Assembling a DIY Video Production Kit

In the spring of 2015 Jaguar set out to assemble a video production kit as an additional means of communicating with our clients.  It required 100hrs of preliminary research and about $6,000 of capital and there was a steep learning curve to learn the basics of how to use the equipment effectively. However, if it’s fun for you it may not seem so bad and as described below you can get started for as little as $1,000.

There’s a wealth of amazing and ever-more affordable technology out there and particularly if you’re not an experienced photographer, a number of key decisions will determine how well you select gear that fits your long term needs.

Camera Body

I chose the Panasonic GH4 body. The GH4 has amazing reviews and is considered a great value for under $2K. This is known as a mirror-less, micro 4/3 camera, which have a more compact sensor than a traditional full frame DSLR, so the body and lenses can be much smaller and lighter. The GH4 was and may still be the only camera that records 4K video directly on the SD card. The only real complaint is its average performance in low light, compared to full frame cameras. One of the best performing cameras I’ve seen.
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Note: the most amazing camera I’ve encountered for the money is the Sony A6000, for $500. The one drawback of this model is that the body tends to overheat when shooting in 60fps, but with a Sony 35mm, F1.8 lens it produces some of the best color, sound and resolution I’ve seen.

Lens

I’m using the Panasonic 12-35mm zoom lens. Micro 4/3 lens terminology can be confusing. The full-frame equivalent for this lens is double, so this lens produces the same view as a 24-70mm lens. I went with the Panasonic lens, because using another brand would have meant the optical stabilization feature in the camera would not work and this is an important feature for handheld shooting with longer focal length lenses.

Choosing the right focal length is very important to how you want to use the camera. In my indoor space I need to back the lens all the way down back to 24mm to get most shots in the frame; if the lens focal length is too high you have to back the camera way up (sometimes you can’t get far enough) or you can only do close up shots. It can be difficult to gauge if you’re not experienced, so seek out advice from an expert. The zoom range offers some important flexibility for my needs, but you’ll get improved clarity from a fixed/non-zoomable lens.  Longer focal lengths make it easier to get that effect where the background is out of focus, but again, prevent you from getting as much content in the frame.  Editing software produces a much smoother zoom than a lens.  With a 4K camera (and soon 5K and 6K) you can crop and zoom a wide shot into full 2K HD in editing.

Tripods & Stabilization

You can’t cheap out on a tripod and still get good results with camera movements. If you’re just leaving the camera in place any old tripod will work, but if you want to pan across the scene or room smoothly, an expensive, high quality tripod is required. I’m using the Sachtler FSB-2, which goes for about $1,500 new and half that used. Choosing the right model depends on the load/weight of your camera, with lens and accessories.

A 2nd inexpensive and very light tripod is nice to have for a lot of situations. I’ve also found this Amazon Basics Monopod to be essential. When you’re shooting any place where you’re moving around quickly and a tripod is too much of a hassle to carry and setup, this little thing weighs about a pound, takes a few seconds to attach and will give your shot much more stability than a handheld shot.
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Sound

Most on-board sound with pro-summer cameras is good, but not pro quality. The main factor is the noise floor and you also have limited functionality. I have a Rode mini-shotgun mic, which can attach to the camera and plug into the camera mic input. I have this Tascam 4-channel recorder for situations where I need more than one channel, such as an interview, but most of the time it’s more convenient to record the sound on the camera. I also have a wired Sony lav mic for those interview situations; a wireless mic is more convenient, but you need to spend some money to get a wireless mic with immunity to RFI problems.
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Lighting

Good lighting is essential for professional-level results when shooting inside, even with today’s cameras and lenses. I went with LED arrays, because incandescent and halogen lights were too heavy and hot. I purchased this 2-light LED kit with stands, costing about $500-700. You won’t need a 3rd light except for accents. Each array has 500 lights and I decided the daylight color temp was a better way to go than the warm or bi-color. LED prices should continue to fall rapidly. These lights are light weight, portable and tremendously flexible with the stands, but the best part is the remote control, which allows you to adjust the intensity of each while standing in the frame.
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Storage and Backup

SD cards have become the most common media to record to. 4K files at 30fps, are about 4GB for a 5 minute clip. A 32G card will only give you about 45 minutes of record time; I find a 256G card to be ideal. Make sure the card is rated U3 (such as the SanDisk Extreme Pro), to provide adequate throughput for 4k recording.

Having enough space to offload your recorded files requires some planning and if you don’t back up your files you’re going to eventually lose them. Online backup services, such as Amazon backup don’t offer the upload speeds for the type of files I deal with; 10G takes about 30hrs to upload. I’ve tried RAID enclosures and found them to be a pain to keep running and the PCIe card that came with it created long boot times, plus there’s still the concern of the entire RAID system becoming corrupted. I came to the conclusion that the best solution for me is to just back everything up to separate drives and put them away. A 6TB drive costs about $250 now.

Computer Editing Station

I’m using a Mac and Final Cut for editing. Many pros use Adobe Premier on PC, but it comes with a monthly fee, which can get very expensive over time. Had I known about the Sony Vegas editing software I would have gone with that and stayed on a PC platform.

Hardware performance is important with an editing machine, especially for high-res 4K files. Don’t plan on using your MacBook to edit and transcode 4K files. The most important hardware components are the CPU, memory and graphics card. You want a powerful CPU. A quad core i7 is sufficient (more cores probably won’t be utilized). You can get by with 8G of memory, but 16-32G is ideal. Your choice of graphics card will largely determine how long you wait for tasks to process. The AMD Radeon/ATI cards perform substantially better than GeForce cards for video editing (make sure your power supply is adequate for the card and CPU and the card will fit in the enclosure). I’m using a $150, Radeon 270X, which is barely adequate for my needs, a little slow, but it works.

Sony Sound Forge software came with my Tascam recorder; you can do some audio editing in the editing programs, but this offers some extra features and flexibility.

Accessories

This backpack from Amazon Basics can hold one or two camera bodies or a few lenses. It holds a lot of stuff and works well for shooting on the go.
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