Gear For Still And HD-Video Capture

Essential equipment for getting the best still and motion imagery and sound in the field
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Steadicam Merlin; Novoflex MMR Bluebird

RedRock Micro Field Cinema DSLR Rig

The onslaught of DSLRs that can shoot professional-caliber HD video has not slowed. This year, two of the most eagerly anticipated and enthusiastically received cameras were the Nikon D800 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and both of these models were designed to have high-end motion-capture capabilities from the outset. As this issue of OP goes to press in August, we’re expecting to see more DSLRs with even more advanced video functions to be announced at the Photokina show in Germany this fall. Just about any DSLR or advanced mirrorless camera you buy today can shoot broadcast-quality video, so even if you’re not looking to make an entry for the Sundance Film Festival, the function is there, ready for you to use at any time.

Motion capture doesn’t have to mean a storyboarded narrative movie. For nature photographers, being able to shoot vignettes—short motion snapshots—can be incredibly rewarding. These are moments of animal behavior or motion in a landscape that just don’t lend themselves to a frozen still photograph. The process of shooting HD video can seem daunting and a little intimidating at first, but the more you try it, the easier the process becomes. And you don’t have to learn complex software like Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut Pro to experiment with motion capture. Clips can be dropped into just about any slideshow program where they simply become like another slide.

RØDE Stereo VideoMic Pro

On the capture side, there’s some key gear that will make the process much easier, and it will make your results much better looking and sounding.

In this article, we’re outlining equipment that doesn’t take up a lot of space so it can travel and even hike with you. These are the little things that make a big difference.

Shoulder Mounts And Steadying Devices
Keeping the camera steady is critical for motion capture. Stabilization rigs give you tools that will keep your camera steady and are also quite useful for still capture for times when a tripod or a monopod aren’t workable. In other words, these devices are multitaskers, just like your HD video-capable DSLR is a multitasker.

Zoom H4n

We only have space to list a few manufacturers in this article. BushHawk has been a popular choice for OP readers because of the intuitive design. Looking like a rifle stock with a camera on it, the BushHawk rigs give you a nice option when you’re using large telephoto lenses. Novoflex makes several stabilization kits that apply their reputation for engineering excellence into handheld supports that are balanced and allow you to attach a number of other accessories if you’d like. RedRock Micro makes a bewildering array of camera supports, designed for everything from quick-grab shots to extensive feature-level filmmaking. The RedRock Micro Universal Bundle and Nano Bundle are particularly popular choices for OP readers for their configurability.

Other manufacturers to consider are Camtrol, Chrosziel, Cinevate, Flashpoint, iDC Photo Video, ikan Corporation, Manfrotto, Sachtler and Zacuto.

Steadying your camera rig so you can move with it can be accomplished with a steady-cam-type of device (Note, Steadicam is a manufacturer. We use the term “steady-cam” as a generic moniker for devices that are designed to keep the camera stable while in motion.) Some popular makers of “steady-cams” are Steadicam, Glidecam, Sachtler and Varizoom. Each of these companies makes a range of products for anything from an ultralight mirrorless setup to a pro-level DSLR with a large telephoto lens. As a general rule, keep your focal lengths shorter when moving the camera on a steadying device. Longer telephotos will show any shakiness much more than shorter lenses.

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Que Audio DSLR-Video Mic Kit

Mics And Recorders
Your DSLR’s internal microphone is an amazing piece of technology, but for the very best sound, think about an accessory microphone. Que Audio, Rode, Sennheiser and others make shotgun mic setups designed specifically for the DSLR shooter. These camera-ready sets come with everything you need to mount the microphone onto your camera and plug it into the mic jack. For more audio versatility, you can buy a device that lets you plug mics with XLR inputs into the DSLR. juicedLink is one of the most popular makers of these accessories.

Another route is having a dedicated audio recorder. The Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-07mkII are two units that are particularly useful, inexpensive and compact. These recorders have built-in, high-quality mics and they are incredibly versatile. The H4n can even take additional mics beyond the ones built in. Portable recorders are great for capturing some ambient sound independent of shooting video. Then you can just add the audio to your video or multimedia production when you’re editing it together. Portable recorders and microphones are just a part of the contents of a camera bag in this golden era of photography and video.

Marshall LED Monitor

A large accessory monitor is a fantastic accessory to have. It’s not necessarily ideal for shooting fast sports action or wildlife, but for slow-moving subjects, it’s great to have that big view. Your DSLR has a good LCD monitor on the back, but even the biggest and best are only a few inches. On the other hand, you can get a five- or seven-inch accessory monitor for just a couple hundred dollars, and it will give you a great look at the footage while you’re shooting. Production-quality, highly color-corrected units are probably overkill for most OP readers, as these models can get expensive, but for a modest budget, you can have a monitor that’s incredibly useful in the field. If you were a large-format photographer, you know the benefit of a having that big view to work with. If you’ve always been shooting with small viewfinders and DSLR LCD screens, the accessory monitor will change the way you see.

Hoodman Class 10 SDXC Card

Big, Fast Memory Cards
Shooting HD video takes up a lot of storage space. Get yourself a few high-capacity memory cards that are fast enough to handle the frame rate. Whether your DSLR takes CompactFlash or SD or both, you can find cards that’ll be plenty fast for HD video. You want to have cards with approximately the same speed specifications in the camera if your DSLR takes multiple memory cards. That is, if your CF card is rated at 60 MB/sec read and write speeds, use an SD card that’s as close to the same speed as possible. We suggest this because some cameras will write to both cards at the max speed of the lower-rated card, and it’s not necessarily obvious when it happens. A good rule of thumb is simply to get the fastest you can afford with at least 8 GB capacities—16 GB is better. UDMA 7 or better will be plenty fast for your CF cards, and Class 10 is ample for SDHC and SDXC cards. Hoodman, Kingston, Lexar, PNY, SanDisk and Transcend all make solid memory cards.

cinetactics Matteblox

Matte Boxes
One accessory that you probably haven’t thought about is a matte box. These are the big lens shades that are normally associated with large professional movie cameras. You can get inexpensive matte boxes that will fit nicely on your DSLR or on your support rig, and that will fold down to a manageable size. The matte box acts as a lens shade to keep flare and errant reflections from spoiling your shot. They’re particularly useful for occasions when your camera will be in motion.

This article only scratches the surface of the myriad items that can make a big difference for your still and motion shooting. Our goal here was to provide a brief overview of some of the more helpful products. In future issues of OP, we’ll be delving into each of these types of gear and how to use them on your rig.