Plunging into video production

For several years now, it’s seemed inevitable that I’d take a serious plunge into the shark-infested waters of video production. The inevitability has a lot to do with some sort of metaphorical mathematics: theatre + photography + computer graphics = video. Or something like that.

A year and a half or so ago, I bought a cheap little Samsung SC-DC575 video camera. I realized that this cheap little thing would get frustrating quickly, and I was right on that front. Nevertheless, I’ve been using footage from it to learn Final Cut Pro, and get a sense of what sorts of shots translate well into the new (for me) medium. For example, no matter how lovely the scenery, handheld walking shots never work as anything other than scary clichés; we always expect someone with a machete to pop out from behind a bush and chop us to bits. I’m still trying to figure out ways of capturing the feel of nice, quiet hikes on video.

Recently, one of my web/graphic design clients offered to fund my plunge as an advance on future work. This set off a batch of research projects and contemplations: which camera? can I get indoor shooting space? how much/which light and sound equipment should I get right away? what sorts of productions am I going to do, anyway? is the shed at my house big enough to set up a little chroma key rig?

On the gear front, the recurring theme is the giant chasm between “consumer” gear and “professional” gear. In the camera realm, the best consumer cameras top out at a little over $1000; the pro cameras start at about $3000. It’s a similar tale with tripods, microphones, lights, etc. I can’t afford the pro gear, and I don’t want cheap junk. The adventure is finding the best gear I can afford, and using the still camera gear I have when it’ll work well.

The decisions are starting… I’ve ordered a Canon Vixia HF S100 camera from the always reliable The Canons seem to have the best lenses and features in the prosumer realm; the only competition I was seriously considering after the first round was a Panasonic model. The Canon S100 has a more expensive sibling, the S10, which costs $300 more and has 32GB on board memory. When I checked the prices on compatible flash memory—$75 for a 32GB card—I giggled a little and ordered the S100. The camera should arrive in a couple of days. I’ll blog about it and post a YouTube clip quickly.

In anticipation of many large files, I’ve also ordered a couple of new, large harddrives. A 1TB external drive for backups, and a 1.5TB internal drive for the main video files and projects. A 1.5 Terrabyte harddrive for $160. The mind reels.

Sound. Arg. On camera microphones really suck. Cheap microphones really suck. Pro microphones are too expensive. So, what to do? On the one hand, the reviews say the on board mic on the Canon S100 are better than most. Plus, with flash memory, there’s no motor sound. So maybe, just maybe the on board mic would be adequate. For some projects. After several hours of research, I decided to get a Rode VideoMic, too. It should be a big improvement, especially in eliminating extraneous noises. I found a “blemished” one at a firm called for a little over a hundred bucks. We’ll see.

Lights. I’m still in research mode on this one. I might start with newfangled compact fluorescent bulbs for my old photo flood lights, or mayble I’ll get some umbrellas or softboxes with a backdrop stand and greenscreen background.

Forward and onward…


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