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Hi guys, welcome back to Behind the Sawdust, our weekly-ish vlog where we show you what what goes on when the cameras are off, her at the two Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal shops. This time we’re going to take a break from woodworking and talk about a subject we get asked about all the time: The equipment we use to produce all of the video content over at Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal. This time we’ll talk about cameras, and in future episodes we’ll cover lighting, audio equipment, editing software, the works. And I’ll also give you some tips for getting started making your own videos. This is going to be fun!
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So let’s start with cameras. In a couple of minutes, I’ll go over the differences between video cameras and DSLRs, and other types of cameras so you can decide which is best for you, but first let’s go through the cameras I’ve used over the years, and what particular features I found most useful. I actually started out with this little Mini-DV video camera. It records to little cassette tapes, which had to be transferred to your computer using firewire cable. If you don’t know what that is, that’s because computers haven’t used firewire in years. This was back in the pre-HD days on YouTube when it was OK for videos to look horrible. But, you can’t get away with that any more, so we eventually made a jump to DSLRs. This was one of our first, it’s the Canon Rebel T3i. The Rebel series is Canon’s budget DSLR line, but they’re great cameras. The T3i has been a workhorse for a lot of YouTube creators, and many are still using this camera today. It doesn’t have a lot of frills, but it shoots in full HD and is pretty easy to use. I believe this was the first Canon model to have a articulating screen, which is pretty important if you are operating your own camera, because you want to be able to see yourself in frame from in front of the lens.
Shortly after I got my T3i, Canon came out with their T4i, which was the first to feature a touch screen. I upgraded because I liked the idea of simply touching the area of the screen that I needed in focus, and letting the auto focus take it from there. That’s a great feature that, in my opinion, made the T3i obsolete.
Since then Canon has made some more upgrades, and their up to the T7i now, I think. But I eventually got away from the Rebel camera line and moved up to their next level of DSLRs. See, Canon has different tiers of cameras. The Rebel line with the T’s in the model (T3i, T4i, T5i, etc.) cost around $600-700 new, depending on the model. The next level up are the models with two numbers and a D in the model, like the 50D, 60D, 70D and so on. These cost about $1000-1300. They are more robust cameras, they’re a little bit bigger, they have metal skeletons inside to protect them from drops, and they are sealed up, so they’re resistant to water and dust. That was one of the biggest reasons I upgraded when the 70D came out. Since I work in a dusty shop, I wanted my camera protected. I’m not sure that’s too important, because like I said, a lot of people have used the Rebel cameras like the T3i for a long time, and they aren’t sealed at all. But I wanted to be on the safe side. However, the biggest reason I upgraded was because the 70D has this new touch focus technology that allows you to touch areas on the screen that you want to come into focus, while you are filming. On the T4i touch focusing only worked before you started filming. But the 70D works while filming, and it is super-fast and accurate. You can actually do some really neat rack focus shots, which means starting with an object in the foreground in focus, then switching to focus on an object in the background, just by touching the screen. That sort of thing looks really cool. I love this camera.
However, as much as I love my 70D, I almost never use it. Because, right after I bought it, the first 4K cameras started coming out. So, I bought a Panasonic GH4. This was an expensive upgrade, with the lens this thing cost me about $2500 at the time, but I think they are under $2000 now. Now, you may wonder why I would want a 4K camera when we post videos on YouTube in regular HD, not 4K. Well, it all comes down to flexibility. You see, when you film a scene with an HD camera, you have to zoom in and frame the scene exactly as you want it to look before you film it. Because, if you try to digitally zoom in with your editing software, you lose resolution. There’s only so many pixels on the screen. If you zoom in on a portion of the image, you are reducing the number of pixels and it will look terrible. But a 4K image has 4X as many pixels. So I can zoom in digitally to an area on the screen that is just 25% of the overall image, and still have the same number of pixels on the screen as a full HD video. That’s huge, especially if you are operating your own camera. Because you can zoom out from whatever it is you are filming, making sure you get everything you could possible want in the frame. Then later, at your computer you can zoom in and even pan the image around. It’s like having a camera operator that you can send back in time and say “you know what, now that I see this video clip, I wish you would have zoomed in on that, or paned the camera left to right, so go fix that.” Is having that ability worth spending a couple of grand on a camera? To me it was, because I don’t always have a camera operator, especially while I’m building projects. Plus, the GH4 has a bunch of other cool features like focus-peaking that puts a little green outline around what is in focus on the LCD screen so you don’t have to trust your eyes, and a lot of other things.
Now, these canon cameras are DSLRs, which means there’s a mirror inside that reflects the image that the lens is seeing up to a sensor inside the camera. The Panasonic is a mirrorless camera, which isn’t technically a DSLR, but it’s still classified as the same sort of thing because of the interchangeable lenses and all that stuff. There are a lot of reasons to use a DSLR, which we’ll get into in a minute. But the biggest downside for me was the audio. They only have one 3.5mm microphone jack. But a lot of professional mics have larger XRL connectors, and I wanted to connect two at once. You can’t do that on a DSLR without a separate piece of equipment. So I was using a separate audio controller. The mics attached to this, then a wire ran up to the camera. That worked fine in the shop, as long as I remembered to get everything properly connected and turned on, which didn’t always happen. But when I had to go somewhere and needed the mics, it was a big pain. So, I started looking for a camera with dual XLR microphone inputs. Incidentally, you can buy an attachment for the Panasonic GH4 that has that feature, but it’s an extra $1000, and you’re already getting into the price range of a full on, prosumer video camera, without all of the other features that those cameras offer. So, I decided to make the switch away from DSLR’s and back to video cameras.
The one I settled on is actually taking this video, it’s the Panasonic DVX200. I chose this one mostly because it was the best one out there at the prosumer level. A prosumer camera is a camera with many of the features of a professional movie camera, that is designed for people like you and me who don’t work at movie studios. This was a big investment at near $5000. And yes, that hurt. But it does everything and it does it very well. Besides being able to hook up two professional microphones, and being able to shoot in 4k, it also has all sorts of other features that can be accessed with buttons and dials on the camera’s body rather than having to go through a bunch of menus like you do on a DSLR. And, the DVX200 has a very high quality lens and image sensor so that it can still catch the shallow depth of field that you otherwise could only get with a DSLR. But, chances are you aren’t going to invest that kind of money in a camera, so there’s no need for me to go on about all of its features. The bottom line is it gives me everything in one piece of equipment that’s tough enough to take some heavy use in a dusty environment. And after doing this for several years, using several different cameras, I have learned that convenience is very important when choosing a camera.
Before we move on I wanted to say something about another resource I’ve found helpful for what we do over at Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal- GraphicStock. It’s a membership service that offers a downloadable library of graphics, photos and vector images. If you just do a simple keyword search for something like wood- you get thousands of images that you can use for web pages, video title backgrounds, thumbnails, all sorts of things, without the risk of getting sued that comes with just taking images off the internet. And this is just one example, they have hundreds of thousands of selections that you get unlimited, lifetime use of. That sure beats the $20 or $30 bucks per image other sites are charging, which can really add up fast. GraphicStock is usually $99 a year for unlimited downloads with a 100% royalty-free agreement. But right now they have a holiday deal going on where you get a $50 discount, so it’s essentially half off. So, if you want to spruce up your website or videos, check it out at GraphicStock.com or at the link in the notes below the video.
So, what camera should you choose? You want a camera that requires minimal setup to get a good, crisp image. For some people, an I-phone or a point-and-shoot digital camera fits that bill, as long as you can easily attach a good quality microphone to it. But there are other factors that make a more robust camera worth considering.
First is the ease of focus. Some people go on about how they always use manual focus, blah, blah, blah. When I am filming a build, I want my camera to do that for me, because it’s faster and more accurate than my eyes, looking at a little screen to see if something’s in focus. I want a camera that I can rely upon to get the focus right for me. That’s why I like cameras with touch screens that allow me to touch the part of the image I want in focus, and let the camera take it from there. I especially like if I can change focus with the touch screen while recording, but that feature isn’t as critical if you are operating your own camera. It’s also important that the camera allows me to turn off the continuous auto focus feature. Because I don’t want the focus jumping around if I move my hand in front of the camera, which happens a lot if you can’t turn that feature off. I also want a camera that can find focus quickly without going back and forth trying to lock onto something. So, before you buy a camera, take a good look at how the auto focus features work, that’s a huge factor.
Another factor you should consider is durability. Cheaper cameras, particularly DSLRs are not designed to be dropped, and in a workshop where you have a tripod sitting right next to you while you work, that’s bound to happen. The better DSLR cameras have steel or titanium skeletons under the outer coating, and they are sealed against dust. Perhaps even more important than the camera itself being sealed is the lens, because you definitely will get dust inside an inexpensive lens.
Yet another factor to consider is the screen size. Even if you are using autofocus, you still want to be able to see the image well enough to adjust for lighting, color balance, that sort of thing. This is where small point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs fall behind in my opinion. The screens can be pretty small. A dedicated video camera will often have a larger screen, which is a big plus.
And finally, picture quality. I am listing this last because all of the other things we talked about are big factors when it comes to picture quality, but the camera itself is also a major factor. DSLRs produce fantastic images with shallow depth of field. That means you can have something in the foreground in sharp focus, while the background is blurred. This looks great on film, and is one of the biggest factors that draw people to DSLRs. But, unless you are trying to make your videos really cinematic (and there’s some debate about whether that actually draws more viewers or not), you should probably consider that feature well below the other ones I listed. It’s far more important that your camera be easy to setup and use, easy to focus accurately, well built and durable, and with an LCD screen that’s big enough to see. To me, a dedicated, prosumer video camera is the best of all worlds, especially if it will shoot in 4k, for the reasons we discussed earlier. You don’t have to spend $5000, you can get a good, professional quality camera for the price of a mid-range DSLR. But believe me, I have tried them all. There is a reason most pros that shoot DVDs and streaming videos use video cameras. They are compact, durable, workhorses that are easy to use on the fly and will take a beating.
But, what if you are just starting out and you don’t have the budget for an expensive camera? Then I suggest you get a small point-and-shoot digital camera and use it until you decide if you are going to do this professionally. As long as you control your lighting, you can get great video with one of those. As a side note, some Youtubers are using GoPro cameras. I have one myself. I do not recommend using one for your first, or only camera because you lose a lot of important features in exchange for the compact size. And that $500 could be better saved toward a good video camera down the road.
Of course, cameras are just one piece of the production equipment a professional YouTuber uses these days. Next month we’ll talk about editing software. In the meantime, be sure to check out the latest issue of StumpyNubs Woodworking Journal. You can read and subscribe for free over at Stumpynubs.com. Then you can sit back and have a cold one, because you’ve earned it, my friend!
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