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Hardware and software

One of the questions I am frequently asked is what equipment and software I use for making videos. So here’s a brief run-down of pretty much everything I use.

The camera

Obviously, we have to start with the camera. Actually, even the cheapest camera these days would do, but obviously mine has a few more features and is a bit more expensive: it’s a Panasonic HDC-SD707.

This exact model is probably no longer available new, but the point about this range is that Panasonic is always improving it. New models are launched which add new features or improve on old ones without increasing the price (because it costs money to develop new technology, but once it’s developed, it becomes quite cheap). So what does this camera have that makes it such a good buy? Well, among other things:

I would recommend this camera (or its successors) to anyone with the desire to make videos that look great and about $1500 (US) to spend. They’re not perfect: accurate focusing is sometimes a problem, and in 5.1 surround sound mode, the internal mics pick up the sound of the cooling fan (I record in two-channel stereo to avoid this, and when using external mics the 5.1 option is not available), but otherwise reviews are consistently good and for the price this camera represents excellent value for money.

Microphones and sound recording equipment

For ambient sound, particularly outdoors, my camera’s internal mics perform just fine. But for speech, I generally need an external mic.

Most often, I use a lapel mic. One of the things I have discovered is that at the cheap end of the market at least, price is no real guide: I’ve tried really cheap mics that have performed better than rival models twice the price.

I found particular success with the Vivanco EM35, a really cheap thing (although you do need to buy a battery for it) that delivered surprisingly good sound until it developed a loose contact somewhere. I was then unable to find another Vivanco EM35, but instead I found the Yoga EM106, which seemed to be the same mic under a different name. However, it didn’t deliver quite the same quality as the Vivanco. I was able to solve that, though, because on both models the microphone plugged into the battery box: I was able to simply swap the mics over and now I have a properly functioning decent quality lapel mic.

I also have two extension cords, each something like five metres long. This allows me to stand or sit a long way from the camera, so I can zoom in and throw the background out of focus.

Sometimes a shotgun mic is necessary, and so I splashed out on a Røde Videomic. This is very handy for those times when you want to record sound from in front of the camera without picking too much extraneous noise, but a lapel mic is impractical: vox pops, for example. But mounted on a desk stand and with the addition of a pop filter, it can usefully be pressed into action for voiceovers. Instead of using special sound recording equipment, I can plug it straight into my camera.

However, while that did serve me well for a long time, a more professional solution is a studio microphone; mine is the Auna CM001B, which comes with a shock mount to minimize unwanted vibrations. A microphone screen cuts down on unwanted echos.

The Auna CM001B doesn’t plug into either a computer or my camera; it has an XLR connection (which uses “balanced lines” to reduce interference), which is what the professionals use. So for this, I do need extra sound recording equipment: I chose the Olympus LS-100, which is, apart from the camera itself, the single biggest investiment. While it doesn’t come cheap, it delivers exceptionally good quality; it also has its own built-in microphones, so can be used as a stand-alone device, and will even function as a USB microphone when plugged into the computer.

Tripod and monopod

Mine’s a Hama Star 63. It’s actually meant for stills, not video, so smooth panning and tilting aren’t possible; but for those times when I have to film myself, or for when I really need to keep the camera steady, it does the job just fine.

A tripod, though, is bulky to carry around; so to help keep things steady, I also have a cheap monopod from Amazon Basics. It’s not so important to splash out on a really expensive monopod, as all you really need is something that will keep the camera from wobbling about too much.

Lighting

Lighting is a challenge in the tiny space I have, but fortunately the modern world contains LEDs and other technology that makes life a little easier.

Originally I used two 400W halogen lights of the sort used by painters and decorators, and this worked very well in a variety of situations (and I would still recommend this setup for anyone on a budget that extends as far as a camera with a white balance setting, but not enough for proper studio lighting).

The Nanguang NG-455AB light is a nice, big light, which is always good for keeping the light even and the shadows relatively soft. It is colour-balanced to 5600 K, which is daylight, but the lights themselves are fluorescent tubes, so there is a noticeable green cast: this makes in unsuitable for greenscreen work.

The other lights are LED panels by Neewer. I like Neewer’s LED panels because they are properly colour balanced, and come with filters to lower the colour temperature to that of tungsten, meaning I can also use them in conjunction with the halogen lights if necessary. One is a large 900 LED panel, and the other two have 304 LEDs each — much dimmer, but can be mounted on a camera if necessary.

For a simple vlog, I generally use the Nanguang and all three Neewer lights. The Nanguang stands at the opposite end of the room and provides some general illumination; I use the 900 LED light as my key light, one of the 304 LED lights just to lighten up the shadows on my face, and the other to illuminate the wall behind me.

Video editor

Currently, I’m using MAGIX Video deluxe 2013 Premium, sold in some countries as MAGIX Movie Edit Pro 2013 Premium. I think the mistake a lot of people make is to assume that you need a really expensive video editing program with lots of “cool” special effects, but that’s a bit like wanting a Ferrari to do the weekly shop and take the children to school. Unless you’re a professional, you really don’t need to empty your bank account to buy — or, worse, risk malware to steal — something that is packed with features you’ll never use, or will use once and never again. Multiple tracks (my editor has up to 99 tracks available), colour correction, chroma key, basic titles, keyframe animation, ease of use, audio cleanup: it’s the workaday things you need in abundance. If you want glittery FX (and you really don’t), you can purchase plug-ins.

Image editing

Corel Draw, which has Corel Photo Paint bundled with it, is what I use to create images and thumbnails. Photoshop is another mistake people sometimes make: Photoshop is really designed to manipulate photographs, not to create graphics from scratch. Corel Draw creates vector graphics, perfect for logos and the more “cartoony” images I sometimes have in my videos.

Sound editing

On the very rare occasions I need to edit sound and my video editor’s audio features don’t quite cut it, Audacity is a free tool that has some very useful features, with the option of adding lots of interesting, and free, plugins.

© 2011 – 2017 by Andrew Bossom rewboss@rewboss.com — all rights reserved.