Jon Cambourne, video shooter extraordinaire has done us all a great service and imparted his top 10 camera accessory must-haves for the DSLR shooter. A solid follow up to Mr. Cambourne’s recent article Top Reasons to use a DSLR Camera for Video this is a solid outline of must-haves for the serious and semi-serious up and coming video producer. Since video is a part of everyone’s marketing strategy for the foreseeable future, take a seat, and read on to see what Jon’s got for us to share:
1. Have a Variety of Camera Lenses
So now you’ve got your shiny new DSLR (digital single-lens-reflex camera) body, such as my Canon 5D, the first main accessory to purchase is a lens.
There are two main types of lens for DSLR, zoom and prime. Zoom lenses do as the name suggest and allow the user to zoom in and out from a fixed position.
Prime lenses are fixed width lenses and don’t allow any zooming in or out. Both can come in extremely wide or extremely long telephoto ranges.
You may be wondering what advantages a prime lens could bring when you could have one that zooms over a number of different focal distances? Well generally speaking zoom lenses are great for daylight and well
lit scenes but aren’t always great with low light.
First off, the staple lens of any shooter is a 50mm F1.4 lens - every camera kit needs this lens, be you a Nikon or Canon user.
Prime lenses often tend to have bigger apertures and can let in more light, therefore performing much better in any night time or low light scenarios.
My basic lens kit is comprised of a 24-105mm Zoom – perfect for daytime and well lit scenes, and the 50mm lens with a greater aperture – allowing much more light in when I shoot in darker environments.
I’d highly recommend a good combination of both types of lenses to ensure best coverage in all scenarios.
2. A Professional Tripod (Head + Legs Unit)
What’s the fastest way to increase production value?
A good sturdy tripod is essential for achieving wobble free shots = instantly professional.
Being designed primarily a photography camera, the majority of tripods marketed for DSLR users aren’t best optimized for video use. Some are light and very inexpensive, but you have to remember that you’re going to be shooting 24/25/60fps video and not individual still frames.
So avoid the still-photo specific tripods – they simply won’t work for motion video.
A super lightweight inexpensive tripod may sound extremely appealing, but you have to think practically – these are designed for stills not video, and the last thing you want is the camera blowing over half way through a shot. A tripod must be able to withstand the weight of a heavier camera, and pan/tilt without jerking and getting stuck – a constant battle with cheaper tripods.
Features that Make Up a Good Tripod
There are a few key tripod features to look out for which particularly benefit video shooters.
Select tripods ‘legs’ with adjustable pan handles that are paired with a ‘fluid head’.
‘Fluid Head’, as stated on Wikipedia:
…The fluid reduces the risk of the camera operator introducing any jerkiness or vibration to the shot during a pan or tilt through dampening, and also reduces the friction between moving parts of the head…
This will enable you to easily pan the camera up, down, left and right smoothly. The most popular DSLR video tripod head is the Manfrotto 502 head with it’s fluid action.. smooth, and will last a lifetime. Also, a higher-quality tripod head comes with a quick release baseplate is also ideal as it screws into the bottom of your camera for extra security, and can easily be taken on or off of the tripod in case you suddenly need to switch to hand held during a shoot.
A two-axis bubble is another great feature to have as this gives you an accurate indication of whether your tripod (and ultimately your shot) is flat and level or not.
While you can purchase a level separately, again, good quality tripod legs and/or heads will come with built in levels.
Also available are monopod, which as the name suggests have 1 main leg instead of 3. These are great for getting into tight spaces which would be trouble for a tripod, inexpensive, and easily collapse to fit into your bag. However, monopods are primarily designed with photographers in mind, and practically should only be used when shooting short video clips or if you’re packing extra light and may need something to help stabilize a shot.
(Note: Spiked feet aren’t essential but are a great help when filming in outdoor, wet or adverse conditions – you can pick the legs that go with your tripod for this.)
The BEST Tripod for DSLR Video Use
Simple: The most popular, for good reason, video DSLR tripod it the Manfrotto 502 with legs is the industry staple.
You can’t go wrong – the Manfrotto 502 setup is sturdy, smooth, durable – it’s where it’s at.
You can really go full out with tripod choices – there are wide variety of heads and tripod legs to fit a camera operators needs. Carbon fibre legs, 50mm levelling columns (editor’s note: my personal favourite!) all the way to super high-end Pneumatic 100mm bowl tripod are all options available! But all you really need is a good head, and a set of solid aluminum legs.
Recommendation: The Manfrotto 502 Head with 3-Section legs is the industry staple, and while it’s not cheap, that’s a positive – it’ll help make your shots great!
3. High-Speed Memory Cards
DSLR cameras usually record video onto either high capacity SDHC cards memory cards. When recording full HD 1080p video these can fill up quite quickly, so it’s good to have a few in your collection. The speed of the card is a main factor to look out for.
Memory cards have different write speeds or classes, and as a rule of thumb the higher the number the quicker the card will be. The manual for the Canon 5D camera actually specifies that only quite low card speeds are required for video recording.
However, from my own personal experiences I would always advise going for the highest speed card that your budget can permit. I recently purchased an inexpensive unbranded card for personal use which didn’t actually have a class or speed written on it.
The more I pushed the camera with filming lots of clips the more it couldn’t keep up and lagged, occasionally stopping in the middle of recording because it couldn’t write data to the card fast enough.
A good minimum speed I’d recommend going for is 60MB/s, or sometimes called 400x.
4. External Microphone
The inbuilt microphones are a nice feature for DSLR cameras and show that the manufacturers are thinking about video users more and more.
However, the quality is more often than not unusable for professional use, as you can read more about in the article here titled “Audio More Important than Visuals“. TL;DR takeaway = good audio is really important if you want to have a successful video.
If your camera has a microphone in jack, a great solution is a top microphone which will attach to the camera via the microphone hotshoe mount. These can either be stereo or shotgun (directional) and are great at recording sound directly in front of the camera as well as ambient background noise.
A wired or wireless clip microphone is another great accessory to have. These lav microphones attach to a persons collar or lapel and are the best for recording speech and dialogue.
If your camera doesn’t have a microphone input jack then a solution is to use an external audio recorder and sync the sound up in post-production.
A top tip for this method is to use the cameras in built microphone to record some sound to the video. Even though you will eventually only use the better quality sound from the external recorder, this rough camera sound will act as a guide track to help make synching up the external sound to the video much easier.
5. A Kit Gear Bag
Whether you’ve got a basic collection of kit, or store rooms full of lenses and accessories, you’re going to need a safe and practical way to transport everything you need to shoots.
If you’re shooting solo then there are some great rucksack solutions on the market to look at, designed especially for DSLR videographers.
The main DSLR video rucksack I use has a large front compartment that easily holds my camera body, two lenses, lights, microphone and viewfinder. It is very well padded and contains a number of Velcro dividers allowing for complete customization.
I put things I might need quick access to in the top compartment of the bag, such as headphones and shoulder rig.
There are a wealth of small pockets all over the bag for things like memory cards and batteries, and there is a great pocket on the back that fits most full sized laptops.
The main straps are very padded and comfortable to wear over a long shoot day, and you really feel like it has been designed from the ground up with professional video users in mind.
For those needing to transport a lot of kit there are wheelie suitcase solutions available with a lot more space for additional lenses, camera bodies, sound and lighting.
Also for those wanting complete piece of mind, particularly when travelling abroad with kit, then there are hard moulded plastic cases available in a number of different shapes and sizes offering the best protection.
Now, onto the next set accessories for your Video DSLR Camera:
Click here to read Part 2 - Top 10 Must-Have Video DSLR Accessories!