Tripod, Mic etc for Lumix GH1
I am a beginning independent documentary maker on a budget. I would love some help choosing a tripod, microphone and other essentials to go with a Lumix GH1 that I want to buy.
There just don't seem to be great shops near me (Western Australia) and I have not found a tripod that looks halfway decent for under AU$500 (US$435). The shops say they can order gear in for me if I know what I'm looking for (or I could buy it myself online I guess). Maybe I'm just dreaming thinking I can get something good for under AU$200 (US$174). I am looking for something cheap but of course want to be able to level it with a bubble and have nice smooth tilts and pans. Also, I have never used a mono-pod. Are they something I could consider with a GH1?
The camera shop guys I spoke to didn't use DSLRs for video so couldn't help me with what audio set-up would be best. Maybe it is better to record audio separately and sync it in post?
Can anyone (or multiple helpful people even) guide me as to a good basic kit to start using the GH1 for video? I have searched the forums and haven't really got the right info yet.
The GH1 is very small and lightweight. If you get it with the 14-140mm kit lens (pretty decent, actually), you will not need a 'heavy duty' tripod. You might look at (B&H online), the Manfrotto line - the 501 HDV head, in particular. There are a variety of 'sticks'(legs) that will work with this head. The 701 is smaller, lighter and cheaper, but, depending on how many accessories that you add/connect to the camera, it may be too small for the overall weight. We have (2)GH1 units using the 501, but we usually have the cameras mounted in a 'rig' frame with the usual shotgun mic, Samson Zoom H4n audio recorder, wireless mic receiver, LED camera light, etc., connected. If you will be adding heavier, longer lenses, you may want to look at the Manfrotto 293 Tele Lens support. Search online for people using monopods. They can come in handy in certain situations, but make sure to get a tripod first.
The aforementioned Samson Zoom H4n audio recorder is very popular, and sells for around $300.00 U.S. It has built-in stereo mics and allows for (2)additional audio inputs. I send both a wireless mic receiver and a shotgun directional mic into the Zoom which then feeds into the cameras audio input. Yes, you may want to record into the Zoom for decent audio and also into the camera (just as a reference track). Good Luck!
John D. Frey
25 Year owner/operator of two California-based production studios.
Digital West Video Productions of San Luis Obispo and Inland Images of Lake Elsinore
Hi Rose: You have the right idea: As much as possible, using a tripod for every shot will go a long way in making your video more watchable and thus more marketable. I understand that it's not always possible or practical to use a tripod, but stabilizing the camera is pretty much rule #1 for making good video.
This is especially true given that DSLR video, especially with a "stock" GH1, is prone to motion-induced compression & rolling shutter artifacts. Often the best way to minimize these issues is to stabilize the camera. Specifically in the case of the GH1, you can also use the 3rd party firmware "hack" to reduce or eliminate most compression artifacts; see:
However, even when using a hacked GH1 (or any DSLR or video camera), stabilizing the camera is almost always a good idea.
As for tripods, Libec is a very good brand among some of the less-expensive tripods, and I'm fairly certain they have models at & below your price range. I've owned & used one of their old model "H50" heads for several years and it works well.
Manfrotto also makes popular tripod models in your price range.
In general, since you get what you pay for with tripods, spend as much as you can on one. A good quality, well cared for tripod will last for many years, so they are an excellent investment. It's possible to "over-buy" a tripod -- get one that's way too big & heavy for the camera or inconvenient to carry because of its weight or size -- but it's better to have a tripod that's "too big" than "too small" for the weight of your camera. The tripod manufacturers included _approximate_ maximum load limits in the specs for their gear.
In your price range I recommend a tripod with a head that has "fluid"-like action for relatively smooth pan/tilt. (A true fluid head is typically very expensive & beyond your budget.) Not a ball head; those are best suited for still photography.
I strongly recommend a head which has a bowl-type leveling system. Together with a bubble-level indicator, this will allow you to very quickly level the camera without having to adjust the tripod's legs. Bowls are available in various diameters, with 75mm, 100mm & larger being most common. The diameter is important if you need to swap the head among different legs, or for use with a high-hat, etc., but might not be critical for your use.
I recommend a tripod that has a mid-level spreader if available, but not all tripods have this. A spreader is 3 adjustable metal or plastic arms stretched between the tripod legs, and which prevent the legs from slipping outward on a smooth floor. A mid-level spreader is attached halfway up the legs so it doesn't get dirty or tangled from dragging across the floor or ground. Some tripods, like my old Libec, have their spreader attached to the bottom tips of the legs, so the spreader lays flat on the floor, but then it gets dirty when used outside and is generally less convenient than a mid-level type spreader.
Monopods can be handy especially in crowds or whenever there's not much space available (such as in a crowd you can hold the camera far above your head and get a useful shot if you can see the LCD), or when you must travel as light as possible.
I have a walking stick that has a standard 1/4"-20 thread on top so it can be used as a monopod when needed. A disadvantage of a monopod, compared to a tripod is that a camera on a monopod tends to frequently move left/right causing the horizon to tilt, or forward/back causing focus issues, etc. And of course you generally can't use a monopod hands-free. These are some of the many reasons why a tripod is usually preferable to a monopod.
As for microphones for use with a GH1, this isn't as simple as it might seem. The GH1 (and to the best of my knowledge, none of the other DSLR cams either) does not allow you to monitor sound out of the camera while it's in record mode. This is a critical issue.
When you connect an external mic to a DSLR there are several points of potential failure (mic battery failure, plug/connector failure, electrical interference, etc.) which may prevent good-quality sound from being recorded. True, this can work -- I've done it myself in a pinch -- but eventually it _will_ fail. And using an external sound mixer or headphone amp, etc. does nothing to change this situation. None of these allow you to monitor exactly what's being recorded by the _camera_ while it's in record mode.
Recording with an external mic (or wireless mic, or mic mixer) plugged directly into a DSLR is only OK if time is allowed in the shooting schedule to carefully listen to playback of each take immediately after shooting it, and if necessary re-do the take/scene if there was an easily-correctable sound issue. Note also that not all 3.5mm-to-2.5mm audio adapter plugs are sized/shaped appropriately for use with specific cams; sometimes the molded plastic sleeve prevents a snug fit.
A much better alternative is to use one of the popular external audio recorders, such as the H4N, with the external mic and headphones plugged into it. And monitor the sound during recording! :-)
Good mics are made by Sennheiser, Rode, AT, and others. As with tripods, mic sound quality is general proportional to cost, but there are some exceptions.
A mic mounted on or near the camera is usually too far away from the person (your subject) speaking to be useful. Not even an expensive shotgun mic can guarantee good sound when there is moderate or loud background noise. To avoid this problem, shoot in a very quiet location, or move the mic as close as possible to the mouth of the person speaking. And then move it closer!
Whatever combination of gear you use, shoot many tests before production begins to work out unforeseen issues. Also, bring extra spare plugs, adapters, cables, etc. as replacement parts for lost or damaged items. Best of luck!