Posted on March 15, 2011
More and more people choose to throw away their old camcorder for a new DSLR camera with video-function. Today almost every DSLR camera can record FULL-HD video with stunning quality. The most amazing part of this, is that the video quality in these cameras are actually good enough to shoot films for the cinema. Today a couple of feature films here in Norway have already been shot with DSLRs. There are no doubt that this cameras produce great video quality, but will this be the end for the camcorders?
Since the DSLRs mainly were built to take pictures, they have not yet included a good microphone, XLR inputs and other important film components in to the camera. Therefore it’s necessary to buy extra equipment if you want to shoot films with your DSLR.
Since I bought my Canon 550D (Rebel t2i) in February 2010, I have bought additional equipment for it to achieve what I feel I need to produce great films. I have made a list of my equipment and what I gave for it. The list is separated into three parts (I have not included rigs and tripods yet). The first part of the list is called “1. priority” and contains the most basic equipment you need to make films. The “2. priority” is for film makers who want to make bigger productions with longer shooting days, using several locations and have the opportunity to shoot both day/night and inside/outside. The “3. priority” is for film makers who want to spend enough money to get the best, but also one of the cheapest gear for shooting films with DSLRs.
Canon 550D/t2i – $769
This is probably the first DSLR camera to shoot 1080p video. I bought it in February 2010 and was amazed by the good video-quality this camera produced. When shooting with DSLRs you get an amazing depth of field that gives you the film-look. Since you can change between a huge amount of lenses to attach to this camera, you have a lot of opportunities when filming. You can for example buy and use a good all-round zoom lens, a crazy telephoto lens or a really good lens for low light conditions. The choices are many. The camera is also so small and handy it’s easy to shoot video from angles that was hard to shoot with bigger semi-pro camcorders. Considering how cheap the Canon 550D is, the quality is surprisingly good. It’s probably one of the best buys I have ever done.
SDHC Card 16GB Class 6 – $35
When recording video with the Canon 550D, you need a SDHC card of at least class 5. The higher the class, the faster the card is to store and read files. But why not choose a card with more then 16 GB, you may ask? It’s because I want several 16GB cards instead of a 32GB or 64Gb card. The SDHC cards are so small in size, that if you lose one, you only loose 16GB of video instead of maybe 64GB of video.
Røde videomic – $144
The Canon 550D has a built in microphone, but unfortunately it’s not very good for making films. It doesn’t pick up low sounds very well and it creates some noise. The microphone also detects the sound from the lens every time I change focus.
I checked out some different shotgun microphones with mini jack outputs, and the RØDE video microphone was the one with the best quality compared to the low price you pay for it. However, I was a bit disappointed the first time i tried it with the 550D, because it created a lot of noise when recording in quiet environments. I checked the Internet for this problem and found out that it was the “Auto Gain Control” in the camera that increased the microphone volume every time i recorded in a quiet environment (this happens to all external microphones connected to the 550D). However, I solved the problem by hacking my 550D. Check out what I did under.
Magic Lantern firmware hack – free
I found out about the “Magic lantern” hack on the internet and noticed that it could add a lot of extra video settings to my camera. Some of the new features with this hack was the option to use manual sound control, show on-screen audio meters, zebra stripes and custom cropmarks. This is very helpful when shooting film, especially the “manual sound control” feature, which fixed the noise problem with the camera and microphone.
The hack however, is a bit hard to install and it might actually destroy your camera. It’s a very small chance for this to happen though (since there have not yet been registered any broken cameras). The hack is free and can be downloaded here: http://magiclantern.wikia.com/wiki/550D
Total price 1. priority (including camera) = $948
Canon 50mm f1.4 USM – $399
The cool thing about shooting films with the 550D is off course the nice looking depth of field, but it’s also nice to notice that the camera can record good looking video with low noise even in low-light conditions. This means that you don’t need to use big lamps and reflectors to shoot professional video in low-light, but you can actually often record with the light you have on location.
The lens that comes with the camera has a lowest aperture at f3.5. Therefore this lens is not the best lens to use in low-light because it needs more light to produce video with low noise. Since I wanted to be able to film in low-light conditions, I bought myself a Canon 50mm with aperture at f1.4. This lens is amazing because you can shoot with ISO at max 200 inside your house at night, and get good looking video. So if you have enough money to buy a new lens, I would recommend this or the 30mm lens with the same aperture.
2 UV glasses – $21
Actually I was planning on putting the UV-glasses in the 1. priority list, because it’s so important to protect your lenses. But since the 18-55mm lens you get with the camera is so cheap, and it’s more crucial to protect expansive lenses, I added it to this list instead. The UV-glass’ main job is to protect the lenses from getting scratches. Since the UV-glasses are quite cheap, it’s not a big loss if they break.
ND 0.9 and ND 0.6 – $84
The ND-filters are good to have when shooting in environments with a lot of light (like outdoor at daytime). It’s not necessary to use ND-filters, but if you want to record video with the best settings for shooting film (shutterspeed at 1/50 and short depth of field (low aperture)) it’s necessary to use it. The ND 0.6 is darker then the ND 0.9.
National Geographic NG2475 – $197
When I was looking for a camera bag it had to be water proof, have enough room for a DSLR camera with several lenses and equipment and it had to be solid. The “National Geographic NG2475″ bag was perfect for me, and it can store a lot of equipment in addition to the camera. The bag is also quite good-looking, which is a plus.
Canon 550D battery – $24
An extra battery is necessary when doing bigger productions were you have to travel a lot or work for more then four hours shooting. Minimum one extra full charged battery is a must for filmmakers to bring on set.
SDHC card 16GB Class 6 – $35
An extra SDHC card is also necessary when shooting a lot of video. It’s much more safe to be able to have your footage stored in both an SDHC card and a PC when you start to edit you films, because then you have a backup of your material in case the transfer/export to the PC failed with some of the clips.
Total price 2. priority = $760
Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L – $1200
The 24-70mm f2.8 L is quite expensive, but worth the money. It’s very solid and will probably last for a lifetime. It’s a good all-round lens which works very well in both low-light and daylight. You can shoot both wide angle shots and tele shots with it, and therefore it’s a good lens for using not only when making films but also documentary. My opinion is that If you only want to use the video function in your camera (not taking photos), this lens is probably a bit overkill. It’s not that important to use a lens as good as this when filming, since you wouldn’t be able to see as much details in the video, as you would in a 18 mega pixel still photography. However, the very upside of this lens is not just how solid it is, but also that the aperture is the same independently on how much you zoom. A cheaper option for the Canon 24-70mm would be the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8.
Pro 126-LED videolight – $94
When shooting films in low-light conditions you can get beautiful images with a lens with low aperture. However, a good lens wouldn’t always give you good looking images with enough light. If your are planning on using natural light and lights you find on location, it’s not always easy to move the lights around in the position you want it to be. Sometimes you don’t even have the opportunity to move the lights around (maybe you only have a window or a roof-lamp as light source) and this limits your space of shooting. Therefore a good LED videolight is very practical. The Pro 126-LED videolight can be attached on top of the camera, on tripods, it can be used handheld (powered by aa-batteries) etc. It’s small but provides a lot of light. The dimmer is easy to operate and very nice to use when adjusting the brightness. You also get three types of filters when you buy it so it provides you with both daylight and tungsten light.
Viewfinder – $71
When I first heard about the LCD viewfinder for the DSLRs, I thought it was a unnecessary equipment. I thought that the LCD monitor on the camera was good enough to view the framing and sharp enough to see if objects were in focus or not. This thought however, changed when I tried a viewfinder at a DSLR shop. When looking through the LCD viewfinder when attached to the 550D it was like looking in to a 100″ HD-screen. It was not only easier to focus when using it, but it was also easier to concentrate on the framing and the light, contrast and colors in the picture. It also prevented the sunlight from reflecting in to the LCD screen. All of this made me change my though about the viewfinder, and I bought it on Ebay the day after.
Zoom H4n sound recorder – $319
The “Zoom H4n” is a very popular sound field recorder. It’s small, powered by batteries, has a lot of inputs, it records good quality sound and it is one of the cheapest recorders of this caliber. The “Zoom H4n” is perfect for external sound recording. Why record sound externally when you can use the RØDE video microphone attached to the camera, you may ask? First of all, this portable device records uncompressed sound while the 550D records compressed. The H4n has several inputs, both XLR and mini jack, and works therefore with high quality shotgun microphones with XLR outputs. The only downside with using the H4n when filming is that it doesn’t automatically synchronize the sound it records and the video from the 550D. This means that you have to add the sound and synchronize it when editing. A good idea is to clap in front of the camera before every take, so it’s easier to sync afterwards.
Another great thing about using a field sound recorder is that you can have a person operating the microphone and recorder independently from were the camera is located. With a good shotgun microphone and a boompole, this person can get very close to the object and record good and clear sound, even though you are shooting a wide angle shot.
Sony Ecm-674 shotgun mic – $451
The sound quality has also a lot to do with the microphone you are using, and when combining the Sony-ECM 674 shotgun microphone with the ZOOM H4n I would say that the quality is almost as good as what the professionals use. And that is quite cool considering the cheap price for these products. This microphone is directional and is very sensitive for sounds appearing in front of it. You can stand several meters away from the microphone and still get good sound from you talking. It has a XLR output, which means it doesn’t work with the Canon 550D, so you need an external sound recorder, like the H4n, to use it on set.
K-Tek shockmount – $119
If you are planning on using a boompole when recording sound with your microphone, it’s a must to have a shockmount. What this do is that it absorbs the low frequent noise that appears when bumping into the microphone or boompole. The K-Tek shockmount was one of the cheapest I found, and since it had a lot of good reviews, I bought it. I have tested it our several times now, and it works very well.
Røde boompole – $129
When I was looking for a boompole, I considered on making one myself of a 20 bucks broom stick, or at least get one very cheap. I thought it couldn’t be that advanced to build one myself. But actually it’s a bit advanced. It has to be long enough so the microphone gets as close as possible to the object, it should be telescopic so it’s easy to carry it around, It should be as light as possible, it should have a good and soft grip (it’s not that warm outside in Norway, and metal gets dangerous cold!) and the end of the pole should have the right screw for the shockmount. Considering all this, I realized that the best way was to buy the RØDE boompole. It was one of the cheapest ones I found, and it seemed nice because of it’s good reviews.
XLR cable 5m – $36
You need a XLR cable for your XLR-microphone to connect it to a sound recorder. XLR cables are very robust and therefore a bit expensive, but they will last for many years. I bought a 5 meter cable which is a good length for operating the microphone on the boompole.
ND 0.6 graduated – $79
Graduated ND filters are very nice to use for wide angle shots were the sky is a part of the picture. This ND filters purpose is to lower the highlighted sky so it doesn’t get burned out easily. You will definitely get more good looking wide angle landscape shots with this filter attached to you lens. You can also choose what to make darker in the picture by rotating the filter.
Total price 3. priority = $2498
Total price of everything (including camera) = $4206
Remember that this list doesn’t include rigs such as tripods, steadycam, shoulder rigs etc. which is also very important for making good looking films.
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or if you just want to say hi. I appreciate all comments! =)