Video Production Equipment
Low-Budget Documentary Filmmaking Gear Check-List
One of the most exciting aspects of filmmaking is putting together your video production equipment package.
Keep in mind, there is no "one size fits all" equipment package for everyone since there are so many variables (budget, type of project, locations, pro vs amateur, etc), so what we have tried to do on this page is cover some basic gear you may want to consider.
Documentary Video Production Equipment Package and Gear List:
Photo courtesy: Stephan Müller
Below is a video production equipment list for the beginner filmmaker.
This is simply a starter guide in your search for some basic filmmaking gear.
A great place to start is with a video camera and build from there.
A video camera is the centerpiece of your filmmaking gear package. What camera you choose depends on your budget, the type of shooting you're doing (static, stealth, run-and-gun, etc.) and where you plan to showcase your film (web-only, theater, broadcast, etc). You can shoot a documentary on anything from your iPhone to a DSLR to a top of line digital cinema camera such as the RED. Whatever camera you choose, make sure you capture excellent audio.
A necessary piece of equipment to keep your footage looking steady and professional.
Get a tripod with a fluid head for smoother looking pans.
Sometimes a nice pop of light from the camera can help fill in ugly shadows. A camera light is a nice accessory to have especially in a documentary/news style shoot where you might not have time for a full 3-point lighting set-up.
Three-Point Lighting Kit
You only really need a lighting kit if you're planning to do a lot of shooting inside. Creating a well lit scene usually involves a 3-way lighting set-up.
A boom mic set-up comes in handy to capture audio from a group interview, crowd scenes or any situation where you need to gather professional audio quickly. In addition to the boom pole (right), you'll need a shockmount and a shotgun mic.
Here's the simple gadget needed to turn your shotgun mic into a boom pole mic. A shock mount keeps the mic steady on top of the pole and prevents the mic from picking up "bumping" sounds when the pole is moving around.
Audio (XLR) Cables
If you plan to use a professional audio set-up with your camcorder, you'll need XLR cables to go from your camera to the mic.
Sure, you can use a "wired mic" which is a bit less expensive, but I wouldn't go on a documentary shoot without my wireless microphone. Unless you have an audio person who can hold a boom mic, this is the next best thing providing tons of flexibility for walk-and-talk interviews with your subjects.
Recommended budget wireless mic system: Rode Wireless
Portable Digital Audio Recorder
If you decide to shoot your documentary with a DSLR or smartphone, it's highly recommended that you either get an external mic or portable audio recorder such as the Zoom H5 (left).
Getting great audio means monitoring the sound at all times while shooting. Find a good quality, comfortable set of headphones to make sure you avoid any nasty audio surprises when you get back from the shoot.
This is a must-have item for your documentary filmmaking kit. A light reflector can turn an ugly amateur-looking shot into a golden and gorgeously lit scene.
Lenses: Wide Angle, Clear "Protective" Lens, Polarizer, Zoom Lens, Macros, etc.
Have you ever seen those cool fish-eye scenes? That's from using a special wide angle lens. If you're shooting in super sunny situations, an ND filter or circular polarizer can dramatically improve the image. Or what about super close-ups of a bug or flower, that's when you need a macro lens.
3-4 Extra Batteries
You never want to get caught without enough batteries out on a shoot. Unless you're heading out into the Amazon, 3-4 extra batteries should be enough for most shooting situations.
Video Tapes, Flash Memory Cards or DVD's (depending on your camera)
You'll need somewhere to record all that footage you'll be shooting.
External Hard Drive
A portable hard drive comes in handy if you plan to do a lot of shooting in the field and need to offload your footage from your camera's memory cards.
We love the rugged lacies (left).
Video/Photo Camera Bag
Of course, now that you have all your gear, you need something sturdy and weatherproof to put it in. Lots of great choices here. Just pick something you like that fits the type of shooting you plan to do.
Shoulder Mount Rig
Putting your camera on a shoulder mount can add a nice professional touch. It's especially helpful if you don't want to use a tripod and a rig creates smoother-looking footage in a "run-and-gun" shooting situation.
Specialty Gear for the "Cool" Shots:
If you're ready to take your filmmaking up a notch, try some of these specialty video production equipment items to get those cool Hollywood-looking shots.
Need Personalized Help Choosing Your Gear?
We HIGHLY recommend the staff at B&H Photo Video. Just give them a call at 800.952.1815 / 212.444.6708 and they'll walk you through your options based on your particular situation.
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