A Few of My Favorite Things – The Best Budget DSLR Video Gear

The holiday season is a great time for video.  The events, decorations, lights, and general festivity make a great subject – and lots of people are either buying new gear at a holiday discount, or receiving equipment as a gift.  With just a few weeks left in the year, I thought I’d share a few of my very favorite pieces – gear that provides amazing value and that I rely on regularly.

1. Eco-Fused Memory Card Carrying Case – $6

Need a stocking stuffer for the videographer or photographer in your life?  Look no further.  This is something so incredibly simple and inexpensive that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.  It lets you carry 18 SD cards and 4 CF cards in a small protective case that’s easily pocketable.  Stop fiddling around with all those irritating little plastic boxes and use this to keep your media organized, safe, and accessible.

2. Wasabi Power Batteries – $15 to $30

Lots of people, especially professionals, won’t use third party batteries – and that’s fine.  Name brand batteries definitely offer peace of mind and they will probably hold up better in the long run.  That being said, Wasabi Power batteries are pretty great.  Compared to their Canon equivalents, they are higher capacity, use interchangeable chargers, come with more accessories, and are much cheaper.  I used Wasabi batteries in my T3i and I now use them in my 60D – I’ve never had a problem with them.  There are some sketchy batteries out there: batteries that will drain quickly, or won’t read in the camera, or will have charging issues, or worse.  As always, do your research and read the reviews.

3. Seagate Backup Plus Portable Hard Drive – $65 and Seagate Portable Thunderbolt Adapter – $90

This isn’t video-specific, but an external hard drive is still probably something you need.  A Thunderbolt connection gives you a lot of speed and flexibility, but the format is still not nearly as common as USB.  That’s what I love about this combination of devices – I can have a hard drive plugged into the Thunderbolt adapter on the computer in my office, but I can still easily unplug the drive and take it with me.  A USB adapter, which is included with the drive itself, snaps on and I now have a drive that I can use with any computer I happen to come across.  I can transfer footage at the shoot (usually with a laptop), come home, and pop the drive back into the Thunderbolt adapter for editing.  Just be sure to back that footage up!

While the Thunderbolt adapter could work with many different brands of hard drives (using a SATA connection), Seagate’s drives are cheap, sturdy, and reliable.  If you find yourself needing to move files from one computer to another, this is a great way to do it.

4. Audio Technica ATH-M50 Headphones – $104

Even if your camera doesn’t have a headphone jack, you need a good pair of headphones – either for monitoring sound from an external recorder or field monitor, using Magic Lantern to enable in-camera monitoring, or reviewing and editing footage after the shoot.  Over-the-ear headphones are best, since they block the most external sound and you want a pair that gives “true” monitor audio, without too much bass or other effects.  Audio Technica’s ATH-M50 headphones are generally regarded as one of the best pairs you can pick up for under $300 – and you can get them for significantly less than that, if you shop around.  They’re also comfortable, professional-looking, and fold down to a relatively portable size.  You don’t know how much of a difference a decent pair of headphones can make until you try them – I think this is a great investment.

5. Benro Video Monopod – $199

Since I purchased this monopod, I have used it on virtually every shoot I’ve done.  Video monopods like this combine the best parts of a tripod – stability and smooth camera movements – with the speed and versatility of a monopod.  The three-legged base offers much more stability than a traditional monopod and the fluid head lets you get some really creative shots.  It’s light, sets up incredibly fast, and the small footprint allows you to fit in places that a tripod simply couldn’t.  If you have to choose between buying a tripod and a video monopod, I would absolutely recommend the monopod first– it will let you do almost everything the tripod will, plus a whole lot more.

Benro offers a few different monopod configurations – I have the larger version with twist-lock legs, but a flip lock version is also available, if that’s your preference.  The smaller version is more suited to fairly small cameras, like the Sony NEX-7 – I think that the larger version, with its nicer video head, is worth the upgrade cost.  Manfrotto makes a very similar model – the Benro is almost certainly modeled after it – that is quite well-reviewed as well.

6. RØDE Videomic Pro with Wind Muff – $259

We all know – or should – that audio is where DSLRs tend to fall apart.  The RØDE Videomic Pro is easiest, most reliable way I’ve found to get good sound in a variety of situations.  I’d recommend the Pro model over the standard Videomic for two reasons:  First is the build quality, which is much-improved on the Pro.  Second, and more importantly, is the +20dB mode, which allows you to overcome some of the problems with the low-quality preamps on most DSLRs.  Just switch it on and lower the input level on the DSLR – to about four clicks from the bottom – so that you don’t blow out the sound.  I probably use this configuration for about 80% of all the shooting I do – basically any time I’m not using a lapel mic or an external recorder.

There are less expensive microphone options out there and many will probably give you decent results in the right circumstances.  Good audio is absolutely worth investing in, though – and after trying some cheaper options without great results, I’m sticking with the Videomic Pro.

7. Canon 60D – $599 (body only)

I started shooting DSLR video on a Canon T3i – a very capable starter camera with good video quality and nice features, like a rotating LCD screen.  However, when the announcement of the 70D drove the price of the 60D down to under $600, I decided to upgrade and I’m incredibly glad I did.  The 60D has a more professional body style that is better suited to legitimate video production.  It also uses longer-lasting LP-E6 batteries, which means that I can work longer without stopping to charge or using a battery grip.  It’s a more professional, more serious camera overall.

Of course, there are lots of great camera options out there.  For those just starting out, a T2i, T3i, or T4i may be the best way to go.  The 70D – currently priced at around $950 for the body – has a new sensor, exceptional autofocus capabilities, and other great features that make it a pretty compelling choice as well.  If you can afford it, the full-frame 6D or 5D Mark III are incredibly worthwhile investments – the latter is probably the best DSLR for video you can currently buy.  Plus, there are great options from Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, and more.  However, for me – right now – the Canon 60D is the camera sitting at the sweet spot of quality, features, and overall value.

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Those are my recommendations!  Do you have any pieces of equipment that you’d like to suggest?  Any gear that has really proved its worth over the long haul?  Make some suggestions in the comments section below – I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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