HD video: To get the most out of this must-have DSLR feature, you’ll need a few well-chosen accessories. Here's our buying guide.
Convergence is a marvelous thing. The ability to combine the elements of high-tech electronics and software in unprecedented new ways his resulted in such marvels as the iPhone, the Blackberry, 8-megapixel cell phones, and yes, digital SLRs that can shoot HD movies of breathtaking quality. When I asked a PhD physicist and software developer why Nikon, Canon and now Panasonic decided to include HD movie capability in their latest DSLRs, he responded laconically, “Because they can.”
Yes, you can shoot HD movies with your HD-enabled DSLR alone without using any accessories whatsoever other than a lens and a high-capacity memory card, but if your aim is to produce professional looking movies and movie clips, the following accessories will certainly help.
Also read: Soup up your digital still camera’s HD video sound—Don’t use the built-in mic!
Tripods for Video
The tripod is probably the single greatest photo accessory ever invented, but is the one you’ve got optimized for shooting movies? At bare minimum, any 3-legger used for video should have separate lockable pan and tilt controls so you can lock the tilt at wherever angle you wish and then pan the camera horizontally with reasonable smoothness to follow the action.
It’s much easier to execute ultra-smooth professional looking pans if your tripod has a damped fluid-effect head, but make sure it also provides a lockable tilt function and an adjustable center post if you also intend to use it for still shooting.
A medium-sized tripod with a 3-way fluid effect is probably the most cost-effective all-round choice for HD movies with DSLRs, but if you plan to do extensive video shooting, consider adding a true video tripod with vibration-damping, crutch-type legs, a genuine fluid head that provides damping as well as friction adjustments, and two-handled panning action.
For serious video work, a dolly—essentially a triangular frame with castor-type wheels that mounts on the bottom of the tripod—makes it convenient to move the camera laterally on smooth surfaces for greater shooting flexibility. As you would expect, these are generally larger, heavier, and more expensive.
Tripods & Stabilization
With video, simply getting a steady shot can often be a lot trickier than it looks. In many cases, you'll later notice every slight shake, shift, and shudder of the camera when you play back the footage that you shot. To help compensate for this, many vendors have created a wide assortment of stabilization options for the latest crop of DSLRs.
Manfrotto 190CX3 Kit with Joystick Head (Adorama price: $439.76)
This award-winning combination pro-quality carbon-fiber tripod can be used for both still and video via the Manfrotto 327RC2 Lightweight Lightweight Magnesium Body Joystick Head, which is included. The tripod uses 100% carbon fiber tubes for the legs and center column, and extends in three sections with redesigned locking levers for greater reliability. The joystick head offers smooth action for video motion but can also lock in place for reliable still images.
Davis & Sanford ProVista Air 18 Tripod with FM-18 Fluid Head (Adorama price: $149.95): Optimized for professional field or studio video applications, this sturdy tripod features double-strut 3-section anodized aluminum legs for added rigidity, a pneumatic cylinder center post for easy floating adjustment, locking center brace bubble level, 2 adjustable pan handles, independe4dnt locking pan and tilt adjustments, and a true fluid head with 18 pound load capacity. Closed length: 32 inches; weight: 13 pounds including fluid head; height extension: 31- 68 inches. This tripod comes with a free D&S Tripod Dolly #W3.
For videographers who need to smoothly move their cameras across a flat surface, a dolly is essential for pro-quality results. Equipped with convenient grip handles on either side, the Flashpoint Video Shootskate II Dolly Kit, available exclusively at Adorama for $109.95, gives all users direct, hands-on mobility during any production. The kit includes the a dolly bundled with the Flashpoint PB-70 Pistol Grip Head Metal construction Designed by Doug Gordon FPPB, a ball head pistol grip that allows shooters to position the head through a simple-to-use trigger control.
Adorama Hands-Free Shoulder Support Bracket
Adorama price: $27.95
Built-in image stabilization systems take the jitter out of stills and video, but can’t keep your framing smooth and consistent. Adorama's shoulder support turns you into a human tripod, so that all your hands have to do is operate your DSLR or camcorder. Resting on your shoulder and torso while strapped around your back, it incorporates a large platform that can be unlocked to swing horizontally; a supplied riser/quick release can be screwed into the platform for extra extension and height. What it does: Provides hands-free support of your camcorder or DSLR for more comfortable, steadier shooting.
Glidecam Smooth Shooter Support Arm and Vest
Adorama price: $1,389.00
If you're looking to invest on pro-grade equipment to achieve steady takes, consider the Glidecam support arm and vest. The Smooth Shooter Support Vest will help evenly distribute the weight of the system across your shoulders, back and hips and the Dyna-Elastic Support Arm allows you to pivot and boom very smoothly, with virtually no noise.
Vanguard Alta + 263AP Aluminum Alloy Tripod with PH-32 Panhead
Adorama price: $169.99
The Vanguard Alta+ 263AP aluminum alloy tripod is their latest addition to their high end entry level lightweight and compact tripods. Perfect to take on the road for air travel and backpacking, the units’ legs adjust to 25, 50 and 80-degree angles with a simple push of easy-release buttons for terrain changes and great for getting those low angle shots. Other features include advanced camera vibration and shock control, all-weather foam grip legs, patented premium magnesium die-cast canopy and head. It also offers ergonomic handle, easy to lock panhead and splicing handle for easy carrying.
Benro A2192TB1 Flat Traveller II Aluminum Tripod
Adorama price: $299.00
Lightweight and compact, Benro’s A2192TB1 tripod has reverse folding legs providing pros with a sturdy travel companion. The tripod legs can be inverted and folded back 180° making it small enough to carry just about anywhere. The tripod extends to nearly 69 inches, and has a 26-pound load capacity, so it can handle nearly any rig.
Induro PHQ3 Quintaxial Positioning 5-way Panhead
Adorama price: $395.00
Induro has introduced a new series of Panheads providing videographers with new freedom for camera positioning. This latest product development utilizes a patent pending Quintaxial concept. Offering dual tilt, base and top plate rotation and an Arca-Swiss-style quick release system, these Panheads allow users to have full repeatable indexing on five axes for maximum control and flexibility. Another breakthrough is the set of unique folding control handles which simplifies packing and transport. Available in two sizes, each PHQ Panhead includes a matching Arca-Swiss compatible Quick Release Plate.
Redrock RunningMan DSLR Nano Rig
Adorama price: $467.00
The RunningMan DSLR Nano Rig is a compact rig that offers solid, support shooting with minimal rigging. With its compact design you can now have both stability and size on your side. The microBrace body pad, microHandGrip, and optional microFinder loupe accessory deliver 3 points of contact for ultra stable shots in a compact package. It’s an ideal choice for the run n' gun DSLR shooter.
Zacuto Z-DSR Striker
Adorama price: $810.00
The lightweight Z-DSR Striker from their Gorilla series has three points of contact by having one hand on the handgrip, the gunstock in chest and focusing hand on the lens. The Striker uses a gunstock pressing up against your shoulder and one hand on a handgrip and the other hand focusing the lens. The less hands holding the actual camera, the more stable the video will be. By adjusting the many Zacuto red levers, the kit is infinitely adjustable to work with any body type or shape. The handgrip and gunstock uses a ball joint so you can rotate them 180 degrees for user comfort.
Cinetics CineSkates Set with Joby Gorillapod
Adorama price: $199.95
CineSkates are three wheels that you attach to a Joby Gorillapod Focus and let you move the camera steadily for low-angle video rolling and arcing shots. You can buy them separately for $99.95, or together with the Joby Gorillapod Focus, to get some very cool camera movement. See Mark Wallace's video review here.
The ultimate stabilization device for shooting video handheld is the Steadicam that’s used by countless Hollywood pros. The Steadicam Merlin 2 Stabilization System (Adorama price: $799) is a compact, lightweight version and pros planning to shoot extensive videos with DSLRs should definitely consider it. However, here’s a great walk-around stabilization device for the rest of us.
The Flashpoint ZeroGrav stabilizer (Adorama price: $300) is a durable rig with well-designed levers, springs, counterbalance weights and concentric ring connections let shooters precisely control camera-in-motion shots with ease and comfort. The anti-gravity sensation eliminates shakes and bumps, giving shooters the ability to capture fluid video even when filming fast-action shots or shooting on rough terrain. Simple-to-use, shooters can attach a DSLR camera to the ZeroGrav platform or by means of a quick release adapter.
Belts, Bags and Harnesses
Lowepro S&F Deluxe Technical Belt
Adorama price: $36.34
Lowepro’s S&F Deluxe Technical Belt offers a host of ways to organize and carry gear; it’s compatible with both the harness and vest. The ergonomic and flexible design holds multiple SlipLock tabs for attaching any S&F or SlipLock compatible case or pouch (up to 11 total) and wraps around the body with a snug and comfortable fit.
Lowepro S&F Light Utility Belt
Adorama price: $40.13
The S&F Light Utility Belt is constructed of removable segments to size up or size down and includes a detachable shoulder strap and cable ports. The cable-friendly design allows cables or wires to be threaded through the belt, then between belt and pad, for secure cable/wire management. A removable and adjustable shoulder strap may be used to help stabilize a heavy load or to create a single shoulder bag solution with other attached S&F carrying components.
Lowepro S&F Technical Harness
Adorama price: $37.95
Lowepro’s S&F Technical Harness can relive a heavy load when worn with either compatible belt; it converts to a backpack when paired with a shoulder bag. Other features include: a lapel strap keeper that secures a camera strap via sturdy straps and SlipLock attachment loops for expanding carrying capacity.
Lowepro S&F Technical Vest
Adorama price: $78.00
The S&F Technical Vest is said to provide a comfortable, tailored fit while supporting a heavy load at the waist when paired with either compatible belt. Two shoulder adjustments allow a custom fit of the vest whether you're wearing it with a short-sleeved shirt or windbreaker or jacket. And cinch-down side straps let you adjust the fit across back and shoulders. A lapel strap keeper secures your camera strap while you're in motion via sturdy straps.
Vanguard Up-Rise 33 Messenger Bag
Adorama price: $89.90
For the videographer on the go, the UP-Rise 33 offers the ability to expand in size to accommodate changing lens and gear needs. One quick zipper pull enables expansion; it also shrinks back down when the extra room is no longer needed. It has a sleek and sporty design with an orange interior, making it easy to spot loose gear. Other features include removable rain coats, multiple pockets for extra memory cards and lens caps. Rapid Access System features top and front retrieval points, so users never miss the action because they’re too busy fumbling over their stowed cameras.
Kata Pro-Light Resource 61 Video DSLR Shoulder Bag
Adorama price: $279.88
Kata’s Pro-Light Resource-61 PL shoulder bag is designed specifically for a DSLR system kitted up with video production gear and accessories. The large top compartment snuggly fits a DSLR connected to a stabilizing system and a modular Cocoon Pouch will fit anywhere in the remaining space and hold accessories most often needed or an additional DSLR body. The bag offers a spacious storage area partitioned with modular Aeriform dividers organize additional lenses and accessories and two side pockets can store accessories or personal effects, and a rear compartment can carry up to a 15-inch laptop.
Eye-level viewing device for handheld HD movies
An LCD hood is a helpful accessory when shooting HD movies in Live View using the monitor to compose your shots. These are available from Hoodman, Delkin, and many other makers. Hoodman also offers the following devices that help you get your DSLR up to your eye and keep it there when using the LCD—they’re a bit of a kludge, but nevertheless quite effective.
Hoodman HoodLoupe Professional 3-inch LCD Screen Loupe for Nikon and Canon (Adorama price: $79.95): You can wear this thing around your neck like a normal loupe and use it to review your shots by placing it over your LCD moinitor to get a sharp, magnifies view. It is adjustable over4 a +/-3-diopter range. It has a nice adjustable rubber eyecup, fits LCDs up to 3 inches, and is encased in rubber to minimize the effects of bumps. Alternatively, the Flashpoint Swivi ($120) is also designed for use with DSLR cameras and essential for shooting video in daylight, the Flashpoint Swivi is a professional LCD Viewfinder loupe that provides a clear, magnified view of the camera LCD with two framing modes and 3x image magnification.
Hoodman Cinema Strap (Adorama price $19.95): If you want to shoot handheld with the HoodLoupe 3.0 in place rather then just using it intermittently for viewing, by all means get this clever strap which is designed to keep this unit in place on your DSLR for extended shooting.
Zacuto Z-Find-Jr. Optical Viewfinder
Adorama price: $156.75
The Z-Finder Jr. viewfinder offers a 2.5x focusable magnification, a 40mm diameter Zacuto optical design lens, a large form fitting eyecup preventing extraneous light leakage, and a field of view ideally matched to 3-inch LCD screens. The Jr. quickly mounts to the camera using the Jr. stainless steel mounting bracket.
Since most DSLRs feature a very small onboard microphone (which will pick up the unwanted sounds of you handling the camera, as well as the camera’s internal noises) and small microphone input you are going to need external audio recorder as well as mics and headphones to get better sound quality.
Zoom ZH1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder
Adorama price: $99.99
The Zoom ZH1 is a stereo handheld digital audio recorder that offers pro-level recording designed for musicians, journalists, podcasters and more. It records WAV and MP3 files, and the stereo Mics are in an X/Y configuration for accurate stereo images. It records onto MicroSD/SDHC memory cards and records up to 10 hours on a single AA battery. A tripod socket lets you mount the recorder to a tripod or stand.
Sennheiser HD 25 Dynamic Compact Professional Monitoring Headphone
Adorama price: $199.95
Sennheiser’s HD 25 is a closed dynamic compact professional monitoring headphone offering high attenuation of background noise. Capable of handling very high sound pressure levels and featuring extremely robust construction, the HD 25 is said to perform exceptionally well in high noise environments.
AmpliVox S1600 VHF Wireless Lapel & Headset Mic Kit
Adorama price: $199.00
Take your videos to a new level with a wireless two-channel mic kit, like the S1600. You can choose from Lapel and Headset with beltpack transmitter or Hand Held with Built-In transmitter.
Switronix DSLR FLEX
Adorama price: $129.00
The Switronix DSLR FLEX is a handle-mounted DSLR remote unit that will trigger HD video start and stop recording for both the Canon 5D and 7D DSLRs. The FLEX's clever gooseneck arm houses an optic to be positioned within line of sight to the remote sensor on the Canon cameras. Once in place, the remote transmits a signal through the optic when the button is depressed.
Shine a Little Light
One of the most significant video advancements of today’s DLRS is their ability to capture images in much lower light than most of the video camcorders out there. But when a little extra light is needed here are a couple of bright options:
Lowel L-light with Stand-link, 100 watt 120 volt Flood Lamp & Clear Protective Glass with Holder
Adorama price: $133.49
The Lowel-light L-light is compact accent light that can be used as a quick kicker, a discreet backlight or, with diffusion, a subtle fill. With a variety of mounting and accessory options, it's a great answer for those situations where a small versatile light is needed. It uses any standard Edison (ed. E-26) screen in base lamp, including the special screw-threaded MR-16. Stores compactly with a lamp and barn doors attached.
Litepanels MicroPro On-Camera Dimmable 5600K LED Video Light
Adorama price: $314.00
The Litepanels MicroPro light is said to provide broader HD friendly quality of light and is ideally suited for mounting on DSLR cameras. Powered by AA batteries, it offers luminous, soft, directional lighting. Unit comes complete with three filters, including: Daylight to Tungsten Conversion, 1/4 CT0 Warm and White Diffusion. The MicroPro also includes a ball-head camera adapter and also offers a threaded receiver providing the ability to mount a MicroPro fixture directly on a light stand or camera arm.
Lowel Pro-Light (Adorama price: $139): This ingenious focusing, multi-voltage (12v, 30v 120v, 50-250w) multi use halogen light mounts on any standard light stand and is claimed to be more efficient than a Fresnel of equal wattage thanks to its interchangeable #2 Reflector and Prismatic Glass that delivers a Fresnal-like shadow quality. It has adjustable barn doors, and can be used as a low-level key or accent light, as a fill light (with diffusion) or as a backlight. To extend its versatility to the outdoors, you can add a DC adaptor cable or mount it directly on camera. Features include 5:1 continuously variable focus control, 160-degree tilt with adjustable, constant-tension, one-handed, no-yoke tilting, wattages of 250 and 125 with 120-volt power. Weight: 2 pounds with 12-foot extension cable.
Additional research by Bill Schiffner and Fred Singer.