By John Bigelow.
Video production is growing in popularity amongst schools. This can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, more and more schools are beginning to realise the power video has with regard to being able to bring students to together from a wide variety of academic interests, such as English, Music, Art, Computer Studies, Science, and so on. Secondly, the interactive nature of video production, the fact that it is so ‘hands-on’, combined with the creative elements each video project involves, makes video production a fun, engaging and entertaining medium through which students can learn about a wide variety of topics.
However, like so many things in education, so much of one’s time and effort in setting up a video production capability in a school is taken up with determining the right equipment and set up for your school based on budget. Where some schools can and have set up small television production type facilities, other schools are limited to a few entry level video cameras and some basic software.
To help take some of the pain out of what should be an exciting and enjoyable project, we are going to run through various equipment and set ups over the next few Issues of Education Technology Solutions to help schools make a more informed decision. We will cover everything from cameras to editing software, through to lighting and audio. All of the equipment presented in this series is provided as a guide only. Each school will need to decide what is appropriate for their school based on available funding.
In this article, we will look at the basic elements required to begin the video production process.
In creating any sort of video production lab within your school, the very first thing you are going to need is some sort of camera or cameras. For this purpose, the school can use anything from a student’s smartphone or entry level video cameras, through to a DSLR or what is often referred to as a ‘prosumer camera’. A prosumer camera is a video camera that sits in between a consumer level video camera and a professional level camera. These cameras usually start at the $1,000 dollar mark and can vary in cost up to around $5,000.
The main thing to keep in mind in deciding which level of camera is going to be best for your school project is knowing with some degree of certainty what sort of end result you are trying to achieve. If you are not overly worried about production values, and simply want to engage in the exercise of creating a video project, then the camera built into your student’s smartphones will do the job. However, it is important to remember that every type of smartphone will record using its own video codec (the type of video it records) which means you will encounter greater difficulty during the post-production process, trying to compile all the different types of video from all the different types of cameras.
Because of this factor alone, you may decide that it is better to invest in a few basic, entry level video cameras. This way you can decide what type of codec or video format you want to work with – such as MOV, MP4, AVCHD, or, for more professional projects, Apple Pro Res or the like.
Most editing software will be able to work with any or all of these formats. The challenge comes from trying to work with a few of these formats all mixed into the one project. This makes the job much more challenging at an entry level and requires a more powerful computer system as your editing software will need to be able to transcode all of the different media types so that they can work together in the one project.
Again, the amount spent on camera equipment will have a direct result on the quality of the final production as the end result can only ever be as good as the images and audio captured in the first place. However, we can talk more about cameras in upcoming Issues.
The next thing you are going to need to consider is your audio set up. While many cameras (pretty much all cameras with the exception of a few DSLRs) will feature inbuilt microphones for capturing audio, these mics are often not the greatest of quality and are designed to simply perform a function in the absence of anything else. Again, if that is as far as your budget goes, then you can easily make do with the microphone that comes in your camera.
That said, if you do have the budget, I would highly recommend considering investing in some basic audio equipment for your video lab. A reasonable quality microphone or two can make a world of difference to the end result. I am not sure if you have ever watched a video where the sound quality has been very low due to background noise or wind noise obscuring the dialogue, or very low dialogue levels. If you have, you will already be aware that poor audio quality can render a video virtually unwatchable, even if the actual video quality is superb; which, interestingly, is not always true of the reverse. If the audio quality is good but the video quality is bad, the brain seems to be able to fill in the blanks. It is rather an odd experiment to do but the results are interesting.
We will cover audio equipment in greater details in a future issue but I would recommend including a reasonable quality shotgun mic or two in your budget. You may also want to include a digital recording device such as the type made by Zoom. The new Zoom H6 is an extremely powerful and versatile tool for any video lab. You can see our review of the Zoom H6 in the products section of this issue.
Lighting is an integral part of any video production. Even when you are shooting outdoors in full daylight, lighting plays an important part in controlling the look and feel of a video as well as removing unwanted shadows. Again, you will need to have some idea of what you intend to shoot. Is it going to be an indoor sort of situation, such as a mock news room or are you going to be shooting outdoors a lot? If you are not sure, there are a number of great cost-effective kits on the market today, such as the Lego kit from Protog and the Hypop lighting kit from Hypop that we reviewed in the last Issue. Both of these kits are extremely versatile, transportable and affordable.
The type of editing software you choose will impact on the type of computer you will ultimately want to buy. The three main non-linear editing programs in use for video production are Final Cut from Apple, Adobe’s Premiere, and AVID editing software.
Of course, there are other options such as iMovie or Premiere Elements but these programs are limited in what you can do with them. Furthermore, I am a firm believer in the idea that if you are going to take the time to teach students how to use something, then get them started on the sorts of software or equipment they are likely to encounter in real-world situations outside of school.
Of course, pretty much any computer will run a video editing program, within reason. However, the bigger and more involved the project becomes, the more intense the load on the computer’s processor will be. Therefore, you may wish to consider investing in a purpose built machine specifically for your video production. However, if your school already has machines set up for programs such as CAD, writing video games or working with 3D animation, then these machines will also be well suited to your video editing needs.
We will cover more about video editing computers in coming Issues, including processor needs, video cards, hard drive types, external connections such as USB 3 and Thunderbolt, and so on.
Believe it or not, a great monitor has a significant impact on your video project. Most video editing software tends to run a number of different panels on your main screen from your time line, which is where everything in the video happens, to your events window, your viewers, your audio levels and inspectors, and so on. Therefore, the more real estate your monitor can provide, the more easily and accurately you will be able to navigate and edit your project. Also, when your students start to get into the more advanced aspects of video editing, the monitors you choose to use have a dramatic effect on things like colour correction.
My personal favourite choice with regard to monitors on the market today is the new BenQ BL3200 PT. This ultra wide monster provides lots of working space, is extremely affordable for the size, offers great resolutions, and is ideal for video editing as well as CAD, 3D animation and game design – making it ideal for schools. You can read the review on the BL3200 PT in the showcases section of this Issue.
In upcoming Issues, we will delve into each of these areas in greater detail with a view to helping you develop a better understanding of what might work well for your school when it comes to launching into the exciting new world of video production.
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