Videography Accessories for Beginners
Basic tools to make your home DSLR movies shine!
By K David in Articles and Tips on Aug 18, 2015
Creating a quality video relies on a series of linked and concatenating elements: the subject, lens, camera, videographer, editing software, distribution platform, and viewer. Each of these links plays a crucial role in creating a high-quality video to share with friends, family, or a larger community.
The Chain of Videography
The chain of videography, aside from feeling like it's ripped out of a terrible corporate PowerPoint presentation, shows the required links between taking and distributing a video. This article focuses on your camera and some of the tools that you can use to help set up you and your camera for successful videography.
Remember, also, that Pentax offers users an entire line of high-definition (HD) lenses with a cutting edge coating. The HD lenses' coatings make them very well suited for videography.
Videography, like photography, is a pursuit into which you can sink as much money as you want. But to make high-quality videos, you don't necessarily need to invest thousands, or even hundreds, of dollars. This article examines tools that you, as a beginning videographer, can use to add a lot of quality for a little investment. This article's goal is to provide low-cost, high-effect options for first-time or entry-level videographers to use to increase video quality quickly, dramatically, and affordably.
This article looks at videography from the perspective of a Pentax DSLR user and is geared toward using Pentax DSLRs for videography. If you would like to know which Pentax DSLR or non-Pentax DSLR or camcorder is best for your videography needs, our Video and Pentax HDSLRS sub-forum is the place to check.
Pentax K-3 II
Obviously, to make a DSLR-based video, you will need a video-capable DSLR. Pentax DSLRs offer a lot of video capabilities in compact bodies supported by fantastic lenses. In fact, I use the 31mm FA Limited f/1.8 more for video than still imagery. The video footage I've shot with the 31mm FA Limited f/1.8 is very sharp and with an image profile that matches what would be expected from that lens. People may claim that Pentax is not as good as Canon for video, and those people would benefit from trying Pentax for video.
Pentax's current bodies, the K-3, K-S2, and K-3 II are all great options for video. The K-S2 is an especially good option for beginner video as the interface and controls are very user friendly and geared toward beginner movie makers. The flip-out screen allows you to hold the camera at odd angles or place it out of reach and still frame your shots correctly, and you can connect an external microphone.
If there is only one piece of add-on equipment that you're going to buy for your videography, get a microphone. The difference in sound quality is staggering. On-camera microphones capture everything in their environment: wind, airplanes, cars, and other distractions. Yes, dedicated microphones will capture those noises, too, but to a lesser degree as they're closer to the primary sound source. This article looks at three main types of microphones: lavalier, condenser, and shotgun.
Lavalier microphones are small, clip-on microphones well suited for voice capture and hands-free use. Lavalier mics are ideal options for voice recording because they have a very high gain tolerance before causing feedback. Condenser microphones are good for any type of sound recording because they work by converting differences in air pressure caused by sound into electromagnetic pulses recorded as sound. This creates a direct sound-to-data path that results in the highest-quality conversion of sound to recorded data. Shotgun microphones will have the same type of microphone as in either a lavalier or a condenser mic, but place the receiver at the back of a tube used to cancel noise and allow directional sound recording.
Lavalier Lapel Microphone
Here are a few different lapel microphone types to choose from. I, personally, for my lapel microphone have a $12 Vidpro lavalier clip-on omnidirectional microphone. This mic is produced under different brands, such as Savage (pictured above). This unit runs on a small battery pack (in fact, it only operates when it has batteries.) This allows it to run off its own power and improves audio quality (by introducing audio gain) as well as its ability to target only the primary sound source. This is an ideal microphone for on-site shooting.
Basic Condenser Microphone
Here are a few different condenser microphone types to choose from. I, personally, use a $15 Fisby FMC-220 stand-alone microphone with wind guard. Condenser mics are very sensitive and when I record voiceovers they pick up my neighbor's air conditioner, trucks and birds (even with the windows closed), and heavy footsteps upstairs. These are all sounds that either I don't hear or am unconscious of during recording. Even a $15 microphone like mine will record significantly better audio than the camera's mic and can help improve your movies' audio significantly.
Basic Shotgun Microphone
Here are a few shotgun microphones to choose from. In technical terms, shotgun microphones are interference tubes. The tubes in front of the microphone capture sound at different times as it travels toward the microphone. This directs sound that is on the microphone's axis toward the microphone receiver while causing off-axis sound to be canceled. Shotgun mics are only as effective as their length and the size of the slits that capture off-axis sound. In general, they are ineffective at canceling sound below 2 kilohertz (the shorter the shotgun, the higher the ceiling on frequency cancellation and the less effective it becomes.) Also, entry-level shotgun microphones provide very little, if any, directional benefit over a standard condenser mic. Additionally, because shotgun microphones are inefficient at canceling sound at all frequencies, certain frequencies (different depending on the microphone's design) go uncancelled and this results in peaks and valleys in soundwave cancellation. At worst, this results in audio having increased echo, reverberation, and phase interference. The benefit that a good shotgun microphone has is that, in the open, it can provide a slight directional improvement over a standard microphone, making them a viable option for outdoor filming.
Microphones, like cameras, are the kind of thing you can spend as much money for as you'd like. Wireless systems, professional whole-room microphones, and myriad other options exist for you to grow into. A good, basic, and inexpensive microphone can cover the majority of your needs most of the time, however.
Video Editing Software
Windows Live Movie Maker
Windows Live Movie Maker Screen Capture
If you have a Windows computer, you probably have Windows Live Movie Maker. If not, it's a free download. Windows Live Movie Maker is the basic, entry-level movie editing software for PC users. Windows Live Movie Maker allows users to edit video by trimming, combining (including stock transition options), adding captions (with limited animation options, and no cell shading for easier readability), adding video color effects, and inserting an MP3 audio stream for background music or off-camera recorded narration.
Windows Live Movie Maker has some limitations, however. The video encoder is not the best and videos lose some quality compared to the from-camera version. Also, only one audio track can be overlaid at a time meaning that you can either choose to have background music or use an off-camera MP3 recorder to obtain higher-quality sound, but you can't use both off-camera narration and music. It also has limitations to how long the videos it makes can be and how large the files are that it can encode. Most people won't run into this because the limit is around one hour and forty-five minutes.
Windows Live Movie Maker is a good option for starting out in video editing. I use it and find it to be amply capable of meeting my video editing needs most of the time.
Apple's iMovie for Mac OS is their answer to Movie Maker. I have not used it but from what I understand it integrates with multiple devices through iTunes and allows users flexibility to edit and create video that Windows Live Movie Maker doesn't offer.
Sony Movie Studio
Sony Movie Studio Suite
For a reasonable price, Sony Movie Studio affords access to advanced editing features, 4K video support, and lots of extras that the free software can't match. The only downside to Movie Studio is that there exist almost as many versions of the program as there are insect species in Australia. Figuring out which is the best for you could be daunting.
Sony Movie Studio Screen Capture
Adobe Premiere Elements 13
Adobe Premier Elements 13
The newest version of Elements, Adobe Premiere Elements 13 is available as a download from Adobe or at B&H. Unlike its bigger, badder brother Premiere Pro, Elements can be purchased outright and without a monthly license.
Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud
Adobe Premiere Pro
If you wanted to know what the professional-grade, Bentley-level option is, it's Adobe's Premiere Pro (the current version is Creative Cloud [CC]). This is where you can start sinking the kids' college fund into video editing, if you'd like. Part of the expense with Adobe Premiere Pro CC is that it requires a powerful computer. Another part of the expense is that it's not currently available for purchase but only as a monthly subscription through Adobe Creative Cloud. With monthly rates from $19.99 to $79.99, this software can eat a large and steady hole in your finances each month.
Adobe Premiere Pro has the most options, most flexibility, and most power of any commercially available video software. It also has the highest complexity of use and computer hardware requirements. Honestly, if you're a beginner, stick with one of the two free options above and learn how to make movies with a free software. After that, it's worth graduating into the Sony or Adobe programs.
Lighting is even more important in videography than still imagery. Video frames are limited to about 1/60th of a second per exposure, maximum. This means that if you want to shoot at a low ISO then you also need to have a lot of light. Also, because a video records movement, it also records changing lighting conditions. If your camera is set to AE-lock for video, it can wreak havoc with your final product. One important investment you can make in improving your videos is supplemental lighting.
Shop Light Clamp
Lights don't need to be expensive. If you have a controlled setting, such as a home studio, you can use one or more $12 shop lights, available at any corner hardware store, and bright compact fluorescent bulbs to create suitable and controllable artificial lighting without too much excess heat. Thanks to Pentax DSLRs' white balance during video, the green cast created by many fluorescent bulbs is remedied in-camera.
For my YouTube instructional videos on how to use cameras, I have a four-light set-up that eliminates shadows and allows me to use a suitable depth of field (typically up to f/8). One disadvantage to shop lights is that they require a power source and are not portable to sites without a power outlet. Though inexpensive, this limits their usability significantly.
Temperature-adjustable LED Light
Camera hot-shoe-mounted LED lights are a suitable, portable option. Depending on the number of LEDs, these can provide a significant amount of forward light. They do have a major drawback if left on your DSLR, however; the result is the same as leaving a flash on your camera: flat, plastic-looking subjects.
LED Light with Diffuser
LED lights afford a lot of flexibility, however. Because they have on-unit power, they can be removed from the camera and placed aside, atop, or below your subject to control and reduce shadows. Many are also dimmable for more lighting control. Also, they can be easily modified with diffusers, softening filters, color gels, barn door blinds, and honeycomb fixtures. For beginners, a dimmable LED unit with the ability to mount a diffuser is a very useful and portable option.
Basic, Multi-colored Reflector
The least expensive option, reflectors allow you to reflect existing light to control shadows and contrast. These have two drawbacks: they require the use of existing light instead of adding additional light and a second person is typically required to help.
Reflectors cannot be used as effectively to light a videography scene when the sun begins to set, so they have limited usability when there's not a large amount of available light. Also, because they tend to need a second set of hands, they require a friend or assistant to be present to help with the video's creation. However, a good reflector can be purchased for about $5 to $7. Home-made options from a piece of dollar-store foam core board and some aluminum foil also work in a pinch.
For shake-free, stable video and an ability to pan smoothly, a tripod helps a great deal. Tripods benefit from being sturdy: a flimsy tripod will introduce shake into your video. Many tripods exist that will work well for videography, although there are also ones designed specifically for video capture. Likewise, many exist that you should not pick. The more compact, more leg segments, and lighter construction the tripod has, the less likely it will be to provide a suitably shake-free rest for your camera during a shoot.
Key Characteristics (in order of importance)
- Suitable weight rating for your gear
- A good tripod head that can tighten and not move under a static load but also move smoothly for panning shots
- Sturdy legs without play or give
- Struts connecting the legs to the central column
- Ability to accept wheeled dolly mounts and support gear like mics and lighting
If you read my second article on astronomical photography, the advice I can give here is basically the same as many of the same principles and needs apply. Videography tripods tend to be expensive, though, with some running upwards of $10,000. If you plan to do tracking shots, a wheeled dolly option can be helpful, but is typically not required for entry-level videography.
Near-free Stabilization Options
No end exists for the type, quantity, and price of video stabilization arms, brackets, and gimbals. In fact, a quick check of Kickstarter earlier this week turned up three new kickstarts for video stabilization equipment. So what kind of $600 video stabilizer do you need? None. Here are some very inexpensive options you can use that are very effective.
This will sound crazy, but bear with me. Using a 2X4 that is a length comfortable for you to hold both ends of, drill a hole in the middle for a 1/4-20 bolt. Thread the bolt into your camera's tripod socket. Holding both ends of the 2X4 will stabilize the video significantly.
Why? Rotational angles and arc movement. If you hold your camera with your hands and your hands move up and down one inch in each direction, you camera also moves up and down one inch. However, if your hands are 18 inches from your camera in each direction and they move one inch in either direction, your camera only moves 0.112 inches. The longer your board, the less your camera moves as your hands move. This is the least-expensive option for video stabilization, especially if you find the board for free in the classifieds.
A Weight on a String
Movement can be countered by movement. Newton's Third Law reads "every action has an equal and opposite reaction." So another way to reduce camera movement is to put a large lead fishing weight (no less than four and up to eight ounces) on a string up to six inches long (you'll want to test some different lengths) and affix it to your DSLR's tripod socket. This causes the movement of the camera to be transmitted down the string to the weight, which in turn moves the opposite direction countering the camera shake. If you don't have a weight, you can hold a (full) 20-ounce pop bottle between your fingers as you hold the camera for a similar result.
The simplest way to make a gimbal is to use your existing tripod. Simply articulate only one leg outward (if your tripod has a cross brace, you will need to detach it) and extend the other legs' extensions if needed to be a counterweight. Keep the contraption's center of gravity at or near the imaging sensor. You can then carry the tripod and much of the movement will be canceled.
Videography is a fun way to share your life with family and friends, and thanks to platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, it allows a user who wants to upload videos to make some money at the same time. A few simple items representing a minimal investment can help you have the best home movies on your Facebook feed, or improve the professionalism of your videos. If your goal is to make videos for a platform like YouTube for fun (or for profit), some of the basic pieces of equipment above can have a dramatic improvement on your videos' quality, therefore driving up search result rankings, improving your like:dislike ratio, increasing viewer engagement, returning a higher rate per million figure, and delivering monthly earnings.
If you have any equipment recommendations or tips you'd like to share, post them in the comments below!