With all the personal video cameras I've owned, I noticed three things. First, none of them worked well in low light. Second, all were very difficult to hold still without a tripod or some other support. And third, the audio quality was pretty poor and sometimes you could hear the camera's motor in the recording. With some simple and relatively inexpensive gadgets under the tree you can make your videos much better.
Sima SL-20LX Ultra Bright Video Light
Let's face it, very few consumer video cameras work well in low light. Some come with built-in lights, but usually they're very dim and will draw power from your camera battery, which reduces recording time. This little light from Sima is a great tool. Using 36 ultra-efficient LED bulbs, the SL-20LX produces beautiful, flicker-free light that is color-balanced at 6000K, like daylight. And because LED bulbs produce very little heat it's very safe and easy to use. It's rechargeable and is rated to last up to one hour on a full charge. Included in the package are a charger and a side-mount bracket. Mount it, turn it on and light up your video world.
Tiffen SS3C Steady Stick
All cameras, large and small, are difficult to hold still if you plan to use them for a while. What you really need is something that becomes an extension of your body, giving you stability and mobility at the same time. That's the Tiffen Steady Stick. Using a belt-mounted support arm that transfers the weight of the camera to your hips and torso, the Steady Stick allows you to focus more on fluid camera movement and less on holding still. A quick release allows you to detach the camera when needed and a multiposition handle offers added maneuverability and can also be used as a shoulder rest. It's compatible with any compact video camera that features a quarter-inch tripod socket. Start using one of these and your family will stop reaching for the Dramamine when they watch your videos.
Sennheiser MKE 400 Shotgun Microphone
Great sound is the key to great video, but even the best consumer video cameras seem to have mediocre condenser microphones that pick up too much of the surrounding sound and not enough of what you want to hear. This microphone will zoom in on the sound you're trying to capture and bring it home with great depth and clarity. I have a $600 Sennheiser shotgun mike that doesn't earn the $400 price difference when compared with the MKE 400. It's just an amazing little mike. It comes with a built-in shock mount to minimize noise from vibration and handling. A sensitivity switch lets you choose between long and short distances and there is a wind-noise filter switch as well. It runs on just one AAA battery for up to 300 hours. The MKE 400 will only work with video cameras that have a 3.5mm stereo mini microphone jack, so please check your camera before purchasing.
Oregon Scientific ATC 3K Waterproof Action Cam
I was only asked to provide three gadgets and the three above are very practical items that will help you make better videos. Now how about some fun? This is my bonus contribution to the holiday gadget mix.
Have you ever wanted to make a video from the perspective of the family dog? How about a helmet cam for that next skiing trip or a bike cam for that ride on the local trail? With the Oregon Scientific ATC 3K waterproof action cam you can get remote videos from almost any activity. The lightweight camera is shock-resistant, waterproof to 10 feet and can be clipped to a helmet, handlebar, ski pole, snorkel or just about anything. With 32 MB of built-in memory it can make 11 minutes of video at 640 x 480 resolution. An SD expansion slot lets you add up to 4 GB of additional memory, which increases recording time to more than three hours and it also can be used as a Webcam with included software. Transfer video to your Mac or PC using the included USB cable. It runs on two AA batteries and comes with an assortment of mounting hardware, RCA cables, a Webcam stand and a case. Keep an eye on the tampabay.com video player because we're going to get one of these and put it to the test!
Times senior video producer Jack Rowland can be reached at email@example.com.