10 essential accessories for shooting video with your DSLR
Trick out your DSLR for maximum movie production.
Shooting video with your DSLR is simple. You just switch over to motion mode and point your camera at something beautiful or interesting. But, if you want to get serious about shooting motion, having the right gear will really help you immensely. These accessories will make your movie-making experience more enjoyable and more productive.
How necessary is a pan head tripod? Very
Why do I need a pan head tripod? Camera shake is bad for still photos, but it can be downright nauseating when shooting motion, so a sturdy set of “sticks” is essential. For the legs, you want something that’s going to be extremely stable and as light as possible. Carbon fiber is nice, but not entirely necessary. Stability and portability are your top priorities.
The head is where things get a little more specific. If you don’t plan on moving the camera while it’s on the tripod for pan shots, any kind will do fine, but eventually you’re going to outgrow the static shot. Fluid heads are a great option because the movement is damped to make it smoother. Plus, they rotate on flat planes, making them more practical than many ball heads.
How necessary is a hoodloupe? Moderately
Why do I need a hoodloupe? You’re going to be doing 100% of your composing and focusing using the screen on the back of your camera, and that can cause some issues. Glare can be a big problem if you’re shooting in the sunlight, and a loop will take care of that for you.
You’ll also likely be focusing manually using only the screen as your reference, so having more magnification on your screen will give you a better look at your subject as you focus.
Plus, loops with an eye-piece let you shoot with the camera held-up to your eye, just like you would with a still camera, which a lot of shooters, especially those of us who primarily shoot stills, find convenient and maybe even a little bit comforting.
How necessary is a neutral density filter? Moderately
Why do I need a neutral density filter? Shutter speed can be a tricky thing when shooting motion. You’re limited on the slow end by the frame rate at which you’re shooting. When you’re shutter speed gets too fast, your footage starts to look jittery and unnatural. A neutral density filter helps keep that in check.
It serves the same purpose as it would in a still photography scenario, letting you use a wider aperture in bright situations. But, it also lets you slow down your shutter speed under similarly bright lights to keep things looking smooth.
How necessary is a dedicated audio recorder? Very
Why do I need a dedicated audio recorder? DSLRs are capable of capturing beautiful video, but when it comes to audio, the tiny built-in microphones just don’t cut it. Ask any experienced video shooter and they’ll tell you that audio is crucial, so this is a good place to spend some of your budget. Here are some options to consider.
Dedicated audio recorder Having a stand-alone recorder offers a bit more versatility than an on-camera microphone because you can literally drop it wherever you want and let it record. If you’re going to be shooting video of your kid’s recital, you can drop it in an audio sweet spot and shoot from wherever you like. They’re also usually a bit more customizable and easier to monitor than an on-camera solution. On the downside, however, you’ll have to sync the audio up with the video in post, which adds time to your editing.
Shotgun Microphone This type of mic typically sits in a hot shoe and records audio directly into the camera. These can be good for run-and-gun style interviews and it offers a definite improvement over your camera’s built in recorder. They can be very directional, though, so you’ll likely only get a good audio signal out of things happening directly in front of you. They also need to stay tethered to your camera, so the sound might change as the camera moves around.
Lavalier microphone A must if you’re going to be doing a lot of documentary style interviews. These mics attach directly to a person and provide the best quality when it comes to recording someone’s voice. Until you get far along in your video making career, you probably won’t need one of these.
How necessary is a fast memory card? Extremely
Why do I need a fast memory card? Video footage takes up a lot of space on your memory cards, so you’ll need to make sure you have the gigabytes to handle your shooting. That part is obvious. Speed, however, is equally as important and a little bit tricker to understand.
If you’re shooting SD cards, look for a class 10 card. It’s fast enough to keep up with that heavy data stream. You’ll also notice that it’s quicker to upload your footage from a fast card. Plus, it might even help you squeeze more burst rate out of your camera in still photography mode.
CF cards tend to be faster as a matter of course. Pro cards tend to record at 600x or even 1000x, which can keep up with your video recording no problem. The only penalty for faster cards comes with price, so look at your budget and get the fastest, most reliable cards you can afford. But, you’re probably doing that already anyway.
How necessary is video editing software? Very
Why do I need video editing software? Editing video from a DSLR has achieved the impressive feat of being both simple and incredibly complex at the same time. Compared to film editing, it’s a breeze. But, once you start trying to get serious about editing, the amount of complexity you can add is limitless. Adobe Premiere is an industry standard and can be purchased through Adobe’s subscription model. If you are familiar with other programs in the Adobe family you will catch on quickly.
How necessary is a slider? For advanced shooters
Why do I need a slider? Camera movement is crucial for making compelling video, but it’s also one of the trickiest parts for still photographers to cope with when making the transition. A camera slider help a camera move smoothly in ways that a panning tripod head can’t facilitate. They’re good for tracking subjects as they pass, adding movement to otherwise static scenes, They can also be used to get tighter or wider on a subject without zooming.
You can get a basic set of rails on which you actually need to push the camera, or you can get much fancier and opt for a set-up where the camera actually moves automatically. They’re very pricy, but can’t be beat for things like time lapses. Unless you’re shooting at a high level, you likely won’t use this much, so look into renting to try before you buy.
After all, most high-end video shooters do a ton of gear rental anyway.
How necessary is a shoulder rig? For advanced shooters
Why do I need a shoulder rig? You can’t always keep your camera on the tripod and a full-fledged Steadicam is often overkill, but a shoulder rig can come in very handy. Not only does it provide stability by giving the camera a way to rest on your shoulder, but some also give you more options when it comes to attaching accessories like microphones and mixers.
They aren’t cheap and it makes you look extremely conspicuous if you try to break it out at a school play, but it can make a big difference if you’re shooting a lot.
How necessary is a follow focus? For advanced shooters
Why do I need a follow focus? As mentioned before, focusing is one of the trickiest parts of shooting DSLR video. For the most part, you’ll be focusing with your hand on the focus ring of the lens. Unfortunately, that’s not always the most accurate way to go form one focus point to another. It can also introduce camera shake into the equation, which is always bad unless you’re shooting for that Cloverfield look.
A follow focus lets you focus by adding onto your lens. Many of them use gears, which can be expensive and will only work with certain lenses. You can find cheaper, one-size-fits-all solutions, but results are decidedly mixed and they can end up doing more harm than good if you’re not careful.
How necessary is a monitor? Moderately
Why do I need a monitor? The three-inch screen on the back of your camera seems big, but when you’re using it to focus, review footage, compose and handle just about every other part of the video-making process, it can be limiting. You can get a wide variety of external screens, most of which attach to your camera via HDMI. The extra screen real estate will suck up battery power, but it will give you a much clearer view of what your shots will look like. If you have a loupe for your LCD screen, this might not be as crucial, but every shooter has their preference. Do what your eye and your budget tell you.
While this list is a good place to get started, there’s a whole host of other accessories out there you might want to invest in if you’re getting serious about video. You can spend tens of thousands if you feel so inclined. Just don’t be afraid to rent and let your work dictate what you need to buy. Don’t let Gear Acquisition Syndrome win out.