Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Amateur Videographer's Tools

If you're into home movies at all, you've probably gotten pretty tired of camcorders. I know I have. In fact, I've gotten tired of cameras too. So now, my camcorder and my camera generally stay home - and I just use my iPhone 4S for photos and videos.

The problem with that is that if I'm trying to record something like my kids' plays or choir concerts, the video is generally fine, but the audio stinks. iPhone just wasn't meant to produce quality audio more than a couple of feet away.

 So I started searching for tools that'd make my kit a little better. Not necessarily professional, mind you, just tolerably good quality audio and video. As it turns out, had everything I needed, and my Christmas wish list got me the whole schmeer - for a lot less money than I'd expected. For those of you who are interested, my new kit consists of the following pieces*:

The anchor is the Fostex AR-4i. All you have to do is pop your iPhone 4 or 4S into this brilliant piece, and you're ready to create some great audio. This is an incredibly well-designed piece of equipment. Some highlights:

  • You can attach it to a tripod in two spots - allowing for either "portrait" or "landscape" video recording.
  • There are 3 mic inputs - which again, allows for both "portrait" or "landscape" video
  • The unit comes with two mini directional mics - you can use one or both, and can record in mono or stereo.
  • The unit is controlled by a free iphone app, which makes the unit itself remarkably simple and intuitive to use while still allowing a fair degree of customization in the controls
  • There are LED lights on the top of the unit, which makes it really easy to set an appropriate recording level
  • There is a headphone jack on the unit so that you can get a perfect read on your audio levels and quality
The AR-4i is incredibly simple to use.  I've recorded a play and a choir concert so far, and both turned out wildly better than anything I'd previously done with my camcorder or my "unaided" iPhone.

However, it gets even better with the next piece:
I tend to do a lot of video podcasting (lots of examples here), and there's a great tool available to allow that to be iPhone-based as well ... The Audio-Techica ATR3350 Lavelier Mic.  When you buy two of them (20' cords) you can plug them both into the Fostex, and make a really terrific recording of two people talking.  Now that I think of it, there are 3 mic inputs in the Fostex, so you might even be able to do a 3-person version.  Hmmmm, will have to check that out.

For visual enhancements, I also got a little slide-on wide-angle lens ($10!) just for fun, and an LED light that actually slides onto the top of the Fostex as if it were a DSLR.  Haven't tried it yet, but should be good for getting a nice, even diffuse light on whatever subject I'm shooting.  I'll get some samples up soon, but figured it'd be nice to get the word out in case there are any other amateur videographers out there!  What tools are you using?  How are they working for you?

 *This post contains some obviously-marked Amazon Affiliate links, so if you buy any of these products I will become fabulously wealthy overnight.