Quick bio… I do video game trailers for a company called perfect world entertainment. I love the company but I really want to do something that impacts people in a different way. I want to make videos for people who will look at that moment, that story and cry with tears of joy for the rest of their lives. There’s nothing like that I this industry and I’ve decided that I need to make a change.
So I come at you with a question, if I took $20,000 and decided to spend it on video gear what would you recommend for me? I don’t need a computer. That I have taken care of. I’ll need audio gear. I’d like to do still photography as well.
how you impact people, in the fullest way, comes through in the connection you have with their message, and a thorough understanding of both what you say and how to achieve it with your tools. without all of these, no amount of tools will make that impact you are looking for. so with that, i would suggest the biggest thing to invest in is yourself, look at conferences such as IN[FOCUS], check out workshops by those you connect with, and just constantly explore your own film making decisions and push yourself to understand them better.
if i had to enter a shoot, say a wedding, and had $20k to provide all the gear i needed (aside form post) it would go something like this. first off, i would break the list into the different facets of production to make sure we aren’t over-investing in one particular area. the main areas i would look at are; cameras/lenses, audio, camera accessories, camera support, and lighting.
cameras and lenses
canon 7d // $3,058 ($1,529 X 2)
there are a lot of different ways to go about the camera bodies. some lower priced options like a T3i or 60D and some higher priced like a MKIV or a MKII. the 7d, i believe, is the best value option that also offers a pro feel and functions. you want to be able to learn and work in kelvin white balance, use things like white balance shift, and have a camera that can handle rough terrain and weather. having two means you can do two camera interviews or multiple camera coverage of an event.
canon 60D // $949
this acts as the third angle when you need it as well as a backup in case one of your other bodies goes down. it does feel a little more fragile and doesn’t offer things like white balance shift, but the articulating LCD is a great feature for slider use and it’s a good addition to the kit.
canon 14mm f2.8 // $2,241
with the crop factor of 1.6 on all of the bodies above, you’ll need a really wide lens so your effective focal length is still fairly wide. this will be a great lens to use on the slider and steadicam for your wide establishing shots or other high energy scenes. it is a hefty price to pay for one lens, but it is a strong piece of glass that will allow you to say more in your films. some may recommend off brand suggestions for a wide, which i’ll admit we don’t have that much experience with. i’de prefer to go with the best and have gear you can grow into and stick with.
canon 50mm f1.4 // $379
a solid go to prime for shallow DOF in a popular focal length. a more solid build than the f1.8 version and more economical than the f1.2 (which i went back and forth on adding to the list but opted instead for the 35 f1.4 which you can often do more with on a cropped body).
canon 35mm f1.4 // $1,405
one of my favourite lenses and something i couldn’t live without. a great pairing with the 1.6 crop to give you something close to a 50mm effective focal length. it has a very short minimum focusing distance so you can get in close and really let the audience feel the immediacy of your shot.
canon 85mm f1.8 // $398
a great longer lens, and low light solution. often a little longer than you may want for event coverage but a great shallow interview angle for a more dramatic distanced feel.
canon 20mm 2.8 // $452
an in-between option when the 14mm is too much but the 35mm isn’t enough, which is a spot you will often find yourself in.
canon 70-200 f4 non-IS // $674
the best value long lens zoom. skip the IS and get the f4 version and you can save quite a bit. the lens is super sharp and f4 is often more than enough with the low-light ability of a 7D. the 85mm is your go-to option when you need more light but a longer lens.
canon 24-70m f2.8 // $1,329
the all in one wonder that is beloved by many. there is a danger in the power this lens offers – it makes you lazy and your story telling often suffers. rather than finding the best shot, angle, and distance from the subject we often zoom instead and that leads to focal lengths chosen out of convenience instead of purpose. a great option if things move faster than you can react with primes (though i’d often still go in with a prime) or if you need your second shooter to have a versatile option.
cameras and lenses come in at $10,885. that represents just over half the budget and will give you a powerful solution for more than one shooter that will also be viable for years to come. while some of the primes could be upgraded over the years, there is a solid core of lenses you can stick with.
the sennheiser G3 wireless lav set // $1170 ($585 X 2)
the best value for a reliable wireless setup that can deliver amazing results and can be understood quickly.
zoom H4n recorder // $538 ($269 X 2)
again, a great value option to run the wireless into and the second unit gives you a backup for capturing live sound through the on board mic or plugging into a board during a presentation.
k-tec KE-69CC adjustable boom pole with internal XLR // $144
an entry level option for a boom setup. great for interviews or getting great field sound. not a good option for live events but a huge asset for sit down interviews or getting sound on a produced shoot.
sennheiser ME66/K6 shotgun // $500
a mid-level option to run on the boompole. this unit comes with a power module so you can get away with sending it less power from the H4N and therefore getting longer battery life. it is also possible to run into a DSLR because it is powered, which is great if you need better field sound and can put up with a larger setup.
rycote windjammers // $170
these are huge in a tough situation. grab one for the ME66/K6 setup so you can record outdoors and also grab a couple small windjammers for the sennheiser lavs. an essential part of your kit for clean audio.
rode videomic pro // $229
one of the smallest and best value option for on camera DSLR sound. keep in mind that they can be fragile in a rough environment so we often reinforce ours with gaff tape where the elastic bands meet the mount and that does wonders.
rycote undercovers // $25 ($12 X 2)
these are a set of double sided adhesive pads that also come with a felt cover. perfect for hiding a lav under clothing. each pack lasts for about 25 applications so i’de start off with a couple. we hide our lav mics on anything from an interview to a wedding.
olympus DM-420 recorder and giant squid lav mic // $260 ($100 for the recorder X 2, $30 for the mic X 2)
we don’t enjoy these nearly as much as the discontinued iRiver but they do the job in offering a low cost backup solution or additional mics when needed. they offer input sensitivity adjustment from high, medium, to low and are easy to pull the files off. the giant squid audio lav mics are very high quality at an amazing price.
audio comes in at $3036 which is less than a quarter of the budget. they say audio is half of everything you see and i’d even suggest that might be an understatement, so investing this much in audio will go a long way in allowing your films to have more depth and therefore create the impact you are looking for.
the legendary manfrotto 561 BHDV-1 monopod // $580 ($290 X 2)
the best multi-purpose shooting tool. an amazing option for static shots, moving shots, produced pieces or shoots in a more run and gun style. two allows you to have a crew of two shooters and still retain mobility.
cinevate atlas 30 slider with all terrain legs // $1,290
a premium slider option but you definitely get your value here. these units can take anything you throw at them, they adjust to any environment, and they always ensure you get a smooth shot on the first take. having the unit come apart makes it very easy to travel in a tripod bag, which is a huge plus. this is not a slider that is tripod mountable but we are of the belief that a shoot that is slow enough for you to setup a tripod is slow enough to do it right with apple boxes or light stands and a shoot that requires you to move quickly just means you need to improvise with what is in your environment. again, this is a tool you can grow into and won’t need to be replaced in years to come.
manfrotto 546 tripod legs with 501HDV head // $1,096 (548 X 2)
this is a more economical option as the plan is to stay off sticks as much as possible to be getting more angles, getting in there, and moving faster. these are solid for interviews and static angles and the light weight of DSLRs means they can handle them just fine.
glidecam HD2000 or steadicam merlin // $450 vs. $800
the glidecam is your more economical option. it is perhaps more rugged in that it can be abused more and still stay balanced and often performs better in the wind. it is not as smooth to adjust as a merlin and has a heavier operating weight than the merlin. the merlin comes from the steadicam line of products so you know it will perform well and have a high attention to detail. the gimbal placed underneath the stage requires more practice to get smooth shots – but that just pushes you to be a better operator and not try to do too complex of moves too quickly. we use both depending on the situation but often go for a full body-mounted steadicam flyer or zephyr, which is well outside of your budget range and not needed with what your focus is.
camera support comes in at $3,416 or $3766 . a nice chunk of the budget for a very important part of the story telling process. the key with everything here is to understand it’s purpose and try to use them effectively.
z-finder // $375
a must have accessory for shooting outside and shooting with your primes wide open. we make sure everybody on our team always has one of these and being so small and durable you can take them anywhere and subject them to anything.
visible dust 1.6X sensor cleaner // $30
a simple detail often overlooked, but always having a strong option to clean your sensor in the field when the automatic cleaning fails is a lifesaver. i’de consider this a responsibility over a luxury.
lexar 32gb 400X cards // $450 ($ X 6)
the 400X speed means you won’t have any buffer issues and you’ll get fast transfer speeds. a stock of 6 should give you enough memory to film an event from start to finish without needing to download.
lowepro memory card wallet // $36 ($18 X 2)
you’ll need something to keep your cards organized. we also recommend using a label maker to put your initial and card number on each so that you can always make sure you have all your cards and don’t get them mixed up when shooting with others that have the same brand.
camera accessories come in at $891. though not nearly as exciting as some of the other items, these will all go a long way in ensuring a smooth shoot.
we are left with about $1,000 for lighting which is a small budget for sure, but from the nature of your email it feels like not a lot of it will be lit by you. if it is, i would consider readjusting a couple lens choices to feel up funds here. lighting is also a great thing to have a basic kit for and rent when needed. we’ve easily spent over $20k on lighting alone this year, and that is after having a studio full of lights, so it is a slippery slope when you try to own a full lighting kit.
lowel pro lights // $480 ($120 X 4)
the best value 250W tungsten light. super small and powerful for lighting a small scenes or an interview. four gives you lots of options when paired with the modifiers to shape your subject.
matthews 18″ x 24″ road rags // $263 ($193 for kit, add in an additional frame for $70)
this is a very portable light modifying solution. each kit comes with a net, double net, silk, and flag. even if you don’t understand what those terms mean yet, grab a kit and start learning how you can shape light and modify it. a must have for an interview. learning how to use this kit effectively will go a long way in working with natural light better.
lee filters filter 12×12″ assorted gel kit // $70 ($35 X 2)
this kit comes with small sheets that let you convert your pro lights to daylight, make them look more like sunset, or soften them with diffusion. having this pack also lets you work in mixed light situations to modify one type of lighting when possible.
manfrotto nano stands // $225 ($45 X 5)
a great small stand that you can travel with that can be used for the road rags kit or to hold up a pro light.
avenger grip head // $66 ($22 X 3)
an essential piece of the kit to quickly get the road rags onto a light stand. also great for clamping a piece of card board to make a home made cookie or a piece of foam core as a bounce card.
if i had everything on this kit, i would feel prepared to tackle most of the shoots we go on. some of the facets are a little limited, such as the lighting, but the more you understand the tools there the more you can make the most of what you have and understand the language of film better. remember that there are some great rental options out there. if you aren’t sure about a lens or piece of gear, don’t just trust us, try it for yourself. our friends at lensprotogo.com offer nearly everything on this list for very reasonable rental rates. when you have a big shoot give yourself the room in the budget for rentals so you can add additional lenses, lighting, and other gear as needed.
any questions, suggestions, or disagreement with anything on the list, please comment. there are definitely many ways to tackle a $20,00 budget and i’d love to hear what changes others might make.