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A Photographer's Gear Guide for Expanding to Video

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Are you a photographer who is interested in getting into video? Jefferson Graham, author of Video Nation: A DIY guide to planning, shooting, and sharing great video from USA Today's Talking Tech host, gets you started with a list of his favorite video gear.
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So what gear do I need to expand from photography to video?

I get this question from photographers all the time. As the author of Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting and Sharing Great Video, I regularly do seminars on easy ways to add video to your portfolio, and this is easily the number one question. Where do I start?

Folks show up with their DSLRs, but they need microphones, lighting, tripod and video editing software too.

So here is a list of equipment that I recommend if you’re ready to start shooting video:

Audio

It’s often said that 70% of a successful video is clean, crisp, beautiful video and a soundtrack you don’t have to strain to hear. That might be an exaggeration, but let’s face it: could you watch a video with crackling, hissy sound?

The onboard microphone on your camera sounds tinny and is pretty much worthless for anything beyond one-on-one soundbites in a room with no distractions. (That means just you and the subject in there—no one else!) No professional video can be shown with the on-board mic.

Here are some options for getting better audio:

Lavalier
Pro: The best sound for most situations.
Con: You can only record one voice at a time. And they’re expensive.

Most pros prefer wireless lavs over wired lavs, which connect directly to the camera or audio recorder. Wireless are more versatile and allow you to move around. But while you can snag a pair of entry-level wireless lavs cheaply—start with Audio/Technica’s $100 PRO 88W model—you might experience hiss and interference.

Sony (UWPV1/3032) and Sennheiser (EW 112P) make the wired lavs I see used most often—and sell for more than $500 for the transmitter/receiver duo. If you’re doing interviews: bad news. You’ll need two pairs—one for the subject, and one for the interviewer.

If you have to go the cheap route, you can either not use the interviewer’s questions (cut out in editing) or have the interviewer talk really loudly.

For economy’s sake, you could pick up the wired audio-technica Pro 70 lavalier mic and plug it directly into the camera for $100, but you’ll need some accessories: an XLR cable ($10) that connects to the mic and an XLR adapter (around $35) to plug into the mini mic input on your DSLR.

Shotgun
Pro: Picks up the sound directly from in front of you, and can also record multiple voices at once without having to wire each person up.
Con: The sound isn’t as pristine as a lav, and beyond your voice, because there’s distance between the camera and your subject, it will pick up additional sounds as well.

The RØDE VideoMic ($149) is one of the most popular out there. A beefier, more robust model, the VideoMic Pro sells for $229.  Both will do the trick, but if you’re doing a lot of outdoors shooting, I’d recommend going for the lav. You’ll have too many distractions outside.

Stereo Mic
RØDE has a new $299 mic it pitches for recording music and ambient sounds. Voices won’t be as good with this mic unless you use it like they do in the movies—on a boom pole, as close as possible to the subject, and just out of camera range. We tried this in a test, and got excellent results. The mic was on a light stand, and plugged into a little Zoom H1 ($100) audio recorder. (We had to synch the sound up from the Zoom later in our video editing program.)

Handheld Mic
If you’re standing outside, news style, or are in a position where your subject can hold a mic, the handheld mic is your best, most reliable option, picking up your sound clearer than any other mic. However, most videos don’t call for holding a mic—they look awkward outside of news and sports. However, if you’re an event photographer who interviews guests at wedding receptions, openings and the like, the stick mic is absolutely your best bet. (Try the $75 Shure VP64AL). Tip: you can buy a stick mic that will fit directly into the mini input on your DSLR—but get one with a long cord so you’ll have room to move between the camera and your subject.

Lighting

The great thing about DSLRs is that you can shoot in the lowest of light and get great results, thanks to the big image chip. But with illumination, the results are even better,  especially in a dark inside room or at night.  

Here are some options for lighting video:

LED
Pro: LEDs are daylight balanced, so you can easily mix them with available light in office buildings.
Con: They are not cheap.

There are tons of small LED lights out there that run on batteries and sit atop the hot shoe of your camera.  A rule of thumb is that the less you pay for the unit, the less illumination you’ll get. More bucks=more light. I use Litepanels, which is pricey at $300, but bright enough to add a little fill-in when needed most. You won’t get tons of light, but it will save you in tough situations. For economy shoppers, you can try the Genaray LED-6200T 144 for around $139. This unit is 640 lux, vs. the 1100 lux of Litepanels.  Even if you don’t understand the difference between a lux and lox for bagels, you know that 640 is less than 1100, and thus, 1100 is indeed brighter.

You can also use a big LED light instead of the traditional softbox set-up, which is great when you’re shooting in a room with ambient, available light. The LED adds to the image without having to worry about mixing different light temperatures.

The bigger LEDs start at around $500. If you watch the network news shows, notice how they always have one master shot of the interviews with the lighting setup, and nine times out of ten these days, you see the LED in there now. I use the Ikan iB500, which sells for $494.

Tungsten
Pro: An affordable way to upgrade your lighting.
Con: The color temps issue I just mentioned. If you’re shooting in a room with some available daylight, you’ll experience white walls turning blue if you turn on a tungsten light, because of the different color temperatures.  The solution is to drag your subject into a room with little available light, light it with your light, and change your camera’s white balance setting to Tungsten.

The Lowel Pro sells for around $100 and is a staple of many TV newsrooms. Note that  if you’re doing an interview, you’ll want two Lowels—one for the subject and one to light the interviewer.

When you’re ready to graduate to bigger, more focused, soft light, Lowel has a great softbox, the Rifa, that can be set up in seconds. I own one, and use it every week. It is truly quick and a godsend when you’re doing run and gun interviews, like I do. The Rifa starts at $299, but I use the bigger $399 model, which is substantially brighter.

Editing Software

Apple’s iMovie and Windows Movie Maker are both free, and great ways to get your feet wet making basic edits. Several online options are out there to edit videos on websites or via apps. Pixorial, Magisto and others will let you upload your content, edit online and share them directly from the website. That’s great for camera phone footage, but the downside is that you have to be online to do your work. DSLR footage is quite hefty—I generate 60 Gigabytes a week of video for what I do at USA TODAY, and the online option simply isn’t viable. It would take me a week to upload the footage.

So for video, I’m strictly a desktop and laptop guy. When you’re ready to get more serious beyond iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, I recommend Adobe’s Premiere Elements ($99) the only consumer editing program that works on both the Windows and Apple platform. The next step is Apple’s Final Cut Pro X ($299), which is pricey, but has many more options for you to make elaborate videos. I use it every day and love it. Critics initially derided it as iMovie Pro and not worthy of a professional editing program. But the fact is while it’s easy to use, it also generates video at a much faster clip, and thus, for folks who have intense deadlines and have to move out a lot of content, FCPX is your best bet.

Three hundred bucks is a lot to spend, but you can always test it out first via a free 30-day FCP trial at apple.com/finalcutpro.

Finally, don’t forget to leave home without a tripod. No one wants to watch a jerky video, and remember, with video, there’s no high shutter speed to freeze the action.

Do you have more questions about video, lighting and sound? All your answers, and more, are in Video Nation: A DIY Guide to Planning, Shooting and Sharing Great Video. Pick it up  at peachpit.com/videonation or feel free to drop me a line on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham.

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