Shooting better video by understanding how to use camcorder lens accessories.
Sometimes getting a good video shot requires more than just interesting content and a trained eye. It's best to know what tools are available to turn good video into great video and when to use them. Although there's a lot of magic capable in post-production software, tools such as lens filters, adapters, and controllers help ensure you get great shots while you're still out in the field.
Simply put, lens filters are nothing more than fitted pieces of glass or plastic, which cover a video lens. Their main functions are to alter image color, brightness and contrast, or create various visual effects. There are two basic styles of lens filters: round and square. Round filters are threaded and screw directly onto the lens housing, unlike square filters, which use a matte box design and attach in front of the lens.
Companies such as B+W, Formatt, Tiffen, and Promaster offer a variety of lens filters to help give your video a professional edge.
Some of the visual effects you can achieve using these filters include star effects, diffusion, center spot, and many others. Star effects filters enhance the atmosphere of a video shot. You'll see them used to highlight reflections of water scenes or add a dreamy or enchanted look to street lamps and candle flames.
Diffusion filters diffuse strong light without affecting the sharpness and contrast of the image. They're particularly useful for creating softened facial features or softer backgrounds images. Center spot filters create a focused center with a diffused outer ring. Using these filters produces a clear center image surrounded by a blurred outer background, making the center the focus of the shot.
Other filters, such as polarizers and neutral density (ND) filters, allow you to correct lighting and color problems in your shots. Polarizers help reduce or eliminate reflections on non-metallic objects. Removing the reflections eliminate color desaturization, which allows you to create more intensely colored images.
A neutral density filter reduces the amount of light able to pass through a camera lens without changing the color of the light. They're especially useful in preventing overexposure in bright light, as well as allowing proper exposure at wider apertures (how wide the lens is open). Neutral density filters also help you to produce blurred motion effects with your shutter speed.
Depending on the brand and type of filter, you'll spend anywhere from $25 to $150 to get the product that you need.
Improving with Adapters
Another great tool for creating better shots is a lens adapter. Made by manufacturers such as Century Precision Optics, Cokin, and Raynox, these adapters are useful for a wide range of purposes.
For example, a wide-angle adapter affects the full zoom range of your camera's lens. Century Precision Optics offers a wide-angle adapter that enables you to shoot video in true 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio, instead of simply cropping the top and bottom of the image to mimic the effect. Wide-angle is ideal for shots of large crowds or scenic landscapes.
Telephoto is another useful kind of adapter. Sometimes your camera zoom isn't strong enough by itself to get you in close to the action. A 2x converter doubles your camera's maximum focal length, which enlarges video subjects by twice the normal image size. Use a telephoto adapter for action that may be too dangerous to shoot closely or for shots that are simply inaccessible up-close.
Although widescreen and telephoto are perhaps the most frequently used and practical lens adapters, others, such as a fisheye adapter, enable you to create flashy visual effects on the fly.
Lens adapters come in a wide range of products and prices. You may find some of them relatively cheap, but others may leave your wallet a bit bruised and broken. Expect to pay anywhere from as little as $70 up to $700 for the more professional-grade adapters.
Have you ever cursed the heavens because you tripped over your shoelaces trying to shoot video and hunt for your camcorder's zoom button at the same time? Lens controllers give videographers the ability to control zooming with variable speed and a hands-free camera approach.
Companies such as Varizoom, DVControl, and CoolZoom manufacture amateur and professional lens controllers that enable power-on from standby, pause/record, focus, and zoom (variable speed) capabilities — all from a hand-held joystick. These devices attach to your camcorder via a LANC (control-L) connection.
When you need to concentrate on the shot, and not the camcorder you might try a lens controller. Sporting events and action-oriented video are good examples of when these devices are particularly useful. Typically, they cost between $130 and $500.
Pat Bailey is a digital video Technical Support Analyst and freelance writer.
Sidebar: Plastic versus Glass
Plastic filters are thinner and stronger than glass filters, but glass is more resistant to scratches and filters out ultraviolet rays better than untreated plastic. Step-up rings allow you to use filters with different lens diameters than that of your camcorder's lens. Avoid stacking lens filters, since it might degrade the image quality and cause a vignette effect, blocking light from the lens edges.