New Video Hobby? A Guide from Start to Finish

My 5 year old PC almost died yesterday (apparently it was just the gfx card to blame, which I replaced since), so amidst all that I checked out the PC prices. Having a fresh look at the current prices, I decided to write this blog post: what would I buy if I was starting doing video today. Here’s what I put together for $2500 (plus tax/shipping).

1. PC
I found this DELL model being the best in terms of features and price. I configured it with the basic PC speakers, Intel Pentium dual-core E5400 (2MB L2, 2.7GHz, 800FSB), 64bit Win7 OS, 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz, 21.5″ Dell ST2210 Full HD 1080p Monitor with VGA cable, 500GB SATA Hard Drive 7200RPM. Price: $718.

2. PC Extras
A. You need to buy a few extras here: a cheap GeForce PCIe card that has PureVideo HD support (VP2+). The cheapest you can find that can do some good PureVideo will do (Purevideo CUDA is starting to get very good support for h.264 acceleration from many applications, including Flash). You can find such a card for about $60-$70 in other stores, like Geeks.com.
B. An SDHC reader. Must clearly mention SDHC (plain SD won’t do). Price: $10.

3. Camera
If you’re serious doing some video art, then there’s no better buy than the Canon T2i. Smokes any other camera at that price range. Price: $800.

If you don’t have the money for lenses and a dSLR, get a Canon digicam. The cheapest HD Canon digicam (as of this writing the SD780 IS), costs $200, and it has enough manual controls to do a great job. In the case of getting such a digicam, ignore the “lenses” section below. Update: There’s a new cheap camera in town, that does 24p. More here.

4. Lenses
Start off with 3 lenses. While it’s true that the more expensive ultra-sharp lenses do offer better quality, starting off with some basic Canon lenses will also be acceptable (don’t go for non-EOS lenses). I’d suggest a somewhat fast prime, a longer prime or zoom lens, and a wide-angle one. Overall, depending on what you’re buying and where, these can cost between $350 and $500.

5. SDHC card
Buy a 16 GB SDHC card, Class 6 (slower Class SD cards might get you buffering/skipping problems). Don’t buy no-name flash cards, you might regret it. Price is at around $100.

6. Tripod
Something like this is good enough. As long as its head is “fluid”, and of somewhat good quality, you’re good to go.

7. Sony Vegas Platinum 9
The most advanced non-pro video editor, with full 24p support. You can also configure Vegas Platinum for full-screen 1:1 size preview on the HD monitor mention above (1:1 size preview helps with editing). Price: $75

8. Cineform NeoSCENE
Unfortunately, you can’t edit the Canon dSLR h.264 footage without transcoding it to a faster codec. This is the fastest “intermediate” HD codec of all. Price: $100 (at Videoguys.com). If you’re going to use Cineform, do NOT upgrade to Vegas Platinum 10, stay with Platinum 9, that works best with Cineform.

[Optional]
Buy an ND filter at 0.6 (4x). It will help you get more shallow depth of field outdoors on a sunny day (when the aperture tends to shrink — think of ND filters as sunglasses for your lens). These usually cost between $50 and $70 at the size that your lenses would require it at.

33 Comments »

Jara wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 4:10 AM PST:

I do own many non-Canon lenses and some of them are superior to Canon ones. Just google them and see how they perform.


dustin wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 7:44 AM PST:

If you were wanting to be mobile what would you use as the edit laptop?


Poet wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 8:46 AM PST:

I too am curious as to why you advise avoiding non-EOS lenses. There are many 3rd party lenses superior to their Canon counterparts. Some of these manufacturers, like Tamron, even offer superior warranties (6 years vs. Canon’s 1) on more affordable but optically similar glass. A quick look at fredmiranda.com will show that pros using these lenses for photography find them more than adequate, and as you mention in your next post, 1080p video is less demanding than 18MP still work.


daren wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 9:58 AM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

Can you talk about your video production experiences as they relate to the LCD monitor? How do you work with their inadequacies in color reproduction and how do you calibrate yours. For producing video I would guess that the having a Monitor that allows you to produce true color video is pretty important.

Thanks,
Daren


ViaTorci wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 10:34 AM PST:

Hey Daren,

I actually wrote a piece on color accurate color grading on a budget a while back. The core is you first want a monitor capable of displaying all the colors you will be correcting. This instantly throws out most monitors as they are TN-panels and incapable of producing an accurate color spectrum. Instead, look at MVA, PVA, ans S-IPS panels which have a full 8-bit display.

Second, and more important, is purchasing a color calibrator. This is a dongle that plugs into your computer and will hang on your monitor measuring colors and comparing them to stored, known accurate hues. The software that accompanies the dongle will correct your display.

Pantone makes an affordable product called Huey which should do the trick. For a little bit more, look at Spyder which will do a superior job.

I’m always hesitant to link to my sites as I don’t want to come off as a spammer but Here, Here, and Here are the articles I wrote.

Hope this helps.


Vic wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 1:00 PM PST:

How does the Canon T2i compare with the 7D or even the HV30 as a filmmaking tool?


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Eugenia wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 1:18 PM PST:

>I too am curious as to why you advise avoiding non-EOS lenses.

For many of them, there is no autofocus support. And I shot a music video where I thought I could out-smart the autofocus system. Guess what, it’s not possible. Only get lenses that support the “electronics” of the EOS system, and it’s not just a dumb glass.

>If you were wanting to be mobile what would you use as the edit laptop?

Anything Core2Duo 2+ Ghz, with 64bit OS, 4 GB of RAM, enough HDD, SDHC slot if possible.

>How does the Canon T2i compare with the 7D or even the HV30 as a filmmaking tool?

The video portion of the 7D and T2i is exactly the same. If you only care about video, there is absolutely no reason to pay double the price to get a 7D.

Regarding the HV30, except its continuous autofocus, some connectors, and some other stuff that most people don’t use (e.g. like the light), the HV30 is at loss compared to the T2i. Right now, the T2i is king.

>Can you talk about your video production experiences as they relate to the LCD monitor?

Get one, try to set it up as “neutral” as possible (eyeball it), and go out and shoo0t and come back to edit. I know that the reader above gave a long explanation about configuring it, but really, if you’re just starting in video, you don’t have to do all that. I don’t have color precise monitors, and videos come out just fine in all my 3 LCDs, 3 laptop LCDs, and my plasma HDTV. No complaints. As long as I go low contrast & saturation enough, it comes out great. Besides, for the music videos I do, I appreciate somewhat wacky colors.


Abbey wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 2:58 PM PST:

You mention that you would use windows 7 64bit for your OS. I’m not sure if Vegas Platinum 9 will work in a 64bit OS. I think only the Pro 9 has a 64 bit version.


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Eugenia wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 3:04 PM PST:

I know. But it’s not about having your current editor run at 64bit, but being future-proof. For now, 32bit Vegas makes way more sense, since most third party codecs and plugins for it are 32bit. But if you’re like me, and likes to keep computers until they die, at least be future-proof in terms of software.


Poet wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 6:13 PM PST:

For a video setup, why do I need autofocus? The contrast detection live-view offers is slow and inaccurate, I’d rather pull myself using my marks. I can get f/2.8 3rd part glass for the price of Canon f/3.5-4.5. Additionally, the glass is sharper and better built (until we get to the expensive high end and L Canon lenses). Autofocus is only important for live events, in a staged situation like an interview or scene you’re often better off without it.


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Eugenia wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 6:56 PM PST:

Ugh. I just told you above that I did exactly that, that I manually focused on my first 5D music video. And guess what. It did NOT come out as sharp as my second music video that was auto-focused most of the time. So I speak out of experience, for my usage case. Also, most people would want autofocus, especially NEW video users.


Glenn wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:47 AM PST:

I would recommend building your own computer. Or even getting a store to assemble it for you, as even then it would still be cheaper. That way you have full control over what components are used in the computer. I don’t think any standard Dell cases would come close to the quality of an Antec P182 case for example, which I use myself. The same goes for graphics cards. Better to choose your own, and in particular one without a fan if possible, as they’ll be lot quieter. Not to mention a decent power supply. Antec win out there too with their newer models which are all silent. Shop around and you can get some great deals. The money saved could buy you a copy of Vegas Pro instead of Platinum.


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Eugenia wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:51 AM PST:

Glenn, I disagree. In this day and age, only geeks build their own PCs. The ones DELL delivers are just fine, and the ports/quality is more than enough that a filmmaker would need. Not to mention that it’s better having a gfx card with a fan — that’s what killed mine yesterday, heat!

Also, a new videographer needs not Vegas Pro. Not only because the features really needed are already on Platinum, but also because Pro 9 is buggy with Cineform — Cineform that is a MUST with these dSLRs.


Carl wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:00 AM PST:

Ben Kadie, my son, and I edit on a Dell quad-core. At the time we got it (June 2008) it didn’t seem that much more than a dual-core. Almost all video software seems to be able to use the processors. I thought that cheap 8-core machines would be out be now and am disappointed they are not.

Recently, we upgraded to 8 gig of memory and 64-bit Windows 7. 32-bit Vegas runs great under Windows 7. (You can edit multiple projects at once and each gets all the memory it can use.) We’d prefer to run 64-bit Vegas, but the Magic Bullet plugin for Vegas is 32-bit only. – Carl


KimBergie wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 12:34 PM PST:

You rock, Eugenia. As always, GREAT advice for the beginner (and not-so beginners)!!


NormanBates wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 12:34 PM PST:

Hi

I don’t get the EOS thing either; my main lens is a tamron 17-50; not being canon, it doesn’t say EOS anywhere in its name, but it has autofocus, and it is an absolutely outstanding lens; am I missing something here?

also, on the tripod: is that one really enough? have you actually used it? I was already saving for a manfrotto 701HDV+055XB, which I guess is much better, but for me this is just a hobby, so I could go for a cheaper one… on the other hand, I already have a bad tripod, and I know it’s not good enough (it has no fluid head, but, even if it had, it feels too unstable)

now, out of the area in which I’m still a newbie and into my nerdy hometown: I’m also against fans in computer parts; I’d bet that if your card died because of heat, it wouldn’t have been any more prepared against such failure if it had had a fan

actually, my first guess is that it was a one or two years old nvidia card, and so it died because it was badly designed (google “bumpgate”, or see link below)
my second guess would be that it actually had a fan, and such fan failed

http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1004378/why-nvidia-chips-defective


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Eugenia wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 1:11 PM PST:

>but it has autofocus,

Not all non-EOS do.

>is that one really enough?

Yes, it is. For a newbie, this is a good-enough tripod. Better than my old one anyway, and I was still able to shoot fine.


Christophe wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:16 PM PST:

Hi Eugenia. You mention often the need to use intermediate codec with vegas. However, I was able to grap a T2i mov file from the net (here) and it works OK in Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0b for me. I’m also able to use my shoots from SX200.

Regards


NormanBates wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:31 PM PST:

thanks a lot for the tip, then!

I’ll get that one, and then think about the more expensive options ONLY if I prove myself that I can keep on with this hobby


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Eugenia wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 3:33 PM PST:

If you’re talking about stability: Vegas DOES crash with it if you have 50-100 of these clips and your project starts to become somewhat complex.

If you’re talking about speed: It only works real time if you have a SUPER-FAST machine. Most people don’t. And besides, EVEN if you have a super-fast machine, by the time you start editing or adding some pan/crop/plugins, the speed will go down the toilet again — no matter your fast PC. Cineform simply requires FAR LESS speed to operate, or strap plugins upon.


Glenn wrote on March 2nd, 2010 at 4:32 PM PST:

Eugenia, no, it’s still much cheaper than a Dell desktop. You don’t have to be a geek and build it yourself, although you would save even more money that way. As I said, you can get the store to build it for you. I built a couple of quad core machines for friends recently with good components. An equivalent Dell desktop would have cost twice as much. Even if I got the guys at the store I bought the parts from to build it.

Put it this way, for the price of a basic Dell Core2 Dual Core machine, you could have a machine with a much faster i7 920 CPU computer from an average computer store. Computer stores, here in Australia at least are very competitive, so you’re guaranteed to get some great prices. Plus, the respected PC magazines (the local ones anyway) always rate these computers much higher than Dell, HP etc. Being a geek can save you a lot of money 🙂

If you can handle a bit of fan noise, graphics cards with fans are fine. I have a Quadro FX 560 card in my older machine.. But it’s too noisy. As a result that PC is in a closet under the stairs with weather strips around the door to stop the noise escaping. For music & video I couldn’t work with that kind of noise, so my studio pc uses a fanless video card.

If you’re having cooling problems, a big case fan should do the trick. Unlike the tiny fans they put on graphics cards that become extremely noisy after about a year, the larger case fans are mostly silent.


kent wrote on March 4th, 2010 at 12:55 PM PST:

Eugenia Do you know if the current version of Platinum 9 works with Windows 7? You state Vegas pro is buggy with Cineform Neoscene. Do you know if Platinum 9 is buggy with cineform? Thanks.


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Eugenia wrote on March 4th, 2010 at 3:01 PM PST:

Vegas Pro 9 is buggy currently with cineform clips (some red/black frames). Pro 7/8 and Platinum 8/9 work fine.

I don’t know about Windows 7. I suggest you stay in the proven XP SP3 32bit for video editing, and at worse, with Vista 32/64bit. But for Win7, I don’t know. Some say it works fine, some find problems, dunno. I still use XP for the most part.


kent noble wrote on March 4th, 2010 at 7:08 PM PST:

thanks!


Francis Coral - Mellon wrote on March 5th, 2010 at 7:06 AM PST:

I agree that people should invest in 3rd party lenses which “have autofocus” but still 3rd party you can get an equivalent to a canon lens worth twice as much or buy a crappier canon lens for the same price. A lot of people reccomend certain lenses which are great buys and sometimes better than canon equivalents.


abds69 wrote on March 7th, 2010 at 12:06 PM PST:

hello, my thoughts :
1 PC not a dual core but i7 core for previewing and rendering in Vegas. i7 860 is the first 8_core at around 250€ with new cheaper socket 1156. Motherboard with a maximun ram capacity of 8gb ( just to anticipate) , but 4gb is enough even with 64bit.
2 geforce 9600gt with passive cooling, around 50€ second hand. Has got cuda.
3 T2i beautiful you’are absolutly right. I’ve awaited this cam (and price) since 15 years. DOF, DOF dOF, and beautiful colors.
4 TAMRON lenses are excellent for the price. The 18-200 18-250, 18-270 di II series are so practical and colors perfect. Can be found second hand. Mine 150€ second hand , still under warranty
5 SDHC class 6 from silicon power. Not the best in reading speed, but this is the writing speed that matters, and this one has the highest slow writing speed, so to speak never under 10MB/s when it was tested. Can be found at 35€ for 16gb, a bargain.
6 The fluid head is ok here, but not enough, when filming concert, the bass make this light tripod vibrates. So a heavier tripod + fluid head is my recommandation
7 ok
8 Lagarith as lossless free codec AND Virtualdub. Virtualdub for 3 things : smart deinterlacer, msu denoiser, deshaker plugins

So a bit different view but not so off the budget : the main problem is Vegas not capable of using GPU card, so i7 is a minimum for a complex project. At this point with i7 , neoform is optional for me.
By the way , i use T2i .mov file directly in vegas with quicktime pro installed. Need a free plugin in virtualdub to open it , but same thing.
If you are using lowlight shots, virtualdub denoiser is necessary before a vegas grading.

To be commented…


Michael C. wrote on March 8th, 2010 at 6:09 PM PST:

1. Non-TN monitor is a must for color correcting, as well as for everyday watching movies on a computer.
2. AFAIK, Vegas Studio and Studio Platinum has no vectorscope/levels.
3. Why suggesting CUDA-enabled video cards AND Vegas at the same time? Vegas does not use video acceleration.
3. T2i/550 is not the best tool, it produces horrible aliasing, and one has to be really inventive to shoot nice pictures with it. Maybe you were lucky so far, or maybe you ARE inventive, but I would hate to either defocus or to use some weird filters with holes in them just to get rid of aliasing. Why would I want an HD camera if the image comes out blurry? So, contrary to what many people say, I think that VDSLRs are for pros, not for amateurs. An amateur will be happy with a $500 consumer camcorder.
4. Velbon 607 is ok-ish, but is not rugged enough, it is wobbly especially with the column pulled up. Basically, you cannot shoot from this tripod WHILE OPERATING the camera, you will get shaky picture. It is also bad in high wind.


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Eugenia wrote on March 8th, 2010 at 6:46 PM PST:

@abds69

>PC not a dual core but i7 core for previewing and rendering in Vegas.

Sorry, but we’re trying to buy good-enough cheap stuff here. Not the best of the best. Besides, the difference between CoreDuo and i-series is not huge. Definitely not as huge as it was between Pentium4 and CoreDuos.

>So a heavier tripod + fluid head is my recommendation

Heavy == Expensive. My husband has a heavy tripod, but that cost him $450. This is not a tool a NEW user would want to spend money right off the bat (and this article is about new videographers, don’t forget that).

>Lagarith as lossless free codec AND Virtualdub

ABSOLUTELY NOT. Lagarith is a VERY SLOW codec. Even the fastest PC on earth can’t preview Lagarith in real time. I’m afraid either Cineform or DNxHD is where it’s at. Anything else doesn’t cut it. And I would never ask new users to use VirtualDub. This is not a Linux-like forum, where we ask users to hack all day or shit that make no sense to their mind. We always go for the EASIEST solution, even if it might cost you a bit. The keyword here is “easy, fast”, not “sacrifice a goat, learn Avisynth scripting, and pray it will actually work on your Win7 system”. I’m 100% against such solutions.

>the main problem is Vegas not capable of using GPU card, so i7 is a minimum for a complex project.

I don’t agree. An older PC+Cineform is cheaper, AND faster. The GPU is to be used with CoreAVC for previewing btw, not for editing.


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Eugenia wrote on March 8th, 2010 at 6:52 PM PST:

@Michael C.

>1. Non-TN monitor is a must for color correcting, as well as for everyday watching movies on a computer.

Wrong. Video is not like photo printing, where printers REALLY pay attention to the colors you ask them to print. TVs and PC monitors are SO HORRIBLY configured in the factory, that besides some basic eyeballing, it makes no sense to go buy TN monitors. It’s wasted money.

>2. AFAIK, Vegas Studio and Studio Platinum has no vectorscope/levels.

So? From the moment you color grading, eyeballing is good enough. I have access to these tools, and 99% of the times I don’t use them. Never had a problem not having my videos the way I wanted them to look like.

>3. Why suggesting CUDA-enabled video cards AND Vegas at >the same time? Vegas does not use video acceleration.

We know that. But CUDA is important with CoreAVC, the fastest h.264 decoder in the planet. It’s worth the extra $10. If you’re going h.264, it’s a clever thing to have a CUDA GPU.

>3. T2i/550 is not the best tool, it produces horrible aliasing,

OH, COME ON. This is like nitpicking on shit all day. The T2i offers you the BEST picture, and the most cinematic look than ANY other camera in that price range. That’s what people want. And if in some extreme cases is not perfect, it’s not a big deal! The T2i is the best buy right now. By far.

>4. Velbon 607 is ok-ish

You know of a better sub-$100 tripod? We’re all ears.


Rick S. wrote on March 9th, 2010 at 9:59 PM PST:

Eugenia, Thank you so much for this list. As a video newbie I am currently using it as a shopping list. Your opinions are much appreciated.
1. Which GEForce video card would you buy right now? (There are so many versions vp2 and above with differing attributes and VDPAU feature sets)
2. Is the Canon 18-55 lens packaged with the T2i worth purchasing for $100 or should one buy “body only”.
3. Which 3 EOS lens would you purchase today?
4. My new computer’s operating system is Windows 7 64 bit. Will the software (Vegas Platinum 9 and Cineform) and required codecs function on this machine.
Thanks in advance.


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Eugenia wrote on March 9th, 2010 at 11:00 PM PST:

1. I don’t know exactly. Whichever has PureVideo2 support should be good enough. Doesn’t have to be expensive.
2. It’s not a bad deal I think.
3. Not sure which ones exactly. My husband has a lot of lenses since he’s a photographer when he’s not a Google engineer, so all I have to tell him is “pass me a longer prime”, or “I need wide-angle”, and he’s got the right one for me. Therefore, I haven’t researched prices/models in vast detail. I just know what I need in general during a shoot (fast prime, longer prime or zoom, wide angle). 🙂
4. It should work. Download the trials and test it.


Rolf wrote on March 10th, 2010 at 1:29 PM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

what can you recommend for SDHC cards ? Waht experiences did you make ? Is it that easy expensive = good, cheap = bad ? After loosing two Transcend 16GB, admittedly not 100$, with “control data error” in my Panasonic camcorder, I’m a little helpless what sdhc card to buy.


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Eugenia wrote on March 10th, 2010 at 4:07 PM PST:

Buy Sandisk then. I use a lot of different SDHC ones, didn’t have a problem. Maybe I was just lucky.


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