Moving from Stills to Video: Helpful Tools


While you can definitely get by with the same kit you use for your still photography, video adds some additional concerns that require extra equipment. Now that you know a few basics about shooting video, or you should if you read the first part of this series, Getting Started, you will definitely want some of these helpful tools to step up your game.

The essentials

An ND Filter should be the first thing on your list. Thanks to the 180° shutter rule, you will be shooting at shutter speeds as low as 1/48 or 1/50 of a second, and if you want to use a large aperture like f/1.4 or f/2 for shallow depth of field, you will likely run into the problem of too much light. I use a set of square and rectangular filters, since I can just pick up new adapter rings if I buy a lens with a different thread size, but many shooters simply buy a large 77mm or 82mm circular filter and a set of step-up rings, so it can be used on any lens. This will save you money and means you don’t have to carry as much equipment. Another option here is the Variable ND Filter, which can be adjusted to provide different densities without needing to physically swap out filters, saving a lot of time. One caveat is that these usually aren’t as good as standard ND filters, but you may decide that the convenience can make up for that.

Tiffen 82mm Variable Neutral Density Filter

The next thing that you should get is a microphone or audio setup of some sort. We will go much more in-depth on this subject in the next article, but there are three basic options that can help you make a quick decision. First, you can pick up a small on-camera mic, something like a RØDE VideoMic Pro, which offers a more directional pickup and superior audio quality that is great for a range of situations. If you are mainly doing interviews, a lavalier is a good choice. Finally, you can go all out and pick up an audio recorder and an XLR-connected shotgun or lavalier mic. This last option is getting into the higher end and is a great choice, but it can be difficult if you are working alone. We will spend much more time on audio in the next installment of this series, so stay tuned!

Polsen VM-101 Video/DSLR Camera Mounted Microphone

Moving into the subject of tripods, we will find a few video-specific concerns, namely doing smooth movements and making sure the camera is level. First, if you already have a tripod, you can probably get away with doing a good bit of shooting using whatever it is you have, but keep in mind that less-sturdy models that were adequate for stills may betray signs of movement when you start shooting video. If you want to upgrade your setup quickly, the best way is with a video head, particularly a pan/tilt head with fluid movements. This allows you to perform pans and tilts with a smooth effect, something that would be difficult with a photo-specific ball head. After you acquire a head, most legs are pretty similar, but if you really want to speed up your shooting, a leveling base is a lifesaver. Finally, you can pick up a full-fledged video tripod with a spreader for stability, a bowl, and a professional head, but assuming you are just starting out, this may be overkill. Work with what you have and then upgrade to what you need.

Magnus VT-4000 Tripod System with Fluid Head

The “professional” upgrades

After you start getting a feel for video and the truly impressive quality of today’s cameras, you will probably start looking at some new equipment to make your shots shine. One of those tools is an external monitor or recorder. These devices give you a larger and usually more accurate display with which to judge exposure, color, focus, and more. Depending on your model of monitor, you can also enjoy features such as focus peaking, false colors, magnification during recording, zebras, LUTs, and more. You will now have a suite of tools at your disposal for making sure what you capture is solid. Additionally, if you pick up one that functions as a recorder, as well, you can then capture the best quality your camera offers. Most cameras will output a video signal with improved color fidelity or less compression, meaning what you capture is the best you can possibly get. Plus, you can now record for longer than 30 minutes. If a monitor is out of your reach and you still want a better look at your footage, an LCD loupe or hood is a more cost-effective solution.

Elvid 7" RigVision Lightweight On-Camera Monitor

If you do get to this stage, you will likely be juggling an assortment of accessories and need some way to put them all together solidly—you might want a rod support system or baseplate. Equipped with 15mm rods and an assortment of 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 threads, you should be able to mount a variety of your accessories with ease. The addition of 15mm rods also opens the door to some more tools, such as a follow focus, for example. This can help you perform smooth focus pulls, though you may need to pick up some lens gears for your stills lens for them to work. There are also things like matte boxes and batteries that can attach to these rods, making them great for building a complete kit.

Zacuto VCT Universal Baseplate

Being steady is critical for capturing clean, high-quality video, but since video is about capturing motion and time, it is when you can start moving the camera that things really take off. One of the most common items is a shoulder rig, which provides much improved ergonomics and stability for lengthy handheld shoots. You can find everything from simple, compact rigs to advanced options with motorized focus controls. The next step up from the shoulder rig is the stabilizer or motorized gimbal. Available in a variety of types and designs, these became famous for their ability to create exceptionally smooth video during some of the most dramatic of movements, almost rivaling that of a true Steadicam. These are really fun tools, especially if you are a fan of the handheld look.

Revo SR-1000 Shoulder Support Rig

Another way to get smooth motion is with a dolly or, in our case, a slider. Sliders are great because they can be used to create reliable linear moves without needing to rely on a track or smooth surface. They also come in a variety of sizes and some can be motorized for shooting time lapses or repeated movements.

Revo Camera Track Slider V2 with Adjustable Feet

Now that we’ve covered most of the items you may be considering, let’s get into some extra gear—namely, lights. Shooting video these days enjoys a huge advantage when it comes to choice, thanks to the explosion of LED lights in the past few years. You can find everything from small on-camera lights to large fresnels that can replicate the look of 1Ks and 2Ks. If you really want to create a scene for your shoot, lights are the way to do it and, for video, you are going to need constant lighting.

Genaray SpectroLED Essential 240 Bi-Color LED Light

We are going heavily into gear for a short bit, but with audio being such a crucial part of the filmmaking process, it deserves its own post. Stay tuned for some advice on how to capture and build your audio kit, in our next post.

Are you ready to make the leap from still photographer to videographer? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.

Part 1: Getting Started

Part 3: Audio, Audio, Audio

Part 4: Log, Codecs, and Post Production

Part 5: How Video Complements Stills