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Film Your Hunt: Equipment Suggestions and Tips from Zac Griffith

Sep 09, 2015 |  #Hoyt #bowhunting #compound

I grew up watching hunting videos on VHS. I remember more about those hunts than most of my own because of how well they were captured, documented and shared with others on film. I knew from the start I would strive to preserve my hunting experiences on film.

I am 100% self-taught in film production. From camera equipment to editing software to uploading online—I have learned it all as I went. I tell you this because I know it seems overwhelming and complicated to begin filming but there are tools and resources out there that make it completely possible to learn on your own over time. Just keep getting a bit better each time you go out.

This article will fill you in on some fundamental tips that will save you a lot of headache, and then outlines the equipment I use for filming and editing. Hopefully it works as a great starting point to getting your own hunts on film. Check out my example video at the bottom to see different filming and editing techniques in action. 

Foundational Tips 

Before we get into specific equipment, here are some basic but critical tips that will improve your film quality:

• Familiarize yourself with you camera and its features at home (before going into the field)

• Use a tripod for a stable image

• Keep your lens clean

• Record in short clips to make editing and retrieval simpler.

• Carry extra camera batteries

• Keep the camera on the tripod and easily accessible on your pack. (the moments you’ll want to film usually happen unexpectedly and quickly!)

 Equipment:

The following items are what I carry/use and why:

CANON VIXIA HF G30: $1,699

This camera is an awesome field camera.  I leave it on the tripod, strapped to my pack for quick access.  The camera is relatively small but is capable of amazing things: 

  • 20x optical lens.  
  • HD picture comparable to any high-end binoculars. 
  • Up to 60 frames per second.  High-speed cameras enhance clarity of moving objects (especially vapor trails).  
  • It has resolution settings and can record up to 28 MB/s.  This produces a crisp, bright, high-definition image.  
  • The zoom and ease of use make this an excellent all-around camera to film the majority of your hunts and scenes with.  
  • It holds 2 memory cards 
  • and you can purchase extra batteries for long-life in the field.

The downsides are few but also need to be addressed.  

  • The camera is expensive. It retails for around $1,700. However, for the film-maker that wants the quality and frame rate, it’s a steal.  Guys that may want to simplify things can save a ton of money by buying a smaller hand-held with a lower frame rate.  Just keep in mind that the Optical Zoom is the most important feature. Digital zoom is very low-resolution and grainy; optical is true magnification, and will produce an un-enhanced image—notably clearer than a digital image.  All good cameras use SD cards now instead of  tapes, which is great for file storage and retrieval.

CANON REBEL T3i:  $499

The Canon Rebel is an awesome camera for two reasons:

  • First, this camera takes awesome photos.  Auto-settings and adjustable settings enable the photographer to fine-tune and capture excellent quality stills. This camera accepts a wide range of different lenses that differ in clarity, zoom range, focus etc.  I recommend starting with the included kit lenses to get started. In addition to this kit, I use a 1.4f 50mm that enables both artistic and cinematic focusing along with cool depth of field techniques.  Again, don’t get over-whelmed.  Start with the basics and learn as you go.  You can get a lot of great results with just the kit lenses. After you have enough experience to appreciate the value and benefit of the lens upgrades you’ll make a more educated purchase.
  • Secondly, this is a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera) which means it also records HD video!  The look of DSLR footage is different than high-speed cameras; it’s more cinematic. Variations of lenses and techniques enable these cameras to capture engaging and interesting footage. They do take practice, but are capable of awesome film.  Much of the new artistic and cinematic hunting films are made with DSLRs.   Have fun learning what they are capable of!

GO PRO HERO, HERO 2-4: $199-399

The GoPro has revolutionized consumer film.  These tiny little cameras are water-proof, impact resistant and capture 1080p HD video at up to 60 frames per second! (Hero 3).  They are an excellent way to effortlessly capture emotion, movement, action etc. 

These cameras have a unique convex lens that creates a slightly distorted image at a distance, however,  from 3-5 ft or so, clarity is unbelievable. Keep in mind that because they are not designed for filming at a distance, mounting them to your bow or rifle will not track or capture much of the arrow flight or the animal, these cameras are meant for capturing you!  

Go-Pro makes tons of different mounts, brackets, harnesses etc. that can be used to customize your GoPro footage. Use this camera to capture your movement and reaction in the field, but use the other cameras, listed above, to film the animals and scenery.  I like to carry my GoPro in my pocket and pull it out whenever I see unique or cool shots.  They’re convenient and add a ton of character to films.

 PHONE SKOPE: $75

Used in conjuction with the iPhone 6 and Swarovski STS HD 20-60 65mm Spotting Scope

The Phone Skope has revolutionized the hunting industry. Couple the awesome HD video capacity of the new smart phones with the clarity of your high-end spotting scope and you have the simplest, most effective means of capturing footage in the field. Using this system is easy, you simply twist the Phone Skope into the included scope adapter and capture the scope’s image through the camera on your phone! You dont have to worry about relocating the animal in your camera, because your scope is already locked on. Its super simple, ultra-clear and very easy to upload and share with others!

Editing Software:

Mac products come with iMovie and PC usually have Windows Movie Maker software, which are both great for beginners. These two programs are simple and easy to use. You’ll learn how to upload your footage to the program and drag and cut the clips into meaningful sequences. The programs include basic text, transition, and audio effects.  

Once you graduate from the basics and want to venture into more advanced edits, I recommend Final Cut Pro X.  It is available on iTunes for about $300. For 99% of amateur film makers this program is all you will ever need. Even with all my experience, I have only begun to understand all of the capabilities this program has!  It’s exciting to experiment with different effects and learn what they do!

Tripod and plates:

To capture quality footage your camera must be mounted to a tripod.  The adapter plates that come with the tripod head can be attached quickly to your camera. I leave my plates on my cameras at all times for easy interchange. This time-saving tactic does require you to buy more plates from the manufacturer, but the convenience is well worth it. 

Use the tripod to center your image, but take your hands off once it’s recording– Especially if it is a kill shot sequence, otherwise the camera will jump when the shot is fired. If left alone, however, the tripod will capture the scene without bumps or shakes. Just center the image and lock it into place before firing.  

I recommend you keep a camera on the tripod at all times—whether you carry it or have it in your pack.  You are more likely to film events when the camera is ready and available. Trust me, most of the shots you want to capture will be gone before you know it so be prepared!

Get Started!

Filming your hunt is invaluable.  What better way to honor the animal and engrave the experience than to film it?  There are infinite ways, methods, and techniques to film and edit your hunts. I hope the basic tips and gear info I have provided help you on your hunts, but remember that these are far from being the only way! 

What matters most is you jump in and start figuring out what works for you. It can be frustrating, filming as you stalk and harvest is tricky, but don’t get discouraged. The filmed memories are priceless, and well worth it in the end! 

You owe it to yourself to take the time to film your experiences.  Do your research, practice with your cameras and software before going into the field, and have fun with it!

Check out a film I made previously, taking the big buck pictured above, for ideas on filming and editing techniques. Pay attention to what parts of the hunt you find most interesting. (The hunt starts at 2:27)

Good luck out there!

Zac Griffith

ZacGriffith.com