What video and photo accessories do you really need to buy and what is a waste of your money?
by Mark Shapiro
Are you ready to accessorize your camcorder? Wouldn’t your new videotaping machine look great with a few bangles and baubles hanging off it…you could be the toast of the town.
Nope, I am not talking about jewelry.I am referring to those important accessories that can make your video taping experience little easier, a bit more practical, and hopefully, more professional.Some accessories help you when you are actually taping, some are for editing, and some help you get to wherever you are going without losing your camcorder.
For example, one essential camcorder accessory is a good bag or case. Not only does a good container protect your camcorder from various bumps and jolts, it protects from inclement weather. Moreover, if your bag is big enough, you can store your various other accessories, cords, batteries, chargers, etc.
The best camcorder cases are the ones that don’t look like they have a camcorder inside. For example, a gym bag, kids lunch bag or backpack. One of the best, - now don’t laugh – is a diaper bag. Thieves never mess with a diaper bag especially a used bag. Avoid the bags with a logo or manufacturer’s name on it. Bags with Sony, Panasonic, etc, printed on them, universally translate worldwide into “Steal Me Please!”
If you already got a bag, try decorating it with your kid’s decals, spray-painting it, covering it with duct tape, anything to camouflage the valuable cargo within. It is what I call the ugly bag technique. Thieves are much more likely to target pretty shiny cases than ugly beat-up ones. Plus, the uglier and more unique the bag, the less likely another passenger will pick it up by mistake because "it looked like their bag".
Would You Steal this Camcorder Bag?
Of course, if you are traveling you need to worry about power. Before you leave, pick up a power adapter that will enable you to get AC power wherever you are. These range from $10 up to $50 or so. By the way, no matter how “safe” the power is supposed to be, don’t plug your camcorder and power supply directly into the plug. Use your battery charger and charge up the batteries. It is much better to blow up a battery charger and battery, than to destroy your power supply and camcorder!
If you find yourself going through a lot of batteries when on vacation, you may want to invest in special power accessories. These can range from very large batteries that strap onto your belt to customized power vests and batteries. You can get these from companies like NRG, Bescor and Sunpak.Because these devices hang from your hips, you do not really notice the weight at all when shooting. (You do notice it though when lugging the belt and its charger around in your luggage!).
A good power belt or vest should provide you enough power to shoot for a day or two or even more without running out of juice.
One last travel suggestion – buy your videotape, memory cards or recordable DVDs before you leave. It can be very difficult to get additional tape, especially the newer cards, DV mini-cassettes and recordable DVDs when traveling in third world countries.
And of course, they will never be as affordable as memory media bought from your local department store or purchased in bulk ahead of time from a mail order firm. Also, try out the media before you leave. Every once in awhile, you do get a bum batch.
I always buy enough memory media or tape to last me for at least five hours before I go on a trip. Yes, I never get to use them all up but at least I never run out of tape. One of the worst experiences is being on a trip or a video assignment and not being able to capture a scene because you do not want to tape over a previously recorded tale or disk.
One of the most essential accessories for your camcorder is a tripod. The biggest difference between an amateur videographer and a pro is the use of a tripod. No matter how steady you think you are, holding almost any shot will cause some shaking. Once you amplify that by using full telephoto zoom, there is no way you can stand still enough. Even the best digital or optical image stabilization system cannot eliminate shakiness at extreme telephoto settings.
You can get a good yet inexpensive tripod for under $50.For most purposes, an inexpensive tripod will work fine. You do not need anything fancy. Just make sure it will support the weight of your camcorder. If you have tiny camcorder, you can get away with a smaller tripod. A large full-size VHS camcorder requires a larger, sturdier tripod and head.
If you do a lot of shooting, especially on location or while traveling, you might want to invest in a shoulder rest. These range in price from $50 on up and enable you to shift the weight of the camcorder from your hands and arms, back up to your shoulders where it belongs.
Another way to keep your images from shaking but at a more expensive price is by using a camera stabilization system. With prices ranging from $200 to $700, these enable you to create extremely smooth shots while moving. These include products like the Glidecam, MightyWonderCam from Videosmith, Steadicam JR, etc. or even the Mighty Jib from Habbycam.
In addition to stabilizing your standing video shots, these kinds of devices also allow you to smooth out moving shots, where the camera is gliding or flowing along with the action. I am sure you have seen video and film scenes where the camera follows the actor up a set or stairs or through a tunnel. These are done using these kinds of camera stabilization systems. If you really want to get some cool professional looking shots, get a jib type of product. Basically a camcorder on a stick, these stabilization products enable you to float your camera almost anywhere, ten feet up or along the ground.
If you are on a budget, and cannot afford any of these expensive camera stabilization products, try this. Use your tripod and expand the legs all the way out, down to the ground. Make sure the height extension is all the way down. Now with your camcorder attached firmly to the tripod head, put your hand right under the head assembly, where the tripod legs meet at the top. By loosely holding the top of the height extension tube, you can use the lower center of gravity to smooth out your motion while walking or climbing with the camera. It looks somewhat goofy, and takes a bit of practice, but you can get some cool moving shots this way.
Storing Your Video - Your computer as a video accessory
You will find that most newer digital camcorders - (DVD, hard drive and memory card) allow you to easily transfer your video via USB into your computer for editing or storage. Luckily most desktop and laptop computers also have USB inputs. You don't need a powerful computer for transferring and string video via USB. Just drag and drop from the camcorder's storage medium to the computer's hard drive. If you are using a tape based consumer digital video camcorders, you will find that most provide FireWire (IEEE1394) outputs for transferring your video into your computer for editing and storage. Many computers - especially those made by Apple and Sony, also offer FireWire connectors but those connectors are slowly disappearing. Luckily, adding a FireWire card to your desktop computer is pretty simple. They are inexpensive and easy to pop in and install.
If you have an older VHS or Hi8 camcorder, you can transfer your video into your computer via a video conversion card. These analog - digital video conversion cards are a bit trickier to install but not too bad. After opening up your desktop machine, plugging in the card, and running the software, you connect the video and audio outputs from your old camcorder to the video and audio inputs on the the card.
By the way, there are a bunch of easy to use computer based editing products that do not require opening up your computer or learning complicated programs. Plus you can use them with your laptop or notebook to enable you to edit while on the road. These are mostly USB devices or PCMCIA cards with video and inputs. Plug them into your computer, run the software and you should be able to transfer the video. Most of these also include basic video editing software as well.
Filters and Lens Accessories
Let us get back to your camcorder. Look at your lens…does it have threads on the inside of the lens to allow you to connect filters and lens converters? If so, the first filter you need to get is a basic UV filter. Yes, it cuts the UV glare a bit but more importantly, it protects your lens against flying dust, dirt, paint, etc. If something like that hits and damages the UV filter, you can simply throw the cheap UV filter away and get another for a few bucks. However, if your lens get chipped by a flying rock or gets splattered by paint, you may be saying goodbye to your camcorder. Weigh the options, four or five bucks for a UV filter versus a thousand bucks for a new camcorder.
In addition, if you have lens threads on the camcorder, you may want to get a few special filters or converters. My favorite lens converter is a wide-angle lens. For some reason, all camcorder makers compete to see who can make the biggest and longest zoom lens on a camcorder. In our opinion, they should be battling to have the widest lens.
A wide-angle lens enables you to capture a much bigger scene. In addition, by using wide angle, it makes camera movement appear smoother and shakiness to much less apparent.As wide angle greatly increases the overall focal range, you do not have to worry about important parts of your scene being out of focus.
When buying a wide-angle adapter, check it out first. Put it on your camcorder and make sure it really does fit. Make sure that when you are fully zoomed out to your camcorder’s maximum wide angle that you do not see the sides of the wide-angle lens adapter. Like so much in this world, you get what youpay for. Higher quality, better looking wide-angle lens converters will cost more than cheapie plastic converters.You can get cheapie ones for $30 or less or get professional quality ones for over $300.
Other filters can be used to increase the range of your zoom. For example, a 2X lens extender transforms a maximum zoom of 20x to a maximum zoom of 40x. These can be powerful.
You can also get a variety of filters types that add color, tints and special effects to your images. Remember though, when capturing your video using a special effect filter, there is no way to get rid of it later on. Personally, I like sparkle filters for special events that transform points of light into small stars. Fuzzy filters where the center is clear but everything else is foggy are also useful.In the right situation, like weddings, dances, etc., these can be very cool. You can get good selections of filters from manufacturers like Vivitar, Kenko, Phoenix and Raynox.
After you get the right camcorder, it is time to get the right accessories.
Whether you spend four or five bucks for a UV filter or diaper bag camera case, or hundreds on cool tripods, titling and camera support systems, having the right accessories on hand, within easy reach, will greatly improve your overall videotaping experience.