DSLR videography: Entry-Level Gear

In Videography

If you’re looking to get into shooting DSLR video there’s some great gear out there that won’t cost the earth. In this post I’ll detail the gear I’ve been using at Kings for the last three years, along with examples of video projects produced with it. In short, there’s an awful lot you can do with a Canon 60D and just one lens.

Using a DSLR opens the world to Full HD filming with the beautiful aesthetic of photographic lenses. The camera’s are small, portable and reasonably affordable. The majority of the kit I use is my own. Photography and videography is what I now geek-out on. And being a geek is good. It’s what makes you useful to the world around you. And maybe even… employable (!)

So without further a-do, here’s the gear.

Canon 60D (vs 80D)

The 60D is the camera I’ve been using for the last three years. It’s by no means the latest and greatest, but it is a very good entry-level camera. It works in a exactly the same way as the pro-level Canon bodies which costs five times the price, and is compatible with all the same lenses. In fact there’s a range of alternative (and less expensive) lenses you can buy with its EF-S mount that’s tailored to its smaller sensor. So learning the basics on this and upgrading later on might not be a bad idea. The beautiful thing about this camera is that you can pick one up new for around £500, which is half the price of it’s newly released counterpart, the 80D.

The trade-offs? The 60D was released in 2010 and like any technology, things have progressed since then. The 80D has an improved sensor. The image quality is higher quality with less noise in darker conditions and greater dynamic range. It also boasts some very impressive autofocus and LCD touch screen.

Incredibly useful features, but while it’s probably the best value for what it delivers out of Canon’s current line up, you can buy two 60Ds for the same price. Or get kitted out with a EF-S 17-55mm lens with the money you’d save on one. An extra £500 is a good chunk of cash and creating compelling video projects is so much more than the tech specs of your camera body. It’s developing your creative eye when composing shots. It’s your ability to form a narrative and tell a story. It’s getting to grips with all the technical requirements of filming such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, colour temperature, lighting, image stabilisation and understanding how they affect your shot. And that learning process will be the same on the 60D, 80D, or any of the more expensive bodies. Saving some cash could mean you’re able to invest in a lens, monopod, lighting gear, or an action camera like the GoPro; each of which would have a greater impact on your projects.

Here are two examples of video projects shot on the 60D (and almost exclusively with the Canon 17-55mm lens):

In summary, the 60D is a great and affordable camera to start out on, and you can produce some impressive results. If you are ready to upgrade, or have a bigger budget, check out reviews by the TheCameraStoreTV on the 80D, 7D MK II, Panasonic GH4 and Sony a7s II. They all bring different things to the table, each set at a different price point. If you lean more towards photography but still want to shoot great video then also consider the Canon 6D, 5DSR (or 5D MK III), and Sony a7r II.

2017 Update: I’m now shooting on the Sony a7s II which is a pretty amazing upgrade. Shoots full-frame razor-sharp 4k images with amazing low-light capabilities and in-camera stabilisation. For a less expensive 4K option consider the Sony a6500.

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

If you can only afford one lens, this is the lens to buy. It’s built specifically for cameras with the smaller APS-C sensor like the 60D, which has a 1.6x magnification effect on the focal length of lenses when compared to full frame cameras.

So the 17-55 covers a similar focal range to a 24-70mm lens on something like the 5Ds (the go-to lens for any photographer). This means you’re shooting through all your classic filmic focal lengths like 30mm, 50mm and 70mm. It covers a good range of ground, from wide to mid-telephoto, with a constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout. The wide aperture means it’s good at producing a shallow depth of field (particularly on the tight end), isolating your subject from the background — somewhat iconic of DSLR videography.

One of the best things about this particular lens is that it has image stabilisation built in, which is essential for video. Without IS your shots are very shaky on anything other than a tripod. With it on you still have to be careful — you can’t just sling it around. But it does smooth things out quite considerably and you can go handheld. This is the lens that stays on my camera 90% of the time.

Currently priced at around £500, it’s the least expensive lens of this type that I’ve seen. For a full-frame camera the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD is it’s equivalent, with IS built in as well.

Manfrotto MVM500A Fluid Video Monopod With 500 Series Head

Manfrotto MVM500A Fluid Video Monopod With 500 Series HeadOne of the most useful purchases I’ve made, the Manfrotto monopod isn’t just a quick alternative to a tripod. It’s has three mini-legs on a pivoting base and a fluid video head. This means you can smoothly elevate and track your camera, mimicking the motion of a jib or tracking dolly. By no means a replacement for those things, but a fantastic piece of kit for quickly adding in some smooth motion to your shots. It’s also really useful for stabilisation. Handheld shots have their limitations on a DLSRs so this just takes care of things while remaining light and portable.

You can see quite a few shots of this monopod in action on the following video story (all the shots in motion were on the monopod):

Tascam DR-1100MKII

Your trusty field recorder. The 60D does have a microphone input, but it doesn’t have a headphone jack (unlike the 80D). This means that you can’t monitor your audio as you record it, which is problematic when filming interviews as you can’t tell what state your audio is in until your back at your computer. So some sort of field recorder is essential, and the Tascam does the job well. It has two XLR inputs, so you can record two channels at a time, and I use tie mic’s with a long 5m lead to mic up my subjects. Using a field recorded does mean you have to sync up your audio and video manually when editing, but it’s not too difficult if you’re organised. You may need something like this even if you have a headphone jack on your DLSR, as some situations require 2 channels (think interviews) and the audio sounds clearer on this than recorded on my 60D. Models like the Tascam DR-701D support up to six mic inputs if you need them.

Two notes on the DR-1100MKII:

— The mic’s I use are condenser mic’s (battery powered) as they’re connected to a min-jack to XLR lead, which then connects to the recorder. Initially I tried mic’s without the battery power but they didn’t have enough juice to make it through the leads and connectors and into the recorder.

— You can rig up an audio feed from your Tascam directly into the 60D. You do seem to lose some audio quality, but it’s good as a backup in case you hit the wrong button when saving your audio on the field recorder.

ScanDisk 64GB card

To shoot Full HD on your DLSR you need a Class 10 SD card. U1 is fine. 64GB of space equates to about 3.5 hours of HD footage, way more than you need for your average shoot, and I’ve never run out of space when filming.

Paterson FL500 lighting kit

This is a softbox continuous lighting kit. It packs in to a large but portable bag and gives you two very bright lights that simulate daylight. If you’re shooting inside without a good amount of natural light, they’re pretty essential. Without them you get dark and noisy shots. With them you get a great exposure with low ISO, and the ability to light your scene in multiple ways. You can find them online at Speed Graphic.

Prime Lenses: 35mm, 50mm & 85mm

I have a few other lenses I’ve collected over the years. These prime lenses are a lot less expensive than the 17-55mm, and have a wider aperture. The 50mm and 85mm lenses are both f/1.8, and the 35mm is f/2.0. Typically these are more useful for photography, as they don’t have image stabilisation built in and the only way to zoom is to use your legs. But in situations when you want your depth of field to be super-shallow they can be useful. They’re best used when locked off on a tripod. Otherwise you can add a bit of image stabilisation when editing, but you still need to be quite careful.

The 85mm is perhaps the most useful as it’s extends past the range of the 17-55mm. The more telephoto your lens, the shallower your depth of field, creating the lovely the bokeh effect (background blur). So it gives you quite a different look that compliments the 17-55. I usually have the 85mm lens on a second camera when shooting interviews for an alternative shot.

Here’s a project shot entirely on the 85mm lens at f/1.8 where I was going for a very shallow depth of field to enhance the effect of people walking up to the camera and coming into focus:

Canon 10-22mm Lens

Perhaps my least used lens is the 10-22mm. It produces super-wide angled shots and comes in useful every-so-often when I can’t frame scene on my 17-55, or want something quite dramatic.

DT 150 Headphones

Super-sharp and accurate sound, essential for shooting and editing, and very reasonably priced.

GoPro

Great action camera which you can suction onto the front of your car, dangle over the side of cliffs, use under water and attach to drones. The camera goes all the places your DSLR won’t, and is slightly easier to replaced if it gets run over. Also great as an additional camera when shooting interviews.

Neewer® Viewfinder

An inexpensive viewfinder that attaches on the back of your 60D. Useful for shooting in bright daylight when you can’t see the screen. Also useful when shooting handheld as it gives you an extra point of contact with your camera, making things that bit more stable. Not ideal for the Canon 80D as they have a touch screen LCD (which the attachment on this viewfinder glues onto). Other, more expensive, viewfinders are available which screw in to the hot shoe. On Amazon here.

Hama Tripod

Brilliant because it’s cheap and sturdy. Only good for locking off a camera i.e. no fluid head for panning or titling. But you have the monopod for that.

Intervelometre

For shooting time-lapse videos. Sometimes you shoot time-lapse because you want to see everything speeded up and view motion you can’t normally observe. Other times it’s because you want to shoot noise-free scenes at night with exposure that’s impossible to achieve in normal video. This intervelometre is very cheap (about £16 on Amazon) and plugs into the side of your camera. Here’s a compilation of a few scenes I’ve shot with it, most of which have been really useful in various video projects:

Tracking Dolly

At Kings we have a tracking dolly by Hague which we bought for £300 (here). It adds some great motion to projects where you’ve got a bit more time to set-up. With your camera set on a tripod you can run it up or down 12 metres of track. It works best with a pro tripod with a fluid video head (so you can pan and tilt as you track). Something like this.

In our Strand of Gold 2013 opening film, all the shots with motion (except the shoulder rig on the stairs) used this tracking dolly system:

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