Video Production in Anchorage Alaska

Are you looking to hire a video production company for a project in Anchorage or around Alaska? Please head on over to our business site:

Video Dads – Anchorage Alaska Video Production

or email directly –

The posts here at Alaska Video Shooter are mostly about filmmaking equipment, gear reviews, and videography news that appeal to video producers rather than clients.

video production anchorage alaska

About Video Dads:

Founded by Travis Gilmour and Slavik Boyechko, Video Dads has become the premiere full service video production company in Alaska.

In 2014 both Travis and Slavik were chosen as Alaska’s Top 40 Under 40 for their work telling video stories about Alaskans. And in 2016, the Video Dads received Emmy Awards for their production, cinematography, and editing work on a nonprofit PSA series and a commercial ad campaign.

They specialize in producing short, web-friendly videos that are inspirational, authentic, and proudly showcase Alaska’s people and the organizations and businesses they represent.


Gear Dads


My Video Dads partner and I recently launched a new website that provides more extensive guides for corporate video production and film making equipment. It’s called Digital Filmmaker.

Check out the article on gifts for filmmakers.


The Best Mirrorless Camera Under $600

best camera under 500

TL;DR – It’s the Sony A6000.

It feels strange to write this, but the camera is probably the cheapest piece of gear you can buy for your video production kit.

Back in the pre-DSLR days, you would invest in a professional camera for your news, documentary, freelance, or commercial business. It might take a decade to pay off, but it was a simple investment.

The camera sometimes would have an interchangeable lens or wide lens adapter, but for the most and your camera package was a giant, heavy piece of gear that was the core of your video production. So if it cost $40-50k, so be it.

And we’re talking tape based and early digital camcorders, not film or cinema cameras.

Of course, the DSLR revolution changed all that. The first digital camera to record 24 frames per second video with interchangeable photo lenses was only a few thousand dollars (the Canon 5D mkII). Since then, they’ve only gotten cheaper.

Meanwhile, the rest of videography gear continues to maintain their prices or become even spendier, as they become more advanced and in demand.

What Should I Buy?

A typical conversation online begins with: “I’m investing in a new ____, but I only have $500-600. What should I buy?”

Whether it’s a tripod, audio equipment, lights, you name it, the following response always comes. “You’ve already invested in ____, why would you risk the entire production on a cheap ____?”

For example, you want to buy a tripod. You already have some other equipment. You want something good, but you don’t have a lot of money. But of course, why would you risk multiple thousands of dollars by placing it all on top of a dingy little tripod?

Another example: you have a really nice camera, and need some new lenses. Why would you spend all that money on a camera, only to put a crappy kit lens on the front of it?

Why would you place a cheap ND or UV filter in front of all that expensive glass and camera? Why would you use a cheap light kit, which would spoil your production that you’ve already spent a lot of money on? Why would you ever skimp on cheap audio gear, when it’s the most important thing ever??!

It goes on and on and on. And the truth is, the sour grapes are usually right. You shouldn’t skimp on a decent tripod, or lights, or audio, or bags, or filters, and so on. They may work, but you get what you pay for, which usually means low reliability during the times you need them the most.

Cheap Cameras

So ironically, the only thing you really can skimp out on is the camera. The thing that makes the whole video production happen. The thing that determines the look and feel of your film, as well as the entire ease of use and operation of the production.

Basically, your entire filmmaking career is in the hands of the camera you’re currently looking to buy. Which you will be spending less on than your lavaliere microphone.

Yes, it sounds nuts, but despite what seems like crazy advice, you can absolutely 100% skimp on the camera. Because for $500 today, you can buy an amazing camera.

Which leaves you with more money to spend on the accessories and pieces of kit that you can’t skimp on.

best camera under 500 sony

Canon vs Sony

I’m very much a Canon guy, through and through. I’ve used most other popular cameras out there, from Sony consumer and professional cinema cameras, to Panasonics, Fuji, and so on. Canon Cinema cameras have the best combination of ease of use, a wonderful image out of the box, working autofocus, and the availability of affordable, high quality lenses.

But with Canon cinema cameras, you pay the Canon tax. You’ve heard of the Apple tax? It’s basically like that. They know they’re good. They know they can’t win with specs. But they don’t have to. Their cameras just work. Simple as that. Just like an iMac or a Macbook just works. So you pay more for that peace of mind.

In some cases, a lot more. Our last two Canon cameras combined cost more than a luxury car. We’re still paying one off. It’s like the old days of investing in a camera.

best camera under 500 canon

Except you don’t need to do that anymore. We just chose to do it because the Canon cameras we have make our lives a little easier, we like using them, and well, video production is our business, and so we must have business expenses.

For most people, however, the camera we primarily use, a Canon C300 mkII, is completely unnecessary and probably a lot more camera than they’ll ever need. But you still want a decent camera, and as I mentioned above, you can get a ton of camera for not a lot of money. So what do I recommend?

The Best Mirrorless Camera Under $600

The Sony A6000 has so much going for it, all at under $500. And that’s including a kit lens (!). It really is a steal.

In the pro video production market, there aren’t a lot of users, and so prices for niche equipment can get very expensive, fast. For example, $500-600 is what you can expect to pay for a replacement cable that connects the C300 LCD screen to the camera. Yes, that’s right, a cable, for $600. That’s also what it costs for a spare battery. Sigh.

But thankfully, Sony consumer/prosumer cameras have a ton more users, and so they can offer remarkable specs for a fraction of the price.

Sony has been killing the pro cinema, DSLR, and mirrorless camera competitors with their A7S and A7R line of cameras. They’re practically on every production now, whether as A-cams, B-cams, C-cams, BTS cams, crash cams, night vision cams, you name it. Currently, the Sony A7R III hits pretty much every spec that pro video and photo shooters have been asking for, and it’s not that expensive.

Sony also has the full frame A9 and A7 line, which are quite amazing as photo cameras, and they can do video as well. I’ve used the Sony A9 for a bit and it’s really, really good. But 10x the price of an A6000 good? I don’t think so.

Sony A6500 vs A6300 vs A6000


In their compact mirrorless camera line, the Sony A6500 is the top of the class, and if you can afford it, you should definitely get it over the A6000. There are a few fixes that have made it more reliable and a better camera overall, like, ahem, no more overheating.

The previous iteration, the Sony A6300, was also a nice upgrade from the A6000, in that it has 4k recording. If you need 4k, then you have no choice but to look at 4k cameras, end of story.

Sometimes clients ask for 4k even if they don’t know why they want it. The unfortunate case is, most of the time there is very little difference in the final product. But you have to invest in a lot more storage and processing power to edit 4k footage. And of course, you need a 4k camera. But hey, if your clients require it, then suck it up and shoot 4k.

But if your work doesn’t absolutely require 4k, and you’re on a budget, the A6000 is an amazing HD camera for under $600.

Sony A6000 Specs

The A6000 features a 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor with Sony’s BIONZ X image processor, which can capture low light images up to ISO 25,600. The DSLR we had for Indie Alaska, for example, could only go up to 1250 ISO and it was noisy. And it was a DSLR, rather than a mirrorless, which brings us to the biggest advantage of mirrorless cameras over DSLRs for video…

Because the A6000 is a mirrorless camera, the viewfinder is now a digital, electronic viewfinder, or EVF, rather than a see-through piece of glass that’s only good for framing photos.

best camera under 500 sony a6000With the EVF, you can hold the camera right up to your eye and shoot stable video, since your face is now a point of contact. You can judge exposure, focus, audio levels, and frame the image while the camera is held against your eye. Yes, you could do that with a DSLR too, but you’d have to place a loupe – or maginifying glass – onto the LCD screen, which makes it very bulky, frustrating to use, and well, you still only have one screen.

When you’re not using the EVF, the Sony A600 has a great LCD screen that can tilt, which makes high and low angles quite easy. The camera also has customizable buttons and control dials, so you can configure your exposure and camera settings to the buttons you use most. Sooner or later, you can feel for those buttons while holding the camera up to your eye and shooting with only the EVF.

Along with 24fps, you can also shoot full HD at 30 and 60 frames per second. That’s a treat coming from DSLRs, where slow motion would often get cropped at 720p or less. As a bonus, you can also plug in an external monitor/recorder to the A6000 with HDMI, allowing you to monitor your image, as well as recording full uncompressed video to external media. An Atomos Ninja Blade would do very well with this camera.

Lenses for the A6000

The kit Sony 16-50mm lens does have image stabilization and it can be good enough for most uses. And it’s included in the $500 kit, which is amazing. But chances are, you’re going to want to upgrade to other lenses in the future. Luckily, there are now a multitude of Metabones adapters that allows you to use Canon lenses or other manufacturers on the Sony E mount.

The Metabones E mount adapter is probably the single most important reason why you can get an amazing, fully functioning camera for under $600 today. Not only can you use lenses you already have, but you can browse ebay for extremely cheap, older lenses that only have manual focus. You can get an entire lens kit for a few hundred dollars, if you don’t plan on using autofocus.

The other advantage with the Metabones filter is you the Metabones Speed Booster. It not only increases the maximum aperture of your lens, but also its FOV, or Field of View. So a 24mm f/4 lens could become a 18mm f/2.8 lens, for example. And when you combine that feature with the Clear Image Zoom, now you have the ability to take a normal lens like a 24-105mm f/4 for example, and turn it into a 18-210mm f/2.8 lens.

best camera under 500 lens

The Clear Image Zoom is one thing that Sony cameras have that is unique to Sony. Yes, other cameras have digital zoom. But somehow, the Clear Image Zoom actually delivers quite usable images on Sony cameras. So whatever lens you’re using, you can zoom in 2x and extend the reach of that lens, without degrading the image or losing light.

So to summarize, a Metabones filter can make your lens become wider, and more low light sensitive. And the Clear Image Zoom can make your lens reach longer than its default zoom. Now that’s a powerful combination.

best camera under 500 gimbal

Finally, the autofocus is what makes this camera perfect for a lot of people, especially if you want to place it on a gimbal like the Zhiyun Crane. Sony has not been able to compete with Canon’s dual pixel autofocus technology with their bigger cameras, but on the little A6000 (and A6300 and A6500), Sony offers quite good AF with Face Detection. If you’re using the kit lens or a wider lens on a gimbal, you will very much appreciate the AF.

In fact, the A6000 is perhaps the best camera out there for dedicated gimbal use. Combine it with a super wide lens, and you’ll be able to fly it easily on just about any gimbal.

Using the A6000 for Professional Video Production

If you’re just looking at a photo camera, the A6000 is perfectly suitable for your needs. It can shoot up to 11 frames per second, with AF and at the highest ISO setting. There’s also a built in flash, which is fine, but who uses built in flashes anymore?

If you’re looking at the A6000 for something more than a run and gun camera, you might want to look at the bigger brother instead, the A6300. You can turn the A6300 into a full fledged documentary or corporate video camera by adding the Sony XLR-K2M audio accessory. It provides a shotgun mic, as well as XLR inputs for a lavalier or boom microphone during interviews. There is also a mic-in port, which the A6000 lacks.

best camera under 500 audio

From a professional standpoint, the A6000 is much more than a consumer camera. It’s known for being super sharp, and it features video assist tools such as peaking, zebras, and a magnified focus assist during recording. Apart from the 4k resolution, the A6000 can do as much as the popular Panasonic GH4 or Sony FS700 cinema camera. But as opposed to the GH4, which has a micro 4/3 sensor, the Sony A6000 is a full APS-C Super 35mm sensor. It makes it a lot easier to get filmic or cinematic depth of field, along with low light sensitivity. It’s not often you get this kind of sensor in a small mirrorless body.

Of course you can’t get everything for $600. With the A6000, the main missing ingredient is audio. There is simply no mic-in port, or headphone out port. However, with the multi-interface hot shoe, you can add the Sony UWP-D wireless lavalier system. You can also use it with a shotgun or dynamic microphone. All you need is the SMAD-P3 shoe adapter. Alternatively, you can use Sony’s ECM-GZ1M shoe microphone with the A6000, or their ECM-XYST1M stereo mic, or the ECM-W1M wireless mic system.

Still, the one thing you lose out on with the A6000 is easy audio. And 4k. If you have a little more money to spend, the A6300 or A6500 are worthy upgrades. But there’s something very attractive about spending $600 on a camera. You can use it for a while until your needs grow, and at that point you can keep the A6000 around as a B-cam, or a dedicated gimbal cam.


As I stated at the beginning of this article, it’s ironic that the camera has now become the cheapest piece of the gear puzzle. There’s so much equipment you need if you want to shoot professional video, even on a budget. And logical would dictate that you should spend most of your investment on a really good camera, and then buy whatever tripod, lights, audio, and other accessories that you can afford with whatever money you have left.

But that is simply not the case anymore. You can’t depend on cheap gear that is sold to a niche, pro video audience. But because pro shooters use consumer or prosumer cameras, you can absolutely skimp on the camera and still get something that will be dependable and serve much of your needs.

The Sony A6000 is a wonderful camera that should not be overlooked by any video producer looking for a new camera. At $500, it’s a steal. And that’s coming from a Canon user who happily pays the Canon tax for cameras.

Sony A6000 – Check price on Amazon | Buy the Sony A600 at B&H Photo

Bright and Portable LED Lights on a Budget

amaranonhead (1)

The most portable light is one you can mount on top of your head.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know that I love the Westcott Ice Light (version 2 as well as version 1). Last year my Video Dads partner Travis and I have shot over 170 interviews in people’s kitchens, offices, and (often, for some reason) basements, and we used the Ice Light as the primary key light each time.

But as much as the Ice Light is great for very close and intimate interviews, there are many other scenarios where we need more powerful lights, while still being super lightweight and portable. And lights that don’t cost more than our cars.

At NAB 2016 we used two Aputure Amaran 672W lights for our interviews.

At NAB 2016 we used two Aputure Amaran 672W lights for our interviews.

So we’ve have been using the Aputure Amaran lights quite a bit. In interviews we use them as fill lights, as well as lighting the backgrounds behind the subject, often entire rooms. We’ve used them indoors for two person interviews and shots. And outdoors, well, they’re pretty much the only lights we take outdoors.

One Amaran lights up Rayland Baxter at SXSW 2016, for a music video shoot on a canoe.

One Amaran lights up Rayland Baxter at SXSW 2016, for a music video shoot on a canoe.

The Amaran lights come in several different flavors. There are the HR672W, which are daylight rated and have a wide angle of light, there are the HR672S which have a narrow spot angle, making it brighter for day use but might need diffusion for lighting a wide room, and there’s the HR672C which is a convenient Bi-color.

All the Amarans are about the size of an iPad, they weigh practically nothing, and they run off the very popular Sony NPF batteries. What’s really nice is when the lights are plugged in, they charge the Sony batteries. At the end of a shoot when we have dozens of Sony batteries to charge, we can save room in our bag by leaving several chargers at home and only use the Amaran lights as chargers. The lights also come with a remote that can turn on/off and control brightness, and one remote can be used on several lights. This is super convenient when we hang an Amaran using a simple Joby Gorillapod, and then control its settings while looking through the camera.

We hung a couple Amaran lights at Hotel Saint Cecilia at SXSW Austin, for a shoot with the Wild Feathers.

We hung a couple Amaran lights at Hotel Saint Cecilia at SXSW Austin, for a shoot with the Wild Feathers.

There are definitely brighter and more powerful lights out there, but many of them are made of heavier metal and require more complex battery solutions, and of course they’re more expensive. Aputure Amaran HR672 lights are about $275 each, which comes with two batteries, a carrying case, a tungsten filter and diffusion gel, plus a light stand adapter that allows you to tilt the light angle – this piece alone can be pretty spendy. For the price, the Amaran lights are a no brainer, they’re great quality (high CRI) and bright, and best of all, they’re very portable.

For a week at NAB we carried two Amaran lights connected to stands and ready to go.

For a week at NAB we carried two Amaran lights connected to stands and ready to go.

If you’re not sure which of the 3 Amaran lights to get, I’d say get one of each! The spot offers the most amount of brightness if you plan to use it mostly outdoors, the bicolor is naturally the least bright (because the LEDs are split between tungsten/daylight to offer variable color), but they’re also very convenient if you want to use it indoors as a fill or background/room light. And the daylight wide, I think, is a great mix of both, and since it comes with a custom tungsten filter, I think it’s a great one-light-fits-all. Happy shooting!…

Upworthy shares our videos

There’s been a ton going on for us in the past few weeks/months, but this takes the cake. Upworthy started sharing our Day One videos about Alaskans who have recovered from alcohol addiction. With their 9 million fans. !


The Best Documentary Filmmaking Kit for Budget Air Travel


Are you looking to travel with your filmmaking gear but don’t want to spend your entire budget on checked baggage every time you fly? Or maybe you’re trying to put together a documentary video production kit that is flexible enough for all kinds of shooting scenarios, while maintaining the highest of broadcast and aesthetic standards?

Two years ago I wrote a post about a complete documentary filmmaking kit that fits in just one backpack. Amazingly, over 20,000 filmmakers have used that kit as a guide for putting together their own traveling video production kit. And although that post is still very useful today, I think it’s time for an update.

Also since that post two years ago, my productions for PBS and corporate films with Video Dads have become much more sophisticated, my Video Dads partner and I have experimented with loads more gear, we have produced over a hundred new documentary videos around the country, and through it all, we’ve honed in on a kit that is much more comprehensive than a bare bones backpacking kit. In fact we both carry the exact same kit.

In the past two years I’ve personally traveled nearly 100,000 air miles with this kit. I’ve brought every piece of gear I need for a complex production in any corner of the country. And I’ve never checked more than one bag.

Please trust me when I say this, the gear and approach in this post is not just a random collection of equipment – I’ve had the unique experience of trying tons of gear on all kinds of shoots, and this is the system that I believe is the best documentary filmmaking kit for traveling producers today. 


Essentially, this packing approach boils down to a few simple guidelines:

1. Pack the most expensive items like your camera, lenses, and laptop into a backpack that stays on your back at all times. On the plane, it can go under the seat in front of you.

2. Pack less fragile accessories in your official carry-on, but pack your gear in a way that you can safely gate check it on smaller flights that have tiny overhead space.

3. Pack the least fragile and heaviest items in your checked suitcase, along with clothes.

4. Instead of buying photography or video bags with built-in dividers, use neoprene wraps and small pouches to protect and organize your equipment.

5. When possible, choose the lightest equipment you can, but don’t leave anything behind you might need. It’s better to have slightly more gear than necessary, than be stuck without something because you wanted to pack really light. You’ll regret leaving something that could help tell the story, more often than you’ll curse carrying heavy bags through the airport.


In my suitcase I use Tom Bihn packing cubes for clothes in one half of the bag, and in the other half I pack my tripod and fluid head, my monopod and fluid head, two light stands, a boom microphone kit, a Westcott Ice Light 2, batteries for my C100, Sony batteries for other lights, a small slider, and a few clamps and other knick knacks. On flights that have tight battery restrictions, you can take these out of the checked bag and bring them along in your carry-on.

I have about 20 Domke 19″ neoprene wraps I use to protect just about all my gear. For other accessories I use Domke pouches in various colors, as well as Porta Brace pouches. This system is way more flexible than buying into photo or video bags with pre-built dividers, and you can use luggage and bags that don’t scream “expensive equipment inside!” I wrap the tripod and light stands in the Tom Bihn 520mm Quivers, which attach to the side of the backpack upon landing.

My hardshell suitcase is a standard medium size spinner, but I recommend going for a larger 28″ or 30″ suitcase, so you can fit a more standard length tripod and monopod (more on that below). That’ll be my next purchase. I got my Samsonite hard suitcase from Kohl’s for about $100 – it doesn’t have to be fancy or offer intense protection (that’s what the Domke neoprene wraps are for), but it should be lightweight. Mine is about 8 lbs empty, and full it’s usually right at the 50 lb cutoff. On the other hand, the very durable Pelican hard cases that video professionals use worldwide can start at over 30 lbs empty, which means you’ll have to pack a handful of them and that add up quickly in luggage fees.


Here’s everything that’s in the suitcase, in addition to clothes:

  • A small video monopod – I use a small monopod and epoxy’d these feet to the bottom, but you can now buy the Manfrotto 560B-1 which has the same dimensions, and add the fluid head below. Or get the Benro S4 Monopod and you’re good to go.
  • Smartsystem Reflex S 410 slider – if $750 is too steep or you can’t find this slider in your region (they’re made in Italy), pretty much anything at two feet or under will work for portable documentary filmmaking. But if you can swing it, the Smartsystem Reflex is awesome for a 2lb slider. There’s a distributer list here:

There’s also Sony NP-style batteries for lights and the Ninja Blade external recorder, Letus Helix batteries and accessories, Aputure Amaran LED AC adapter and light stand mount, a Tom Bihn snake charmer with various stuff like a SOG knife, allen wrenches, extra Manfrotto 494 quick release plates, tape and audio connectors. And because I only bring one light stand for my key light (the Ice Light) and one light stand for the boom microphone setup, the other lights go on accessory clamps like the Dinkum ActionPod Pro, and Gorillapod.


For my carry-on bag, I love the Sachtler Dr. Bag-3 (mine is the older Petrol version, which is identical to Sachtler before they merged brands). It’s particularly great because when it’s unzipped the hard sides make it an extra tall bag, which means on location I can fill it with gear to the brim, and leave it unzipped while I carry it around. The only downside is the little feet on the bottom sometimes get caught when I’m placing it in the overhead compartment, an annoyance that makes my partner Travis prefer the trusty Porta Brace DV4 bag instead. Both are superb.

In this carry-on bag I keep everything that is expensive and kind of fragile and want to keep by my side, except the camera, lenses, and laptop that goes in my backpack. The beauty of this setup is for smaller flights where the carry-on space is limited, you can gate check this bag and be comfortable that all your stuff is still padded and safe.

By the way, I highly recommend replacing the strap in all your bags with a Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap – it’s amazing and comfortable even when carrying 40 pounds of gear.

Here’s everything in this bag:

  • Aputure Amaran HR672W daylight rated LED – we have another one that is lighting this scene from above. There’s also a spot version for a more powerful interview key light, and a bicolor version. These lights are a super good deal and have become popular with documentary video shooters.
  • Westcott Ice Light – the original version, which can’t go in checked baggage like the Ice Light 2 because of its battery.
  • Canare 25 foot XLR cable (try to get this in a color other than black, so you can color coordinate different lav/boom mic coming into the camera),
  • Cinevate Universal Accessory Mount,


Countless full time travelers swear by the Tom Bihn Brain Bag, but I believe it’s also the best kept secret for photography and video production people too. The Canon C100 can get quite bulky when it’s assembled, which makes it hard to fit into many bags. But the Brain Bag has a front and back compartment, and the assembled C100 fits perfectly in the front section, while all the lenses go in the back section, housed in the Tom Bihn Camera I-O. The I-O is its own little lens/camera carrier that you can take out and wear when you want to just carry around your camera, lenses, and nothing else.

When I’m using it for air travel, the Brain Bag is my “personal item” that never leaves my back, and I store it under my seat while my carry-on goes in the overheard compartment or is gate checked. Camera body and lenses go in the back part, and my Macbook Pro goes in a Tom Bihn Brain Cell laptop protector, which fits into the front part of the bag. I have the Horizontal Brain Cell, but I recommend the Vertical one instead, so you can easily reach in and remove your laptop when going through TSA scanners.


In this backpack go the essentials:

  • I also carry a few spare lenses for other uses. The Canon 18-135mm STM lens is an all-purpose kit lens that has great autofocus on the C100 and I keep it on when I can’t bring along other lenses with me, since its zoom range goes from wide to telephoto. But its build quality, manual focusing, and low light ability is not very good.
  • And finally I always bring the Canon 35mm f2 IS along, because it’s the smallest, most light sensitive lens out there for the C100 that still has Image Stabilization (IS). You can get a cheaper lens that’s more light sensitive, but I believe IS is essential to shooting run ‘n’ gun documentary video. Also the 35mm f2 IS is just a damn good lens.
  • Not pictured: Canon 10-18mm STM lens, which is being used to take this photo. It’s a very lightweight lens that is suitable as a replacement for the Tokina 11-16mm, but its build quality is inferior and its not very low light. However, it’s 1mm wider, lighter, and I use it on the Letus Helix gimbal pretty much full time.
  • On the C100 handle I keep an Audio-Technica 875R shotgun mic on at all times. Anything longer and you’ll end up seeing your mic in the frame with the ultrawide lenses. I also put a C-Cup eyecup on it and it stays on.
  • And of course the unbeatable Apple Macbook 15″ Retina with 16gb ram. Mine is an old one, but still running as good as it did the day I got it (used), several years ago.
  • I bring a few extra phone batteries, a set of earbuds in case I don’t have my big headphones nearby, and a clipboard with our personal appearance release form. Also don’t forget to bring some Tums, because heart burn.


As I mentioned, my partner in crime Travis brings the same exact kit as I do on all of our trips. But because he has a larger suitcase, he gets to fit a larger, more heavy duty tripod and a more sturdy monopod. He also brings some alternative gear than I have in my kit, partially because we train a lot of PBS staff around the country in video production, so we want to show them different kinds of gear we use.

Here’s what’s in the above photo:

  • Petrol tripod bag – Travis stuffs this in his suitcase, so when we land we can place our tripods, monopods, light stands, boom pole, and slider in this bag. This is the Petrol PEPT703 model which has been discontinued.
  • Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens – some people prefer this lens over the 24-105mm lens, as the bread and butter lens for documentary production. There’s a valid argument for each lens, I think.
  • Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens – also a popular choice for shooters, since it’s incredibly light sensitive in a pretty good zoom range, with constant aperture. But, no Image Stabilization kills it for the majority of non-tripod work.
  • Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 – the original video monopod that started the trend towards monopod shooting over shoulder rigs (or handheld, or tripod). Now discontinued, the replacement model is Manfrotto MVM500A.
  • Gitzo GT2531LVL, now discontinued – I believe this is the best video tripod out there, period. For traveling video shooters. If you never get on a flight, you can get away with a more standard video tripod that’s bigger, wider, and heavier. But, then you still have to lug it around on foot.
  • Manfrotto 701HDV fluid head – now discontinued, but practically every video shooter has at least one around. It’s still the smallest, most lightweight fluid head you could get, when it was available. Not as smooth as others, but gets the job done.
  • Manfrotto MVH500AH fluid head – the current replacement for the 701HDV, and unfortunately bigger. But a great all purpose fluid head. I personally still prefer the Varavon 815 as the best deal in video heads for flat-base tripods out there.
  • ASUS MB168B+ – this is a 15-inch LCD screen that is powered via USB 3 to the Macbook, which we use as a second monitor for editing on the road. Very handy and takes up no room. The newer version is the MB169B+.
  • Vpedal – for transcribing interviews when we’re editing.
  • Not pictured: we also bring a Westcott 42-inch reflector for both indoor and outdoor use, mostly for interviews but sometimes one of us will hold it during B-roll shooting.

Alternative Cameras to the Canon C100 – Canon XC10

Although I still believe the C100 is the best large format video camera for traveling documentary filmmakers, there are other cameras out there that I think fit the same type of shooter, but with slightly different needs. The good news is they all work with the above travel system.


The Canon XC10 is a great little camera that can shoot 4K (if needed), it matches the other Canon colors well with its C-log picture profile, but most of all, it has a huge zoom range while maintaining amazing image stabilization. You can shoot this camera handheld while zoomed in to 240mm, with the 2x teleconverter on, for a 480mm shot that is definitely usable. It doesn’t have XLR inputs, but you can always add a Juicedlink RM333 preamp for a super compact package.


So in this tiny form factor, you have a camera that has the power and range of the C100 with two big lenses on it. That’s quite a difference in size, for much the same range. For shooters who value a compact camera above all other considerations, the Canon XC10 might be worth looking into.


Sony RX10 II


A cheaper alternative to the Canon XC10 is the Sony RX10 II, which can also shoot in 4k, also has a built in lens with a long range, but it beats the XC10 in that you can get an XLR adapter that gives you full audio control. The Sony XLR-K2M is also powered via the camera’s hot shoe, so you don’t need to worry about batteries. The above pic also shows a wireless lav receiver mounted to the top of the XLR adapter.

Sony FS5


And finally, there’s Sony’s answer to the Canon C100, the Sony FS5. It can do everything the C100 can do but more (except autofocus reliably), and with the Metabones Speedbooster EF to E-mount, you can use your Canon lenses and gain a stop of light, and a slightly wider Field of View. There are lots the FS5 has going for it – I own one and have tested it with the above travel system, and the good news is it works just as well as the C100 does. Cheers to that!

Here’s the two cameras side by side.


I hope this post helps you on your documentary filmmaking journey. Thanks and take care!…

Canon C100 and Letus Helix Jr – Photos


I’ve written about the amazing combination of the Letus Helix Jr. brushless gimbal with the Canon C100 before – both on this blog and also on It continues to be a workhorse for me and I’ve used this simple rig on dozens of production trips around the country. It’s a no brainer now that Letus has released an aluminum version at a huge discount to the original Helix Jr.

Anyway, for those of you who have the C100 and Helix Jr. and want to fast forward the balancing and initial rigging, here are photos of my setup – all photos are clickable for larger resolutions. Your balancing may be different depending on your quick release plate, lens, battery, etc – but this may be a good starting point for you.

I use a Zacuto Grip Extender (modified, see below), as the counterweight and also because it’s so convenient to control exposure/WB without having to put down the Helix. For scratch audio I connect a Rode VideoMic Pro on a cold shoe adapter on the right handle. Please note: I’ve been using the Rode VideoMic Pro for all my C100/Helix shoots but just got a Rode VideoMicro and used it for these photos. Unfortunately it turns out the C100 isn’t compatible with the VideoMicro, so disregard that mic in these photos and plan to use a mic such as the VideoMic Pro. Thanks and sorry about the confusion!

I use the C100’s screen to monitor (so an external monitor is not necessary), and I have autofocus on using both the Canon 10-18mm and the Canon 18-135mm lens. I like to use the bigger C100 battery, I keep my C-Cup eyecup on at all times, and I put a Manfrotto 394 Quick Release on the Helix camera plate. My PID settings are at the bottom of the post. Okay here goes.

helix-top-1 helix-front-top


Briefcase mode is fully accessible with this setup, even using the C-Cup eyecup. You have to modify the Zacuto Grip Extender slightly so it doesn’t hit the Helix as it rotates, and I’ll show how below.

helix-briefcase-2 helix-briefcase-1


It helps to route the Zacuto Grip Extender cable through the Canon hand grip to keep everything nice and tidy.



I put some white gaffer’s tape on all the balancing points, so that when I travel I can quickly assemble the Helix Jr without having to re-balance.


Both handles have to be at the same handle level.


helix-left-side-1 helix-camera-plate-1

Even with the hand grip as a counterweight, I achieved a more perfect balance by using one of the Helix’s counterweight holders on the camera plate rod, but without putting any weight in it. It’s slight, but works.


In my setup, I don’t use an external monitor, and instead rely on the C100’s LCD screen. It’s good enough, especially since I can depend on the autofocus. It is a tight fit, however, so I have to make sure the LCD is in the open position before placing it in the quick release.


The most important part of this rig is the Zacuto Grip Extender, which allows you to use the C100 hand grip for quick exposure changes (and other settings), while also functioning as a counterweight. However, you have to unscrew the extender from the rod holder and rotate it 90 degrees. I hope these pics can explain how to do that.


Here are the two screws that hold the extender to the rod holder. There are two positions you use, which you can see with the third thread that is unused here. Out of the box, the grip extender comes rotated using the other position.


Here’s a picture of the grip extender as it ships, in its default position.



And here it is rotated into the new position.

zacuto-grip-3 zacuto-grip-4

And finally, here are the PID settings I use on this setup. I turned up the power to 200 on each motor, and I slowed down the pan in the follow mode, so that it stays straight as I walk forward or backward. You can adjust the pan to be quicker to follow for certain kinds of shots.

Pan: P 50  I .06  D 50   Power 200

Roll: P 42  I .65  D 54  Power 200

Tilt:  P 40  I .02  D 50  Power 200

Follow Mode Speed: Pan 30   Roll 32   Tilt 30

Hope that helps! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this setup.…

Canon Lens Rebate Deals

Throughout this month there are some really good discounts on Canon lenses. If you’re eyeing one of these lenses to add to your video gear (or wish list of future equipment), now’s a good time to consider.

canon video lens discount

I use a number of Canon lenses for various kinds of video production, from documentary to commercials, and they really do hold up their value over the years after first buying them.


Reg. Price

Rebate Amount

Sale Price

Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM




Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM




Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM




Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM




Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM




Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM




Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM




Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM




Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II




Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM




Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM




Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM




Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM




Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM




Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM




Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM




Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM




Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM




Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM




Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM




Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM




Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM




Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM




Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM




Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM




Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM




Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM




Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM





Best Brushless Gimbal for Your Documentary Filmmaking Kit – Letus Helix Jr

I go through a lot of new and exciting gear, but only once in a while something comes along that completely changes my entire approach to documentary filmmaking.


The Canon 5D mark II disrupted the filmmaking industry. Aerial video with DJI Phantom quadcopters continues to be a game changer. Brushless gimbals were slated to be the next huge thing, but none of the dozens of manufacturers have got it quite right for it to be a mass hit. Until now.

Enter the Letus Helix Jr.


My Video Dads partner and I travel to shoots every other week – across Alaska and all over the lower 48 states. We have a very structured system of packing, so we don’t have to use hard cases that add up in luggage cost. And once we arrive at the location, we have a very fine tuned system of shooting everything we need for a short documentary in under 4 hours.

We’ve done this hundreds of time, so believe me, uprooting our system to add one more piece of gear is like pulling teeth. That’s where the Letus Helix Jr. shines – we don’t have to change anything. It’s so small, simple, and just works – that it’s as much additional headache as adding another lens to our kit.


But the kind of footage you can get with this gimbal – in all kinds of remote documentary settings – is simply astounding. After receiving it only a few months ago, we have used it on every shoot, in cars and busses, on a helicopter and planes, on a boat, on remote miles-long hikes and up a mountain, to many simple walking shots indoors and outdoors in just about any weather.

Most gimbals are heavy and need additional support rigs to keep you from getting tired

Most gimbals are heavy and need additional support rigs to keep you from getting tired

Here’s a video we shot for Princess Cruises – 2 days of running around capturing the start of commercial salmon fishing season in Cordova, Alaska, and on a journey up to Denali National Park. The Helix Jr came with us everywhere, ready to go at anytime.

 Okay so you’ve probably seen gimbal or steadicam footage before. Why is the Letus Helix Jr. the gimbal that stands out as a game changer? There are lots of great 3-axis gimbal models out there, including Freefly Cinema Movi (correctly spelled “MōVI”) M5 and M10, Defy G2, G5, G12 (and now the G2X), BeSteady One, several Came-TV gimbals, the DJI Ronin and now the Ronin M. There are also lightweight gimbals made particularly for tiny cameras, like the Nebula 4000. And of course before brushless gimbals there were plenty of non-electronic stabilizers or steadicams.

Here’s why the Letus Helix Jr. rises above the crowd to become something truly game changing:

  • First and foremost, balancing the camera is a breeze. That’s because you don’t need an accessory stand – this is a huge deal – so you can balance the camera on any flat surface. You also don’t need any additional tools.
  • Because you balance the camera body, you can now change lenses and zoom in and out without having to rebalance. If the lenses weigh significantly different, then a quick shift of the bottom z-axis (to move the camera forward or backward) is all it takes.
  • You hold the rig close to your body, in a comfortable position, unlike most gimbals that wear you out within minutes of use. I can carry and shoot with the gimbal for hours a time without any additional support system (and I’m a pretty small/weak guy).
  • The Letus Helix Junior can use both lightweight cameras as well as heavier ones. The fact that I can use my A-cam (the Canon C100), which has autofocus, makes this a lot more attractive than having to carry a separate small B-camera just for gimbal shots.


Those are the big differences between the Helix Jr and other gimbals or stabilizers. Mostly it’s just easy and simple to use, and I’ve used lots of gimbals. Many of them require you to put aside everything else you’re doing and just focus on gimbal shooting for hours, even with secondary operators focusing for you with expensive remote monitor systems.

Some gimbal rigs you would just never use on a documentary shoot

Some gimbal rigs you would just never use on a documentary shoot

Here’s a few other stand out benefits:

  • The Letus Helix Jr is durable yet small. It folds into the size of a large book for travel, rigged up and ready to use at a moment’s notice. Most other gimbals you have to take apart to pack them in large hard cases, along with their accessory stands.
  • You can hold the camera low to the ground with one hand (in what they call “briefcase” mode), follow someone’s feet as they’re walking, and then lift up and rotate to two-handed operation – while keeping a steady shot.
  • Modifying the speed of the pan/tilt is easy with the included software. You can use a computer, Android smartphone or tablet, and now an iOs app on your iPhone or iPad (or iPod, if you still have one of those). Sometimes you want slow and graceful movement, and sometimes you want faster, more reactive pans and tilts.
  • You can tilt up and down just by rotating the right handle. Much more natural and eaiser than having secondary operators or using a throttle.
  • All gimbals get out of whack and go crazy if they’re touched or mishandled. At the least you would lose your shot and have to start over, at the most you would have to stop and rebalance for 20 minutes (using the accessory stand…sigh). The Helix Jr recovers from going out of whack in a second or two – even as I’m moving inside a bumpy car.
Me holding the Letus Helix Jr with a RED camera at NAB 2015.

Me holding the Letus Helix Jr with a RED camera at NAB 2015.

Basically it just works. It’s the gimbal for the masses. It does cost $3000, so it’s a stretch for most video producers. But it’s also something that changes your game completely.

Especially if you’re a documentary shooter who doesn’t have time to deal with the heavy, complex gimbal systems that need a dedicated operator on set. If you just want a few steady shots when you’re in a car, walking around, moving from place to place – then the Letus Helix Jr. is your solution!

Letus Helix Jr and C100 on two Alaska shoots from Video Dads on Vimeo.…

New Video for Princess Cruises

We got the call about a week ago: could we do a 2-day shoot and turn the edit around in a day? We’d be following the journey of the first salmon of the season, from ocean to table . . . via helicopter.

Uh, yeah.