The Best $300 Tripod for DSLR Video

I finally did it! I upgraded to a real tripod and head! Last week I accidentally broke my crappy old $14 tripod. In the following video I bust open my new Manfrotto 501HDV head and my new Slik Pro 700DX tripod legs. I go over some tips on how to set this stuff up and use it:

This system was recommended to me by David Flores, a New York based photographer and film maker. This isn’t a blog post by someone who has tried every tripod and head under the sun, and slowly come to the realization that this is the best combo in the world for under $300. I was simply lucky enough to pick the brains of some experienced people who pointed me in the right direction.

Thanks David! I totally love this set up! This gear is really solid. I’ve already done two shoots with it and my quality of life has vastly improved. That’s the thing about buying good equipment. It really does make your life better. Shooting instantly becomes easier and more enjoyable. This is the kind of purchase that gets you these perks.

One of the reasons I needed a quality tripod is that I’ve been putting together a video about using on-camera external microphones with video-enabled DSLR cameras. It’s called The Great On-Camera Mic Shootout 2010. In the video I use a Nikon DLSR with a big ole’ honking lens on it. The camera was a loner, so there was no way I was going to stick it on a cheap $14 tripod. That’s just asking for trouble. The Manfrotto 501HDV head with the Slik Pro 700DX tripod legs handled the weight of the camera, mic, and big lens wonderfully. I highly recommend this combo. Plus it just looks legit. That’s important too for some reason. :)

Testing Out the New HP Envy Laptop with Beats Sound

I recently tested out the new HP Envy Laptop with a Beats sound system. As a long time Apple user, I was a little worried that my opinion would be skewed. But, as soon as I started messing around with the HP MediaSmart webcam software, I forgot all about the ease of OS X and concentrated on acting like a total idiot:

Aside from goofing off with the webcam, I did play some music through the thing to hear what this Beats sound system sounded like. To my ears it just sounded like a laptop. Continue reading Testing Out the New HP Envy Laptop with Beats Sound

Testing the New MOTU MicroBook with Volta

This week I tested out the new MOTU MicroBook USB audio interface with Volta. Volta is a really cool control voltage plug-in that enables you to trigger analog synths through a computer. Before synthesizers had MIDI connectivity, people would control them externally with control voltage. However, since the computer recording revolution took over, there’s been no way to send commands these old analog synths with audio software. That’s all changed thanks to Volta!

The audio interface that you use with Volta must have “DC Coupled” outputs. Before the MicroBook came out, the cheapest way to use Volta was with the $530 MOTU Ultralite. At $250, the new MicroBook is now the least expensive Volta-compatible interface.

One thing I did notice while setting this demo up was that having just two outputs represents a severe limitation with Volta. Basically, I was forced to create and save a custom “mix” in MOTU’s CueMix software that allowed me to only monitor a single input on the MicroBook.

Continue reading Testing the New MOTU MicroBook with Volta

Experimenting with the IK Multimedia iRig

I was lucky enough to be one of the early testers of the IK Multimedia iRig, and while it’s fun to play electric guitar through, I was curious how it would sound on a bass, and even an old analog synthesizer. Why not, right? I had a go at it today, and I filmed the results. Check it out:

Continue reading Experimenting with the IK Multimedia iRig

Hands On Review of the ARC Room Correction System

Most of the music recording i’ve done in my life has taken place in home studios. That’s why I was really curious to test out IK Multimedia’s ARC system. The basic idea behind this product is that you test the response of the room that you’re monitoring sound in, and the ARC software creates a custom plug-in for you to use that corrects the frequency response of your monitors.

Continue reading Hands On Review of the ARC Room Correction System

The Best Camera is the Phone You Have With You

Recently I was given access to some really nice DSLR cameras at work, so I can take better pictures for business purposes. I had the Nikon D90 last week, and it was really fun to mess around with. I took some product shots for work, and I managed to shoot a short video that I may or may not upload to YouTube after I edit it. 720p with shallow depth-of-field, baby!

A cool building in midtown NYC

But there’s an old saying that I’ve heard a lot over the years: “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” The D90 was awesome, and I recommend it as a good choice for a DSLR, but any camera like that with a real lens on it is large, and you can’t just throw it in you backpack every morning to have it at all times. So even though I had that nice camera last week, the best photo I took during that time came from my trusty old iPhone 3Gs.

Why Buy a $500 iPad When You Can Get a $2000 Lemur?

“Why should I buy a Jazz Mutant Lemur that can only control software, when I can get a $500 iPad that can do everything under the sun and more?”

This was the question I was asked to answer on my last assignment. Just a couple of weeks after the iPad became commercially available, a $2000 Lemur landed on my desk on a Monday morning, and I was asked to deliver a hands-on review and a script for a video podcast by Thursday. I was not asked answer the eternal question (why not buy a $500 iPad?), but it seemed to me that if I did not make a case for why the Lemur was still worth $2000, then I would be ignoring the one million pound gorilla in my cubicle. Continue reading Why Buy a $500 iPad When You Can Get a $2000 Lemur?

More Thoughts on Using Stereo Mics on Camcorders and Video-Enabled DSLR’s

I’m going to use this post to go a little deeper into the subject of using a stereo microphone on video cameras, DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras.

The first thing to keep in mind is that when I suggest using a stereo mic on a camera, I’m not saying that it’s a better than shooting with an external audio recorder. Using a stereo mic on your camera is just another way to work; another arrow in your quiver.

If you get overwhelmed when operating an external audio recorder and a camera, there are many situations where shooting with good audio can be simplified. That’s what this practice is all about.

For years I used a Sony ECM-MS908 external stereo microphone on my camcorder. It’s an awesome little mic, that seems to be somewhat extinct today. B&H no longer sells it, and I didn’t find any other reputable dealers online that had them in stock. If you can get you hands on this mic somehow, grab it! It sounds great, and it has two pick-up patterns. One pattern is more of a wide stereo spread, and the other is a more direction pattern for dialog.

Sony ECM-MS908
The Sony ECM-MS908 on a small camcorder

Here’s the horrible thing that still keeps me awake at night… I LOST MY ECM-MS908!!! Ouch. It always burns when you lose equipment, but when they discontinue the piece after you lose it, it hurts a lot more. The Sony ECM-MS907 is still around, which is pretty much the exact same mic. But the 907 has a much longer cable, and it doesn’t come with the camera shoe mount. Bummer.

The nice thing about the ECM-MS908 and 907 is that they run on standard AA batteries. Which brings up an important workflow point:

When you use an external microphone, chances are that it runs on batteries, so you must remember to turn the microphone on before you begin shooting.

That’s a big thing to remember here. If you have an external microphone plugged into the 1/8″ mic input on your camera, and you forget to turn it on, you won’t be recording any sound at all. Plugging a microphone into you mic input automatically defeats the internal microphones on your camera. Avoid this at all costs. Get into the habit of turning your mic on every time you power up your camera.

Canon 5D Mark II with Pro-24CM mic

The same rule applies to the Audio-Technica Pro-24CM. It too runs on a battery, and you must remember to turn it on when you work. Equally important is getting into the habit of turning the microphone off when you’re finished. Otherwise it will remain active and burn through its battery when its waiting around in your camera bag. An important factor to keep in mind is that the Pro-24Cm runs on a watch battery (an A76 LR44 to be exact). If you plan on getting this mic, I suggest stocking up on a few of these batteries and keeping them in your bag. It’s a more difficult battery to find in a store, in the event that it dies on you in the field.

Don’t let the odd battery type of the Pro-24CM scare you off. I’ve never owned one, but if I were to buy a video-enabled DSLR today, I would also purchase this microphone with the WindTech MM1 Windshield. Audio-Technica is a name that I trust. There are lots of positive customer reviews of the Pro-24Cm. Without a doubt, this combination was the real star of my article. Many people were under the impression that the Rode Stereo VideoMic was the only way to go for external microphones for a DSLR. To me, the Rode Stereo VideoMic sounds great, but it’s far too bulky. As an old school user of the ultra-compact Sony ECM-MS908, I knew there was a better way.

If you have any further questions or comments, I’d love to hear them!

My Ribbon Microphone Shoot Out

I recently had the opportunity to test out four different ribbon microphones. It was pretty fun because I’ve been recording for a long time, but I never had a chance to properly use this kind of mic. Continue reading My Ribbon Microphone Shoot Out