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5 Best Buys

The Gear To Get You Filming Fast By JG Harding
Published August 2010

New to the world of video production and unsure what to buy? Our guide to the five best options in three software and hardware categories will get you started.

Motion Graphics & 3D animation software

If you want to add some flashy titles, or even build a 3D world from scratch, these programs will help you. Be warned, though: animation can be hard to grasp, so be prepared to download a trial version, watch plenty of tutorial videos and put in lots of practice time. Student versions are less expensive too.

Entry‑level Non‑linear Editors

These NLEs have certain features limited (examples given), but still provide a great solution for the aspiring videographer. They're good for those on a budget or keen to edit quickly, but be sure to check compatibility with your camera's shooting format.

  • 1. Adobe After Effects CS5 (£1025$999): Deep and powerful software for text, video, 2D and 3D object animation, as well as post‑production effects. Can manipulate 3D models created in 3D software. Links seamlessly with Premiere and other Adobe software.
  • 2. Autodesk 3D Studio Max 2011 (£2409$3459): Powerful 3D animation software often used for modelling in computer game production, as well as film work. Very deep and complex, used in many professional environments.
  • 3. Apple Motion 4 (£789$990): Included in Final Cut Studio package, makes it relatively easy to get started with titling and animation. Not quite as extensive as other software here, but well integrated with Apple family.
  • 4. Blender (Free): This multi-platform, open‑source 3D animation and modelling software is free! Very powerful, and tough for beginners, but supported by many on‑line and print tutorials and a large community of users.
  • 5. Maxon Cinema 4D R11.5 (from £746$995): Professional motion graphics and animation package for titles and full 3D animation, used extensively for television spots and ads. Relatively simple interface contains a powerful feature set.


    Point a wonderful, professional cinema camera at a poorly‑lit scene and you'll be disappointed with the results. Lighting is important, and there are many solutions out there for all budgets, whether you're a dedicated semi‑pro or first‑time documentary maker.

    • 1. Adobe Premiere Elements 8 (£78$99): Windows only. Easy entry into video editing with simplified, clean workflow. No window for trimming footage; no 24P support; less native codec support than Premiere Pro; no batch capturing.
    • 2. Apple Final Cut Express 4 (£99$199): Supports DV, HDV and AVCHD; interface similar to Final Cut Pro. No 1080p support (720p and 1080i HD are supported); no timecode or batch capture; shorter Undo list.
    • 3. Avid Pinnacle Studio 14 HD (from £40$49): Consumer software. Supports HDV, DV and AVCHD editing. Editing layout is simplified when compared to Media Composer, but can create a decent edit.
    • 4. Edius Neo 2 (from £182$199): Similar to full version; handles many formats including uncompressed footage. Time remapping, the ability to import an EDL (Edit Decision List) from another NLE, and audio mixer have been disabled.
    • 5. Sony Vegas Movie Studio (from £43$39): We reviewed this in our May issue, so be sure to read that for more detail. Provides an editing environment close to that of a professional NLE, feels very DAW‑like in operation. Limitations include only four video tracks and two audio tracks to work with.
      • 1. 500W Worklight (around £20$25): If you're on a budget and really stuck for lighting, workman's lamps can really help. Careful positioning and improvised filtering help.
      • 2. Arri Arrilite 800 (£299$549): The real deal, complete with barn doors, focus control, protective mesh, gel frame (for filters) and in‑line power switch. You'll need to get a stand and fit the plug, but you can rely on it for plenty of shoots to come.
      • 3. LitePanels LP Micro (£210$305): A rectangular light for hot‑shoe mounting, comes complete with dimmer switch. Colour temperature remains constant throughout dimming, and gels can be fitted over the top. Uses six AA batteries.
      • 4. Rotolight RL48 (from £99$115): Innovative 48 LED design mounts on a shotgun mic, or in a hot shoe with an adaptor. Lasts six hours on three AA batteries, and comes with filter gels, with others available.
      • 5. Sima SL20LX (£20$29): Very low priced, this tiny LED panel is ideal for those with pocket video recorders. Comes with a mount for connecting to a tripod. You can even clip multiples together!