Filming on a Budget
As a full time student money is always in short supply so I’m always looking for a bargain but without compromising quality when it comes to buying equipment for my video projects. The recent addition of a camera rig has opened up all kinds of new ideas for filming documentary or short films. But I’m getting ahead of myself; before you can think about the accessories you need to buy yourself a camera, which as a minimum requirement can shoot Full HD Video.
So what kit do I have?
After a lot of research I settled on the Canon EOS 60D, it’s a great camera for video and works particularly well at low light levels. The Canon 60D is so good that I’ve managed to film most of my projects since acquiring it using just natural light and even when filming sports under low level floodlighting the camera still performs exceptionally well. The swivel screen is great, ideal for that overhead or low level shot. In fact it’s the perfect choice if your budget does not stretch to a full frame camera, for example the Canon 6D, 7D or 5D MKIII.
The kit lens 18mm to 55mm is OK but it’s only really sharp somewhere between the extremes, use the lens at either extreme and the focus drops off. The focus ring is also far too narrow and difficult to adjust when following the action, I’ve added a rubber lens hood, which I’ve reversed and its to this that I now hold and turn to adjust the focus. I’ve also added a 50mm to 250mm Canon zoom lens, which comes at a budget price but is surprisingly good, the images are sharp and for getting a close up its just about right. But the must have lens and the easily the best bargain is the 50mm F1.8, which is razor sharp and has become my lens of choice for most video work. I’ll happily film the whole production just using this prime lens, moving the camera to get the different shots. In a way this is perfect training for a budding videographer rather than changing the lens or using a Zoom just move the camera. Another bonus to working this way is that the effect on screen appears much more professional, but of course this is balanced by the additional effect required to move the camera each time. Another cheap purchase was a wide angle/macro lens which screws onto the lens filter thread. The quality is dubious but for less than £15 it was a bargain and perfect for a few seconds footage, the macro option is perfect for B roll footage for example I’ve filmed close ups of fingers working on a keyboard and then extreme close up of the keys themselves.
To be honest the cameras built in mic is just plain awful, it’s flat and very tinny and non-directional picking up everything including the cameras movements. So after some research the best possible microphone for my budget I found was the Rode Videomic, which was featured in March’s tech reviews. There are cheaper video microphones but the results from the random sample I’ve tried and the not so positive user reviews suggested that they offered little more than the cameras built in mic could offer. I recently confirmed this microphone as being a good choice when filming an interview with a sports coach while a game was in progress. We had two cameras for the interview but when editing it was only the audio from the Rode Videomic that was useable.
This is a new addition and has proved to be a best buy particularly for my most recent projects, filming sports videos.
The camera rig itself is a very popular basic camera rig known as the spider camera rig. It’s available from a number of online shopping sites in a range of prices from £29.99 to £75, I paid £29.99 on Ebay and it came delivered free all the way from a company in China. At the same time I bought a couple of screw thread adaptors, which serve to change the female 1/4-inch screw threads that are supplied at the end of all the rigs grips to male. Basically they are 1/4-inch screws with a centrally located nut, simple but effective and very useful for attaching accessories or indeed a second camera.
I’ve never been much of a fan of hand held cameras and the resultant video footage. I have spent hours in editing; stablelising footage shot this way in After Effects. But I’ve become a fan of the steadicam techniques used in some popular TV shows that use steadicam’s as their primary video recording method. A good example of this is Borgen a Danish TV political drama, well worth a look for examples of how this technique can be applied well. The images are steady but never still following the actor’s movements. I’ve also researched this and have found that some production companies are using this technique to follow the entire movement of an actor through a set, capturing minutes of footage that does not require any editing. A great example of this is from a scene in the film Goodfellas where Larry McConkey the steadicam operator follows Ray Liotta as he enters the back door of a club, passing through hallways, kitchens and into the club itself in total over 3 minutes of continuous POV filming in one continuous movement. Extremely difficult at the time but with DSLR’s this can be achieved with some very basic equipment and a steady hand/movement.
Using the Canon 60D Camera Rig
Side view of the Canon 60D Camera Rig as you can see I’m using the screen flipped out sidewise from the camera body and fitted this with a Viewfinder Magnifier which is 3x magnification which roughly translates into viewing the scene using a 9 inch display.
Front view of the Canon 60D Camera Rig. The camera is fitted with the 18mm – 55mm kit lens but I’ve added a cheap Wide Angle filter screw attached lens to the front, which effectively opens out my angle to 11mm.
Note the Cable Release on the right hand grip. This controls the Auto Focus and start and stop recording when used in conjunction with Magic Lantern and operates the focus when the button is half depressed and starts recording on release, push again to stop recording. It also functions as a shutter release for taking stills when the button is fully depressed. Without Magic Lantern software it will only control the shutter for taking still pictures. The only other way I know to get remote video control this way without using Magic Lantern is to use the Canon infra-red remote release RC-6 set to option 2 and modify/channel the signals direction to reflect onto the front of the camera and the infra red sensor using a length of fibre optic cable. Note the Camera must also be set to one of the Remote control modes; some have more than one like the 60D although the 60D can be set to either for this to work.
Camera Rig – how does it work?
I’ve used the setup a few times now filming Sports and the footage I’ve taken using it shoulder mounted have proved to be very stable. The cameras position is adjustable lengthwise so it is easy to find a position that balances the rig on the shoulder and in my case also positions the viewfinder directly in front of me. The rig has also proven to be very useful when taking low-level shots just by putting it on the ground and adjusting the rear leg to control the cameras angle. In fact the rig has opened up a number of creative possibilities. Just by changing some of the rigs grip positions it’s possible to create a variety of methods for holding the camera, for example extending one of the grips using the slider grip you can position the grip directly over the camera, which is great for holding the camera at very low level to follow the action at almost ground level. For example a skateboarder doing tricks while following from the side, again the Canon 60D adjustable screen helps you keep your eye on the action while filming at ground level.
Future Purchase’s and wish list?
Focusing, always a problem when using a DSLR could be improved by adding a follow focus, which could be operated by reaching up with a finger from the left grip, alternatively they do make follow focuses with a cable control which could be mounted actually on the hand grip. A bonus when using the spider rig is there is already the benefit of being able to control the distance of the camera from the subject and therefore in turn keep in focus just by walking towards or away from the subject. I’ve also seen a method of controlling the focus using a small electronic device linked to the cameras USB port. This device consists of a remote control knob, which can be rotated; the lens focus follows this knobs movement in steps, which you can pre-program. In effect it works in a similar way as using the Tethering to control the camera using a Laptop and Canons software that came free with the camera. I believe this device only works on a limited range which includes the Canon 60D and 5D MKIII at this time. But what this allows you to do is mount the control on a rigs grip positioned perfectly for fingertip control.
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