Video Production Tools
Here are recommendations for video field equipment that won't break the bank as you get started with video storytelling. You will find choices at different price-points in each of the categories. This is solid and reliable equipment that will help you tell great stories without getting lost in the myriad of technical options you find at the camera store. This is all gear we use, rely on in the field and recommend to our clients and customers. It is also worth noting that we don't see any remuneration or favors from these manufacturers. In other words, we've chosen gear that works for us. Click on a link below to jump to specific recommendations.
Simple Pocket Camera
Kodak Zi10 Playtouch $200 per camera This pocket-style camera has the benefit of an external microphone input. It is a simple camera for quick videos. The image quality is marginally acceptable, but not stellar.
Point and Shoot Video Camera option 1
Canon VIXIA HF G20 $750 This video camera provides excellent image quality and easy operation with automatic settings. The manual camera controls are easy to access as you improve your skills or want solutions in challenging situations. The camera features a good optical zoom, helping you to capture a variety of angles and framing. The G20 is good in low light, uses SD memory cards, and features a mini-jack external audio input. Excellent for recording longer video content like presentations, speeches, conferences and loquacious executives. While it captures exceptional video, this is classified a consumer-level camcorder.
Point and Shoot Camera option 2
Canon EOS Rebel SL1 $500 is a diminutive version of the T5i. An incredibly intuitive camera to use, combined with a smaller form factor, makes this a very good camera for capturing video interviews, stories and tutorials. One feature that sets the camera apart from other cameras in its class is the mini-plug audio jack that allows you to plug in an external mono or stereo mic.
The only other pocket camera with an external mic jack is the Nikon COOLPIX P7800 $550. Like the SL1 it has good image quality, small form factor, easy operation, fewer manual controls, uses SD memory cards, and the external audio input. We prefer the Canon SL1 to the Nikon P7800 because of ease of operation and image quality. Either will capture excellent HD video.
Entry-level Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (DSLR)
Canon T5i $650 This camera features excellent image quality because it is a full size still camera that leverages the full line of Canon’s interchangeable lenses. And just like all of these cameras, it features easy operation with automatic settings. In addition to the rich feature set, intuitive manual controls and SD Card storage, this camera has the required external mic jack. It is a great choice for capturing both still photos and exceptional video. You can begin by shooting with the camera in auto mode, increasing control of your footage with the manual controls as your skills improve with the camera.
Camcorder with XLR Audio Input
The Canon XA10 HD ($1,500) is an ultra-compact camera that shares most of the functionality of the XF100, but in a smaller, run-and-gun form factor. It can record to an internal 64GB flash drive or two SD card slots, making it a great solution for longer recordings. What sets this camera apart from other comparably-sized and featured camcorders are the two XLR audio inputs found on the detachable handle. The camera affords you the option to record from two separate audio sources (a two-person interview, for example), keeping the sources separate until you manage the levels in editing.
The camera works well in full automatic shooting mode, but is a bit cumbersome when manually adjusting settings via the flip-out touch screen. The lens is great for shooting video features and interviews, but if you are looking to shoot from far away, the back of an auditorium or meeting room for a conference, the 10x optical zoom lens may not be long enough to suit your needs.
We recommend three types of microphones. Lapel-type mics (also called lavalier mics) that can be used with any of the cameras listed above, a small directional mic that can be mounted on top of the video or DSLR camera, and a wireless microphone system. We have also included TRRS lapel mics if you choose to assemble a smartphone production kit. Cost for each of the microphones will average between $50 and $150. You should expect a reliable wireless system to run well over $500.
For use with the pocket camera, point and shoot and DSLR cameras
There are many different lavalier mics on the market. Like most anything, the more you invest increases reliability and audio quality. For personal use we rely on Tram TR-50 mics. The cost is prohibitive for an entry-level microphone so we have focused instead on two low-cost mics. Each have their compromises. The Giant Squid mic has good quality but a short cord, the Audio-Technica has a longer cord but requires a battery. We prefer the GS.
GS Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone $40 The cord is rather short and often requires an extension but the mic is very good for the price and does not require a battery. You can also purchase a version with a locking screw designed to connect to a Sennheiser wireless transmitter.
Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone $40 Acceptable quality for the price. The batteries can be problematic because it is easy to leave the switch in the “on” position for days or weeks at a time. Batteries are hearing aid batteries and available from any drug or grocery store.
Rode VC1 10' Stereo Mini Jack Extension Cable $11 This cable will extend the reach of the GS omnidirectional mic.
Rode VideoMic $150 For use with the point and shoot and DSLR. This mic attaches to the top of the camera and can be used for interviews in a quiet location and for capturing high quality sound for cover footage. This is used in lieu of the internal microphone on the cameras.
XLR Lavalier Mic
The Countryman EMW is a moderately priced lavalier microphone. Great for interviews in even the most difficult of conditions. The microphone’s pickup pattern minimizes fabric rustling and handling noise. While not waterproof, the capsule is highly resistant to moisture making it a suitable solution for outdoor use. The microphone’s connection is XLR, which means you will need a field mixer or adapter cable (XLR to TRS mini) if you hope to connect it to your DSLR or camcorder. Countryman sells the mic in a variety of colors, but at $177 per microphone it is probably best to start with basic black.
The Beachtek DXA-SLR ULTRA is a two-channel, field mixer for connecting external XLR microphones and audio gear to cameras equipped with a microphone input jack. This audio adapter is designed for “set it and forget it” types of production, with its input limiters assuring your levels will stay below 0dB. The DXA-SLR mounts on the bottom of your camera and has two XLR inputs and sends a discrete stereo signal to your camera’s audio input for recording. The advantage of a field mixer connecting directly to a camera, as opposed to a separate recording device like Zoom H6, is your sound will always be in sync with the video. Because the signal is recorded as part of your video file there is no need to match your audio file with your video later in editing. One downside to recording your audio with a DSLR rather than an external recorder is many cameras have an annoying hiss in the sound during quiet moments. BeachTek integrated a feature called AGC Disable, which sends an inaudible tone to keep the camera from increasing its gain (and thus hiss) during silence.
Wireless Microphone Systems
Personally, wireless microphones are the bane of our existence. They always seem to fail at the least opportune times, and they require constant monitoring to ensure usable audio. For interviews we prefer to run a mic cable from the microphone to the camera. If our subject is not moving, and our camera is not moving, a wireless mic only introduces an additional point of failure that requires constant attention. That said, there are times where a wireless mic is a critical component to effective storytelling.
A wireless mic system is essentially a small FM radio station broadcasting from the microphone to the camera. And just like the radio in your car, a cheap one sounds cheap. You can purchase a system for $200, but it will sound little better than tin cans and string. For a reliable system prepare to invest between $500 and $700 for an acceptable setup.
The Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 and Sony UWP-D11 are good mid-range solutions. You can mount the receiver directly to your camera via an accessory shoe, and plug them directly into your camera. They are reliable, easy to operate, and offer over 1000 different frequencies so you can pick one with the least interference in your environment.
No matter which wireless system you choose, be sure to buy batteries by the box and change them every time you use the mic. When either the transmitter or receiver runs low on power it introduces significant interference in your audio that cannot be repaired. We offer this advice from painful experience.
Light kits can get very expensive very quickly. Most professional kits will run between $1,200 and $2,000. We prefer LED kits but we have also included a less expensive entry-level compact florescent kit.
ePhoto Pro Studio Video 4500W Digital Photography Studio 3 Softbox Lighting Kit $165. It uses compact florescent bulbs and is very effective for lighting interviews. It is a bit cumbersome, and while it ships with a full set of bulbs, you will need replacements on hand.
Genaray SpectroLED 2 Point Kit $690 This is an LED kit. It is more durable and has flexibility for a variety of scenarios. We prefer LED lights because the lights are cool to the touch, have good intensity and coverage, rarely break, are lightweight, use less energy and are less toxic (no mercury like CFL bulbs).
Cowboy Studio CN-600SA 600 LED Lite Panel Kit $780 This is a nice 3 light kit with all the accessories needed for most every lighting situation.
Finally, if you are serious about shooting video, you need a tripod that you will actually use. Manfrotto tripods are the industry standard but are quite expensive.
The price-point to quality of the Benro S4 is excellent at $275. This tripod is designed for video with bubble levels for creating straight horizons in your shots. It has a small fluid head for creating smooth pan and tilt shots. It is not overly heavy (less than 6 pounds) yet is still very solid.
Smartphone video production kit
We recommend creating at least one mobile production kits so you can leverage your smart phone for video production. Most will shoot better video than any low cost pocket-style video camera currently on the market. It is easy to put together a clutch of accessories that significantly improve your video experience. A production kit would include a microphone designed for a mobile device, a small LED light, a clamp for attaching the phone to a tripod, a brace, a battery pack and a tripod. Having all this gear together in a small bag or pack, ready at a moment's notice, gives you tremendous flexibility.
Rode Smart Lav+ $80 A lapel microphone designed for smartphones and tablets
Bescor LED-70 camera light $40 A small battery-powered light mounted above the camera to brighten eyes and face during an interview
L-Bracket with 2 shoe mounts $8 A frame for connecting the light and smartphone into a single easy to manage unit
IStabilizer Flex mount and smartphone bracket $20 This is actually two pieces, used together or separately. There is a clamp for mounting an iPhone to a tripod or the L-Bracket. The flexible tripod can be used to mount the phone to non-traditional objects like railings, branches, chairs, and door handles.
For a more complete list of accessories including lenses, microphones and editing applications please visit the Storyguide Mobile Shopping list.
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