Redrock camera rig for photographers shooting HD video

13 Products You Need to Add HD Video to Your Business


APRIL 05, 2012

By Dan Havlik

Getting started with shooting HD video is a lot like the weather. Everybody’s talking about it but nobody’s sure what to do about it. This is partially because shooting HD is more intimidating for photographers than anyone wants to admit. For starters, there’s all the extra gear you need, and we’re not just talking about the dozen or so HD-DSLRs screaming for your attention at the local camera store. To help you figure out what you really need to add HD video to your business, we spoke with photography and video educator Eduardo Angel about the essential pieces of gear—in order of importance—to get you rolling.

1. Lenses
If you want to get serious about shooting HD for brides and other clients, you’ve got to get serious about your lenses. In other words, don’t be a cheapskate.

“You want fast lenses and sharp lenses and the quality is really important,” Angel says. “You get what you pay for.” He added that lens quality is crucial for cameras with full-frame sensors—such as the recently announced Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800—because they capture so much detail. “Those sensors are so huge and HD video is so sharp and so big that everything shows. If you don’t have a sharp lens, then you’re really out of luck.”

At the same time, he noted you don’t need as wide a maximum aperture in your lenses as you do for portrait photography. “F/1.4 or f/1.8 is a myth. The subject is moving in video and keeping something sharp at f/1.4 when it is moving is nearly impossible.”

He suggests aiming for a lens with an f/2.8 aperture since it offers a good combination of low-light capabilities and dramatic background blur. His personal favorite is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. “It’s great for interviews because you can be far enough away from your subject, that you won’t intimidate them. It also gives you a lot of range to frame the scene without having to move the camera much.”

2. Camera
Though many people might tell you to start with the camera, Angel doesn’t think it’s as critical as it once was. “We used to buy a camera—a Hasselblad body or a Nikon F—and slowly add lenses and that was our system. Now the camera is the most disposable part of your gear. Camera life expectancy is 12 to 18 months and they’re affordable enough that you can swap bodies and continue using everything else.”

As with still photography, the type of camera you choose depends on what type of HD videos you plan to shoot. If you’re planning to capture locations, architecture or other wide subject matter, go with a full-frame camera because it won’t magnify your lenses. If you want to shoot interviews of wedding guests, you might be better off with a DSLR with an APS-C size chip to get closer to your subject. The most important rule, however, is to maintain uniformity across your system.

“You’re going to need more than one camera for shooting video and if it’s not the same model, you should match the same sensor size, which helps in post production and editing. I try to keep the same aspect ratio for everything I shoot. Also, don’t start mixing and matching brands because then you’ll have to match file formats later and more time is wasted in post.”

3. Microphone
You should ignore the built-in microphones in DSLRs if you plan to record live sound, because the quality is so poor they’re virtually unusable. “Assume the microphone on the camera doesn’t exist. You really need something else,” says Angel.

Instead, he uses the Røde Lavalier, a lapel microphone that he connects and records to a Zoom H4n digital recorder. He later syncs the sound to the video using PluralEyes software.

“Sound makes the movie. Sound, to me, is 50 percent of the video. Invest as much as you can in good sound equipment. It’s very hard for us, as photographers, to understand this because it wasn’t part of our tool book.”

Angel also suggests that if you are making movies and want to do extensive interviewing, that you hire someone specifically to record sound. “Don’t assume that you or a video editor knows how to deal with sound. It’s extremely important to get a specialist.”

4. Fluid Head Tripod
Be forewarned: Your still photography tripod head will not work for video. “You really need a fluid head tripod,” Angel says. “The movement of the camera has to be fluid. It has to start smoothly and stop smoothly and it’s very hard to do that with a still tripod.” He also suggests that you go with one that’s sturdy enough not only to support the camera with a big lens attached but all the additional video gear you’ll be using. You don’t, necessarily, have to spend a lot of money.

“I’m very happy with the Benro KH-25 fluid head tripod,” he notes. “It’s a fraction of the cost of the other guys and it works really well.”

(Editor’s note: Our Benro contact says the KH-25 is not available in the U.S. A comparable model that is available here is the Benro AD71FK5, which sells for around $200.)

5. Video Light
Angel is still searching for the ideal video light and while he hasn’t settled on one system yet, he likes the concept of LED lights, which provide continuous, soft light for video productions. He also likes that LED lights are very portable and cool down quickly but says they’re hard to modify and are expensive.

The most important thing with video lighting is to have ample power, which has led him to experiment with more traditional continuous lighting. “You can’t go as crazy with shooting at high ISOs in video as you can with shooting stills. Now, you’re more dependent on the aperture.”

6. Camera Rig
Don’t spend too much time stressing out about choosing a camera rig. Most of the major brands including Redrock Micro and Zacuto are good, he says. You will need something, since digital SLRs can be extremely uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of time. Angel’s rig of choice is the Cinevate Simplis because it’s light and portable and easy to fold up for travel.

7. Viewfinder
DSLR viewfinders, which fit over and magnify the camera’s LCD screen, are overpriced, Angel says, but necessary if you plan to shoot HD outside.

“Inside, you can get away without one. Most cameras can zoom in five to ten times on the LCD screen. But if you’re outside in bright light or if you’re chasing someone and the camera and subject are moving, you’ll absolutely need a viewfinder.”

8. Memory Cards
The key spec to look for in a memory card for video is that it’s rated at UDMA 6 or 7, which will help speed up the process of writing those big HD video files to the card. “Other, non-UDMA cards will work for a little bit and then suddenly you’ll realize the camera has stopped shooting.”

A fast card will also be a huge time-saver when you’re done with a shoot and want to transfer your footage to a computer or external hard drive, he adds. As for size, Angel uses 16 gb cards, which are big enough to let you record for a while but will ensure that if something goes wrong, you don’t lose the whole day’s work.

9. Hard Drive
When purchasing a hard drive, the key spec to look for is 7200 RPM. According to Angel, a 5200 or 5400 RPM hard drive just isn’t fast enough for video editing and will bog everything down. For his external drive, he uses a 1 tb, 7200 RPM G-Drive Mini from G-Technology. “I have six of them. They’re really small, beautiful hard drives to shoot on location with.”

10. Light Meter
Yes, it’s time to dust off that light meter and use it on your next video shoot. “If you’re setting up once, you probably won’t need a light meter. You can do it by eye,” he says. “But if you need to repeat a scene for a second interview or if you’re doing a corporate video over a couple of days and you need everything to match, it’s nearly impossible without a light meter.”

Angel uses a Sekonic L-308DC, which he says is “small, compact and extremely easy to use.”

11. ND (Neutral Density) Filter
Another essential for outdoor video shoots is a neutral density filter, which helps decrease the overall exposure. Angel recommends the Genus ND Fader filter which gives you up to eight stops of latitude depending on how it’s rotated, so you don’t have to keep swapping different filters in and out.

12. Software
One of the most intimidating things for photographers when it comes to HD is not shooting it, but editing it. And while you can teach yourself the basics of video editing, it’s really best to learn from an expert. “Video editing is a craft, not a task,” Angel says. “I strongly recommend you work with a professional. It’s not just downloading the clip and cutting here and there. They’re really telling the story.”

He also recommends learning how to self-edit while you shoot so you don’t end up with tons of footage you’re never going to use. As for specific software, Angel’s a fan of Adobe Premiere Pro, which he’s been using for the last two years.

“It’s just easy to use. You don’t have to transcode or change the file format. I can just throw any media from my camera at any place in the timeline and start working. It’s user friendly and it’s fast.”

13. Computer
Angel keeps all his video footage on external hard drives because it’s faster to edit from there than from off his computer’s drive. That doesn’t mean you don’t need a good computer, it’s just not critical to invest more money in it. “If you already have a computer system for your photography, just use that. There’s no need to get a new set-up. But increase the RAM, at least to 8 gb to start.” Another no-brainer is to get as big a screen as possible. “Trying to edit a project on a 15-inch laptop or smaller is possible but it’s not recommended. At least a 21-inch screen for your studio computer will definitely speed up the process.”

Related Articles:

Film School: 8 Things Photogs Need From Video Clients
7 Stunning Lenses
8 Great Software Finds for Photographers

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