What Video Equipment Do I Need?
Beyond the obvious fact that you need a video camera to create a video (which some of my less astute readers might not be aware of to begin with), there are a multitude of optional video equipment components that can be used to flesh out your production and bring it to the next level. The great thing about most of these components is that they are renewable resources – you buy them once and you can use them over and over again.
None of the items described on this page below this point are necessary to make a video. See How To Make A Video if you have absolutely no way of purchasing or acquiring anything besides a camera. These are simply additional tools that will make things easier for you and help you achieve better results.
Digital Editing Workstation
This sounds like the name of some fancy technological device. A Digital Editing Workstation, however, is nothing more than a normal desktop or laptop computer. All editing workstations are computers, but not all computers are editing workstations.
If you’re looking at this website right now… ahem… which you are… you have a computer, or at least access to one. Actually, if you don’t have a computer by now, I need to talk with you about some changes that need to take place in your life.
Even the most rudimentary, basic computer models they make now can be had for a couple hundred bucks, and will be sufficient to be used as your workstation. Failing that, you can obtain a computer that’s a couple of years old for a pittance, and that should suit you just fine.
What makes an average, run-of-the-mill computer into an editing workstation is the inclusion of the necessary hardware and software to perform multimedia editing.
The good news about this is that it used to cost an arm and a leg to get the right hardware onto your machine so you could edit video. In college I put my first video capture card into my computer at the time, and it cost nearly $200. Now you can get a firewire card that fits in one of your computer’s PCI slots for around $20-30.
Firewire is the best and most affordable technology for video capturing that exists on the consumer market today. It’s fast and easy to use, it is compatible with just about every camera manufactured, and it provides consistent results. You can capture HD footage with a firewire card in most cases, and although HDMI is making advances it’s still fairly cost-prohibitive at this point.
A note on consistency: with that old video capture card I put into my computer way back when, the interface was analog. It used a cable that connected to the computer through RCA jacks, and had separate inputs for audio and video. The video card itself had to be connected to my computer’s audio card, which meant that the two card needed to be sync’d up exactly.
This was not often the case, so I’d find that whenever I captured long segments of footage the audio and the video lost sync with one another. Sounds would start happening several seconds after the matching video, and editing became an absolute nightmare.
With firewire technology, both video and audio signals are carried through a single digital cable, so you never have to worry about syncing issues like that. Put a firewire card into your computer, if it doesn’t already have one, and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a Digital Editing Workstation. The other component of a DEW is the software used for editing.
Both digital audio and digital video will benefit from manipulation after you capture them from their original source. There are tons of options for software, many of which I provide reviews and commentary for on my audio and video software pages.
Portable Audio Recorder
You can always use the onboard microphone on your camera to record all your sound. That is, if you want your videos to have tunnel-itis. I’m sure you’ve heard that distant, echoey effect on YouTube videos before. It happens when a person sets up a camera, hits record and stands against a wall or sits at a desk across the room.
Tunnel-itis is a dead giveaway that a novice has been playing with cameras, and you don’t want that happening to your videos. Rather than the sound being captured by a directed microphone, it bounces off every wall in the room before it hits the on-camera mic. The farther away the sound (ie., the person talking) gets, the greater the effect and thus the more hollow and ringy the sound becomes.
A portable audio recorder is anything from a device made specifically for that purpose (decent ones cost a few hundred dollars) to a microphone hooked up to your laptop, or even a high-end shotgun mic connected to a mobile recording rig.
Since actual movie film is a series of photographs taken at high speeds, film cameras don’t usually have the capability to record audio. So the way major filmmakers record sounds during filming is by using a shotgun microphone on a boom pole.
A shotgun is a long, slender, highly sensitive directional microphone. It records sounds in stereo and tends to pick up the greatest volume of sound from the direction it is pointing. While filming a scene in which two people are talking, for example, the shotgun mic is suspended above and between them, pointing downward so that it picks up their dialogue.
Muffs / Windscreens
Shotgun mics are sometimes fitted with a muff or windscreen. The windscreen/muff covers the mic entirely and keeps breezes from blowing directly into the filaments (this tends to cause an annoying, scratchy sound and muffles other audio before it reaches the mic).
A boom pole is an extendable rod that holds the shotgun mic at the far end and allows it to be hung over the action in a scene, close to where the bulk of the sound is taking place. In this way a louder, more clear sound signal can be recorded from afar without any interference, even if the shot is framed widely.
Boom poles tend to be expensive, but there are a few ways you can make a cheap one yourself using a lightbulb changing kit and a shockmount.
Another expensive piece of filming equipment, a professional steadicam can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It is made up of a padded metal harness that fits snugly around the cameraperson’s shoulders and abdomen, and a balancing arm that holds the camera.
Without going into depth to explain how the actual physics work, the steadicam holds the camera up so that every motion it makes is smooth and fluid. The camera operator can literally jump up and down while wearing the harness and the arm that supports the camera will hold it almost completely still.
In simpler terms, and to provide a more basic description that will benefit you in your endeavors, a steadicam is any apparatus that adds weight to the bottom of the camera. Think about a grandfather or pendulum clock. The weight at the bottom causes a smooth, fluid movement of the pendulum that keeps time so precisely that it can measure exact seconds for months at a time.
Now imagine trying to crank a grandfather clock by hand, moving it back and forth in rhythm. It would be a little bit more difficult to keep it smooth and fluid, wouldn’t it?
Likewise, if you grab a small consumer video camera and slip your hand through the strap, you now have a compact, light-weight object in your grasp. How simple would it be to fling your arm about wildly in any direction? How difficult is it for you to keep your hand completely still and level while you hold onto it?
The answer to both of those questions is very. So the only way to get a still, level picture is to use a tripod and mount the camera on the ground, right? But what if you need to move the camera as you shoot? Panning, tracking, and dollying all become easier by adding a pendulum-like device beneath the camera.
Quick Tip: In a pinch you can just draw up the legs on your tripod, group them together, and hold your camera by the legs themselves. This makes it more difficult to turn the camera off-kilter and adds some weight to your setup.
You can use some piping and a free weight below the camera to provide this extra stability very cheaply. As a matter of fact, I’m going to do something rare and link to the website that shows you how to do it.
While your sound design and camera work set the tone of your video, lighting sets the mood. Setting up to shoot a person is a relatively simple process, which I talk about on my lighting page.
Lighting a scene with multiple subjects and/or people requires a little bit more creativity if you don’t have several three-point lighting setups available to you. You may find that while the normal amount of light in one of the rooms in your house appears sufficient to the naked eye, it only barely does the job when you start dealing with cameras and you have other miscellaneous video equipment to contend with.
Professional light kits can cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars, so a good cheap option for lighting equipment is to purchase some metal shop lights from your local hardware store.
Three of these lights with bulbs will cost you under $20, and they’ll give you a huge increase in the amount of control you have while you film. You can bounce lights off of walls, mirrors, or any other flat, lightly colored surface to provide more ambient “fill” light.
There are tons of other small items and accessories you could buy to make your films more appealing, such as video and audio plug-ins for your software, light covers, reflector panels, and color filters. Figure out what works best for you and use the guides throughout the rest of this site to help you on your way.
Video Equipment Checklist
The list of video equipment below is meant to give you some guidelines on what to think about when planning your next video project. Use it to take inventory of your things and remember all the items you’ll need when filming in various locations.