13. Equipment

What you will get from this chapter:

You’ll learn the most important tool for making a great video.

You’ll learn what you need in a video camera.

You’ll get familiar with concepts such as depth of field, white balance, image stabilization, etc.

You’ll learn what audio features you should have in a camera.

You’ll gain an understanding of the need for a good tripod.

You’ll familiarize yourself with your options in lighting equipment.

You’ll discover some editing software available to you and what is required for your computer.

While we don’t go into equipment specifics in Shoot To Sell: Make Money Producing Special Interest Videos, here is what I recommend you do for equipment. (Updated February 2013)

Equipment Checklist

People generally want to be told what to get. That makes decision making easy but “one size fits all” is not a good approach to purchasing the right video equipment for your specific needs. Add in the fact that equipment, especially video cameras, changes annually and you’ll understand why I don’t want to recommend anything too specific. I will share with you what I use at the moment, and this too will evolve over time.

Video Cameras

I change video cameras about every two years due to evolving technology and my own changing needs. I generally stick with Canon cameras, not that I have anything against other brands, I just always seem to end up back in Canon’s flock. If you are just starting out you can’t go wrong with the Canon Vixia line of cameras. The models in this line change rapidly. I currently own the discontinued but revered HV30 (tape camera), an HF G10 and an HFM41.

Almost all current video cameras use some form of flash memory rather than tape. Some have built-in hard drives and accept memory cards while others only use memory cards. I like recording to memory cards because I can easily slip them into my computer for downloading. I miss tape because it was a safe and inexpensive storage media.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Samsung and others offer literally scores of competing models at similar price points.

If you want to shoot videos with a DSLR I still gravitate toward Canon. I own the EOS Rebel T2i and get beautiful stills and video from it. I also shoot films with the top of the line EOS 5D Mark II and Mark III. Until you know if this type of shooting is for you I would stick with camcorders like the Vixia line. The 5D Mark III is $3,500 for the body only! This is not for beginners.

Audio

Thank goodness things don’t change as fast in the audio world. A good microphone will be useful for decades so this is one area where you should spend as much as you can reasonably afford. The confusing thing is there is a bewildering array of mics from scores of manufacturers, so it can be confusing to choose one. I can’t even begin to touch on them all so here are just a few recommendations:

The types of microphones you are most likely to use are lapel, handheld, shotgun and head worn.

Lapel Microphones

In the lapel category you can spend as little as under $30 for something like the Pearstone OLM-10 or $220 for my favorite, the Sony ECM-44B (I have two of these and love them). No, the cheaper mic will not sound as good as the Sony but it will be better than your on-camera mic and will sound surprisingly good at that price. Radio Shack also offers some inexpensive lapel mics.

Handheld Microphones

Handheld mics are great if you are doing stand-up interviews, like a news reporter on the go, or are speaking from a stage presentation. You can choose an omnidirectional mic that picks up all of the sounds around it or a cardioid (or super cardioid) that concentrates on the sound in front of it and rejects sounds behind it.

Shure SM-58 – This is a classic mic that you’ve seen singers using for years. It is a unidirectional cardioid pickup pattern that isolates source material while minimizing background noise. You do have to get it fairly close to your mouth to overcome ambient sounds. This is why singers love it.

Sennheiser MD 46 – This is a standard reporter’s mic, also known as ENG or interview mic. I’ve just ordered one because I’ll be shooting interviews in a very noisy environment and don’t want the ambient sounds to overwhelm the person I’m interviewing. It is sensitive enough that you don’t have to stick it right into a person’s face to hear them well.

Electro-Voice RE50/B – Similar to the Sennheiser MD 46 but omnidirectional, meaning the person using it doesn’t have to be as disciplined at pointing at the person speaking to hear them. Picks up more of the ambient background.

Shotgun Microphones

Despite what many people think, shotgun mics do not “reach out and get” distant sound. They operate by rejecting sounds to the side and rear to varying degrees so that you hear more of what is in front of you. They are very useful when shooting drama or action where people are moving around a lot and you don’t want the sound of clothing rubbing against a body worn mic.

You may use a shotgun mic on your camera or on a boom pole. Rode makes a couple of good short shotgun mics designed specifically for on-camera use, the VideoMicand VideoMic Pro.

The Audio-Technica AT897 is a good mono shotgun mic at a good price ($200+). I’ve used one for many years. Sennheiser makes several very popular models, such as the ME66/K6. I also have one of these. It is slightly higher quality and you can change the capsule (microphone part) for different applications, making it very versatile. It is more of a “system.”

You can spend several thousand dollars on a shotgun mic but you can get a very serviceable model for around $200 up to $600.

Headworn Microphones

These are useful for ministers, exercise instructors, public speakers, etc. Some models are tiny and almost invisible.

All of the major mic manufacturers offer models, some very reasonably priced. I own the Countryman E6 and have been very happy with it.

Wired or Wireless?

Most mics can either be wired or wireless. I own the Sennheiser EW 100 series and am quite happy with it. There are adapter plugs to fit almost any mic to it.

Tripods (Stabilization)

You’d think choosing something like a tripod would be simple, right? Wrong. You can buy tripod heads and legs separately, or buy tripod “systems,” meaning it’s all done for you. This allows experienced professionals to match a certain head with the legs they need but for most of us we want it all put together. Tripods don’t go out of date, so investing in a good one will pay off in the long run.

I’ve owned a bunch of tripods, never spending over $600, and I’ve found that you really do get what you pay for. You can find sub-$200 tripods that work fine but don’t expect the same silky smooth pans and tilts as a more expensive tripod. They are OK for locked down shots but have not lasted well for me. My friend just bought a $1,200 tripod and I honestly wasn’t impressed. It didn’t appear that different from models I’ve used costing half that much. So …

This is going to be dictated by your budget. If you are just starting out you may want to try something like the Manfrotto MVH502A “system” with carrying bag. It’s fine for cameras weighing up to 12 pounds, which if far more than the average camcorder or DSLR kit will weigh. I own a bunch of Manfrotto gear and am satisfied with it. If you look for tripods on our favorite camera store, B&H Photo Video, you’ll see an amazing range of models and prices. They have many models that cost well over $10,000! That would be overkill for you.

Also consider a monopod if you want to get stable shots but need to be shooting on the run. I have five monopods ranging from a few ounces to heavy duty workhorses. I love my Manfrotto Fluid Video Monopod and have two of them. At $230 they are a bargain.

Lighting

Cameras love light, whether it comes from the sun or an electric light bulb. Light is a powerful creative tool and the more you know how to control it the better your videos will look.

Useful lights range from simple on-camera lights like thevery affordable Bescor LED-70 to a complete set of studio lights. Wedding videographers will often use on-camera lights to brighten up shots in dimly lit reception halls, while other types of productions require much more elaborate lighting setups.

Video and film lights used to be primarily tungsten bulb based. These burn brightly, get very hot and can blow bulbs and your budget quickly. In the last 10 years lighting has rapidly involved and today we have a choice of LED and fluorescent lights that stay cool and have very modest power requirements. LED lights are still on the expensive side compared to fluorescent lights.

One of the best sources of inexpensive studio lighting I’ve found is Cowboy Studio. From simple two light fluorescent umbrella kits to LED lights, they have something for everyone at very budget conscious prices. Last year I installed a new 5-softbox fluorescent lighting system in my studio. My philosophy is to buy more lighting that I need, knowing that I’ve got that little bit extra for the times when I need it. If I was starting out I’d look at something from like this kit from Cowboy Studio. That’s enough to light your talent and a backdrop.

Editing

Editing software is included free with many computers. It isn’t the most powerful software but may be all you need. iMovie is included with every new Mac and is a very capable editing platform. Windows Live Movie Maker has been available for free for years and is a respectable program.

If you want more features then there are a lot of choices. On the Mac, Apple’s Final Cut Pro X is a fully professional editing package. I use Adobe’s Premiere Pro, which is also available for the PC. There are a lot more choices for the PC and many of them are $100 or less. Since I have no experience with them I’ll advise you to do a web search on video editing software for PCs and decide for yourself.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. As I said in the beginning, I don’t particularly like recommending specific things because we all have different needs and budgets. The goal of this document is to give a start to the folks just beginning in video production who need a little guidance. More advanced professionals will probably have a good idea of what they need.