Archive for January 6th, 2011

Becoming a filmmaker for ultra-cheap

Now that the world can have a 24p camera for one hundred bucks, it’s time to revisit my video hardware suggestions with this new blog post about how to put together the necessary equipment to shoot a short movie, or music video, for very cheap, without sacrificing quality in any substantial way. So, there are three main aspects to on-set filmmaking: video, audio, and lighting. Here’s how to properly shoot with a small P&S Canon camera. Here’s what to buy with your weekend money:

– Video equipment
1. A 24p video camera with at least exposure compensation, exposure locking, and some color control. That would be the brand new Canon A1200, for $110, capable of 720/24p. If you have the ability to pay more, get the S100 ($430), which offers 1080/24p and adequate shallow depth of field when zoomed in. First thing to do after you acquire any camera: set custom colors to minimum contrast/saturation/sharpness, so you can shoot “flat”. While shooting, always set and lock exposure (usually it’s best to set it to -1 outdoors). If your camera supports continuous autofocus (e.g. the S100), you will have to lock focus too before recording.

2. A tripod. I would suggest the Velbon VideoMate-607/F ($70), because it has a smooth-pan head. If you’re not planning to pan while recording, ever, you can get pretty much any tripod, as long as it has leveling indications.

3. A charger for rechargeable AA batteries for your camera. This Sony one, that comes with four batteries too, costs $16. You don’t need this item if you’re going for the S100 instead.

4. Four 8 GB SDHC cards, Class 6, like this one (4×13=$52). Whatever you buy, make sure they’re Class 6 or faster.

Optional, but highly recommended:
5. You don’t need this item if you’re going for the S100 instead. A filter tube, like the Zeikos Universal Lens Adapter ($20), which allows you to connect…

6. …ND filters. Digicams tend to shoot at very higher shutter speeds outdoors, so adding a filter can help out control the effect. Get an 0.9 ND filter, like this 37mm Tiffen one. As I write this, it sells on Amazon for $14. Please read here, on how to estimate your shutter speed at 1/48th by using [stacked] ND filters. Shooting at 1/48th or 1/50th shutter speed is important for movie’s “motion look”. Alternatively, you can buy a variable strength ND filter, which allows to use many different strengths, all-in-one filter. You don’t need this item if you’re going for the S100 instead (the S100 has a built-in ND filter in it).

7. An action stabilizer, like the Opteca X-Grip Pro ($35), so you can go mobile while shooting action. Alternatively, this one is a good option too.

Here’s a short movie shot with a P&S digicam

– Audio equipment
1. The AudioTechnica ATR-6550 microphone ($50) which has a tele-mode in addition to its normal mode. The tele-mode will be able to pick up single-directional audio from your actors from further away other microphones and your camera can.

2. The Olympus WS-600S audio recorder ($60), which is able to record from an external 3.5mm microphone, both in stereo and in mono modes, and has 192 kbps MP3 recording support. Which is fine-enough quality for your first steps.

3. Some over-the-head headphones to monitor captured audio, like the Sony MDR-V150 ($16).

4. Some PVC pipes, to strap your microphone onto with some tape, and use them as a boom stick ($20). Ask a friend to operate the audio recording while you’re shooting.

5. A clap, so you can sync your audio with video later in post processing. They can cost as low as $10, but you don’t need to buy any: use two stones, or two old tapes/cassette cases and bang them together.

– Lighting
1. This Smith Victor KT500U $99 continuous lighting kit. Never underestimate the importance of good lighting. When its light bulbs die (usually they’re good for many hours though), you can buy even stronger bulbs.

Another short movie, shot with the Canon SD1400 IS digicam

For 24p short movies, and 24p music videos:
Try to buy all of the above, but if you’re really short on money, lose the lighting kit, action stabilizer, and the filter tube/ND filters.
Basic setup: $400
Full setup: $560

For music videos, you can lose the audio recording equipment too.

For artistic videos and slow-down’ed music videos:
If you’re trying to shoot artistic videos, I’d suggest the Canon A2200 instead, which shoots in 30p. This way, you can slow-down to 24p (0.800x in Sony Vegas), which makes everything look ethereal. Discard your camera’s audio, add music instead. For artistic videos, you only need the video equipment, and without the action stabilizer. Lighting kit is optional (depending on the style and subject of your video).

For music videos with A2200’s 30p, you shoot as described here. The slow-down to 24p will make the video look very cinematic and film-like. As for the equipment needed, it’s the same as what I mentioned for 24p music videos above. The following excerpt video sample is one such music video I shot with a similar small camera for a local artist:

And here are some very useful tutorials on how to shoot proper video.