I very much enjoyed today’s Communicate! 2013 conference in Bristol, so thank you to all those who gave me such a warm welcome. I was asked about my budget professional film kit and promised to post about it, so here goes. Amazingly, you can now set yourself up as a film-maker for £174.17! First, a short video to demonstrate my little camera:

Here is the camera in question, the amazing Kodak Zi8:

Picture 006

It shoots full HD, it’s the size of a chunky mobile phone, and it has one big red button which does most of the things you could ever want.  Ideal for technophobes like me. The picture quality is excellent, and the weaker points – wobbly movement and poor sound – can be compensated for by using a separate microphone (for which the Zi8, unlike its rival the Flip, has a socket) and filming mostly static shots. I must say, though, that the little clip above was filmed using the onboard mic, and it’s adequate for most purposes.

It cost me £79, but annoyingly for new purchasers, it is now more expensive because Kodak have discontinued it – £114 on Amazon yesterday and £179 today, strangely, although the price fluctuates wildly and it’s worth shopping around. It is still worth the investment. I have also heard good things about the Kodak Zi10 which is now cheaper, oddly, but I haven’t tried it personally.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B002J9I3HM

SDHC Card

Today’s equivalent of a roll of film is a little card, a bit like the one in your mobile phone, called an SDHC card, which fits into a slot on the side of your camera.  You can buy them at chemists and supermarkets, but the cheapest way is online.  Make sure the little ‘class’ number in the centre of the @ sign is 4 or higher, or it won’t work. You can get different sizes which will film for different numbers of hours.

sdhc card stockshot

http://www.amazon.co.uk/SanDisk-16Gb-SDHC-SecureDigital-Capacity/dp/B00422F8XQ

Tripod

HAMA TRIPOD 3 cropped

Tripods are astonishingly cheap and definitely worth getting for the air of professionalism they add to your shots. Most of them have a standard quick-release plate at the top of the head.  This connects to the Zi8 via the standard-sized screw hole at the bottom of the camera.

As well as the static shots a tripod allows you to pan relatively smoothly. (Even more so if you attach a giant rubber band to the handle!)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/AmazonBasics-Lightweight-Tripod-Inches-152-4/dp/B005KP473Q

Microphone

You may find that the sound quality of the Zi8’s built-in mic is fine for your purposes, but I suspect that pretty soon you’ll become aware of a slight buzz and distortion. The easiest way to get a dramatic improvement is to buy a small clip mic on a wire.  The wire plugs into the camera and the mic clips unobtrusively to your clothing. You normally ask the subject to run the mic wire underneath their clothing. Warning: if you get a mic with a built-in battery, don’t forget to turn it off at the end of the session!

lapel mic 61kUncBQRKL._SL1248_

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Speedlink-INT-SL-8691-SBK-01-Spes-Clip-On-Microphone/dp/B004YEWC22/ref=sr_1_2?s=computers&ie=UTF8&qid=1372755884&sr=1-2

Editing

Yet another great feature of the Kodak Zi8 camera is that it produces video files that can be played immediately, without conversion, both on your computer and when uploaded to YouTube. (There are dozens of other social video sites – for example Vimeo – but YouTube is by far the biggest.)

At one corner of the camera is a little pop-out USB lead, and you just plug it into your PC or Mac. Ignore the proprietary software and wait for your computer to recognise the Zi8 as if it was an external drive. You can then read what files are present, play them, copy them and treat them like other file.

If the only editing required is a simple ‘top and tail’ – I e you just want to trim the beginning and end of the recording so that it starts and finishes cleanly in the right places – you can upload it to YouTube and edit it online.

If you want to add music or chop out mistakes, try the free video editing software that comes installed with PCs and Macs respectively – Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.

If you want to go up a gear, learning to edit the sound and pictures separately and working with multiple video and audio tracks, I’d recommend Sony Vegas, which is astonishingly cheap, highly professional and allows you to do some amazing things.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sony-Movie-Studio-HD-Platinum/dp/B008RVQMOW

Make sure your PC or Mac has enough spare capacity before you install it – video files are huge and you can easily freeze up an older computer. It’s advisable to buy an external hard drive (plugs into the USB port) and keep all the video files there.

Lighting

Because video cameras are so good nowadays, they will shoot in natural light down to quite low levels.  The best approach for a beginner is to shoot outdoors as much as possible. Make sure the sun is behind the camera, not behind the subject. If it is, you’ll get a ‘dazzle’ effect – a dark silhouetted subject surrounded by glare.

If you have to shoot indoors, the same principle applies. Position the subject so that any natural window light, as well as any artificial light, is behind the camera, helping to light the subject and not dazzle the camera.

If you find that the subject has a lot of shadows on him/her, get three lights and position them to the left, right and straight on to the subject. You’ll be able to get rid of most shadows by moving them up, down, left and right.  Warning: it may take a while to get it right!

Budget

Total investment so far in your film-making career:

Camera:
SDHC Card:
Tripod:
Clip mic:
Editing software:
£ 114.99
£   10.21
£   15.99
£     6.99
£  25.99
£ 174.17

So what kind of film shall we make….?

I plan to run how-to workshops in Bristol and London (elsewhere by request) about the creative uses of low-budget kit, so let me know what you need.