4 Essential Video Accessories for Creators on a Budget

4 Essential Video Accessories for Creators on a Budget

It's easier than ever to get started with video, thanks to the great video capabilities of most cameras (and even phones!), but having the right accessories can make a huge difference. Here are some essential accessories every videographer should consider adding to their kit.

Better Audio With an External Microphone

While most cameras come with built-in microphones, they often fail to capture high-quality audio. An external microphone, such as a shotgun or lavalier mic, can drastically improve your sound recording. The choice between these different styles of microphone should be dictated by what you're typically shooting, as well as the environment you're usually in.

Shotgun microphones offer directional pickup of audio: capturing what's being said in the direction the mic is pointing, while hopefully rejecting ambient sounds from the side or rear. Bigger shotgun mics often have a tighter pickup, but will be correspondingly more difficult to use as a one-person operation. Compact on-camera shotguns are an OK option, but have been surpassed by wireless mic systems for most beginners. If you really need the ability to capture sound via a shotgun, I've had good experiences with the MKE 400.

Wireless mic systems, like the DJI Mic you've seen all over YouTube, are popular for a variety of reasons. They offer the easiest setup when capturing audio from one or two people, they have very strong rejection of ambient sounds as your mic is just a few inches away from the source, they're often cross-compatible with devices like phones that have worse support for external mics like shotguns, and they're relatively affordable. For vlogging, it's really easy to clip on the mic and start shooting.

If you’re just getting started, don’t think that you have to spend a ton on the latest wireless mic system. I’ve recently been testing the affordable Hollyland Lark M2, which offers two transmitters, an on-camera receiver, and a dedicated compact phone receiver, along with a charging case, cables, and wind guards for $179. If you don’t need a second mic, the older DJI Mic is available with a single transmitter for $159.

Filters to Create the Cinematic Look

While I don't consider most filters to be essential for stills, video is a different story. Variable NDs and black mist filters can make a huge difference in the final look of your video.

Variable ND filters help you stick to the 180 degree shutter rule, which roughly says your shutter speed should be twice your frame rate. For example, when shooting at 30fps, your shutter speed should be 1/60th of a second to ensure the level of motion blur your viewers expect from "cinematic" video. Since locking down your shutter speed impairs your ability to match your exposure to shooting conditions, that's where a variable ND comes in. It essentially acts as a 4th component to your exposure triangle, giving you anywhere from 1 to 5 or more stops of reduction in light, without having to change your other settings.

Black mist filters can reduce the digital feel of your video by softening contrast and adding some pleasant bloom to your highlights, without significantly impacting resolution or color. Your talent will certainly appreciate the more forgiving look of the final image, and I find the little bloom around light sources to be a really nice effect. The black mist effect can come in different strengths, ranging from 1/8th to 1/2. I prefer the subtle touch of 1/8th, but you might prefer a stronger effect.

For these filters, there are dozens of options in terms of filter sizes and manufacturers, but don't think you have to spend too much to get a good result. I've been using K&F Concept's magnetic line, which can be mounted or removed without needing to thread the filter on. For both VNDs and black mist filters, you'll find that you want to use these situationally, so this easy mounting process is welcome.

An Accurate Monitor

A dedicated monitor can be a game-changer for any videographer. It provides a larger, more detailed view of your footage than your camera's built-in screen. This helps with framing, focus, and exposure. Most monitors should also be capable of overlaying helpful graphics like scopes or false color - these tools can help you set exposure more precisely than by eye alone, and make a huge difference if you'll be working with more complicated workflows like LUTs or LOG.

Fortunately, monitors are another area where prices have fallen dramatically. If you're just getting started, the price to performance of value monitors is huge. Value monitors won't include things like raw capture via the monitor, and they might not hit the same color or brightness benchmarks. Instead, you can get a big and bright-enough screen for under $200.

I think the Portkeys PT6 hits a real sweet spot. At $169, it's quite affordable. The spec sheet also shows that it offers plenty of key features that make a monitor valuable. With a DCI-P3 color gamut and 600 nits of brightness, it's got a vivid display. Specialty modes, like anamorphic support, 3D LUTs, waveforms, false color, and framing tools all make for a very versatile display.

Step-up options will include on-monitor recording, as well as even brighter screens for easier shooting out in the field, but these will come at a cost.

A Right-Sized Video Light

Good lighting can transform your video from amateur to professional. Put simply, while shooting available light can be a great skill to have, knowing how and why to add light can elevate your video or even save a shoot when natural conditions just don't cooperate.

Portable LED lights are versatile and powerful, offering adjustable brightness and color temperature. There's also a massive range of options, from small lights that can mount right on your camera through big studio lights that are meant to be plugged in and used with modifiers like softboxes.

For the smallest of scenarios, like adding a little fill light to a vlogging scenario or as a creative accent light, the Zhiyun M20C and M20 are a great option. Brighter and much more reliable than the gimmicky RGB lights from no-name brands on Amazon, this light features a compact 3x3 inch form factor with integrated mounting points. It has accurate color, with a CRI of 94 or 95 (these metrics measure how accurately a light reproduces real life colors and a score of 90+ is desirable). Additional support for the RGB mode on the M20C means this light can also be a great creative choice.

For lighting bigger scenarios, reach towards monolight style setups. These can scale rapidly in price and size, but smaller scale shoots can easily make use of 60-, 100-, or 200-watt lights in a variety of setups. I’ve used a variety of lights in this space, and they mostly differ on design and size. Some, like SmallRig’s RC60B, can support operation via a built-in battery or USB-C input, which can be helpful in scenarios without a guaranteed outlet. Having a higher wattage light can help when running “thirsty” modifiers, or even just for shooting without maxing out the light's capacity (heavy utilization can contribute to fan noise from the light).

A Quality Camera Cage

A camera cage not only protects your camera but also provides mounting points for additional accessories like these microphones, monitors, and lights. It enhances stability and allows for better handling during shoots. Look for cages from SmallRig or Ulanzi specific to your camera. These brands keep prices under control relative to some of their competition, while still making high quality products. I’ve been using Falcam’s cage setup on my FX cameras for a while, and I really like the quick connect aspect of their F line accessories. With these, you can easily add and remove handles, mounts, cable clamps, and more, all with just a button press.

Starting with these essential accessories can significantly elevate the quality of your videography. Investing in the right tools not only enhances your technical capabilities but also allows you to create unique shots and tell the story you want. Just like with photography, the cameras these days have gotten to a point where even basic models are very capable tools, and it's choosing the right lenses and accessories that can really unlock new possibilities.

Alex Coleman's picture

Alex Coleman is a travel and landscape photographer. He teaches workshops in the American Southwest, with an emphasis on blending the artistic and technical sides of photography.

Log in or register to post comments