Batteries not Included
Gift Ideas for the Videographer.
T'was the night before the Big Event
And all through the malls,
Not a video tool was available,
So you make some quick calls.
Let's face it, the craft of making video takes a lot of stuff. If you're shopping for a loved one, (or hinting for yourself!) you should leave the big-ticket item decisions like camera and editing computer to the recipient. However, that leaves plenty of room for an almost mind-numbing array of video gift choices. Here are some tips for video-friendly gifts (in a variety of price ranges) that are sure to put a smile on the face of the person who's likely to be spend a significant part of every event behind the camera.
Video accessories don't need to be expensive and we have some budget items later in this article, but if you hit the lottery this year and have a "sky's the limit" budget for video gift giving, there are plenty of pricey gizmos that will add to anyone's video creation experience.
Underwater housings, for example, can easily exceed the original price of the camcorder. Look online or in video catalogs and you'll find underwater housings that can inspire a videographer to break out of his land-based shooting habits and move the camerawork into an underwater world. Underwater shooting is at least 100 times as hard as surface interval videography and you had better have your SCUBA basics well in hand for safety's sake, but this is a great advanced-level hobby.
There are also less expensive submersible bags that will work for near-surface videography, such as when snorkeling. All the light and many of the creatures you want to videotape are near the surface anyhow, so this can be great fun. Even if you aren't planning to break the surface, special rain capes and plastic bags can protect your camcorder in extreme situations. For example, videographers in the southwest desert are constantly concerned with dust in their gear. A rain protector can be a great advantage, even when there's not a cloud in the sky.
Pricey production gear like jib arms, cranes and flying camera systems were once relegated to rental houses, but are now being manufactured on a smaller scale to fit the new small prosumer camcorder models. With this downscaling, prices have also fallen. Don't count out the larger class of video gear until you check out what you can get within your budget. We're still talking about the $1,000 and up range of gear, but it is available. Glidecam, VariZoom and JonyJib are a few of the companies that specialize in these products.
In the Bag
Perhaps you aren't made of money. A guaranteed useful gift is a proper camcorder case or bag. You'd be amazed at how much stuff video hobbyists and pros alike have to haul along when they go out to shoot. Over the years we've assembled a motley bunch of bags and cases that house and safely transport our gear. Custom-built cases for individual camera models are available, but even generic cases work well for the cables, adapters, spare batteries, microphones and the host of other small items that typically need to be lugged around when you shoot a video. Lots of pockets and good padding are requirements here, but slots for additional lenses are not, (which are common for still camera bags). A collection of smaller padded bags that fit inside your larger equipment bag is good for the easy to lose items.
With all the high tech gadgets that we carry around these days, it's no wonder that a company has evolved that specializes in clothing customized for the gadget driven consumer - Scott-evest (www.scottevest.com). James Bond gadgets and Dick Tracy talkie-watches aside, you gotta stow your stuff somewhere, and Scottevest has some solutions! With a little imagination, you can see how those same clever clothing channels that they designed to run headphones to your snug and warm iPod are every bit as useful for running, say, battery cables to your camcorder from a battery pack nestled snugly inside your vest.
While it's easy to concentrate on visual gifts, let's not forget that more than half the battle of shooting good videos is capturing good sound. Most beginning shooters start off relying on their on-board microphone for audio, but any pro will tell you that getting your microphone nearer to your subjects is the key to quality audio. In the camcorder world, that typically means an external microphone. Unfortunately, that usually also means adapters to make the connection to the mini-plug jack on the camcorder. A proper balanced to unbalanced adapter such as those made by Studio One or Beachtek is ideal, and maybe something you or your video enthusiast have done without for a while now.
Every computer comes with a keyboard and mouse, but the video editor has different needs than the word processor, and there are several manufacturers with the video editor in mind. Bella Corporation and WorldTech are just a few of the companies that specialize in making the editor's workflow a little bit easier. From joystick shuttles to specially mapped and color-coded keypad shortcuts, every editor will feel like a pro with these toys in their hands.
Another class of accessories that are always a welcome addition to the shooter's kit are cables and wire accessories. Cable reels, cable ties, cable hangers and wire markers take lots of time to accumulate. Great sources of these are the video catalogs and mail-order houses. If you don't feel comfortable assembling this thoughtful and pragmatic gift yourself, a gift certificate stocking stuffer would let the video shooter in your life pick and choose what they need. Most video cameras, particularly the hand held models, come with a manufacturer provided strap. But check out your local camera specialty store or on-line retailer and you'll find a lot of alternative camera straps. The kind with the snap that clips near the body of the camcorder is great. These let you use the strap when it's needed, but remove it quickly if the strap gets in the way of a low angle shot or gets tangled up in monitor wires, power cords or other tripod danglers.
Extra batteries and blank tapes are always welcome, but be forewarned: basic batteries are expensive, often in the $50 range or more. Still, that makes this sort of gift all the more welcome. If you really want to impress the shooter in your family, put together a simple field kit with some of the easy to forget items that are always useful in any shooting situation. Start with a small fanny pack type case available from any camping store. Inside, pack a mini-flashlight or penknife, a small roll of gaffers tape, two Sharpie-style markers, a roller ball pen and one of the zippered battery cases available from camera stores with spare batteries for lights and microphones. If you shop carefully, you can assemble the whole kit for under $50. Your videographer will appreciate the kit long after this holiday season is just a memory.
Thinking Outside the Bag
Another fact of life for the video practitioner is how quickly tapes multiply. If your videographer is still storing tapes in a cardboard box, a great gift is a tape shelf that will efficiently and attractively store the tapes. You might also consider a small laminated tape-style personal labeling systems. These print neat, legible labels and can turn a messy library of field tapes into a professional looking inventory in one short evening.
Learning the Craft
Another area of gift giving that is nearly always appreciated is a book. Videomaker sells a great group of books and videos that can inspire and inform budding shooters and editors of all experience levels (see pages 5, 40 and 53), but we'd also recommend other, less video-specific books. Books on art theory and composition, perhaps written for filmmakers and film students, make great gifts. After all, the fundamentals of shot composition and even editing have changed very little from the early days of the cinema.
And so to All, a Good Night
Soon enough folks the world over were all snug in their beds - everyone dreaming of the perfect ending to the perfect event... knowing it was well captured by the trust-worthy hard-working videographer in the family.
If you're a gift-giver, we hope that this article has helped you think of some ways to delight the household video enthusiast. And if you're the lucky recipient, we hope our tips will help you make your hints easier, because everyone receives the gift back in the form of a well-captured family memory... courtesy of you.
Contributing Editor Bill Davis owns and operates a video production company and loves receiving as well as giving video-related gifts all year!