Canon 5d video n00b
August 16, 2012 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Canon 5D filter: I'm going on a trip to Honduras with a NGO in November to photograph their work developing clean cookstoves for families. I'm cool on the photography front, but need help figuring out a relatively lightweight rig for video using my 5d mk ii.

I'm just getting into the video side of things and know there's a TON to learn. There's also a ton of advice on the best video setup ever, much of it conflicting. I'm not looking for the best video rig ever though, more like: the bare bones essentials that won't make me fall over from the weight of carrying it around while speaking with people who may very well not have seen a giant camera rig.

Equipment I have:
- 5d mk ii
- 50mm f1.4 lens
- 24-105 f4 lens
- Zoom h4n audio recorder
- Super heavy hand-me-down tripod not suited for travel

I suspect that I need:
- Some sort of stabilizing contraption, tripod, monopod, steadicam? (Redrock is mostly out of the budget, but I'm willing to think on it)
- A way to attach my zoom to the camera? hot shoe? or a different audio recorder entirely?
- LCD magnifier? Are these must haves, or just pretty nifty when you can afford them?
- follow focus?
- ???

I'd like to keep expenses low if possible–I'm already volunteering my time and paying my way in country–but I think video will be super important for the org (they've only asked for photos, everything else is bonus) so I'm willing to look at more expensive options if necessary.
posted by nerdcore to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen this $14 DIY steadicam? I can't vouch for it firsthand, since haven't actually made it yet, but it looks promising for the money.
posted by umbú at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2012

Best answer: Welcome to my world. I do commercial video work, and often use each of these items you've listed.

Let me go through your initial list:

1. I have the Redrock shoulder rig, with follow focus. It is fantastic, and fantastically overkill. Great build quality, heavy duty - and heavy. Heavy heavy, you do not want to look to it as a portable stabilizing rig when you're out on the move like you will be.

2. Zoom H4N is great, nothing I could recommend over it. If you're just looking to get ambient sound, you can mount it with a "hot shoe mount". It will make your rig more cumbersome and harder to steady, but it is an option. Option two, find a way to mount it to your stabilizing rig.

3. Magnifier is nice, I recommend the Hoodman model if you want to get one - affordable but gets the job done. I used it a lot early on, then not nearly as much recently.

4. Follow focus - This is something I would cut if you're looking at cost. The DSLR look is often a bit rough when handheld anyway, particularly with any sort of documentary format. Unless you think you'll be doing a lot of fine tuned rack focus effects within a shot, I'd skip it.

Now for my recommendations:

1. Two options for stabilizing - An affordable ($200 or less) shoulder mount. I have zero experience with this brand, but something in this style is pretty effective and lightweight. Second option (or in addition, depending) - a monopod. This is the Manfrotto model I would like to have for a project like yours. It has a fluid head (what you need for video, unlike still photography), it is quick to set up and get a steady shot, and with some practice you can get some decent moving shots holding it as a makeshift steadicam. It will not be a steadicam, mind you.

2. Dealing with light - too much, and too little. This will seem odd coming from photography, but shooting video is like having one hand tied behind your back. Your shutter speed is always set at 50 or 60, depending on your framerate, unless you want a specific unnatural look of a higher shutter. So that means you can only adjust aperture and ISO. And to get that gorgeous 5D look, you need to take advantage of that f1.4 - f 5.6 range (though 1.4 will be all but useless for anything but a highly stylized and static shot). In low light indoors, that's great - it means your depth of field is very small for focus, but you'll manage. You can consider getting an LED toplight - I have the dimmable Litepanels model, works very well for filling in an area.

Now for the other side - outdoor shooting. As I mentioned, shutter speed is static, you want low f-stop. That means you need to cut down the light coming into the camera with a ND filter. But here is the trick! You want what is called a ND Fader. It is a dual element fader - twist the ring and it increases and decreases the amount of light entering. This is invaluable for shooting outdoors and you're not forced to f22 with no options.

Alright, I kind of spilled that all out there. Ask any questions you might have, and when I have a moment I'll attempt to boil this down into a more reasonable list for your purposes.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:50 PM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

You might experiment with the Magic Lantern firmware for the 5Dm2 to let you control the audio in the camera. Single system audio means one less bit of gear to worry about and one less thing to go wrong when you're recording. It also provides life audio feedback on the headphone jack and helps with getting the exposure right for your shot. With some setup it can also be used to make smooth rack focus shots.

As shinynewnick mentioned, the monopod with a fluid head is incredibly versatile. With it you can fake short dolly moves, crane shots and other things that would require far more equipment.

Be sure to practice with what ever setup you decide on before heading off to the field. It's much better to learn when you're not under pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime shooting situation.
posted by autopilot at 8:00 PM on August 16, 2012

i use a 5d for video--mostly journalistic/documentary stuff. i'm still a student, but here's what i've found so far.

stabilization: i have a gorilla pod to help with stabilization of hand held shots. it helps a lot but isn't perfect. it is extremely lightweight, though.

i've seen other videographers out and about with homemade steadicams. vimeo and youtube have a bunch of tutorials--i think you can rig up something pretty nice and serviceable without spending too much money. i really want to try it, but haven't yet myself. but for instance, this diy rig seems simple enough, and is almost entirely made of pvc pipe.

being locked down on a tripod makes your detail shots look SO much better. scene-setters and details especially benefit from a tripod. you might want to see if you can get a lightweight, travel-friendly tripod or monopod. i haven't used a monopod, though, so i can't speak for those.

audio: you could get a shotgun mic with a hotshoe mount like this rode mic--maybe the pros of mefi have specific brand recs, but we've got this model in my department and it's ok. more posting this to show it's an option than to give it a ringing endorsement, though.

more thoughts on audio: rather than trying to attach the zoom to the camera, i'd maybe try to put a wireless lav on one of your subjects, and having the wireless lav record to the zoom, which could go on your person somehow/somewhere, but not your camera. or have the zoom somewhere in the vicinity of where you're filming (but not on your rig), to pick up ambient sound. then, for redundancy, you could also have the hotshoe mic in addition to the lav/zoom. this might be overkill for your purposes, but i am just imagining some verite moments with the NGO folks and the families they're helping, some conversations. a lav on one of your subjects will sound so nice and rich and warm. it will be a lot closer to the conversations and laughter than your camera or the zoom recorder.

if you do end up using sound from any source other than your camera, and you run into trouble syncing the external audio with your video, pluraleyes can help you!

misc: i don't have an lcd magnifier/loupe, but some of my classmates do. it's not a make-or-break thing for me, and i have shot in some really bright outdoor conditions. also don't have a follow focus but there are DIY tutorials on vimeo. i haven't ever felt like i really needed one, but i have practiced focusing a lot.
posted by iahtl at 8:20 PM on August 16, 2012

Also, if you have a dollar amount for your budget, that will help me prioritize the list.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:33 PM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: Ideally, my $ amount is less than $450~500 total. But! I'll be fundraising for the trip, and it's possible that I could up my amount if it's successful.
posted by nerdcore at 9:51 PM on August 16, 2012

Best answer: Don't DIY a steady cam, there are a ton of affordable options which will all work just as well as anything you could throw together, and my guess is that in the end, you won't end up using it. A steady cam is not a spur of the moment type of thing, it requires a lot of practice to get anything good from it, and it's an extra thing to lug around. It will also be heavy enough to kill your wrists in just a few minutes. The amount of time it takes to get setup if you are not used to using one makes it impractical for what it sounds like you are going to be doing (light video as an additional bonus to the photography). A steadycam is definitely more of a scripted environment piece of equipment.

Definitely get a ND filter. I don't know if you need a fading one, but I got a 3 stop filter, and between having that either on or off, I can always get something usable. If you want one that you can fade to different values that's great, but if it's more expensive I don't know that it's worth it.

Some sort of viewfinder is definitely required, unless you have fantastic eyesight and don't mind starting very hard at a tiny screen up close for long periods of time. I know that on my 60D I can shoot video for maybe 2-3 minutes without a viewfinder before my eyes start hating me, and from then on it's really hard to keep things in focus. Even a cheap one should work much better than nothing (I bought the digifinder pro for $60 or so, and it works just fine for light video work, I can see focus easily for long periods of time without eye strain).

If your lenses don't have stabilization, you'll want something to keep things from getting shaky (and trust me, they will be shakier than you think). A tripod with a fluid head is great, but maybe not something you want to lug around all the time. A monopod will do wonders to help out, and is small enough for travel. Without a fluid head I would suggest not trying to do to many pans or much motion, but the monopod will definitely take out the shake which makes many DSLR video's unwatchable. The viewfinder also helps with this, since it gives the camera an additional point of contact. If you are using a viewfinder you may not need anything else (although if you are zoomed in past 50mm than you'll definitely need something).

Magic Lantern firmware is awesome. The zebra display helps to keep your exposure in check really well, and there are a ton of great features there. It's not vital, but if you're willing to spend the time to learn, it's really fantastic for video.

As for audio, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but if you plan to have your zoom mounted to the top of your camera, you aren't going to be getting great audio to begin with. You would be much better off with something like the rode videomic pro (that is assuming you can set manual audio levels in your camera, which I think the 5D does, but I'm not certain on that). The problem is not that the zoom is a bad recorder, it's that your mic will be too far away to get clear sound. You'll just be hearing the background noise the entire time, which is fine for getting a feel of the surroundings, but not good for talking to people. The rode mic is a mini shotgun mic, so it will help you to get clearer sound from the direction it is pointed. There are some tradeoffs, but overall if you are talking to people, you want to get the mic as close as possible, and if that isn't an option, you want your microphone to be as directional as possible. You can even plug the rode mic into the zoom, which will give you a very high quality sound. If you get an extension cable for the mic, you can stick the zoom in your pocket, which makes carrying things fairly easy.

I'd say in your shoes, keeping your rig as light as possible, I'd buy a viewfinder and ND filter first, those are things you will get a ton of use out of and will make your life a million times easier. Those are the two things I always make sure to have with me when taking my DSLR outdoors to do video of any kind. After that, it depends on what is important to you. If you are going to be using the audio you've recorded for anything more than background sounds, I'd invest a little there. Audio ends up playing a huge role in your perception of quality. You can have terrible camera work with great sound and it will appear professional, but if you have terrible sound and great camera work it will come across as very amateurish. Keep this in mind if you plan on doing interviews. You don't want to come back from a great trip only to find that none of your videos sound any good.

A small LED light to put on the top of the camera for tricky lighting situations may be a very good thing to have. I don't know what your shooting situations will be, but you won't be able to use high ISO with video without significant noise, so a light may be a lifesaver.

I guess the last thing I would say is that you shouldn't buy anything unless you know exactly why you need it, since most of these video things are very expensive (and the cheaper stuff for the most part doesn't work nearly as well, with a few exceptions). Figure out exactly what it is that you are trying to capture, and put your money into things that can help. If you're trying to get beautiful scenery, than spend your money on a good fluid head tripod. If you want to do interviews, spend your money on the audio side. If you want to do lots of walking around and moving shots, spend your money on a good shoulder support or steadycam type device. If you need stable shots but also need to stay low profile and portable, buy a lens with stabilization built in (it does wonders, I use my 70-200 f4 IS handheld all the time and it looks good, but my 50mm f1.8 footage is too shaky unless I have something to help stabilize the camera)

Also, it's worthwhile to keep in mind that with the DSLR, everything is manual (which I know you know, but it's worth mentioning). If you want to document what is going on around you with very little time to prepare or setup, you may be able to get better results by putting your money towards a video camera. The current line of HD consumer cameras give you great quality with a lot of automatic features, which allow you to just run with things without having to worry about if the lighting is changing and other stuff like that. It's not a fun or sexy purchase, but may be more practical, since you already have the 5D for more artsy shots which you can take your time on.
posted by markblasco at 11:22 PM on August 16, 2012

Best answer: markblasco has good advice above, particularly about no DIY steadicam. That YouTube video for the $5 pvc rig is painful in so many ways.

Here's where I'd spend your $500ish budget, for this particular project. Prices are estimated from Amazon links I put up previously - not vouching for these individual items or companies, so shop around and go by reviews.

1. Monopod from Manfrotto with fluid head. I'll possibly be making this purchase soon myself for run and gun shoots. This has several benefits - highly portable (more so than a tripod with fluid head), highly versatile, and affordable. It will also be the least obtrusive option for stability. You will catch attention with a shoulder rig or larger than average tripod, this won't. $250

2. ND Fader. 77mm size fits your 24-105 lens. This is the model I have, ND Faders used to be $100 or more, and I'm happy with this one. $15

3. Stepdown ring for your new filter. I would go with one ring, the series rings will be a hassle. $10

4. Cheap LED Light. I would love to recommend a Litepanels model, but for $200 I don't think you'll get enough use. This one has many positive reviews, and for $25 if it falls apart after this one trip you're still ahead of the game. $25

We're now at $300. Those are the essentials I would get, no matter what. If you haven't already allowed for it, extra 5D batteries and CF cards is where you should spend another $100 or so. Go by reviews on CF cards, make sure they are plenty fast for 5D video. Batteries are one place where I won't buy knockoffs, not worth the risk for me.

On to the rest of the list.

Audio: You have a great head start with the Zoom. If you're doing interviews, I'd step up to a better handheld mic you can plug in the XLR to the Zoom. You will not get anything remotely decent for $200 in a wireless lav setup, so don't bother. The top mics on the Zoom are decent, but tend to pick up a good amount of background noise, and it doesn't look good on camera if it shows up in a shot. The Rode mic linked above is the default on-camera mic for most 5D shooters short of a dedicated setup. Sound is key, and I'm not a sound guy.

Eyepiece: Couple of options on this. Hoodman, which I have, is $80 and has no magnification. Just an eyepiece and cover, which works fine for me. There are more and less expensive options, including magnification, so just up to you. Be aware - most of these are a bit of a hassle to put on and remove, and they completely block the ability to get to the viewfinder while on. If you try to shoot photos through the screen, you'll quickly be annoyed with the lack of speed and focus you're used to. For video, it is great.

Last thing. If you're going monopod as I suggest, you might want a tripod option of some sort - not for moving shots (at all!) but for scene setting statics, closeups, interviews so you can set it and not handle the camera. Two ways I would go with this - a super lightweight and portable extendable tripod. I have one similar to this that I can use in a pinch - but I don't stray far from the camera, and it is not what I would consider sturdy. But I can lock it down and have a relatively steady shot. Option two, and probably the better bet, is the GorillaPod for SLRs. Now this won't allow you a tripod position from ground to eye level, but you can put it on a table, on the ground for low shots (great unique perspective for b-roll, can't get that by putting the bare 5D on the ground), and you can wrap the legs around any available structure.

Almost all of these accessories, short of the monopod, can fit in a decent sized pack. Feel free to contact me with any questions at all, camera, accessories, or otherwise. Good luck on your trip, and come back with a video to show us!
posted by shinynewnick at 9:45 AM on August 17, 2012

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