For actual recording, not all roads need lead to your camera. In fact, many feel that even high-end DSLRs have only mediocre built-in audio. Plus, if your mic ends with an XLR socket, this won't fit that 3.5mm plug in DSLRs.
One solution to this is to get an inexpensive cable adapter, XLR to 3.5mm DSLR input. A more costly, but vastly better option is to pipe the audio first into a unit like Beachtek's DXA-SLR ULTRA, a two-channel XLR to DSLR 3.5mm adapter with full preamplifier controls and levels display. At a street price of $399, this will help squeeze the most quality from your camera's audio.
Another option is to pipe all audio feeds into your computer, see our audio recording article for more on that.
The last option, which many feel is the best compromise, is to use one of the very popular hand held recording units. We've been working with the excellent Zoom H5, whose sound quality is top-notch. It's easy to use, portable, and better sound than most cameras. It runs on two AA batteries (listed at 15 hours), built-in hotshoe, and includes a good quality and detachable stereo mic. Street price: $269US.
TIP: Syncing up!
If you use any of the external recording options, you will need to sync the audio in post. This isn't a huge deal, but a few things make it easier. Make sure to also record audio on your camera's internal mic, enabling you to do a much faster visual alignment in post. The old fashioned clap-board is great, but a hand clap will work just as well, albeit less showy.
Cameras and lenses
The video camera options today can boggle the mind. On the low end you can use a good quality smartphone and get terribly good results if you know what you're doing. Check out the Sundance-winning movie 'Tangerine', shot on iPhones!
You will find a wide range of actual video cameras, starting with advanced amateur models, up to pro 4K units. But for most of us, the DSLR's video capabilities and quality have rendered the camcorder almost obsolete in the semi-pro to mid range pro sector.
Since DSLRs are primarily built as still cameras, they often require more modifications and add-on tools than a true video camera would. One example is the still camera lens, which is ill suited for video work. The folks at Rokinon have been solving this issue with their wonderful CineDS line of lenses.
These are cinema style lenses with de-clicked aperture rings for smooth iris changes while filming, very large apertures, and smooth long-throw focus rings. The image quality of these lenses is very impressive. Yet the price, for a cinematic lens, is very reasonable. The 35mm/T1.5 lens we tested sells for just $599 on the street. Comparable units from other vendors: mostly in the thousands!
TIP: On a tight camera budget?
One category of cameras that have really become popular are the smaller 'sports' cameras, like the GoPro line. While they started out on the front of skateboarder's helmets, they can now be found as b-roll cameras, and even the main camera for videographers on a tight budget.
We took a look at a lesser known line from Activeon. Their new CX camera has a street price of just $119US, and a long list of features. Like an f/2.4 lens, full 1080 HD at 30 fps, a two-inch LCD back panel, tripod mount, built-in WiFi, and a remote control app. It even includes a waterproof housing, safe to 196 feet under water!
Next page: video production accessories