Hollywood-Style Travel Videos on a Shoestring
We list 12 ways to produce your own slick, professional-looking vacation videos, wowing your friends for next to nothing
Anyone who's ever sat through a friend's amateur vacation video knows how far a little filmmaking ability could go: "If only they didn't shake the camera...had added voice-overs to explain what we were seeing...cut out all those boring parts..." But such skills are only possible with professional equipment that costs thousands of dollars, right? Wrong. As a documentary filmmaker who has produced travel and adventure programs all over the globe, I've learned that expensive equipment is not the secret to creating compelling videos. In fact, many of my s hows have been made with consumer cameras on shockingly low budgets. All you need to do is follow the 12 simple tips listed below and you can transform those clumsy home movies into professional-looking travelogues worthy of the Discovery Channel.
What to buy
1. Go digital
Forget about camcorders that come in VHS or Hi8 formats: They're the dinosaurs of the video world. While they may cost less, you'll end up spending far more in the long run, because the flimsy tape and internal parts will break down quickly. (Plus, they capture the worst picture imaginable.) Instead, go modern and purchase a mini DV (digital video) camera, often for around the same price. Not only do they offer broadcast-quality images, but many retail for well under $450. Two of the best bargains are Canon's ZR 25MC and Panasonic's DV102. Making DVs even more economical, you can create excellent still photos from any frame you've shot-so you can leave your 35mm camera and all that expensive film at home. To compare and shop around for the most competitive prices, log on to cnet.com, or visit well-stocked electronics chain stores like Best Buy or Circuit City.
2. Buy tape stock online
Although digital tapes still cost a bit more than VHS or Hi8 (which retail for about $2.50/$3.50 each, respectively), if you buy them in bulk or through an Internet wholesale site you can often cut your costs in half. Try taperesources.com (800/827-3462), where 60-minute tapes cost $4.79/$6.89 apiece for professional, broadcast quality.
3. Get a collapsible tripod
Without a doubt, the most glaring mark of an amateur videographer is shaky, handheld camera work. But a professional video tripod can be a cumbersome, pricey thing to drag around. Instead, consider buying the collapsible six-inch table tripod from Bogen for about $30. Because it's so small and lightweight, it will fit easily in your daypack. Again, cnet.com highlights and compares all available brands and prices.
4. Don't forget the microphone
Most consumer cameras only come equipped with built-in microphones that are useless if the subject is out of range. To solve this problem, Radio Shack sells a tiny clip-on mike (also called a lavaliere) for about $25. With this tiny gadget, you can pick up sounds from up to ten feet away. Clip it to the lapel of your tour guide as he shows you around a site, or place it in the center of a table when your travel mates are discussing their next plan. Your viewers will instantly notice how the crisp difference in sound quality makes the video come alive.
5. Invest in a good camera bag
At first glance, professional camcorder bags seem to be a luxury item. But remember, you've just spent a good amount of money on a camera and other fragile accessories, and you want them to last. Shop around for a bag that has lots of pockets, good padding, and strong zippers. Some of the best are made by Tamrac (800/662-0717, tamrac.com). They carry a whole line of r ugged bags, some costing as little as $39. And always make your camera case one of your carry-on pieces of luggage, as lazy porters will treat it with the same disregard as they do heavy-duty plastic suitcases-and dishonest ones may decide to have a peek inside.
6. Charge your batteries and buy a voltage adapter
You don't want to run out of battery power during your one trip to the Taj Mahal. Even if you've barely used your camera that day, be sure to fully charge it at your hotel in the evening. (If you can afford it, buy a second battery as a backup-they cost around $30 to $40.) Also, know the voltage of the country you'll be traveling in, and buy an adapter plug before you go. You can usually pick up an effective universal adapter for a few bucks at a luggage store, or at travel stores in major airports.
Unlike still cameras, camcorders need a lot less light to render an image. Before you leave on your vaca tion, however, test the limits of your camera by shooting in a dark location. If the low-light indicator goes berserk, open the iris until the warning goes away. While the image may appear grainier, the trade-off is often worth it. For example, harsh on-camera lights are often obtrusive to others in crowded museums or sensitive locations like churches and mosques, where your bright light can ruin the mood.
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