An adage once said “it’s not the tools, it’s the carpenter” It is the people, not the gears. But whether we like it or not, our film equipment provides the needed value to enhance our films.
Video Production Equipment and Filmmaking Gear Check-list
The most basic setup for every cinematographer is a video camera, like a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera and a tripod and using natural or ambient lighting. But if you want to be more creative, say you would be shooting most of your scenes at night, you would be taking lots of landscape sceneries, or you would like to move around while filming, perhaps you would need more equipment.
The basic gears would include:
- video camera (at least one unit)
- lenses (wide, telephoto, prime lens)
- lighting kit
- computer with editing software
These would be the basic gears needed to make a video but you could add more to the list depending on your creative preferences.
Documentary Video Production Equipment Package and Gear List
Documentary filmmaking involves real, non-fictional subjects. You will document reality and each story involves a different shooting condition. On a shoot in cramped spaces you might need a wide-angle lens, for an interview with a glamorous celebrity you need a great deal of lighting equipment to give elegance, a documentary on an extreme sport biker you need an action camera.
Documentaries also feature lots of interviews like man-on-the-streets you need microphones and field recorders. Having a field recorder is a must for documentaries. The device would record audio in the field independent of the in-camera sound recorder. During editing these high-quality recordings are added to the audio track either to create better interview audio or to add natural sound.
For cinema verite style you might need gimbals or glide camera rigs for stabilized camera movements when following their subjects.
The basic filmmaking equipment mentioned in the earlier paragraphs could create a decent documentary but you would need to add more to the mix.
Video Tapes, Flash Memory Cards or DVDs (depending on your camera)
The video camera is the most important tool for every filmmaker from high-definition or 4k/8k video capable smartphones to the expensive Arri Alexa or RED cameras used by major productions, the choice of video camera that you will use will greatly impact the quality of your production.
Currently, many filmmakers are using DSLR cameras with popular mirrorless cameras which are dominated by brands such as Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and Fuji. These cameras use flash memory SD cards. and if you are shooting 4k videos get an SDXC card that has a high storage capacity these cards must be V90 to shoot cameras with high bitrates (those with 4k and up capabilities).
With the entry of digital cameras, many have shied away from using camcorders but some are still using them because of their unmatched video quality.
Camcorders would usually use DV tapes, Mini DV, or VHS. However, the proliferation of digital media has made access to camcorders, particularly procuring tapes difficult.
With the increasing advancements in Smartphone technology with some capable of recording 8k video many are using smartphones as a camera for their films.
In 2018 the film Unsane was released, and film director Steven Soderbergh used an iPhone 7 Plus (in 4k mode) to shoot the feature-length film in 2017. Phones nowadays would have large internal storage and for extended storage capacity, they use microSD cards.
Camera lights are attached to cameras to light up their subjects, especially when shooting during nighttime or in dark interior places. This is normally used by TV news cameramen to lighten up the faces of subjects they interview or act as some sort of flashlight to light up a particular shot when there is not much natural or ambient light that tends to underexpose the subject.
For films and documentaries where a lighting design is followed, they would need specialized lighting equipment.
Cinematographers would normally concern themselves not with sound as they focus more on the images and visuals in the story. They are involved in work which deals with the film’s various visual elements such as lighting, framing, composition, camera motion, camera angles, film selection, lens choices, depth of field, zoom, focus, color, exposure, and filters these elements affect the film’s mise-en-scene.
However, in budget productions, the role of a cinematographer, camera operator, and also soundman would be squeezed into one person. The multi-role filmmaker would need basic equipment such as microphones which would be of various types such as shotgun mics used to pick up sound while filtering noise, documentaries would also need lavalier or lapel microphones to interview their subjects.
Also having field recorders is a must for better sound quality during post-production.
A tripod is a necessity as it provides consistent stability leading to clean and crisp shots. A tripod is needed when shooting in low light as slower shutter speeds would require video cameras to have stable platforms.
There are many tripods sold in the market but you should always consider high-quality tripods as your camera’s well-being is dependent on it. Filmmakers usually prefer tripods with fluid heads to ensure smooth camera movements.
Also, you must have a tripod that can adequately support the camera you are using. You can weigh the equipment you will be using which includes the video camera and its rig and other attachments.
With the total weight multiply it by 1.5% the total should be the minimum weight rating of the tripod that you should be using. Also as for the tripod height, the basic rule is that the tripod will at least match your eye level.
Overhead microphone positioning or booming allows you to place the microphone (boom mic) closer to your subjects or actors rather than having it mounted on a camera or placing a lavalier microphone on them. This reduces background noise as the mic can pick up the dialogue or what the subject is saying during an interview.
A boom pole is strong enough to hold a camera yet light enough to be carried by a person in the production.
A shotgun microphone is a type of directional microphone which picks up sound while filtering unwanted noise. For outdoor scenes, it is often covered with deadcat that filters wind noise.
Three-Point Lighting Kit
Three-point lighting is the standard form of lighting in commercial photography and videography. It involves three sources of lights positioned differently and is primarily used to create moods of a particular scene.
This is made up of the Key Light which is the brightest light source that gives the scene its overall exposure The Fill Light placed opposite the Key Light fills in the shadows bringing details to the darker side of the scene.
The Back Light or known as a rim light or hair light shines a subject from behind, separating the subject from the background, and giving it a sense of depth.
A Three-point continuous lighting kit will have three lamps alongside light stands, modifiers, and diffusers such as softboxes and gels.
Lenses: Wide Angle, Clear “Protective” Lens, Polarizer, Zoom Lens, Macros, etc
The camera lens provides the quality of optics that your camera can capture. There is a preference for prime lenses which have fixed focal lengths and usually higher aperture values providing crisp, sharp images with shallow depth of field (small focus backgrounds).
As a filmmaker, you would need a variety of prime lenses to shoot various focal lengths. For documentaries or for those doing news having a zoom lens (adjustable focal lengths) is needed when shooting on-the-fly. You can easily adjust from wide-angle shots to close-ups.
Also, first-time filmmakers or those doing it with a lesser budget can start with a zoom lens as they are cheaper than primes.
The macro lens enables the filmmaker to shoot close-ups particularly small subjects such as insects. A polarizer is a lens filter used to increase color saturation, and reduce reflections and haze. this is usually best used for shooting outdoors and in landscapes.
You also need a clear lens protector to protect your lens from being exposed to liquid, dirt, or mud that could scratch the lens.
A shock mount keeps the camera from coming in contact with anything while it is recording. Any contact with the microphone produces a frequency noise which can be annoying during recording.
Overhead Camera Rig
An overhead camera rig is ideal when you want to take an angle above the subject. It is often used for flat-lays and is used for shooting food, jewelry, product assemblies, or a tutorial.
Some Of Our Top Filmmaking Gear Recommendations
Often we are asked what gears to filmmaking equipment to buy when we are starting to make films or establish a film/video production outfit. First things first you need to buy a good camera. For those with a still limited budget, there are mirrorless DSLRs with Sony which is known for exceptional video quality. Canon has its wide-range of EOS lenses to fit every cinematographer’s needs. There is also Panasonic Lumix is also a good camera for videos.
When you have the camera try some prime lenses like a 50mm for portraits or zoom lenses that could give you wide-angle shots and at the same time have telephoto capabilities. Invest in lenses based on what your shoots are.
If you have the camera and the lens, buy spare batteries, and SD cards which are at least V90 capable of capturing 4k resolution videos. Also, buy a solid tripod, video lights, and a lighting kit for creative lighting, these include light modifiers and reflectors. You must also invest in sound equipment such as shotgun microphones and field recorders to improve sound quality during shoots.
Audio (XLR) Cables
XLR audio cables provide professional standard performance as compared to regular RCA cables. These cables have three pins and a circular connector, they are a higher quality cable compared to the RCA which enables them to deliver a clean and balanced signal thus they are less prone to signal noise, attenuation, and crosstalk.
Light reflectors bounce off light usually the sun when you are shooting in natural light or an artificial light source such as key light during indoor shoots. They are primarily used to fix shadows or to diffuse harsh light directed at the subject which creates a softer light.
There are four types of light reflectors. The widely used silver reflector bounces off more light, and the white reflector reflects softer and less intense lighting. The gold reflector amplifies the hues of the sun and is used to amplify the light during the golden hour a time of the day when the sun casts a softer golden light. The black reflector is used to absorb light when there is much light bouncing around.
There are times when cabled microphones hinder us from shooting scenes particularly when our subjects are always moving (sports videos). Having wireless microphones gives us that flexibility during shoots. The most common are lavalier or lapel microphones which are strapped onto the subject during shoots. Well-known brands include Rode, Joby, and Sarmonic.
A gimbal is a camera stabilizer that uses motors and sensors to stabilize camera movements. This is a favorite among cinematographers as it gives you silky smooth video while moving. The gimbal will unlock every cinematographer’s imagination and creativity.
Portable Digital Audio Recorder
A portable digital audio recorder allows high-quality sound recording while you are on the field. Filmmakers do not just rely on their in-camera audio recording to record sound while shooting on the field.
Sometimes the most overlooked equipment is the camera bag which stores our camera gear during shoots. it protects our cameras, lenses, and other important gear from the elements like water, dust, dirt, extreme temperatures, collisions, or even curious animals and toddlers. A good camera bag is waterproof and gives anti-shock protection to our gears inside. it must be durable and able to carry heavy loads of camera gear.
When you decide to go much more into creative lighting rather than just rely on natural light. You can invest in LED lights such as LED panels which make for efficient lighting.
Cost of lighting
Buying lighting equipment is costly, some filmmakers would resort to renting out lights for a specified amount of time. Check out your locality if there are film equipment leasing companies that rent out lighting gear.
There is also the DIY method where you used lights commonly found in hardware stores. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez used DIY lighting in his film El Mariachi.
You would need headphones during a shoot to detect unwanted noise, during editing headphones with very good audio quality is very essential in creating films or videos with great sound quality.
DSLR Shoulder Mount Rig
These shoulder rigs provide filmmakers with a realistic eye-level perspective. However, these can be achieved through a tripod or gimbals.
3-4 Extra Batteries
Having three to four extra batteries can last you a whole-day shooting. Always remember to bring them to shoots.
External Hard Drive
You would need high capacity SSD (Solid State Drives), and reliable and durable external hard drives as it involves transferring files on the shoots.
Computer and Editing Software
A high-performance computer with editing software provides ample capabilities to edit your film or videos. The most popular professional editing software is Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve which gives a wide range of creative control during the editing process.
For storage, you must invest in high-capacity SSD external hard drives. Compared to internal hard drives, an external hard drive gives you so much flexibility when dumping footage and editing files.
Specialty Gear for the “Cool” Shots
A question is sometimes asked: how do you make our cool shots? One specialty gear is a gimbal which gives you so much creativity during shoots.
Also known as the clapboard or the clapperboard, it is the universal symbol of film production. It is meant to tell the post-production team (editors) the start and the end of the recorded scene and is used to guide them when they are synchronizing separate audio and video recordings with the clap of the slate as audio and visual references.