Yes, subject matter often plays a part. However, many would agree that a beautiful video of boring subject matter is more easily digested than a hack job production of a fascinating story. By analogy, what would you rather eat, a perfectly prepared and well-seasoned fried egg (ordinary dish, well produced), or an overcooked slab of Kobe beef (exotic dish, poorly produced)?
In this “behind-the-scenes” piece, we highlight what a dramatic difference using the right equipment properly can make to the final product’s production values. We also recommend some equipment that you should consider to help elevate the quality of your productions.
None of what we do would be possible without our equipment partner, Vistek, which provides us with some of the best professional and consumer equipment currently available.
Perhaps the most obvious contributor to high-quality video, and often the most pricey, is a solid, high-caliber camera. A good camera with a good lens means a clearer image and more detail, as well as more control over essentials like audio, colour, frame rate and sound.
There are myriad options with wide-ranging price points. Here, we highlight a camera that we use quite often for our productions, the Sony PXW-FS5 (“Sony FS-5”).
Very good DSLRs today, and some smartphones, can shoot video at up to 120 frames per second (“FPS”); cameras like the Sony FS-5 can shoot in full HD at 240 FPS and are capable of shooting at up to 960 FPS;
Especially useful for slow-motion shots, highlighting fine details while retaining all data;
How does this differ from creating slow-motion footage from most DSLRs or your phone camera?
The higher a camera’s frame rate, the more you can slow down the video without losing details.
Think about a car racing by on a stretch of track in front of you. Suppose the car passes in one second. Also suppose your camera can only capture at 12 FPS (for illustration purposes I’m using a very slow frame rate). If you want to slow the footage so that, instead of passing in one second, the car passes in six seconds, you only have two frames per second of detail. The slow motion video will look extremely choppy. If, instead, your camera is capable of 240 FPS, slowing the footage to the same six seconds will leave you with forty frames per second, more than enough for a smooth, detailed video.
What is Neutral Density and why is it important?
Traditionally, photographers and videographers used a certain type of lens filter to tweak the amount of light entering their cameras and reaching their film or sensors. Along with modifying shutter speed, aperture and ISO/ASA, using the right ND filter helped achieve proper exposure.
Today, certain cameras, like the Sony FS-5, feature intelligent designs that enable users to dial-in ND settings electronically on the fly. Such a radically quicker option can often save shots in challenging lighting situations. These cameras similarly include convenient access to other critical settings, including color profiles and white balance.
Great audio makes for great visuals. No matter how stunning a video might look, overall quality can suffer critically if the audio track is recorded improperly. The flip side of that coin: capturing audio properly can greatly enhance your content, appropriately complementing your hard-earned visuals.
What are Lavaliers?
Lavaliers, or lavs as they are commonly known, are tiny microphones connected to the camera that can clip onto clothing close to the audio source, which may be at some distance from the camera.
Lavaliers can connect to the camera via a wire, or more conveniently, wirelessly.
We like to use wireless lavs like the Sennheiser EW112-PG3 featured in this video.
Why are Lavaliers Important?
Often, especially when shooting on location, the audio source is either distant from the camera, or surrounded by distracting ambient noise, or both. Moreover, fluctuating audio levels will occur if the audio source changes its orientation relative to the camera. For obvious reasons, relying on a camera’s built-in mic in such circumstances will probably yield a weak audio track that will require major post-shooting enhancements and will likely result in a final product that seems amateurish.
In almost any situation, conversely, lavaliers deliver crisp, clear audio tracks consistently. And, with a well-designed camera like the Sony PXW-FS5, you can adjust audio levels on the fly. Further, lavs are much more discreet and convenient than handheld mics or bulky boom mics, which can also get quite expensive.
What are They?
Pretty self-explanatory. Camera sliders are tracks on which you can mount and slide your camera. Some sliders are manual (i.e. they provide stability and a uniform plane on which to slide your camera, but you do the work), and some work automatically (i.e. the user sets the slide speed, and the slider’s little computer and motor take it from there).
Why are They Important?
Unlike a solid (another word for solid – high quality?) camera and good audio equipment, these fall more into the “want rather than need” category. However, camera sliders can really help sell visuals and add a professional aesthetic — proper use can turn B-roll video into eye-candy that makes the viewer crave more.
Back in the day, videographers who wanted to record steady shots while moving either had to rely on cumbersome and time-consuming dollies, or more convenient — albeit not hassle-free — Steadicams. With the miniaturization and advancement of battery and computer technologies, companies like DJI have innovated further on the Steadicam concept to deliver more convenient ways to achieve smooth, steady shots on the move, including the handheld, multi-axis gimbal.
What is a Three-Axis Handheld Gimbal?
A gimbal is a support about which an object can rotate on a single axis. Attaching three gimbals together in a specific way can create a mount that will stay perfectly steady even as the support to which the mount is connected moves. In other words, put a camera in a shaky hand and you end up with a shaky image; mount a camera to the three-axis gimbal system in a shaky hand, the support or handle shakes, but the camera stays perfectly still, resulting in a steady or stable image.
In this video, we feature DJI’s Osmo Mobile. DJI’s gimbal technology is industry-leading. Beyond stabilizing the image, DJI’s gimbals also have built-in intelligence that enable you to pan smoothly, and their devices’ ergonomics are very well designed. The Osmo Mobile lets you take advantage of the decent quality of your mobile device’s camera; DJI also sells more expensive kits, like the Ronin, which will enable you to accomplish the same, but with a heavier video camera.
Why is a Three-Axis Gimbal Important When Shooting on the Move?
Without breaking the bank, adding a gimbal to even the most basic setup — we mounted an iPhone 7 to ours — dramatically improves production values of videos shot on-the-move, and it creates the illusion that the shooter has access to very high-end gear.
Take some time to select interesting subject matter for you videos. However, spend at least as much time planning your visuals and audio, and, if you can, invest in equipment to elevate and enhance those components. Doing so will result in dramatically more captivating content that will earn you more views and more credibility.
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