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Gear Up For Video

A look at some of the key accessories one pro uses to make top-quality HD video with his DSLR
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Daiwa 80

Video is now an important part of DSLRs. This medium adds motion and sound to your visuals, expanding what you can do visually with nature scenes. It’s true that you’ll need to think a little differently about what and how you shoot, and you’ll need to learn the skill of video editing, but it’s well worth it. The DSLR with video truly changes how video can be recorded because of the ability to use interchangeable lenses.

Here’s some of the gear I use for video. You don’t need to invest in all of the gear listed here, but each product assists in some way to make video shooting easier and more effective.

Giottos 504HD

Tripod Heads
The tripod head used for a still camera is designed to hold the camera steady and make repositioning it easy. There’s no need to have the camera move smoothly during the exposure.

Video is a moving medium that can include panning the camera across a scene as the scene is recorded, tilting the camera up and down during recording, or both, at the same time. A video head has technology that dampens the movement and allows the camera to pan or tilt smoothly. This is done with a fluid head that uses hydraulics to dampen movement of the camera.

Low-priced video heads are simple fluid heads. More expensive heads can give you amazingly smooth movement of the camera, plus they often have additional features such as easily adjusted resistance (which makes for smoother movement) and the ability to balance the camera better on the head.

It may seem like all you need to do is get a fluid head and use it for all of your photography. On the contrary, a fluid head isn’t designed for vertical shooting and doesn’t have an infinite range of positions like a ballhead. I frequently bring two tripods when I shoot, one for still photography and one for video.

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Sennheiser MKE 400

Digital SLRs come with microphones built in, but these mics are small and cheap, plus they’re nonselective in recording. The solution to better audio is as simple as purchasing an external microphone that plugs into your camera and can be used separately from the camera itself.

A shotgun mic is a good all-around microphone for photographers shooting video because it’s easy to use attached to the hot shoe, convenient and delivers good sound. A shotgun mic limits what it “hears” to a narrow angle directly in front of the camera. In addition, the mount of a shotgun mic insulates the microphone from the camera body so that you don’t pick up camera sounds.

iDC Run & Gun

I use the Sennheiser MKE 400 (, a small but effective shotgun mic, plus a windscreen sized specifically for it. (Wind noise settings on microphones aren’t as good as shaggy windscreens.)

Zacuto Z-Finder Pro

Hoods And Magnifiers
The LCD is your only way of working with video with DSLRs. There are some SLR-like cameras that shoot video and have an electronic viewfinder, and they allow you to see video as you shoot it both through the viewfinder and the LCD. Regardless, you’ll generally find that the LCD is easiest to use for shooting video.

Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0

The problem is that the LCD isn’t always easy to see. An LCD hood and magnifier can help you better compose and focus your video shots. The hood mounts to the back of your camera over the LCD and includes a magnifier to allow you to better see the LCD.

These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices. Whatever you get, be sure that it completely covers your LCD. In addition, be sure that you can mount it securely to your camera. I’ve found that the iDC Viewfinder Kit (( improves upon the basic glare shield made by Hoodman ( by adding a base plate and magnifier to the very useable hood and magnifier. I also like the Zacuto finders ( a lot. They’re finely made and they have excellent magnifiers built in.

Gitzo Traveler Monopod

A monopod gives you support and flexibility so you don’t have to hold the camera all the time and you can move quickly from one spot to another with the monopod still attached to the camera. This makes it ideal for shooting sports. I use a carbon-fiber monopod for its light weight. All major tripod manufacturers make good monopods.

Get a head for your monopod. You don’t need anything fancy as you’ll be panning by rotating the monopod, although if you want to do a lot of tilting up and down with the action, you need a fluid head.

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Puffin Pad

THE pod

A beanbag is a simple and inexpensive way of adding support for your camera. Filled with beans or plastic beads, the beanbag is placed on a surface, the camera is placed on the bag, and the bag conforms to both. The flexible bag makes it possible to do relatively smooth camera moves without a fluid head.

I love beanbags because they make low-angle shots (that I love in both video and still photography) easy. Beanbags come in a variety of sizes and shapes, depending on their end use. THE pod ( includes a tripod screw to mount it to the camera. The Puffin Pad ( is an inexpensive pad that’s designed as a support to go over a window and door in a car.

BushHawk 320D

Handheld Support
While most nature photographers will use a tripod for video, there are many accessories designed to hold your camera in front of you while supporting the camera’s weight on your shoulder, your belt and your hands. These accessories can make a huge difference in what your video looks like when you have to shoot handheld. Handholding accessories vary in size, complexity, weight and, of course, price.

Redrock Micro DSLR Rig

The BushHawk 320D ( is a shoulder mount that’s great for helping steady your video while following action with a telephoto lens. Designed by a photographer/filmmaker, iDC gear is photographer-friendly. Redrock Micro ( offers a whole range of support rigs for DSLRs that are nicely designed and configured.

Steadicam Merlin

Steadicam ( and Glidecam ( make excellent supports for shooting video. Both companies have long histories in the film business, and their products are designed to let you move while shooting and maintain a rock-steady image in the video.

Glidecam HD-2000

With the larger sensors of all DSLRs (compared to HD camcorders), plus the ability to use fast lenses with large ƒ-stops, you gain the ability to precisely define focus to a particular part of the composition. An interesting way of using focus is to change focus while shooting.

The challenge is in how you change focus from one part of the composition to another smoothly and accurately. Lenses for still cameras traditionally weren’t designed to do this. A number of companies, including iDC and Redrock Micro, now offer follow-focus controls. These are basically large knobs that mount to the camera lens and include gearing to make the focus smoother and slower (as needed). These units also can be set up for smoother zooms during recording. As we go to press, an interesting new follow-focus device called the Intuitfocus Follow Focus ( designed specially for DSLRs was introduced. Learn more in this issue’s In Focus section.

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Litepanels MicroPro

Flash doesn’t work for video. However, LED light panels have arrived, and they’re excellent tools for adding light to a subject. These light sources are typically daylight-balanced and run off of small batteries, so they’re compact and easy to take into the field. I particularly like them for shooting close-ups for video and still photos.

Flashpoint VL112

The well-made and highly controllable Litepanels MicroPro ( is a compact, yet very bright light that’s easily packed into a camera bag. The Flashpoint VL112 is another compact, lightweight LED panel you can try (

Marshall LCD Monitor

If you want the absolute best view of your video as you shoot, look into a separate LCD monitor. Typically, these are lightweight, five- to seven-inch LCDs that plug into your camera and let you see what the camera is seeing. You do need to check to be sure what your camera can display. Some cameras put out an HD, high-quality signal for this purpose, but others only put out a lower-resolution SD video signal. Marshall Electronics LCD monitors ( have a great reputation in the video industry for their excellent clarity and color, as well as including unique features not found on your camera LCD, such as exposure and focus aids.

IS Lenses And Video

Image stabilization got its start with video, and it can help with video when shooting DSLRs. There are some limitations, however.

1. Most image stabilization is designed for still photography, meaning that it works optimally with one shot at a time, not necessarily continuously.
2. Image stabilization takes out some jerkiness to video, but it doesn’t remove all movement. Overuse of a handheld camera with image stabilization can make viewers literally get motion sickness because the gentle movement that does show up is a lot like movement on a boat.
3. Image stabilization works well with handheld rigs that add a bit of their own stabilizing influence.
4. Image stabilization uses up a lot of battery power when used continuously with video.
5. Image stabilization works well with wider focal lengths shot with video. Telephoto lenses with video, even with image stabilization, just move around too much without some added help such as a shoulder mount or monopod.

Rob Sheppard blogs regularly at the OP blog at and at