Today’s videographers come in many different shapes and sizes, with many different levels of expertise and a variety of equipment needs. Selecting the right video gear for the type of shooting that you do is essential no matter what your level of expertise. What kind of video equipment should you own? Take this simple 10-question quiz and find out if you are a "Casual Novice" a "Video Hobbyist" a "Weekend Prosumer" or "Señor Spielbergo de Video", then see the equipment recommendations that follow.
The Videomaker Quiz
- I shoot video:
- To pass the time when I am not editing video.
- At least once a month.
- Every holiday season.
When lighting an indoor shoot, I use:
- A carefully planned 3-point lighting setup.
- An on-camera light.
- Whatever sunlight creeps through the window.
The tripod I have my eyes on:
- Costs more than my first camcorder.
- Is stable and easy to carry.
- Sees use whenever my arms get tired.
I plan to edit:
- With a nonlinear editing system.
- With a cuts-only editing system.
- By turning off the camcorder when I don’t want to record what is in the viewfinder.
I am sure I have good sound on my videos when:
- I can capture it with a variety of external microphones that I bring to every shoot.
- I can hear the dialogue with the shotgun mike on my camcorder.
- I am able to discern parts of the conversation from the background noise with the internal mike built into my camcorder.
I think that a lens filter:
- Can improve an otherwise average shot.
- Can protect my lens from scratches.
- I don’t wear contact lenses.
My portable sound mixer:
- Is a permanent fixture in my camera bag.
- Is something that I plan to purchase soon.
- Is how close I hold my boom box to my camcorder.
I need a camera bag:
- That is a hard waterproof shell that can hold a metric ton of video equipment.
- That can hold my camcorder and other equipment, yet is small enough to easily carry.
- To replace the plastic trash bag I currently use to carry my video equipment.
If I get a wireless microphone:
- It will be UHF true diversity system.
- It will be a low-cost VHF system.
- It will be my pet name for my wired microphone that has lost its cord.
While framing a shot:
- I keep in mind the rule of thirds.
- I always try to use innovative angles.
- I try not to cut off anyone’s head.
Grading Your Test
For each question that you answered with an "A", give yourself three points. For each "B", give yourself two points, and for each "C", give yourself a single point.
You are a "Casual Novice". You use your VHS or 8mm camcorder for birthdays, holidays and family vacations. Ease of use are the buzzwords for your video shooting style, and you may tend to value price over performance.
A complete video acquisition package for your use should include a camcorder such as Samsung’s SCA20 8mm camcorder ($350), Canon’s ES280 8mm camcorder ($599) or Sony’s CCD-TR67 8mm camcorder ($599). Combine one of these simple point-and-shoot camcorders with an extra battery ($23 to $50 depending on the camcorder used), and an inexpensive camcorder support, such as the Cullman Magic Monopod ($40) and you have a steady, well-powered shooting kit. An on-camera light (like the $80 Micro Lux) will keep your indoor videos well lit, and a soft camcorder bag like the Lowepro Lumina 2 ($40) will keep all this gear together and protect it at the same time.
As a "Video Hobbyist", you take the time and plan your productions. You use your camcorder regularly and might have shot a wedding or two for friends and family.
Your ideal acquisition package looks something like this: The RCA CC-6361 VHS-C ($799), Sharp’s VL-E760U 8mm ($900) or the Canon ES970 8mm camcorder ($799). Your camcorder is combined with an extra battery (about $50); a Davis & Stanford Magnum or similar tripod ($120); a battery powered on-camera light, like the Smith-Victor M-75, ($250); an Azden DX-431 external microphone ($30); a pair of small headphone with wide frequency response, like the Sennheiser HD435 headphones ($60); a Photogenic Chameleon CH-22 reflector ($45) and put it all into a large, rugged camcorder bag, like the Beseler Lifestyle World Traveler ($112).
You fit into the "Weekend Prosumer" category. You make money taping weddings and other events. You froth at the mouth when thinking of new low-priced equipment that was formerly considered as professional grade.
For the video you shoot, you need the picture quality found in Hi8, S-VHS and DV formats. Canon’s ES2500 Hi8 camcorder ($999) is a camcorder that has the picture quality you deserve, without the intimidating cost. If you’re thinking about a digital camcorder, there is the Sony DCR-TRV9 ($2699). This entry-level DV camcorder is the price-to-performance ratio winner, a DV camcorder that won’t drain your bank account.
For your more advanced shooting style, you need a more advanced acquisition kit. Take that camcorder, slap it on a Billingham Reporter 355 Tripod ($359) and you have fluid pans at your fingertips. For the professional look, you will need a set of lens filters. Tiffen’s Hollywood/FX Classic Filter Kit ($282) has star, soft, mist and contrast filters and more.
To light your video shoots, you need a light kit like the Smith-Victor K-86 ($399). This kit will give your videos the three-point lighting that you need. Combine this kit with a product like the Photogenic Chameleon CH-42 42-inch reflector ($74), and the lighting on your subjects will remind you of the New Year’s Ball in Times Square. To check your lighting setup for imperfections, you’ll need a monitor comparable to Panasonic’s CT-1386Y 13" color monitor ($359). It won’t run on battery power, but will help you find the hidden shadows in your shot.
Your video’s sound is of utmost importance, so you need a couple of external mikes. The Beyerdynamic M58 handheld mike ($180), or one like it, is a solid, all-around sound gatherer. An easy-to-hide lavaliere microphone like Shure’s SM11 ($87) is also a good option.
To transport these items, we suggest a large case like the Pelican 1650 foam case with wheels ($170). It will hold your gear, without holding you back.
Hola! "Señor Spielbergo de Video". Your video productions consume your life, and it shows. It’s likely that your videos are often superior to local TV commercials in production value. You are enthusiastic when it comes to purchasing and using your video equipment.
You want a camcorder with 3 CCDs. You know that is the only way to get the best picture quality. The Canon XL-1 ($4699) is a serious DV camcorder for serious videographers. If DV isn’t your style, there is a Sony CCD-TRV99 Hi8 ($1399) which features the manual controls that your level of expertise requires. For the real professional approach, you could get the AG-196 S-VHS camcorder ($1595). To stabilize your pricey camcorder, you’ll need a heavy-duty fluid head tripod like the Bogen 86-9 (the 3140 tripod with the 3063 mini fluid head, $399).
To light your sets, we suggest a complete light kit like the Lowell Pro D2-96 DP Remote Kit ($2050). To complete your lighting setup, you’ll need a portable color monitor, such as JVC TM-550U 5" battery-operated monitor ($852 plus $189 for the battery), and a variety of reflectors and defusers.
The audio on your productions requires a combination of microphones, so you will always have a proper mike for every recording situation. Shure’s SM84 ($219) is a lavaliere microphone for those "low profile" situations, while the Beyerdynamic MCE86NC ($349) is a shotgun mike that is ideal for keeping your distance. For everyday use, there are handheld mikes like Sennheiser’s E855 ($300). You can attach all of these microphones to the Nady 802 UHF Diversity Transmitters and Receivers ($500 for the SX5 transmitter and receiver) for cord-free productions. Finally, you need a portable audio mixer to set the audio levels that your videos require. For this task, try the Mackie MS1202-VLZ mixer ($420).
To haul this impressive cache of equipment, you will need a serious hard case like the Zero Halliburton 12a case ($370). This crate will keep your equipment safe from bumps and bruises, while showing everyone that you are "Señor Spielbergo de Video".