Geek Beat Recommended Cameras and Video Camcorders

You’re reading the Cameras and Video Camcorders section of our Complete Guide to Video Production Equipment. Remember: we only recommend gear we own and use!

Before we even get started, the most important piece of video equipment you can have is – a white balance tool! That’s right, trying to fix the color of your videos is not something you want to do while editing, and it takes like 1 second to color balance if you have the right tools in advance. Here are two that we use.

White Balance Tools

ExpoDisc 77mmExpoDisc 77mm Digital White Balance Filter ($99) – Get it on Amazon

I’ve been using an ExpoDisco for years. Here is a tutorial that will show you why and how to use it. Its the most accurate, simplest way to set the white balance that I know of.

Its really simple to use. In essence, you hold the cap over the lens and shoot a photo into the light. That gives you a blank, white-ish photo which you then use to set the custom white balance on the camera. I can do it in under 10 seconds. Literally.


Lastolite Ezybalance CardLastolite LL LR2050 20-Inch Ezybalance Card ($43.30) – Get it on Amazon

Now if you forget to white balance in advance, you’re going to have to do it when you are editing. The problem is, you need a perfect “known” grey or white card to select to tell your software how to white balance.

So what you do is simply take a little video or a photo while holding up the Ezybalance in front of the lens, then you have a target to select in your video editing software to white balance from.


Ok, now on to the Cameras!

Canon XF300Canon XF300 ($6,500) /XF305 ($7,500) – Get it on Amazon

This big daddy Canon camcorder is not only top of the line, but also one of the most modern of the fully digital recorders. It has dual compact flash card slots and it shoots at up to 50Mbps for extremely high quality recording.

It also offers 4:2:2 color sampling, which means colors are less compressed and more accurate. This makes a huge difference when shooting against a green screen as the keying process is much cleaner. (No green tint in your hair and around the edges of people.)

Other important features:

  • 18x HD L-Series Lens
  • Three Canon native 1920 x 1080 CMOS Image Sensors
  • You can get over 300 minutes with the Canon extended battery
  • Final Cut 7 and Adobe Premier can read the format, but Final Cut X can not!
  • The ONLY difference between 300 and 305 is SDI output

If you don’t have the money or room for a full size studio camera, you can also get the Canon XF100 ($3,300 on Amazon). It’s the compact version of the XF300. The body is much smaller, as is the lens, but it still records to compact flash and does 4:2:2. So it’s an ideal all around camera – studio, on the spot reporting, and even green screen.


Canon VIXIACanon Vixia HFS10/20/30 ($1319/$849/$800) – Get it on Amazon

Ok, you’ve got to pay close attention to the reasons I outline here, because in a minute we’re going to talk about the HFM40 which costs less than half the price of this camcorder! So only YOU can decide which is right for you. Both of these are excellent camcorders, and we use both at Livid Lobster. Here is the difference:

  • In the studio, where we hardly ever adjust settings or touch the cameras, we use the HFM40s.
  • On the road, when we use lots of accessories and change things constantly, we use the HFS20s (older version of the HFS30).

Lets just focus on the things that are different, ok?

  1. The HFS20 uses a bigger lens than the HFM40. This improves picture quality, but more importantly the 58mm rings on this camera will take all kinds of adapter lenses that simply can’t be had for the HFM40.
  2. The HFS20 has a custom function dial on the front of the camera. This dial can be programmed to control your manual audio recording settings. We use this dial literally every single time we film anything. Ever. Period. The lack of it on the HFM40 means we can’t use it in the field.
  3. The HFS20 has a larger viewing screen. Important when on the go.
  4. The HFS20 will allow you to use an external remote control. Very important when using with a shoulder rig or Steadicam.

Here are the accessories we own and use with the HFS20.


Vixia HFM40Canon Vixia HFM40 ($649.95) – Get it on Amazon

The HFM40 is the little brother to the HFS30, with one glaring exception. Although it has a smaller lens, and lacks some of the manual controls – it actually has a newer / better sensor! This new sensor is more light sensitive than the outgoing model.

The problem is, when you combine it with the smaller crappier lens, it basically evens out. Still, if you are on a tight budget this is a great camcorder! We literally own 5 of them.

Here are the accessories we own and use with the HFM40:


Canon 5D Mark IICanon 5D Mk II ($2169.95) – Get it on Amazon

Sometimes we do certain projects that really require special treatment. Maybe we want that “film” look, or we are going to be doing lots of closeup work with shallow depth of field (blurred backgrounds). In those cases there is only one way to go – we shoot them on the Canon 5D Mark II dSLR.

Here is an example of a video produced entirely with the 5D for Ford. I think you’ll see what we mean.

This video was shot using three different lenses, the Canon 85mm f1.2, the Canon 70-200 f2.8, and the Sigma 50mm f1.4. In addition to using those lenses, we also combined the 70-200 with a set of extension tubes to video the parts shot of the screen.

As you can see, the 5D sensor combined with these lenses performs exceptionally well in low light conditions. And it gave our video a very movie-like quality. That 2 minute video required over 6 hours of shooting, plus a LOT of time in the edit room.

Of course, when you shoot video on a dSLR, the one thing that is lacking is audio. I mean, sure they’ll record it. But not well. (Though the Magic Lantern hacked 5D Mark II firmware makes dramatic improvements.) So that is where the Zoom H4N comes in. You’ll find it listed on the Audio Equipment page.

One last thing. Lets not forget that the 5D is also an amazing, professional photo taking camera. So its one device that you can truly take everywhere and do everything!


Lenses for the 5D Mk II

The 5D body won’t do you any good without any glass. So here is what we use.

Tamron 28-75Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR Di LD ($439.95) – Get it on Amazon

Surprise! Our main workhorse is a Tamron lens! Possibly one of the best bargains in the camera world, this Tamron 28-75mm lens is a fraction of the cost of the Canon equivalent, and still offers a fixed 2.8 aperture throughout the focal range.

If you happen to own something like a Canon T2i, or a 60d, they also make an equivalent lens for the APS-C sized image sensor cameras labeled as the Tamron 17-50mm. (If you multiply by 1.6, you basically get the 28-75.)

This lens is great for shooting just about anything. And if you could only own one of these lenses this would be the one. You can do closeups, you can zoom it out to 28mm for wide angle shots. And anything in between is accessible too.


Canon EF 14mmCanon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM ($2119) – Get it on Amazon

The ultra-wide angle lens is great for exaggerating perspectives close up, or for capturing ALL of a scene, such as an entire room, or a wide landscape. Also its the most expensive lens on this list, and likely the one you’ll use least. Which is why its great for video. No one else is going to be shooting with it!

If you do use this lens, you’re in for a treat! Keep it at eye level and perfectly centered on the horizon for the widest shots you can get on film! Or, get it down low or up high and close to your subject for awesome exaggerated imagery. The only thing more dramatic would be the 15mm fisheye, which we also own and love, but can’t recommend because so few people can find a use for it.

Sigma makes the 15mm fisheye lens that captured that shot above, and you can get one on Amazon for about $600.


Sigma 50mmSigma 50mm F1.4 ($499) – Get it on Amazon

Bigger, heavier, and better than the Canon version. Which is smaller, lighter and cheaper! So you might want to go Canon if those are important to you. But our preference is the solid feel and performance of this 50mm lens.

50mm is perfect for medium closeup shots. Where you might want to film a person’s head and shoulders while they are talking, or do closeups on some sort of product or item in the scene. Also, the extremely low 1.4 aperture value allows you to shoot in very, very low lighting situations and using extreme bokeh (that background blurring effect).


Canon 70-200mmCanon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM ($1999) – Get it on Amazon

When you need extreme closeup video, or when you have a subject that is extremely far away, nothing will suffice for length! The Canon 70-200mm is the best lens you can get in this focal range, and also an excellent lenses for portrait photography.

When combined with a set of extension tubes, you can do some of the most amazing macro photography / videography you’ve ever seen!


Kenko Auto Extension Tube Set DG 12mm 20mm and 36mm Tubes ($179) – Get in on Amazon

An extension tube mounts between the camera body and the lens on an SLR camera. The purpose is to lengthen the distance between the camera’s sensor and the lens in order to magnify the image. It also dramatically decreases the depth of field – meaning you can focus VERY close up to an object, but only within a very narrow window.

For example, we could mount an extension tube on a very long lens and use it for incredibly detailed macro-photography or videography. So if you need to do extremely up close and personal work with small objects, extension tubes are the cheapest way to put your other lenses to work doing exactly that.


Canon 85mmCanon 85mm f1.2 ($1969) – Get it on Amazon

This is truly one of the greatest lenses on Earth. But only for certain types of shots, like up close and personal video of people or things.

Lens apertures determine how light sensitive they are, and the lower the number the better. If you go searching for Canon lenses you’ll be lucky to find more than 2 that are capable of this level of sensitivity. So you can shoot by the light of a birthday candle and the video will be amazing!

The lens is also spectacular for portrait photography. If you actually shoot at f1.2 the bokeh is so shallow that if you focus on a subjects eyes, the tip of their nose and their ears will be out of focus!


Canon 85mm 1.8Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 ($395) – Get it on Amazon

If you don’t have $2k to drop on the 85mm L series above, even the normal 85mm still has an excellent f1.8 rating, and for 20% of the cost it shoots beautiful video.

You’d shoot the same things as with the 1.2 version of the lens, its just that it wouldn’t look quite as sharp or bright. But still really nice!


Casio ExilimCasio Exilim EX-FH25 ($1350) – Get it on Amazon

The Casio EX-FH25 serves one singular purpose in our studio – affordable high-speed photography. It will shoot up to 1,000 frames per second, though it does that at very, very low unusable resolution.

However, it shoots 120fps at 640×480, or 240fps at 448×336.  And while I know those resolutions don’t sound so great, they don’t look bad at all when blown up! In fact, the only comments we’ve ever heard about the video from this camera are – “Cool!”  Check it out (skip to exactly the 3:00 mark in the video):


Canon G12

Canon G12 ($397.99) – Get it on Amazon

Extended batteries

 


Nikon P7000Nikon P7000 ($279) – Get it on Amazon

Extended Batteries

 


Nikon P7100Nikon P7100 ($415) – Get it on Amazon

Extended Batteries

 


Logitech HD Pro WebcamLogitech c910 WebCam ($64.83) – Get it on Amazon

 

 


Contour Plus CameraContour+ ($499) – Get it on Amazon

 

 

 


GoPro HD Hero2GoPro ($282) – Get it on Amazon

 

 


Varizoom Rocker ControlVarizoom Controller ($237.45) – Get it on Amazon

 

 


eBenk Zoom Controller RemoteeBenk LANC Remote Control ($21.49) – Get it on Amazon

 

 

 


Kodak PlaySportKodak PlaySport Waterproof Pocket Camcorder ($127.67) – Get it on Amazon

 

 

 


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