Many of my friends who read the packing checklist asked “where is all your video gear?” so here is my video gear guide.
I feel obligated to put some finger quotes around “film making”. I think of myself as an aspiring film maker with emphasis on aspiring. What I know about film making I learned because I wanted to be able to make sailing videos; I don’t have a film making background. Still, I’ve been pleased with the results thus far:
In January 2014 I went through some of my video clips of sailing and decided I should invest a bit more time and money so that instead of a handful of clips of our BVI Bareboat charter I’d be able to create a video worth sharing. I added a GoPro and a bunch of camera accessories to my kit and dove on in.
I’m only including the gear that I’d buy again if I had to do it all over. I’ve got more video gear that I’ve not used much; some of it I don’t like and some simply doesn’t come in handy very often.
Whoa. Starting off a “under $1000” guide with multiple cameras? When I filmed the BVI film in early 2014 I decided two cameras were necessary given the features available on either. But now, in 2015, the landscape has changed and I think you might get away with one, read on:
Panasonic Lumix – $250
I’ve been working with the ruggedized, waterproof Panasonic Lumix since the TS3 came out. By the time I started making videos I’d upgraded to the Lumix TS5 (shop around, the amazon price is high for this camera). The clips from my TS3 came out really nice which is what convinced me that sailing videos worth sharing were possible.
The TS5’s sunset mode is awesome, almost all of my sunset and low light footage are from this camera; especially my sunset and sun rise time lapse footage. The 4.6x optical zoom is good and for video you can use the digital zoom without getting terrible results (I never use digital zoom for photos, I can crop/zoom in post). The screen is great for video even in bright light (though in portrait orientation the polarized screen sometimes makes me think I forgot to turn the camera on). I’ve taken it scuba diving down to 30′ and it’s proved waterproof. Moreover, the “advanced underwater mode” really gets the colors right when you’re more than a few feet down.
One problem I have had with the TS5 is that it’s threads for mounting are plastic. A lot of the accessories I use only have a few threads on them, it only took 6 months for the first few threads to wear out. With a trip to the hardware store and some superglue I was able to equip mine with sturdier metal threads. But now I can’t set the camera standing up for a time delay group shot 🙁
My other gripe is the most frequent setting for time lapse photos on the TS5 is one every 10 seconds. This will compress an hour long sunset shot into 12 seconds of video (60 * 60 / 10 / 30) which is just about perfect for sunsets but tough to use for most other things (raising the sail, reefing, and so on). I wish it could get as frequent as 1 per second.
The Lumix is rugged enough and easy enough to get good video that I often hand it to somebody whose never shot video before and I don’t have to worry that they’ll break my camera or that they’re missing the shot. That’s a huge win when shooting shorthanded!
I doubt my video arsenal will ever be without a point and shoot camera. When it comes time to replace my Lumix I’ll consider other point and shoots but I expect I’ll wind up with a 3rd Lumix. I’ve already given two rugged Lumix cameras as gifts.
Running Total: $250
GoPro HERO3 – $399.99
The GoPro HERO3+ Black (the newer version is the HERO4 Silver) is the first thing I bought when I decided to get serious about making sailing films. The wide angle perspective allows me to capture everything happening on deck at once which really helps the audience get the feel of the experience. The wide angle means you can take video from one side of the dinghy without resulting in an unintentional closeup of your friend’s eyebrows. The video quality is awesome. I’ve used it scuba diving down to 90′ and the housing kept all but 2 or 3 drops of water out.
I never use the HERO3 without it’s housing so the sound is usually quite muffled. If it’s mounted to the boat and the engine is running the jello effect is ever present.
The menus are clunky and pairing with my non-waterproof phone while sailing is inconvenient. I’ve had otherwise great shots get ruined because of condensation on the inside of the GoPro’s waterproof housing.
There is no screen on the HERO3. Not being able to see what you’re filming means a lot of wasted shots; I generally take as much footage with the HERO3 as I do with the Lumix but my videos turn out to be 80% Lumix because I managed to frame the shots better. Without being able to see what you’re filming camera movement is next to impossible. The lack of zoom functionality on the HERO3 eliminates zoom in or out as a source of camera movement as well. The HERO3 works best as a “set it and forget it” camera.
I’d definitely buy another GoPro HERO if mine fell overboard.
Running Total: $649.99
SD Media – $71.48
Every time you use your camera you’ll be using one of these. You’ll need bigger SD cards for video than you would for still photos. I tend toward the faster, higher quality media because I’d hate to lose a day’s worth of video because of a faulty card and I’ve had issues in the past with slower media impacting camera performance.
For my Lumix I bought the SanDisk Extreme Plus 32GB card. It has performed flawlessly. $36.73
When I bought my GoPro it came with a Micro SD card (at the time of writing amazon has a HERO4 Silver bundled with a 32GB Micro SD card for $399). I bought an additional SanDisk Extreme Plus 32GB Micro SD card so I would have 64GB of storage for the GoPro. Using the GoPro as set it and forget it camera often means I wind up with some pretty large video taking up a lot of my card. $34.75
Running Total: $721.47
Batteries – $45.94
Video is even more demanding on batteries than it is on storage. The Lumix will drain a full battery taking almost 2 hours of video, the GoPro only lasts a bit longer than an hour. For sailing videos it’s important to get a 12 Volt DC charger to go along with your additional batteries. Keeping the batteries charged is probably the most tedious part of recording video while sailing, I generally need to charge 3-5 batteries per day.
For the Lumix I have bought this battery and charger kit. I wish it was USB based but at least it has the 12V DC adapter and a 120V wall plug built into the charger. $17.95
Wasabi Power has a great battery and charging kit for the HERO3+. It is USB based so on the boat it doesn’t have to dominate a 12V outlet (of which there is frequently only one) and can charge two batteries at one time. $27.99
Running Total: $767.41
Sailboat Mount – $40.45
Batteries and SD cards are no fun. The ActionPod Pro, on the other hand, is absolutely awesome! This thing is very secure, easy to use and super versatile.
It’s tough to get a steady shot on a moving boat at sea. When I started out I bought a bunch of different little knicknacks and doodads that I thought would help keep my onboard video from being shaky and annoying. The ActionPod was one of many that I bought. It was among the most expensive and probably the largest that I started with.
The ActionPod Pro is the hands down winner. It didn’t take me long to stop bringing the other, far less useful mounts along and buy another ActionPod. These days when I am shooting on passage if the camera is mounted to the boat it’s mounted using the ActionPod; I spend a lot of time climbing about the boat for different angles, quickly clamping and setting the camera on the ActionPod and shooting a clip. It’s great because I can quickly move from shot to shot using the simple to attach clamp and easily adjustable arm. When not in use I generally leave the cameras attached to an ActionPod so that they don’t fly about but are still in the cockpit, handy for use if something noteworthy happens.
The only downside of the ActionPod that I’ve found is that it’s black and bulky, it stars in more of my videos than I’d like (which is a testament to how often I use it).
Running Total: $807.86
Selfie Shaft – $24.80
OK, that’s not really what it’s called; think of it as an affectionate nickname with a bit of innuendo (given to it by a random subject of one of my videos).
The XShot Extender Pole allows you to change the perspective of your shots enough to be really interesting. A shot from 5′ outside the lifelines while blasting through some chop is really interesting and people wonder how you pulled it off. In a crowd you can get the birds eye view. I love this sequence navigating through The Baths in the British Virgin Islands; it has lots of examples of what you can do with the Selfie Shaft.. er.. XShot Extender Pole.
I also often find myself extending the pole and using it as a makeshift mono-pod. You have to kneel unless there is something handy like a table to rest it on. It has (metal) 1/4-20 threads in the bottom which allow it to be combined with a small tripod to make a full sized tripod. And if you’re using it walking around it lends a bit of extra heft that reduces camera shake.
It’s not very sea-proof. Mine got salty, rusted a bit and then I broke it extending it too quickly. I ordered another XShot the next day 🙂
Running Total: $832.66
GoPro 1/4-20 Mounts – $6.99
GoPros don’t have 1/4-20 threads so they won’t work with the XShot Extender Pole or ActionPod without this adapter kit. 1/4-20 is the industry standard for photography (and is one of the most commonly used thread specs in the world) which will allow you to use your GoPro with any 1/4-20 photo or video gear.
Running Total: $839.65
Floats – $13.89
For snorkeling and sailing it’s a good idea to get a float of some kind for your camera so that it returns to the surface if you drop it. For scuba diving I use a non-buoyant wrist strap, it would usually easier to retrieve a dropped camera from the bottom than the surface while doing scuba. I’ve never had occasion to try either…
For the GoPro I bought something like the bobber; as much as I try not to fret over small purchases I couldn’t bring myself to pay $30 for this thing so I bought a cheap knockoff for $9.99. It’s no longer available but now the knockoffs are even cheaper.
For the Lumix I bought this floating wrist strap. It works great. Maybe I’m a bit too trusting of this setup but I’ve often tossed the Lumix and wrist strap into the water next to a swimming friend so they could get a shot from their perspective. $3.90
Running Total: $853.54
Tripod – $44
The hardest thing about a tripod is finding one that’s compact enough to bring along traveling and sailing. For that reason I got this compact tripod. I’ve found I can usually figure something out if I don’t have it but it sure is convenient. The tripod is most helpful when I am shooting time lapses. $44
My inclination was not to include this Tripod on the set of initial gear but I did use it for several time lapses during my videos filmed in 2014 so I decided it should be included. Think of a tripod as optional gear.
Running Total: $897.54
Editing – $0
There is plenty of free editing software out there. I only have experience with iMovie up to this point. Windows has Movie Maker. I’ve talked to some people who love and others who hate both of those video editing packages.
I can only speak about iMovie. I liked the latest version of iMovie before Apple came out with iMovie 10. iMovie 10 removed some very useful frame by frame clip trimming features and it started modifying videos on import making them incompatible with the GoPro editing software. It also crashes a lot now. I still mostly use the old version of iMovie for editing (unfortunately that didn’t restore the frame by frame clipping – it preserved an older version of iMovie 9). I did use iMovie 10 for the “SavvySalt Films” intro and outro.
These nuisances are enough to have me evaluating premium video editing solutions.
I do use the GoPro editing software but only for composing time lapses and shortening long GoPro videos into useful clips (often sped up 10x or more). I’ve never gotten past the import screen.
Running Total: $897.54
That’s your starter kit
That’s it. This was all the gear I used to film all of the videos on this page.
I bet you thought I was going to include another $100 worth of stuff? There is more gear that I don’t go on sailing trips without but I might not buy again. And there’s another $100+ of gear that sits at home because I worry it will someday prove invaluable.
Bare Bones – $373.83
If you want to dip your toes in for much less than $1000 start with the Lumix TS5; it’s a lot cheaper start than a HERO. Start with the Lumix, the necessary SD card and charger; throw in the ActionPro, Selfie Shaft and the floating wrist band and you’re still under $399. If you have a rugged point and shoot that can do 1080p video (or a point and shoot that you wouldn’t be heartbroken over ruining) you’re going to be able to experiment with sailing videos for less than $100 (make sure you have a 12V charger and a sufficient SD card).
- ActionPod – $40.45 – $40.45
- Selfie Shaft (XShot Extender Pole) – $24.80 – $65.25
- Floating wrist strap – $3.90 – $69.15
- Battery and Charger – $17.95 – $87.10
- SanDisk Extreme Plus 32GB card – $36.73 – $123.83
- Lumix TS5? – $250 – $373.83
I expect you’ll wind up craving the wide angle perspective pretty quickly…
The DSLR Question:
I get asked a lot if I’d switch to DSLR filming if one fell into my lap. I’ve taken video with borrowed DSLR cameras, the results were excellent. I know using shallow depth of field to compose shots along with superb low light performance would enhance my videos. But I’d never be comfortable hanging a $2000 DSLR setup over the side of the boat for a shot of the bow cutting through the water. I imagine I’d leave the DSLR on the boat a lot when dinking to shore; I often just grab my Lumix or GoPro because I don’t have to worry about waves, splashes or wading onto a beach. I expect the DSLR would necessitate a waterproof case for those trips and it would get left behind.
I might add a DSLR to my arsenal at some point because it could add a lot to my videos. If I do go the DSLR route I still expect that most of my onboard videos will consist of shots from rugged cameras like the Lumix TS5 and GoPro HERO4. Until I do I’m sure I’ll keep experimenting with borrowed DSLR gear.
Here are some additional videos shot with the gear talked about in this article:
Optional Gear/Gear in Test
Here is some of the optional gear and the gear that I am currently in the process of testing:
Audio is really tough to get on a sailboat. Even at anchor or on a mooring there is often too much wind to use the mic on the Lumix or the GoPro. The only success I have had with audio is hiding this lav mic inside my shirt. $26
I’ve also had good luck with this Smartphone mic for recording voiceover audio either as an individual or as a group. $39.99
I up till now I’ve used my Android phone for audio recording; any smartphone should do the job. It fits in my pocket and with this adapter it can record from many microphones. There are free or premium recording apps for Android (I haven’t checked out the other smartphone OSes). Current version of Android have built-in noise reduction algorithms, make sure you enable them. $5.99
I got this Tascam DR-05 Audio Recorder for Christmas. I’ve played with it a bit and the audio sounds better than audio recorded with my laptop or my phone. $85 better? I haven’t decided yet. We’ll have to wait and see how the Audio for the Antigua videos comes out.
I’m still working out how to get good audio with my videos. I hope that, someday, this gear will make my films better. When I know more I’ll share it here; subscribe if you’d like to be notified when I do.
Backup! – $64.99
I’m a bit paranoid. Every day of a sailing trip I download all of the videos from my cameras to my laptop and an external hard drive that I keep in a waterproof bag. A USB powered drive is much cheaper than a multitude of flash cards and it can consolidate all your videos for browsing as well. I sleep a lot better knowing I’ve got 3 copies of the videos that I take so much time filming. $64.99
Steadicam Smoothee – $119
I’ve seen some phenomenal videos shot using a Steadicam. When I came across a Steadicam Smoothee for $119.00 I scooped it up. I’ll reserve judgement on it’s usefulness until the Antigua videos are ready to post. I am really excited to see what the Smoothee can do!
GoPro HERO4 Silver – $399
I’m hoping that the HERO4 Silver is the solution to the two camera problem. The Silver edition of the HERO4 has a built-in LCD screen so you can see what you’re shooting. Will the built-in screen allow the HERO4 Silver to replace the Lumix in my camera quiver? It’s possible. Yet another decision that will have to wait until after the Antigua films are finished before I’m comfortable drawing a conclusion.
I don’t think the HERO4 Silver will move me back to using a single camera. It could, however, overlap with enough of the functionality I’ve come to depend on the Lumix for that a HERO4 in addition to a good smartphone camera would be sufficient for my film making needs. I’m really excited to find out!
To be continued…
In case it’s still unclear at this point, I am totally hooked on sailing film making so I’ll be making more videos, experimenting with more gear and sharing what I learn with SavvySalt readers. Subscribe to get updates when I do! For example, my Lumix sprung a leak in Antigua and hasn’t worked since; today I just ordered a non-ruggedized possible replacement. Will I decide I need a Lumix before the season starts? Losing my point and shoot with 4 days left to go forced me to really try and use the HERO4 Silver as it’s replacement; once I finalize some videos I’ll be ready to make a judgement on that and…
See? Definitely to be continued!