Four ‘Must Haves’ for Better Video

For those of you who have been reading along with these video DSLR posts and thinking about getting better with your videos, I’m going to suggest your basic kit. Keep in mind all you really need is the body and lens and you can shoot a video with sound but you can raise the quality of your video with just a few extra accessories.
To produce a video you’ll be proud to share with your family and friends, you need 4 basic things…a tripod with a fluid head, a neutral density filter, a focusing loupe and a way to collect good, clean audio.
Nothing shouts out “amateur” in a video quicker than a shaky camera. It’s so distracting and something that photographers going from a still background to video have the most difficulty with. The only time a still shooter needs to worry about camera shake is when the shutter speeds go lower. With video however it’s a different story. Doesn’t matter what shutter speed you use…the video will be shaky if you don’t support the camera.
A tripod with a good fluid head will give you the stability you need and also the ability to pan in a smooth and controlled way. If you never plan to pan, then of course just your standard stills tripod will work but by not panning, you are really limiting the potential you have with moving pictures. Adding camera movement especially to a static scene does wonders using a good fluid head.
There are many different tripods and fluid heads to choose from. They can be very expensive but generally worth the extra cost. Buy the most expensive tripod/fluid head you can afford because eventually you will upgrade to the more expensive one.
Neutral Density filters
As still photographers, you are probably aware of these. You may even have a few around especially if you’re a landscape photographer. They come in handy to give you the ability to use super slow shutter speeds at high noon on a sunny day to add movement to that waterfall you’re shooting.
Anyway, with video, if you want smooth flowing moving images, you need to set your shutter with what is called the 180 Rule. Your shutter speed should be twice the frame rate you are shooting. If you choose 24p as your frame rate, then you should set your shutter speed to twice that or 1/50th sec since 1/48th is not available. So, if you are shooting video outdoors, you need a ND filter to block some light to prevent overexposure. Indoors, it’s rarely a problem but outdoors on a sunny day, it’s essential. Standard ND filters work but the best for video are variable ND filters. These allow you to dial in the ND power which is much more convenient than changing filters all the time or apertures as the light changes. What you end up doing is setting your aperture and as the light changes, you simply adjust the ND filter.
Two companies make the variable density filters : Singh Ray and LightCraft Workshop. If you have an unlimited budget, get the Singh Ray however the LightCraft Fader ND is almost as good and way, way cheaper. I own one and I’m very happy with it for video. For stills, not so great as it can produce some irregular shifting of color and sharpness which can show in stills but you’ll never notice in video.
With one of these ND filters, you can shoot with wide open apertures on a sunny day and get that shallow depth of field that can be so effective in a film.
Focusing Loupe
This is essentual if you are shooting a moving subject outdoors and especially at wide open apertures. If all of your shooting is indoors and with static subjects, you can get along fine without one. Outdoors, however it is difficult to see the LCD due to glare. Another thing I like about the focusing loupes is that off the tripod, the loupe becomes another point of contact offering more stability.
Zacuto, Hoodman, Cavision, LCDVF and Letus now make magnifying loupes for the lcd. They start at a little more than $100. on up to nearly $400. When making a decision on which one to buy, pay careful attention to how it is attached. They all use different methods for attachment.
External Audio
The onboard mics in all the DSLR’s are nearly worthless. Add to that, most of the cameras still do not allow manual audio control – not good. Good clean audio is essentual in video. The best way to do this is by recording sound separately to a recording device with a high quality mic. The Tascam DR-100 and Zoom H4n are the current favorite recorders for DSLR filmmakers. They give you the ability to use xlr mics, have audio meters and a headphone jack. All must haves for audio collecting. They also have their own built in stereo mics that you can use if you are on a strict budget. The main drawback – actually 2 drawbacks of using separate audio is that it takes time in post to sync the audio to the video clips and most importantly, you need to remember to turn them on when shooting!
There is one other way to collect good audio and that is by using a Beachtek or JuicedLink preamp box made specifically for the DSLR, which allows you to keep the audio and video intact, eliminating syncing in post hassles. But that’s a topic for another post. Collecting good audio is worth a book but for this post, I need to keep it short.
So there you go…my view of the very minimum equipment you need. It will probably run you at least $800. or more but if this is a serious hobby or you want to make money with your video then consider it an investment in great moving images.

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