If you have a DSLR camera that you bought within the last three years or so, chances are you can shoot high definition video with it.
And that’s pretty great… you can get into video for the price of a still camera. Or can you?
It’s never so simple.
While the camera might be the same, almost everything else is different.
From the tripod to the lighting, video calls for equipment that is totally different than for photography.
For instance, I thought I could get away with an old Manfrotto tripod I wasn’t using anymore because it was heavy and just put on a cheap fluid head I bought from eBay. No, I could not do that. Yes, it would marginally work but for smooth pans, the legs of the tripod – without spreaders common to video tripods – were unstable and so my shots were unstable as well. In addition, that setup was hard to level. With a video head, you can level it in a flash.
I bought a dedicated video tripod and immediately noticed the difference. I relegated the makeshift tripod for locked-down shots on a second camera until I eventually bought a second video tripod.
If you have strobe lights or flashes for your photography, you’ll know at once you can’t use those for video. You need a continuous light source. There are many options – from cheap Chinese LED lights to HMI, tungsten and fluorescent lights. There is a world of lighting to choose from.
For me, I chose two Chimera triolet lights with softboxes, which are tungsten but can accept fluorescent bulbs, a Chimera birdcage lantern, and later, a Lowel Omni and Pro-light, both with accessories. I also have a couple of LED lights that have worked well when I don’t need a blast of light.
One thing to remember: LED lights stay relatively cool while tungsten gets very hot. You can’t use your old softboxes and umbrellas with them unless they are heat resistant. The good news? You can use your old lightstands.
One thing photographers never have to deal with is sound. Your DSLR has a little microphone built in. Don’t ever use it. The old saying goes, audio is 60 percent of video and that’s pretty true. Your viewers might be able to forgive shaky footage (hey, it’s a style, right?) but lousy audio? Uh-uh.
Beachtek and Juiced Link both have pre-amps that you can attach a microphone. Those rigs then can feed directly into the camera’s microphone input. That will give you pristine sound directly into your memory card and you don’t have to sync sound in post.
That only works for me a little bit because I use two cameras in most of my shoots. My two cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II, have a 12-minute recording limit. If I hook up, say, my Juiced Link Riggy on one camera, what happens when I have to restart the camera because of the time limit? I’ll likely lose a bit of audio. It’s okay if I’m using one camera – all’s good. But two, and it makes me uneasy.
My solution, previously, was to record separate audio on a Zoom H4N. Now, I use a Tascam DR60 but it is virtually the same premise. These two recording devices have XLR inputs and have phantom power. What’s phantom power? It’s where the microphone doesn’t have its own source of power and needs to rely on the recording device. A simple switch on those units allows you to use microphones that need power.
I started out using Rode Video Mics on my cameras but I soon learned the audio wasn’t the quality I wanted. Now I use those on my cameras but only to record scratch tracks so I have pretty good audio to synch my sound in post production.
Does synching audio in post sound intimidating? Don’t worry, it’s easy. You can do it by ear, which I did at the beginning, but better yet is a program called PluralEyes 3 that will knock your socks off with how fast it syncs sound to your pictures. It’s worth every penny.
And finally, microphones? I use two kinds and I use two kinds on almost every shoot I produce. One, a shotgun mic and two, a lavalier. A shotgun is a directional mic that you’ll most likely see on a boom pole or C-stand. A lavalier is a little lapel mic that attaches to your talent. For my money, I like the sound of the shotgun. But you never know which mic will be better for your purposes. I always record two sources of audio because of all the things that can go wrong, you can’t fake sound.
So in a nutshell, if I am picking essential items to start in video, I would pick a dedicated video tripod and fluid head (monopods are nice, too, but make sure it is also a video monopod); continuous lighting that works best for your situations; and an audio kit that allows you to get clear, beautiful sound.
There are so many other add-on items – monitors, Steadicams, sliders, etc., that can add convenience and production values to your videos – but you need these essentials and you’ll be well on your way to making a quality video.
By Diana Lundin