Monday, March 5, 2012

Taking the DSLR for Video Plunge (Part 3: Choosing the Right Accessories)

Taking the DSLR for Video Plunge
Part I: General Questions and Choosing the Camera
Part II: Choosing the Right Lenses for Canon DSLR Video
Part III: Choosing the Right Accessories

[I’m going to go ahead and publish this un-polished post, because it’s a work in progress and has a lot of valuable links that I want to get online; check back often, as this post will definitely be evolving. Please also feel free to make suggestions for additions in the comments!]

The MASTER LIST of what I think I need to get started:

  • Rail Kit - some people will opt against this, but I’d like to utilize the stability of rails for my accessories)
  • Follow Focus - the main reason for using rails, and yes, there are some good follow focuses that don’t need rails, but…
  • External Monitor/LCD magnifier - most people recommend just starting with an LCD hood and magnifier (you need this for shooting in bright sunlight, and magnifying the LCD allows for sharper focusing
  • Neutral Density (ND) filters – if you plan on shooting outside and want shallow depth of field, these are indispensible
  • Universal Quick Release Plate – for moving your camera(s) from rig to rig
  • Solid Tripod and Video Head
  • Dolly (already made)
  • Extra Batteries
  • Battery Charger (with car adapter)
  • Battery Grip – probably not a necessity, but since I found one with great reviews for $80 (vs. $300 for the Canon one) I decided to give it a shot

Right now I’m opting to not get a shoulder mount (I’ll be using mostly sticks, a high hat, a crane, and a dolly).  For handheld I’ll build a fig rig (see below).



Several fellow filmmakers have suggested I won’t need a follow focus, but after even just a few weeks of mucking about, I know I really want one.  I tend to rack focus a lot, and I also do a lot of wide pans that utilize shifting the focus, and trying to focus by grabbing the ring on a short Nikon prime without bumping the camera or jostling your shot is extremely difficult.

Phillip Bloom: best entry level follow focus (D-Focus V2)



Building your own rail system:

9” cage with top handle and tripod mount:

Redrock Micro Bundle Review on Creative Cow

90 degree clamp review:

Bendable Fig Rig (this is the Fig Rig I went with –mistake, more on that later):!-%28Pics%29

DIY Rig handles:

The Next Rig I’m trying:

Do it yourself shoulder rig:


BATTERIES and related accessories

From my own experience, third party batteries are shite.  They don’t charge properly, they don’t hold a charge properly, they drain fast when not in use, etc., etc., etc.  The battery for my old Canon 40D was somewhat of a miracle.  I could shoot for WEEKS without charging that thing.  Thus, I have great faith in Canon OEM batteries.  They cost about twice as much as after market products, but in my experience, it’s worth it.  And you don’t want to get left in the field with no juice.

I am purchasing a dual charger as well.  B&H sells the Pearstone Duo, which received rave review, for $80, but I found what appears to be the exact same thing on Amazon for only $55 delivered.  It doesn’t have the name printed on the front, but everything else appears to be exactly the same.  I love that this charger has a digital read out, charges each battery independently, and even has a USB out to charge your phone!


Tripod Quick Release plate cross reference chart (this was great when I was trying to figure out how to make all my tripods/heads work together, and what universal adapter I was going to go with and invest in):


One thing that’s not on my master list above is a mattebox.  I keep going back and forth on this one.  When shooting outside, a sun-shade mattebox is pretty much indispensible (to keep direct sunlight from shining into your lens and creating flare and haziness), but you can always just use a card or bounce (though it would be awkward to hold the camera and the card, so an assistant is preferred) if you don’t have a dedicated sunshade mattebox.  But what I’m more interested in is a mattebox for utilizing filters (specifically ND filters).

The biggest thing preventing me from getting a mattebox is the price.  A decent one is around $500, and the RedRock Micro and Zacuto Petroff are $1,000 and $1,300 respectively.  More than a thousand dollars for what is basically a universal filter holder with barn doors?  I think the “pro-look” of a mattebox has grossly distorted the going market price for this item.

This brings me to:  universal filter holders.  I’m not sure why this isn’t discussed more among DSLR video shooters.  Purchasing ND filters for all your different lens sizes is cost prohibitive.  You can use step-up/down rings so you only need one set of ND filters, but if you go this route, it’s a serious PITA to switch out the filters (screwing them on and off) when you need to make adjustments.  Enter the universal filter holder.

When shooting stills I used to use the Cokin filter system.  Basically, there is a square holder that attaches to the front of your lens and can hold up to three filters.  I recommend the “P” system which uses 84mm filters and can accommodate lenses up to 82mm in diameter.  They make two bigger sizes, but they become cumbersome, and aren’t really necessary, supposedly the “P” system works great, even with wide lenses (I’ll be using this system with the Tokina 11-16mm).

I actually don’t recommend Cokin filters (they’re made of resin, not glass, and I’ve seen distortion and color problems, especially when stacking multiples), but I DO really like the universal holder idea.  Furthermore, there are other manufacturers (like Lee and Tiffen) making square filters for the Cokin P (84mm) system out of high quality optical glass (as noted below, even Hitech and Fotodiox are making square glass filters, though I assume much lesser quality).  Not only that, but there are plenty of knock-offs on eBay, which means you can get what is essentially a Cokin P universal holder, the 77mm ring that holds the holder, and even a square hood for $12 shipped on eBay ($16 on Amazon).  I can then get the appropriately sized Filter Holder rings for all my lenses and simply pop the holder onto whatever lens I’m using, thus making it possible to use one set of ND filters on all my lenses.

It’s probably worth noting that Fotodiox is making glass 84mm ND2 filters for the Cokin P system for only $6 a piece.  I assume they are crap, but for $6… might be worth it to someone on a super-tight budget… at least to get you by until you can purchase a $250 Lee ND filter. (Disappointed smile yowch!)

So once I have my universal filter holder and appropriately sized rings for all my lenses, all I need is a cheaper mattebox that I can use for the flags and barn doors (for lens flare).  I will be sure to get one that can “swing away” (instead of actually fastening to the front of the lens) so it’s easier to use with multiple length lenses.

UPDATE: (actually, this section on universal filter holders got too unruly for just a section of this post, and I created a new post for the topic)

Taking the DSLR for Video Plunge
Part I: General Questions and Choosing the Camera
Part II: Choosing the Right Lenses for Canon DSLR Video
Part III: Choosing the Right Accessories

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