JBlogoOne of my biggest influences in becoming keen to shoot good videos on my Canon 5DMk2 is Nic Askew and his ‘Soul Biographies’. His films are both moving and inspirational, and make me also want to reach out and witness people’s stories, without wasting their time by not having the right equipment. Preparation…

So, I’ve spent the last two months making exhaustive searches of reviews and posts by other photographer/film-makers, on all kinds of equipment and prices. Having finally found a workable combo-kit on a poor man’s budget, I’d like to share it with you. OK, you’re going to have to spend good money to get good equipment – but this is the kit I’ve found works best, at a greatly reduced price compared to the brands some of them have obviously copied. To avoid cumbersome reading, I’ll put prices and web links at the end. Happy reading!

1. Heavy tripod with a good video head:

You need a tripod with enough load capacity to hold the combined weight of a good ‘Video Kit,’ as well as the camera and lens. A video head gives you a smoothness to pans and tilts that normal tripod heads simply aren’t designed for. I started with my Manfrotto 190XPROB and a Manfrotto 701HD video head, but now I find that the Manfrotto video-camera plate is too narrow for the camera plate that came with the kit I bought, so I’ll get a Cinecity video head to fit the new CC camera plate. The tripod I actually prefer is my Gitzo Studex G1320mk2, which (if you can find one) is a serious set of legs, has a load capacity of 13kg, and is without a doubt my best tripod for its weight/load capacity ratio.

2. Magnified Viewfinder Hood:

You need to shield your camera’s LCD screen, to be able to see what’s going on in your video shoot. You might also want this just for stills. By far the cheapest good ‘hooded’ Viewfinder I’ve found (at a fraction of the cost of a Zacuto) is Calumet’s ‘2.5x HDSLR Viewfinder’, which attaches magnetically to your LCD screen. I love it, and it even has a neck strap for when you take the viewfinder off. It’s perfect.

3. Filter Holder & Lens Shade.

You’ll want to use filters with video, especially ND Grads (neutral density graduated filters) for skies. You also need a good lens shade for effectively blocking flare from sun or studio lights. The ‘Matte Box’ for these two things which came with my DSLR Video Kit (below) wasn’t up to par; I can’t use it with my wide angle zoom (Canon 16-35mm L f2.8), the ‘French Flags’ are enormous, and the whole thing is much too bulky. So instead I’m using my existing Lee Filter Holder with the 77mm mount, that screws into the lens (use step-up rings if your lenses are smaller diameter than 77mm), and the excellent Lee ‘Compendium’ Lens Shade. Instead of fitting on the ‘rails’, the Lens Shade slides onto the Filter Holder, and the two are light enough to screw into the front of the lens. Simples!

4. Audio: Microphones and Audio Recording:

After I’ve finished this post, I’ll put these other two vital areas of Video Production in a separate post, to keep this one shorter. Won’t be long…

5. Main Video Shooting Rig:

Instead of just mounting the DSLR onto a tripod with a video head, most photo-videographers opt for a ‘DSLR Video Kit’. This allows you to include and fit some or all of these accessories on the same rig; Follow-Focus, Follow-Zoom, Shoulder Mount, Cage Assembly with handle (for smoother hand-held shoots), a separate LCD Screen, and an Audio Recorder and a Microphone – most or all of which fit onto a parallel set of ‘rails’, usually 15mm diameter. Apart from the last three items , I’ll outline what the rest of the ‘Kit’ is about, and why they’re important.

The ‘PROAIM DSLR KIT-3’ from ‘thecinecity.com’ is simply a great piece of kit (link below), currently selling for £357, and is a very well-made design copy of a kit by Red Rock costing nearly six times the price! In one kit, you get the following: tripod mount, camera mount, 15mm twin rail system, V1 Follow-Focus, Z1 Follow-Zoom, a ‘Matte Box’ with ‘French Flags’ (lens shades) and 2 4×4″ filter holders, a very good Shoulder Mount, and various other very good quality accessories, arriving in a nifty custom padded case. It’s also 1/3 of the price of an exact copy of the Proaim kit, that Calumet sells for over £1000! Be sure to get the KIT-3 directly from thecinecity.com and not Ebay, where the same company sell the same Kit-3 for £430. Buyer beware…or at least shop around for the bet price.

Before I talk about the modifications I asked CC to make for me, let me go into Follow-Focus and Follow-Zoom a little, for those who don’t know what these are.

Whether your camera is on a tripod or hand held for video (don’t try H/H without a shoulder rig), focusing or zooming a lens with your fingers doesn’t work very well. First, you don’t really have enough hands – and especially with zoom lenses, there are so many lens elements inside the lens barrel, that zooming the lens is just too jerky in video, especially at the start of the zoom transition.

I’ve tried various ‘cheap’ options for both Follow-Focus and Follow-Zoom, including the clever ‘Trudeau Jar-Opener’ option. None of these methods, however, smooth out the inherent jerky movement of most zoom lenses. You need a system where by turning a large geared wheel connected to the lens, the movement displaces evenly to the lens and either the zoom or focus turns evenly and smoothly. This method (usually with a large white ring on the wheel) also lets you to focus the lens on the exact distance(s) to the subject for different scenes, then mark the place on the wheel rim with a wax pencil to show exactly where to ‘pull’ the focus or zoom to. This is what ‘Focus Pullers’ do when making a film, so the camera person can concentrate on composition and position.

Modifications to the PROAIM DSLR KIt-3:

CC make at least 11 Follow-Focus units, which is very confusing. The ‘kit version’ that comes with the DSLR Lit-3 is a ‘V1’ FF unit, and a complimentary ‘Z1’ Follow-Zoom. But reviews of the V1 are much less favorable than the ‘V2’, which is only £30 more. Plus, since the Z1 Follow-Zoom only attaches to one, not two of the 15mm rails, I didn’t trust it to stay in place. Also, one smart photographer finally confirmed my instinct: you can use a V2 on one side of the rails for focus, and another on the other side, for zoom! CC curiously aren’t interested to market this phenomenon, but the V2 does come with both a nifty speed crank, and also a 15″ whip so that your hand (or the puller’s) can be farther away from the camera. So I use both V2s on one lens, and leave the Z1 alone. A much better choice.

That thing about the ‘Matte Box’? By all means ask CC to change the usual one for their ‘Wide Angle’ version (their sale people are lovely and will no doubt put any kit together that you want), but both the Lee Filter Holder and Lens Shade are excellent and not too costly, so at some point you may want to bite the bullet and get a pair. If you’re in London you could always go to Teamworkphoto and get them to show you a set. They do excellent Lee soft ND Grads as well.

6. Accessories:

There are lots of other pieces of kit that you can use with your Video Rig, like a larger LCD screen than the one on your camera, and of course audio components like an Audio Recorder and the vital microphone. I’ll get into these on another post; but for now, the one accessory that I knew would be invaluable to fit any of the above to my camera, is a ‘Calumet 4.2 Articulating Arm with Shoe Mount’ (CF9310), which I currently use to mount my Zoom H4N Audio Recorder onto my camera’s hot shoe. Good product.

That’s it. I hope that by compressing two months’ worth of focused research into one blog post helps you with your DSLR/video  deliberations. Please comment, and get in touch if  you have any questions: I love to compare notes. One thing you can do to help me is to ‘like’ my Photography Facebook page (James Bartholomew Photography: the Artist) to help me promote my photography business and my teaching. Sorry this blog is so long: hopefully it was worth it.

Here’s a list of Equipment listed above, with UK retail prices and contact links. Happy hunting! James x

Manfrotto 190XPROB Tripod (legs): £ 99.00                       http://www.jessops.com/online.store/products/49003/Show.html?clickid=1GfS-T1D725kx0V1Zj0Un3GbUkWUXRQxnTD6UI0&irmpname=CK+Net+Ltd.&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=cknet-cpa&utm_source=google-cknet

Manfrotto 701HD Video Head: £99.99                                       http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Manfrotto-701HDV-Pro-Fluid-Video-Mini-Head-701-HDV-Brand-NEW-/261202510286?pt=UK_Tripods_Heads_Stablisers&hash=item3cd0e201ce

Gitzo Studex G1320mk2 Tripod (legs): £287.00                                             http://www.digitalrev.com/product/gitzo-g1320-studex-performance-aluminum/MzUxMg_A_A

Calumet “2.5x HDSLR Viewfinder”: £ 49.99                                      http://www.calumetphoto.co.uk/product/calumet-2.5x-hdslr-viewfinder/CD1904/?tracking=|searchterm:2.5x|HDSLR

Lee Filter Holder 77mm: £ 59.98                                    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lee-Filter-Holder-Foundation-Kit/dp/B00009XW3O

Lee Compendium Lens Shade: (no UK listing) $124.99                                  http://www.calumetphoto.com/product/calumet-compendium-lens-shade/LE5005/

Cinecity: PROAIM-DSLR-KIT-3: (from India) $357.00                          http://www.thecinecity.com/eshop/PROAIM-DSLR-KIT-3.html

Cinecity: PROAIM FOLLOW FOCUS: (from India) $175.00                             http://www.thecinecity.com/eshop/PROAIM-V2-Follow-Focus.html

Calumet 4.2 Articulating Arm with Shoe Mount (CF9310): £34.99

©James Bartholomew 2013

Email: james@jamesbartholomew.com