Photo credit Maz.nu on Flickr
This year I have been looking at using solutions to help make “professional standard” videos for release on the web and digital TV. As part of a technical roundup this year I thought I might showcase a few pieces of equipment I use and that may prove useful in a school to make professional grade videos but they could be of interest to anyone who wants to start thinking about making digital content for themselves. Bear in mind I am not talking about quick and dirty “process” video techniques as outlined by Tom Barrett’s excellent crowdsourced document here:
but more polished videos suitable for output by a media department or for representing the school or organisation’s views and ethos or even to launch your own TV channel viewed by mobile phone!
Bear in mind the Digital switchover and convergence comes into force in October 2012 (sometimes earlier) in the UK so making your content as good as possible for digital broadcast might be a consideration if you are hoping to build a school or company media channel reaching a niche market. I don’t have all the answers here but after hours of researching online and looking at and trying out equipment here are a few pointers. I will start with the most expensive and work my way down for most budgets.
Photo attribution Johndan on Flickr
A good tripod is a must if you are going to make more professional movies.
Yes, a small gorilla tripod or desktop tripod will suffice for less important shots with no sound that you can use to fill-in or cut away from the main film can be useful but having a good small “rig” to attach everything to is vital and it needs to sit on top of a sturdy tripod. I would recommend you spend as much on a good tripod as you do on a cheap HD camera because it will be a workhorse for years to come. If possible buy a separate tripod and then attach a fluid head on top – Manfrotto do excellent ones:
Because as you “grow” your kit and media department you can attach more sophisticated equipment on top of the tripod like a glidetrack for instance (http://www.glidetrack.com/products/hd-range/glidetrack-shooter-hd.html#) which will enable you to do more professional shots – and it takes a lot of knocks and wear and tear. A good tripod lasts a lifetime.
Photo attribution to rustysherrif on Flickr
If you are going to make professional quality videos then the one thing you really need to consider carefully is sound. Often the onboard mike from the camera isn’t enough to do the job efficiently. I look at videos I made years ago and think how badly the sound is recorded. If you can’t get the microphone as near as you can to the person being filmed then invest in a wireless mike or a field recorder. Proximity is the key to sound on film. Make sure your video camera has the option of inputting an external mike.
So even before getting a camera I would always consider investing in a good wireless sound mike. I use Sennheisers and I think they are the best sound apart from broadcast systems which cost thousands. This system in the UK is most compliant for the 2012 switchover:
A MUCH cheaper “wired” alternative is here:
You may not even need a video camera with an external mike if you want to post produce the sound. What that means is you take a separate recording off-camera and then synch the better recording replacing that of the camera’s. One brilliant program for doing this is Dual Eyes.
What is essential is that you use HD camera though although a good legacy SD camera is not to be sniffed at. At present John McClear is looking at very cheap handheld cameras for school use:
all I will say is that the ideal should have an external mike socket for plugging in an external mike if needed.
Image attribution to gmarcos87 on Flickr
To get good sound I often use a separate Field Recorder and/or mixer – my choice is the Zoom H4N – which is probably more expensive than the camera you’ll be using but then it produces superb results. I combine the wireless or wired mikes above with this cable (at the time of writing)
to plug into the Zoom H4N or the cheaper version Zoom H1. I can then get two mikes into the recorder and level them accordingly. The recorder saves to a SD card.
If you want to go up a notch and completely “level” your sound before it gets straight into the camera without a separate recorder or post production then you can, using this:
which works with any camera with an external mike socket. But there are good cheaper and more resiliant alternatives – buy a cheap HD camcorder with a mike out for a bit more money and you have the basis for a really good setup you can build over time. As you will see later in this blog, an old legacy tape HD or SD camcorder can be converted with the right kit to take excellent films.
If you are making “movies” then buying a Rode Shotgun Mike, a boom pole and a dead cat wind muffler would be another excellent investment if you need to hide the microphone or use an interview grip like they do on the Beeb. Some of these have cheaper equivalents elsewhere on the web or you could make your own with someone who is handy with DIY.
Image attribution to dafalcoln on Flickr
The general rule of thumb with lighting is “plenty of it” and with interviews, from three different directions – possibly more.
Nearly always you will need lights to fill-in shadows and other optical deficiencies in your camera’s makeup. Lighting is a whole other blog. This is where you can be inventive and set up gorilla tripods and other stands and put lights on top of them. Here are three lighting sources I use on difficult to get to shoots:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/HDV-Z96-Lighting-Olympus-Panasnic-Camcorders/dp/B004X34APQ (make sure you use it with a Sony battery and not the AA’s otherwise it flickers)
or a Paglight
or a Rotolight
You can use cheaper alternatives and consider the health and safety aspect if using a non-LED paglight as they run hot. LEDs are cool lights so much safer.
Always try and use a white painted board or a reflector to give more fill-in light if possible on shots (I’m not going to go into the intricacies here) as well.
If you want more expensive lighting kits then go for something like this:
Image credits to friskierisky on Flickr
You may have noticed that I haven’t recommended a camera that is because the technology is moving so fast but I would say if you want good quality video then choose a camera capable of producing video to HD 1080P mode with a SD or CF card slot to save files digitally with and external mike in slot. Even without an external mike you could use Dual Eyes software to post-synch footage as mentioned above.
However some good bargains can be had with old SD and HD mini-DV tape video cameras – you can convert an old Firewire SD camera into a tapeless CF card reading camera using a DN-60 drive :
combine that with the BeachTek sound equipment mentioned above and you have a tapeless equivalent. There are always workarounds.
Image attribution to double-h on FLickr
Lastly the emergence of the iPhone 4s in video making cannot be ignored. I have been researching film making on the iPhone for some time and below are the resources you need for a state of the art media department wanting to use smart phones.
Everything I have said above about sound and other parameters applies to the iPhone as well.
Click on the Linkbunch link below to go to the collected resources.
Image attribution to hadesigns on Flickr
I hope you have enjoyed this run through of resources to make more professional films for your institution. The wisest thing anyone says, of course, is that the best camera you have is the one you are using.
Look up all the amazing films on Vimeo.com – see how the professionals do it and learn from them. Use YouTube to see independent product reviews of all the kit I have mentioned and their cheaper equivalents. It will be worth investing the time. And above all, enjoy the process of film making with whatever you have to hand.
I haven’t gone into storyboarding, pedagogy, post production, lighting, sound, colouring, hosting, streaming, copyright and loads of other skills here but I am available for inset around March/ April 2012 just click on CONTACT in the menu above or here – I work all over the UK.
Have a great new year!