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Choosing The Right Equipment for Web Videos


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This transcript is the third session of the Lights Camera Profits Workshop. This discusses on how to choose the right video equipment for your web videos.

To learn more about web video production or to watch the full workshop, visit

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Choosing The Right Equipment for Web Videos

  1. 1. 1 CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON The right gear to give you the edge. Ben: Ok, so now we’re going to talk about equipment. Now it’s fun, I love audio and video equipment, it’s what I eat for breakfast, to coin a term from someone else. So we’re just going to go through some of the gear that you might have or might need or might not need as well, because I think that’s really important. Decisions, Decisions So there is lots of equipment out there. I mean there is lots of equipment. Just like the world these days is all about choice, there are heaps of different levels of video cameras and audio equipment and things like that to use. The most important thing is really to be honest with yourself and ask yourself what do you actually need? For the kind of productions I do, I need a prosumer, like a higher end camera, those are the things I need because that’s what my clients need and that’s the kind of thing I need to do. If you’re doing things where you’re doing Dave’s style where he’s constantly giving out information about his products and services and things like that, you might not need this because this takes a bit of time to set up. It takes time to capture, it’s not as fast turn around in terms of a workflow. Wherever you’re at and what the type of thing you’re looking to do with video will dictate the type of equipment that you need. Grow with it, add it as you evolve and as your tastes and desires and audience expectations change, get the equipment to match that. Avoid technology paranoia. What I mean by that is, and everyone I guarantee goes through this in whatever thing you’re into, it’s like, I don’t think I’ll get that because there’s that new one coming out soon. There’s the new iPhone coming out and it’s got this and it’s got that. There’s a new camera coming out and it’s got better audio and it’s got a better image and all that kind of thing. That’s always going to happen. It’s the same with computers, everything gets superseded. So jump in, start using the equipment that you have now, become an expert with that and then when the next thing comes out, you’ll be ready for it.
  2. 2. 2 Finally, don’t blame it on the equipment. It’s always about the story, guys, it’s the content. That first video I showed you, one of the first ones Dave ever did, 36,000 views. That was shot on a computer screen, it’s not the most amazing video but the content in it is fantastic. It’s a good story. Equipment is great but content is the king. Cameras So what do you really need? Now I’m just going to quickly run through these. These days you can shoot a video on an iPhone. I was discussing with Stu, he’s our superman at the end of the room there, about the iPhone 4, the video and the iPhone 4 is HD now. You can edit in the camera, it can be a very effective thing to use, if that’s the kind of thing you need. Just say you’re at a conference or something and you want to do a quick interview with someone or you’re walking around and you’re, here I am or whatever, unboxing a product or something like that. David: Did any one see, I posted something on YouTube the other day, what I eat for breakfast? I eat pieces of rubbish for breakfast. You should watch that video, it’s pretty funny, but I recorded that on my iPhone. It wasn’t an iPhone4 it was an iPhone 3. So if you want to see what I eat for breakfast, watch it. Ben: Yes, Will it Blend, that’s going to be Dave’s next thing. Now there are these other thing. Has anyone heard of these, Flip cameras, the Kodak Zi8? They’re really small HD cameras that are really good, they give a really good image. They have some more automatic functions, you can’t change white balance and things like that. Again, those are more sophisticated things but you can get a whole lot of great content out of these small cameras. The advantage of something like this one, this is different, this is a Creative, they have an external mike jack, so you can put a different microphone in, such as this one here.
  3. 3. 3 The Flips now, I’ve just found out, the new ones have a different bottom so you can put in a USB microphone and get a better quality audio. I’ll go into audio in a second, I’m a real stickler about audio. These ones, the disadvantage of these, when you’re holding them, we’re not all surgeons. People’s hands shake, it’s hard to keep a steady image. Most of them have a little spot for a little tripod. If you’re doing something where you’re presenting something to camera, it’s good to put it on a tripod, or even walking around, preferably something that is a bit steady. Unless you’re going for that thing of, here I am walking down the street and wow, look at that, wow, there’s the Eiffel Tower. Again, it’s that context, what you need for the actual job. These are only $200, these are really good things, you’ll get a great bit of vision out of those. Question: They’ve got exceptional low light performance relative to their price. So they work in almost all situations. They’re very good outside but they’re also good in a low light room. Ben: Yes, they are. They’re also improving all the time. They have auto white balance. The zoom function on them isn’t fantastic if you need to be zooming in and out, but think about what you need. Handycam, hands up, most people have a Handycam these days. These are amazing these days. They’re HD, they’re usually on a hard drive. I don’t think Dave’s ever deleted anything. He’s got a sixty Gig hard drive and it’s just like videos and videos. David: You never know when you’re going to make a movie about you, so it’s good to keep all the footage.
  4. 4. 4 Ben: These days they’re well priced, they’re always coming down in price and improving in their quality. It seems that video image has been evolving faster than the audio in most cameras. So the inbuilt mikes on these things aren’t great, so what you want to use, and I’ll talk about audio more, but an external microphone of any kind, whether it plugs in or it’s something like this which I’ll talk about in a sec. These are very effective, they’re a bit more stable because they’re a bit heavier, they fit on those tripods and they’re a really effective thing to use as well. They’re good in low light as well, most of them are. Now we got to this level. I feel like I’m on an infomercial or something. This is my camera, it’s called a Sony Z1. This is an HD camera. I guess the difference between these types of cameras is the functionality and how many things you can customize. This has automatic functions but it’s got a whole bunch of manual functions as well. You can adjust things like the audio levels and your white balance and the type of picture. Some of these things will do that as well. Does everyone know what I mean when I talk about white balance? You know when you watch a video and it can look really blue, or it can look really orange or it can look different colours? What that is, the white balance basically sets the mark for the whole spectrum of light. So once you get your white balance right, then all the other colours fall into place. When I’m going to shoot with this, you get someone to stand there with a white piece of paper, an absolute white colour, you zoom in and you set a white balance to it and that will balance out all the other colours. With these kinds of cameras, you can often choose them, it will say, I want to do an indoor or I want to do outdoor. Different types of light have a different temperature on the colour spectrum. Daylight is very blue and it is made more so by the polarizing on these windows but most daylight is very blue. Tungsten lights, indoor lights are warmer, pinky reds and things like that. Cameras need to be able to balance those things. Something like this is much better at doing something like that.
  5. 5. 5 I don’t know how many of you would need to use something like this. They’re expensive. This is probably new, it’s probably about $7000, but they’re workhorses, they’re fantastic cameras. It’s a video camera. The one thing about video is that generally it keeps everything in focus. You know when you see a video, most of the ones we’ve done, everything is in focus. When you move into higher end film cameras with different lenses on them, that’s when you can start to get a different depth of field. Does everyone know about depth of field? You know when you’re watching a movie and the subject is in focus and the person behind and everything else is blurred out? That’s your depth of filed and that basically is telling your eye where to look, where they want you to concentrate on. Something like this can achieve that but it’s usually from further away. The last camera I’ll show you and this is my new toy is the digital SLR cameras. Has anyone played around with one of these? Now these cameras are taking the world by storm in terms of film and video at the moment. They’re starting to shoot television shows, indie feature films, they’ll start to shoot more feature films on them as well, commercials. The advantage of these things is that they have a massive sensor. Basically the way cameras work is it’s the amount of light that comes in and gets captured by a sensor that reads the information. With this, it’s made for digital stills which takes in a lot of information. You know when something is eighteen megapixels or something, it’s very sensitive, so it takes in more information, basically. The beauty of these is you can change lenses on them which gives you different looks. So I’ve started using this and it has absolutely changed the quality of the work that I do. I get a much more filmic look and it just ups the level of what it is. These cameras are coming down in price. This one is about $1000 for the body and then you buy the lenses on top of that. This is something you’d be interested in, they are fantastic. Nothing is perfect. This has limitations in the quality of the audio. These weren’t made to be proper video cameras, so the quality of the audio isn’t fantastic, but there are ways around that; you can get external audio and things like that. If you want, in the break, you can come and have a play with this and I’ll show you around.
  6. 6. 6 David: With the videos, at each stage that Ben is going to take you through, you want to in your mind think, what’s going to be right for my situation and just start to make a choice. Start to circle in your area, I think that camera is going to be right for me. I think if you’re just getting started out and you want to do it on a low budget, you might want to look at the Kodak and the Flip. You might move into the Handycam or that last DSLR camera, as well, shift there. Just try and get a gauge at where you’re at, maybe what you’ve got, what you want to get. That’s pretty much what the aim of this section is, just so you feel like, I know what I should get. Ben: Obviously you can go into so much more detail about just one of these things but it’s just giving you an overview of the kind of spectrum that’s out there. Tripods So now tripods. Everyone needs one, it’s a must thing to have. Like I said before, people’s hands aren’t completely steady. Sometimes that hand held look is great for whatever you’re trying to do, but generally if you’re standing and delivering something, you want a steady camera, so a tripod is a must. They range in price. The big ones that hold big film cameras are worth up to $10,000 and beyond. The one thing to consider is the height. Some tripods, you say, oh, it’s small and compact, it packs right down, but then you get it up and it won’t go to eye level if you’re standing. So you want to just think about what is the context, what are you going to be using it for? If you’re shooting weddings, you want to be able to capture from above, below. If you’re doing interviews, it’s got to be able to at the right height for someone sitting or standing.
  7. 7. 7 A bubble level, so on these cameras, you’re not always going to be on steady ground. Sometimes you’re going to be on a hill or something like that. You need to be able to balance it out, so you get a float or a straight image. Most of them will have a little spirit level in there that you line it up for. I could not live without that on mine. This has what’s called a ball head, so it will move around to compensate for those kinds of things when you’re shooting outside on dirt or something like that. They range, you can get ones that are made of aluminium, up to carbon fibre, made of basalt, really high end made of light material, great cameras. Think of what you need. If you’re shooting on Handycam, you just need a simple tripod. David: I think that one I got from eBay and it wasn’t more than $200. So if you think about each stage of the way, you’re probably up for $200 for a camera, you’ll be up for $200 for a stand. Then once you start to make tons of money from the session I’ll go through later, then you can go back and start to invest in some of the other things or hire an A player like Ben. Audio Ben: Yes, because I will never stop getting more equipment. Ok, now audio. I was going to play you this. I’ll just play it really quickly. [Video] How good is that! So, I don’t even need to talk about this section. How many YouTube videos have you watched where it’s really distorted audio and now matter how much you want to watch the content, it throws you off, you say, I cannot stand this, fingers down the blackboard thing. Having good audio, I think it’s more important than your camera. Like I said you can get a $200 Flip camera or something like that. But if people can’t hear properly, if it’s distorted, if it’s unclear, people will switch off very quickly. Ears are very sensitive things.
  8. 8. 8 Types of Microphones Know your purpose for the kinds of microphones that you need. There is a massive spectrum of microphones. I’ll take you through really quickly. There are camera mounted ones that you see here, this kind of thing, or here even, this is kind of a hybrid. Stand alone, you know when you see sets with big boom mikes and things like that and then you’ve got your wireless which I’m wearing now. I’m wearing a lapel mike which is really effective and then this one, a Bluetooth one which Dave uses. It’s a really good one. I guess I would really recommend this if you’re just doing a lot of your own work, interviews, presenting and so on. These ones are fantastic. So what you’ve got, this one, this first one here, this one is the Sony. That’s just the next level. This is the one before. Question: The connection for that Bluetooth one, it’s specific to the camera, isn’t it? It’s not a USB? Ben: No. This particular one is a Sony proprietary one. What happens is, this is the microphone and when you buy it, it will come with a lanyard you put around your neck or an arm band or you can hold it or put it down in front of you. If you’re interviewing or holding it, try not to hold it like this. People fiddle, it’s a natural thing. I’ve been doing it with this thing since it started and they’re going to cover it up. That’s why when I’m doing testimonials with you guys I’ll get you to wear it around your neck and you don’t have to worry about it. To your point, this is powered, this part, the receiver, is powered by the camera. So it’s made specifically to go on these Sony Handycams. Question: So is there an equivalent that works?
  9. 9. 9 Ben: That’s the one underneath. Not specific for a Sony. That one requires that you have a mike plugged in which most of these kinds of cameras and even the Flips or the Kodaks will have now, it’s just an external mike jack. It clips in. These things, basically one of these is the mike and one is the receiver. It can clip onto the handle or something like that and then that will do the same thing. So you can use it to put on any camera that has an external microphone jack. Really most of them will these days. Those kinds of things are anywhere from about $100 to $200, probably $200 or $300. It’s money well spent. Quality audio will take you up a level. Camera mounted, I’ll just show you this. This is one I’ve been using. I use this on top of my Canon. It’s called the Rode Videomic. It’s only about $130. It’s a really effective mike. See it move like that? That’s to allow for any movement so it doesn’t shake and you hear that bumping sound and so on. It comes with a wind sock and it balances out any issues with outside wind when you’re shooting outside generally. It’s a great little mike. The thing about these mikes is that they’re called directional mikes. If I’m pointing it at you guys, it’s going to cancel out any sound behind it. Usually cover about a 90 – 120 degree area. So it’s great for interviewing people or anything where people are talking directly into it. If you’re trying to get a whole crowd scene, then this kind of thing won’t work, but it’s a really good mike for anything that you’re pointing towards. Now the other thing is the USB which we showed you on this one. There is also this one called the Snowball. That one is obviously a USB powered one, it plugs into your computer and it is fantastic, it’s a really high quality microphone. There is a new version of the Snowball that has come out called the Yeti. Question: The Snowball mike is awesome. I got mine from a place called Streetwise in Glenferrie. It was the only place I could find it in Melbourne and it was $140. Incomparable to any computer microphone because if you’re doing interviews or anything over Skype, it just sounds so much better.
  10. 10. 10 David: I got that one from Ed Dale, he’s been pushing that for a very long time now. Ben: For the price, they are amazing microphones. You might have seen the little one as well called the Snowflake which is a little one that sits on your computer. It’s great for laptops and there is one you can get with a little web cam in it as well. David: At this point you’re probably up to another $200. So there is $200 for the camera, $200 for the mike, $200 for the tripod. That’s probably where you’re at now as entry level. Question: Just be careful of the whole stereo mono issue. Not all mikes are stereo. If you have a mono mike and you’re recording into a stereo camera, then you might only be pushing into one channel. That’s very irritating for the end user when they’re watching it back on the screen. That can be fixed in post production or you can also buy a device from Dick Smith to push that mono input to both sides of the stereo on the camera. Ben: Mostly for web video it’s not as important because it’s coming out of one speaker. Yes, we’ll talk about that in post. That’s fine. The other thing, I talked about directional mikes. There are also omni directional mikes which means everywhere. These kinds of microphones will pick up everything around them. We’ll talk more about that in filming, what’s important about canceling noise around you. Let There Be Light! Ok, very quickly, lights. Now, this will make a big difference to the quality, professionalism of your videos. The image quality improves with more light, because cameras, that’s what they do, they absorb light, they read light and they turn it into data that becomes an image. So what you want to do is bring the right amount of light for what you’re trying to do. The classic set up is the three point lighting system, which I’ll go into, but you can get away with two, especially if you’re doing things where you’re just in front of the camera and just presenting like that. If you’re doing a proper film set up and trying to get certain elements and a certain feel, then you go with different types of light.
  11. 11. 11 Now the ones that we use are these ones here. I’m going to set them up later. These are basically fluorescent lamps and then with a reflector. This is what you would call diffusion, a soft box you might have heard of that comment. Photographers use them as well, it just helps to diffuse the light and makes it more even. How much were these? David: I think I paid about $500 and they came in a little kit and you set them up, and it’s very difficult to try and get the little poles in. So once you get them set up, just leave them set up. Ben: Yes, the things we showed you in the improvement in the quality of Dave’s videos is because of the light because we set it up a certain way, just to give it that professional, well lit look. It makes a big difference. Most people are using down lights. If I stand under a down light it casts shadows under my eyes, it doesn’t put me in the right frame. So good lighting is really important. Types of Lights These are what I’d recommend. You can get things like these. These are called redheads. These are 800 watt lights, they’re very bright, very hot, they take a long time to cool down. When you’re working in sets where these kind of cameras are very demanding, they need as much light as possible, they can be very effective. Probably for you guys, these are more then enough. These are a pain when you’ve been on a set for twelve hours and you just want to go home and you’ve got to wait for the light to cool down and they can be a bit temperamental as well. They will give you a lot of light. If you’re in a small room, they’re not effective. You can cook food on them. So, yes, I’ve gone through these.
  12. 12. 12 The other one I’ll go through is LED lights, very small, very cool, they don’t burn very hot, they’re very efficient and they’re fantastic for things like weddings or an interview where you just want a bit of light directly on someone. Usually now they come with dimmers and things like that. They often mount on the top of these cameras on the hot shoe. I love them, they’re very versatile. These ones you can buy them and they can stack together to make a big light. You can get them on eBay for anywhere from about $80 upwards. You can pay $400 or more for the big ones. I Got Your Back The last thing is backgrounds. When you’re shooting something, if you’re shooting something about you presenting something on a regular basis, having a good background is important, a backdrop. People notice those things, people look behind you. Right now I’m talking but you keep looking at the screen because there’s something behind you. Generally a simple one is good. I would recommend a black backdrop just because it is simple. If you’re standing in front of it, try not to wear dark colours. You want to wear something contrasting against it. That’s what we use with our set up and it’s really effective because it just gives a simple background. You can use a sheet. We talked about MacGyver at the start, you can use sheets, whatever you can. A thicker fabric is better because then it just hangs better, you don’t want creases because cameras can pick up that type of thing and you need a stand obviously to hold it. Going Green Green screens, now green screens are amazing and they can help you do lots of things. They can be very tricky though. Green screens need to be lit separately to the subject. I don’t know if you remember but in the show reel I showed you, it was a PowerPoint slide and there was a little guy talking down in one corner. We shot him in front of a green screen and chroma keyed it out, which you’ve probably heard of. So we keyed out the green colour. What that means is, and this is why they use green screens, because it is a uniform colour that in editing programs you can remove that colour.
  13. 13. 13 The reason they use green screens more than blue screens now is because not many people have lime green eyes but people have blue eyes and sometimes they found that they got rid of the blue screen and the people’s eyes, and it was scaring children. So they stopped using it. With a green screen it’s about having consistent light. If you really want to use one, the way we do it is, you get two lights on the green screen, lighting it separately and then you light your subject separately to that so you get an even light. Otherwise you get these dark spots and things like that. When you go into your editing program and try to get rid of the green, there will be a strip of dark left there and that is endlessly problematic. So that’s why it’s really important to get it clean. It can be done in iMovie. David: I was going to add to green screen as well. My gut feeling is, unless you’re going to do it well and do it right, don’t do it at all. It can look really tacky when you do it and you’re not doing it well and they’ve got a green glow outside and they’re not quite cut very well and a bit jagged if you haven’t done it right. So I think green screen, once you get comfortable and once you get someone who can help you set it up, then maybe look into it. Otherwise, in my personal opinion, I think it looks a little bit tacky. Some people think it looks more professional, but I tend to disagree. Question: I tried out some green screen material, and if you’ve got something like, in our case it was yellow. Everything was going great until the guy held up the yellow book and there was nothing I could seem to do to get it to blend out. The yellow seemed to fade into the green or something. Ben: Yes, yellow is close to green so if it’s in that spectrum then it’s going to get blended into it. David: During the break we’ll give you some tips on things that you can do. Ben: The reason it looks like you get little bits of green on people, what happens, light hits the green screen and then reflects onto the person, which is why you need to light them separately. That’s why I use a back light to separate the subject. It is a bit complicated, you need about five lights and it is something that you need to get some help with, look at a tutorial or talk to me. Question: I’ve recently come up with a great concept using lycra, green lycra, because it stretches. You don’t get any creases or anything like that. Get it at Spotlight, it’s really cheap, I paid $40 and I think got ten meters. David: That’s MacGyver right there. So you can buy yourself a green screen.
  14. 14. 14 Our Setup Ben: Just quickly this is the set up we use. We use a black backdrop. There’s the light, this is our back light, and there’s Dave’s whiteboard that he uses. That sits behind the camera. David: There are the bullet points that I was talking about. Ben: Yes, that’s what he uses and he refers to those. Once we get into the filming stage, I’ll talk to you about how to prepare and deliver that. Any final questions? David: Just as the mike is going around, if you think about it, think about each slide. Think about what you have, what it is that you need. You need to address all of these areas. If you haven’t done video before, you might as well start. Anything that Ben has recommended, he only recommends if it’s ok to get started with. So you can’t go wrong by following what he’s got. You’re going to spend about $200 on a camera, maybe about $500 on lights, $200 on audio, $200 on the tripod and then you could even do the backdrop with a lot less. Get a sheet, make sure it’s clean, put it in the washing machine first, because the camera picks up things. Anyway, it doesn’t cost you very much to get started. Question: Just a question on lighting. If you’re doing a lot of Flip filming, that seems to be the only one that is a bit more cost prohibitive. Is there a MacGyver half option with lighting? Ben: Yes, use a lamp if you have to but maybe put some diffusion in front of it. A white sheet or there is material called scrim which is fire retardant. I’ve got some here actually. It’s more fibrous, that’s some. It’s more professional material that you can buy. You want even light. With these kinds of things, it doesn’t distribute light evenly, so you get shadows on the face and you can look tired and not your best. With the Flip you can set up some lamps but I’d recommend diffusing them.
  15. 15. 15 Pete: Do it outside in the sun is a tip that I have. Also at lighting stores you can get just white light bulbs, which are better than yellow lights as well. It’s a small thing but makes a big difference. David: I paid about $15 or $10 per globe in there because I went for white lights. Just go to a lighting store, the white lights do make a big difference, otherwise you get a yellowy type of thing. You can overcome it with some white balance material, but I’d still tend towards going the globe. Rob: Just a few comments on video. If you’re recording video in a room and you want a greater outcome but you haven’t got special lights, just make sure you have some natural light flooding in. Ben: Yes, use the available light. Rob: Try and position yourself so the natural light is flooding onto the subject. If you’re shooting computer video, so you’re shooting to the screen, have the natural light shining onto you with the computer between you and the light. With all this equipment you’re talking about, you’re talking about a premeditated video experience, you’ve actually structured the environment. The reality is a lot of the time, if you’re producing content, the best camera is the camera you have on you at the time. That’s why Ed Dale, for those of you who know him, is always talking about having an iPhone on you, because it’s got a decent camera. The point is to shoot the video. If this is all you’ve got, that’s the best camera. Or if you’ve gone out and you’ve got a Kodak on location, that’s the best thing. David: Alright, we might call that session a wrap, so we’re going to have a little bit of a break.