Documentary Maker Captures With Sony

Eric Christiansen captures a scene with his Sony XDCAM HD PDW-F350
My latest video project was more than just another documentary. It was a personal journey to help others deal with real emotional issues. "Searching for Home: Coming Back From War" takes a personal look at veterans returning from war and their search for the "home" they left behind. It chronicles their trials of assimilating back into civilian life and dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.

I knew this project would be challenging not only from an emotional perspective, but also from a technical one. For that aspect, I chose to shoot with Sony's XDCAM HD PDW-F350 optical camcorder.


I wanted to work in an HD tapeless environment, and needed a camcorder that would be able to shoot and capture high-quality images in a range of conditions—interiors, exteriors, interviews, B-roll and more. The interview segments were especially critical, since I didn't want to disturb a scene or a mood with too many extra lights. The XDCAM camcorder performed well in just natural light.

The camcorder's features, in addition to the immediate random access capabilities of the system and its Professional Disc media, were extremely beneficial.

In a documentary environment, being able to roll without worrying about cueing a tape is a tremendous benefit. It was a tremendous time-saver to be able to search through the thumbnails on the camcorder's LCD screen and instantly know what I had. That gave me great peace of mind.

Since I was operating with a two-man documentary crew, the XDCAM system let me focus more on the story I was telling without having to spend time worrying about the technology.

I knew that I was dealing with an extremely emotional subject. I didn't have time to fiddle too much, because in addition to being the cameraman, I was also playing the role of director in trying to making a major emotional connection with people. It was very comforting knowing that I could just put a disc in and go.

The XDCAM camcorder easily adapted to changing environments, from shooting interior interviews to dynamic car scenes to motorcycle traveling shots through a field in Kansas, with no set-up time required for each scene change.


We were often shooting directly into the sunlight, and when the footage got to my colorist, he was amazed. He had a very large amount of color space in which to work. The exposure latitude was incredible.

A few scenes in "Searching for Home," particularly the Iraq footage from Sean Fairburn, were shot with a Sony HDW-F900R camcorder. That footage was converted to XDCAM files via a serial digital transfer. I was able to take selects of that HDCAM footage, turn them into thumbnails, bring it into my Final Cut Pro system and output a final XDCAM copy. The XDCAM technology also saved a tremendous amount of time in post-production.

Eric Christiansen is an award-winning director and producer of documentaries. His credits include projects for the Discovery Channel, TLC, PBS, an Imax film and many national commercials. He may be contacted

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