With amazingly shallow depth of field, price points that make filmmaking affordable and camera bodies far smaller than camcorders, video-capable DSLRs have changed the world of video forever. Video capabilities were added to still cameras almost as an afterthought, so while the video quality in still cameras continues to get better and better, there are several limitations that require additional gear if you intend to produce professional videos or put together long-form projects like a short or full-length film—or you just want the best results possible for your personal videos.
MICS DESIGNED FOR DSLRs
Unless you’re planning to overdub the audio track, good, crisp, easily understood audio is an absolute necessity for successful videos. The internal microphone that you’ll find in a DSLR is a subpar audio device designed to capture unfocused ambient sound from the surrounding environment. It also has a tendency to pick up any noise from camera handling. Thankfully, most current DSLRs include a stereo 1?8-inch mini-jack, also known as a 3.5mm connection, and by simply plugging in even the most basic microphone, you instantly gain far superior sound to the onboard mic.
The majority of broadcast microphones are manufactured for the needs of camcorders, so many models have professional XLR outputs rather than a 1?8-inch jack. However, there are several microphone solutions available with a 3.5mm output and a low enough profile to sit atop and plug directly into a DSLR or camera.
Shure’s LensHopper VP83 and VP83F microphones are designed specifically for DSLR use with a very efficient build and rear LCD display for settings and monitoring audio from the back of the DSLR. The VP83F steps up the offerings with a dedicated stereo headphone output for monitoring audio as it’s recorded, as well as a flash memory slot for a microSDHC card of up to 32 GB. (With internal capture to a microSDHC card, this essentially removes the need for an extra dedicated audio recorder, if choosing to go with dual audio.) The VP83 offers an integrated 3.5mm cable, while the VP83F sports a gold-plated, detachable cable. Both mics also feature a high-quality Rycote Lyre shockmount system. Estimated Street Price: $229 (VP83 LensHopper); $349 (VP83F LensHopper).
RØDE offers a number of mics designed for video and broadcast, including the popular NTG series of condenser shotgun microphones, the omnidirectional Reporter interview mic and several lavaliers, including the smartLav, which captures audio directly to an iOS or Android smart device. The VideoMic, Stereo VideoMic, VideoMic Pro and Stereo VideoMic Pro are camera-top shotgun mics with an integrated 3.5mm mini-jack and powering from an easily replaceable 9V battery. The mono VideoMic and VideoMic Pro with better build each offers a condenser shotgun microphone and super-cardioid pickup pattern for superior audio from the front of the camera and minimization of sounds from the rear. The Stereo VideoMic and Stereo VideoMic Pro offer your choice of shotgun or a more omnidirectional pick-up pattern, as well as stereo capabilities with two cardioid microphone capsules. Estimated Street Price: Begins at $169 (RØDE VideoMic).
The Azden SGM-990 includes a switchable mic capsule configuration, so the microphone can be used at up to 35 feet as a super-cardioid shotgun with rear- and off-axis rejection, or as a more multipurpose omnidirectional mic for handheld interviews or capturing higher-quality ambient sounds. The SGM-990 powers from a single AAA battery. Estimated Street Price: $85.
The Sennheiser MKE 400 is a popular shotgun mic, thanks to its affordable price and compact size. Sensitivities can be set for working at closer or longer distances, and a foam windshield and shockmount are included to reduce background noise. The mic is capable of running for more than 300 hours on a single AAA battery. Estimated Street Price: $199.
With a windscreen and shockmount, Que Audio’s DSLR-Video Pro Microphone Kit includes everything you’ll need to mount the Q Mini Shotgun PRO to a DSLR. With three gain sensitivity settings, the Q Mini Shotgun PRO includes a 3.5mm jack, as well as balanced XLR and wireless transmitter adapters for working with other audio systems. (A Sniper PRO Microphone Kit also comes with a miniature boom pole for working with the Q Mini off-camera.) Estimated Street Price: $249 (Q Mini Shotgun PRO Microphone with Windscreen); $329 (DSLR-Video Pro Microphone Kit); $499 (Sniper PRO Microphone Kit).
CONTINUOUS LIGHTING FOR BOTH STILLS AND VIDEO
Video requires unwavering, flicker-free lighting, the kind you get from always-"on" light sources like tungsten and fluorescent bulbs or LED panels. LED lights, in particular, are ideal for video work because they produce minimal amounts of heat while also drawing far less power than other lighting systems.
Flashpoint offers a number of entry-level LED solutions, including the extremely inexpensive Flashpoint 144 LED Video Light & Dimmer, capable of "dialing in" the color temperature between tungsten and daylight at roughly 2800K to 5800K. For larger lighting needs, the Flashpoint 500C LED panel offers a bi-color array of 500 LED bulbs in 3200K and 5900K, with two switches for control over the tungsten array and the daylight array, as well as brightness. Estimated Street Price: $69 (Flashpoint 144 LED Video Light & Dimmer (FPVL144); $199 (Flashpoint 500C LED Light).
Croma lights from Litepanels feature a dimmable bi-color array of LEDs that allow you to mix color temperatures between 3200K tungsten to 5600K daylight with a dimmable power range of 0 to 100%. For a complete outfit, the Croma Flight Kit includes three 6.5×4.25×1.5-inch Croma LED panels with diffusion gels, three compact light stands, Manfrotto Justin spring clamps and deluxe ballhead shoe mounts that allow the Croma lights to be aimed toward any angle, even when placed on-camera. List Price: $649 (Litepanels Croma); $2,250 (Croma Flight Kit).
F.J. Westcott’s new 5500K SkyLux 1000W LED light is daylight-balanced with a high color rendering index score of 94 CRI. The SkyLux is built for durability with all-metal construction and a recessed, spring-mounted LED panel that has been rated at a life span of more than 50,000 hours. The light is dimmable from 30% to 100%, and it’s compatible with commonly available Bowens S-Type light-modification tools. Estimated Street Price: $999.
The Lowel SlimLight Interview Series of lighting kits provides multiple lighting possibilities in ready-to-go packages with light stands and case. The four kits are based on a quick-exchange 200W Rifa eX 44 tungsten-halogen light with dedicated softbox panel. Each kit offers either a companion Lowel Blender LED light or an additional tungsten-halogen 200W Pro-light for putting together multiple-light setups. The SlimLight Rifa Blender 1 and Blender 2 Kits include the Lowel Blender light with two sets of 5000K daylight and 3000K tungsten LED modules for a "blend" of color temperatures. If you prefer Fresnel-like spotlight fixtures, the SlimLight Rifa Pro 1 and Pro 2 kits include two high-intensity, focusable Pro-light models with reflectors and prismatic glass. The spot light can also be shaped through included barndoors. List Price: $900 (SlimLight Rifa Pro 1 Kit); $1,240 (SlimLight Rifa Pro 2 Kit); $1,260 (SlimLight Rifa Blender 1 Kit); $1,960 (SlimLight Rifa Blender 2 Kit).
The design of a still camera is aimed primarily at freezing and tracking quickly moving subjects, while video shots require long takes and very smooth movements. Adding accessories like camera rigs, tripods and other cinematic tools, like sliders or cranes, will make your system far more capable when attempting professional shots and cuts. Camera rigs and video cages give your camera numerous mounting points for accessories like viewfinders, monitors and follow-focus units while also converting your DSLR into a much more comfortable imaging device for handholding. They’re available in a number of different stabilization setups like single grips, top handles, gunstocks, shoulder supports and handheld cages. Many of these kits are also modular for adding or removing articulating joints and extras, as needed, or for making your own custom rig to suit the needs of your shot or your project.
There are also a number of specialty tools like dollies, sliders, cranes, jibs and precisely balanced stabilization systems. Expensive, but incredibly precise stabilization systems are available from Steadicam, Glidecam and VariZoom when you’re looking to capture smooth panning or tracking shots like those seen in a film. Motorized sliders with programmable motion-control pan-and-tilt heads are also available for high-quality time-lapse movements. A few of the most popular camera rig and dolly makers include Cinevate, iDC Photo Video, ikan, K-Tek, Letus, Manfrotto, Redrock Micro, SHAPE and Zacuto. Sliders, cranes and jibs give DSLRs and other systems control of overhead and motion shots. There are a number of different models available from DitoGear, Matthews, Kessler, Libec and Varavon.
Just as with still photography, tripods give you stability for shots, but for video work they become even more important because they’ll allow you to plant the camera for longer takes and give panning and tracking shots without the shudder and judder caused by handholding the camera. Fluid heads with panning bars are a great assistant on a shoot, as well, and they’re available with popular monopod and tripod systems like the four-section Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod and Head. The 561BHDV-1 includes a pan bar handle for light-touch control over panning and tilting, as well as three miniature legs at the base for camera swiveling abilities and better stability. Estimated Street Price: $299.
Davis & Sanford’s Magnum XG13 Grounder three-section tripod includes a three-way fluid FX13 pan-and-tilt head with on-off counterbalance control, providing a bit of tension to achieve more accurate camera movements. There’s a maximum height of six feet and a maximum load capacity of 15 pounds with a Quick-lift two-section center post for rapid adjustments and low-angle shooting. Estimated Street Price: $189.
Capable of supporting up to 13 pounds, Sachtler’s professional Ace L fluid head includes seven steps of counterbalance and an extra-long sliding plate for quickly finding the best camera balance, even if the DSLR has accessories attached. Synchronized Actuated Drag (SA drag) has three vertical and three horizontal grades of drag for precision in panning and tilting at a range of +90 degrees to -75 degrees. The Ace L is available with two different carbon-fiber tripod systems: the System Ace L TT 75/2 CF telescopic three-segment tripod covering 17 to 73 inches and the System Ace L MS CF tripod with a 31- to 67-inch range, as well as mid-level spreader and rubber feet for use on uneven terrain. Estimated Street Price: $1,299 (System Ace L TT 75/2 CF tripod); $999 (System Ace L MS CF tripod).
ONE BAG TO CARRY IT ALL
While camera bags for photography and camera bags for video cameras are similar in purpose, video bags must accommodate peripheral filmmaking gear, too. Video also consumes a lot of memory card space, so a laptop for unloading files is an important must-have item, as well. Kata offers a number of bag styles, whether shooting video or stills and even audio. Capable of holding a large camcorder with matte box and accessories, the large Pro-Light FlyBy-77 rolling case is designed for mobility with dual wheels and a retractable handle. The FlyBy-77 offers a bright yellow Aeriform interior to quickly locate gear and extras in low light with enough room for a 17-inch laptop, two to four DSLRs and up to 10 lenses. A smaller FlyBy-75 case includes enough space for a 15-inch laptop, two DSLRs and six to eight lenses. Estimated Street Price: $299 (Pro-Light FlyBy-77); $249 (Pro-Light FlyBy-75).