Accessorize and Stylize your Gear

Make room for all those gadgets you’ve been dreaming of.

Selling camcorders as I worked my way through college, I quickly learned that almost as important as which camcorder a customer bought was the accessory they chose. Granted, most sales commissions (called "spiffs") come from the accessories, and not the main camera unit, but there are certain extras that a camera shouldn't be without.

Filters

At the very least, you need to purchase a 1A Skylight filter (also known as a UV filter) to attach to that video lens. Not just for the UV protection, but also because it's the cheapest impact damage insurance one can buy. I can't tell you how many times I saved a camcorder's lens, while trashing this low-cost filter.

There are other filters, which can alter the footage in a wide variety of ways, from making the sky more dramatic to cutting down the harsh ambient light. Filters can create dramatic effects, sure, but they are unalterable once the footage has been shot. Special effects aside, most filters have an imaging altering effect, and like any accessory, it's wise to only employ them when one has a special need. With this need in mind, there are several companies manufacturing filters that create stunning visual images. Cokin filters can be deployed with either the slide-in adapter (with use of a matte box or filter holder), or screwed onto the lens via conventional methods. Creating a range from Infrared filters to simple polarizing filters, to even filters that warm up the smooth skin of a beautiful subject, Cokin provides a wide variety of options. Prices range from twenty to thirty-five dollars each, with the exception of a few of their more specialized and pro series filters.

Tiffen's optical filters compete solidly in this arena as well. Rather than relying on simple glass dying to achieve the desired affect, Tiffen has developed a process called ColorCore. This process works by laminating the filter and sandwiching it between two pieces of optical glass that have been ground flat to a tolerance of a ten-thousandth of an inch. This promises more accurate color and shade changes, rather than the variations caused by the typical process of dyeing the filter glass directly and then polishing it.

Users can polish Tiffen's filters nearly indefinitely and the original tint stays the same. Therefore, Tiffen filters promise to consistently perform as time goes on. Your normal set of Tiffen filters will range from $10 for a basic UV filter, to around $160 for more specialized filters.

Mission: Control

Let's face it. Without the remote control, our lives of relaxation would be lost if we had to get up and change the channels like folks did back in the '50s. Controllers can save a shot from an accidental bump while the camera is locked down, allow for consistent focusing while getting a key shot, and give you more natural looking speed zooms that don't take the audience out of the moment. Varizoom's Stealth line and Manfrotto's Zoom line of Sony-style LANC-powered controllers give pressure sensitive responses, consistent or flash impact zooms, and subtle focusing at the touch of a button. These remote controls work on just about any tripod or stabilizer, and have LED warning lights that signal low batteries or when a tape is about to run out. For around two hundred bucks, that's definitely quite a set of catchy features!

Converters

Lenses that fit on existing camcorder lens assemblies are also referred to as converters. This is because they toy with the focal length of the existing lens to do such magic as fuzzy up your background or bring everything in sharp detail. Currently, the Canon XL line enjoys the distinction of being the only camcorder line on the market with the ability to employ a variety of lens-changing options with the exclusive use of its complete line of 35mm still-camera lenses, using its own proprietary converter.

The availability of lens converters can surely come into play to give a user options from what a camcorder's built-in lens assembly provides. Tiffen produces a line of telephoto converters that are perfect for sporting events, because they reduce the angle of view and shallow the depth of field. At around a hundred bucks each, giving these converters a try won't break the bank. Even more affordable are Sunpak's wide-angle converters, which range 25-46 millimeters for thirty to sixty dollars. Wide-angle converters are great for cityscapes, which bring everything into a wide, sharp focus for a dramatic effect, particularly at night.

On the custom fit side, Schneider Optics doesn't rely on a one-size-fits-all philosophy for its line of converters and lenses. Instead, they've opted for custom bayonet mounts for different camera types. Therefore, whether looking to convert a lens on a Canon, Sony, or even Panasonic, the Schneider Century line works without unwanted distortion from the optics, because that's how they're designed. Unfortunately, they're not cheap. You won't find one under five hundred dollars.


Adapters

Imagine using that classic Nikon 105mm portrait lens while doing an intimate interview? There is a movement out to adapt conventional 35mm still camera lenses to any camcorder, using a specially made adapter. The idea came from the viewfinders that directors are so fond of on the set. The MINI35 Image Converter by P+S Technik promises a depth of field similar to that of 35mm cameras. The Mini35 comes with either a bayonet mount adapter or a universal camera mount, which can be used to add your favorite 35mm lens onto a few prosumer-level camcorders. Other similar converters include the M2 by RedRock Micro and a more affordable adapter from Letus35. Prices for these options aren't cheap, from five hundred for the Letus 35 to over a thousand dollars or more. However, the good news is, they're also rentable. Furthermore, if you're into do-it-yourself projects, there are many how-to guides to make your own 35mm adapter out of less expensive materials.

These days, accessories are more than just cushy camera bags, small video lights, or a protective filter. Accessories give a video pro options. And after all, when getting the shot, having options will help you get the best shot possible.

James DeRuvo is producer and editor for a broadcast production company.

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