With today's technological advancements and low cost options, filming your hunt has never been easier or more affordable. If you make the commitment to self-film your hunts or the hunts of friends and family, you're going to need a few key pieces of equipment to get the job done right. If the footage is shaky or the audio is difficult to hear, the viewing experience will suffer. Here’s a look at what you’ll need and my gear that has my stamp of approval based on over 10 years of experience self-filming turkey hunts.
Your main camera alone has the capability to get the job done, but with the addition of a few other items, you can create a much better production. I recommend that you purchase a camera that records in a high resolution (1080 or higher), does well in low light, has an optical zoom of at least 20x and has a quality, built-in microphone. The built-in mic is not a huge concern since most camcorders have a port to attach an external mic. If you see the words "Digital Zoom" mentioned anywhere, ignore it. Digital Zoom is merely a sales gimmick and doesn't really "zoom" in on the subject. Instead, it crops in on the image, magnifying the individual pixels that make up the image. Using the digital zoom feature will, in essence, create a lower resolution final product. If you ever decide that you indeed want a certain segment of your footage enlarged, you can do the same thing with your editing software and with a much better end result.
Tripod and Head
A tripod is very important to a self-filmer, but even if you're filming another person's hunt, you'll need a tripod. Your arms will get very fatigued if you have to hold the camera for any length of time. How else are you going to be able to capture time-lapse scenes, post-hunt interviews and photos? I prefer a tripod that, fully extended, can at least reach my eye-level and when fully collapsed, almost reaches ground level. This is achieved by having a tripod with legs that pivot to almost a horizontal position. There will come a time that you'll likely need this option. There have been several instances where I've had to belly crawl, to get closer to a gobbler. Having a camera on a steady platform, low to the ground, not only makes for quality footage but also lowers the risk of being busted in the process. The most important aspect of a quality tripod is the fluid head. A friction head is good for still photography but if you're using a friction head for video, expect less than stellar results. A fluid head allows for very smooth tilting and panning shots and will instantly make your videos appear more professional.
Audio is key to a great video. Although camcorders do a great job capturing all of the sounds around you, the hunter's conversation is often hard to understand unless you use a lavalier mic in conjunction with the main audio. Wireless, lavalier mics are great but can be very expensive and on some occasions, the audio can become distorted from outside interference. A cost effective alternative is to use a field recorder instead. Simply plug in a lavalier mic to it and place the field recorder in the hunter's pocket. Because this setup is not wireless, the hunter and cameraman can be as far apart as they choose and still capture the audio. One drawback is that the cameraman has no way to monitor the audio. As long as the battery life and storage space is in good order, there is very little chance anything will go wrong.
A great video production is often enhanced with b-roll or cut-away shots. This allows the editor to trim portions of the video in order to shorten the overall length of the video, minimizing the use of transitions at the same time. Not too many years ago, field producers had to film reenactments to use as cutaways and help tell the story of the hunt. If not done properly, the reenactments can be distracting, appear fake and possibly hurt the viewing experience. With the advent of small, point-of-view cameras (aka "action cams"), the need for reenactments has all but been eliminated. This not only makes the editor's job easier but it also keeps the hunt "real." Just as with the main camera, you'll need a second-angle camera that records in a high resolution for best results. Anything 1080 30p or higher would be ideal. Audio, is of little concern for these types of cameras since you'll be using the audio from the main camera and lapel mics in your final production.
As you can see, it doesn't require a bunch of high-end and expensive equipment to get started filming your own hunting adventures. Add some inexpensive editing software, along with your awesome hunting footage, and you'll soon have a finished production to enjoy for many years.
The author's current setup for filming hunts:
Main camera: Sony FDR AX53 ($800)
Tripod: Manfrotto 290 Xtra w/128RC Fluid Head ($160)
Field Recorder: Zoom H1 Handy Recorder ($90)
Lavalier Mic: Savage Lavalier Clip-On ($25)
Second-Angle Camera: Yuntab Action Camera ($45)