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Video Production Equipment

Low-Budget Documentary Filmmaking Gear Check-List

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.

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Documentary Video Production Equipment Package and Gear List:

video production equipmentPhoto 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.


Video Camera

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. 

The camera pictured above, the Panasonic Lumix GH5 4K, is a popular camera with documentary filmmakers.


Tripod


A necessary piece of equipment to keep your footage looking steady and professional.

Get a tripod with a fluid head for smoother looking pans.   


Camera Light

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. 



Shotgun Microphone

Audio-Technica AT897

Great audio often separates the pros from the amateurs. Having a shotgun mic prepares you for almost every situation. It's perfect for setting on top of your camera or a boom pole.

Learn about different types of microphones.

Left: Audio-Technica AT897 Shotgun Microphone

Boom Pole

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.



Shock Mount


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.  


Wireless Microphone

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 wireless mic system (this is what we own): Sennheiser EW 112P

Or try the less expensive and popular Rode RodeLink Wireless System.




Portable Digital Audio Recorder


If you decide to shoot your documentary with a DSLR such as the Canon 5D Mark IV, it's highly recommended that you either get an external mic or portable audio recorder such as the Zoom H5 (left).


Headphones

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.


Light Reflector




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

Camera Backpack, Evecase Canvas DSLR Camera Travel Backpack

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.


DSLR Shoulder Mount Rig


DSLR Shoulder Mount Rig

If you're shooting with a DSLR, 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:

Earth BBC Documentary


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.







video production equipment


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. 


What's In Your Camera Bag?

Do you already have video production equipment? Share what you've learned! Include your own equipment list here and include a detailed review of each piece of gear (how you use it, how you like it, etc).

Bob Krist

Gear Kit For One-Man Documentary Film Crew (VIDEO) - Bob Krist is a longtime National Geographic freelance photojournalist who shares his one-man documentary crew gear kit.

Gear List For Small-Budget Video and Documentary Productions - Jeff Nesmith, a Vietnam-based filmmaker, shares his gear list for small-medium budget productions...

David Reynosa

Best Camera For Wedding Videography (VIDEO) - David Reynosa of Forestry Films goes through his favorite cameras to shoot his stunning wedding videos. He explains why the Canon C100 Mark II is his top camera of choice.

Recording Sound with a Zoom H6 and Rode NTG3 on a Movie Set - Justin Arbabi is working as the sound mixer on the set of the film Deadly Reunion and shares his low-budget audio set-up.

Click here to share your gear list


Filmmaking Gear and Accessories



PBL Sandbags
(for steadying stands & tripods)




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