTW, he does a lot of film work. Duct tape mounts do work, but I'd reccomend getting a secure mount, we're getting one too. 
However, tight budgets mean you may not be able to get mounts and securement, so duct tape is viable. Below are pictures of a mounted camcorder.

Spoiler


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#6 Webimpulse

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Posted 20 August 2016 - 09:31 PM

So I made my very first attempt at recording a Nerf war today! I will warn you: by professional standards, this video sucks. But I had to make do with the meager tools I had, and I feel confident enough in my editing abilities to say that this video has some redeeming qualities. Again, though, this is my first time, so cut me some slack. I think once I invest in some more quality equipment I can do better. At any rate, enjoy!

https://youtu.be/-k_32WWlSf0


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#7 Draconis

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Posted 21 August 2016 - 01:49 PM

What I would actually watch would be footage culled from multiple sources and spliced together as action happens, much like how Rooster Teeth produces their programs.
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[15:51] <+Noodle> titties
[15:51] <+Rhadamanthys> titties
[15:51] <+jakejagan> titties
[15:51] <+Lucian> boobs
[15:51] <+Gears> titties
[15:51] <@Draconis> Titties.
[15:52] <+Noodle> why is this so hard?


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