29 June 2016
This basic kit list is for beginner low-budget filmmakers, documentary makers and citizen journalists. I’ve based it on a DSLR camera as they give plenty of creative control and you can use different lenses. But if you want something that’s quicker to use – and needs fewer accessories – you could get a hybrid camera like the Canon XC10, or a camcorder such as the Canon XA30 or the Sony PWX-70. Or for an ultra-portable, easy to use kit, you could use an iPhone.
If you’re on a really tight budget, I’ve made a list of the best HD video cameras under $300 (£250).
The Canon 80D is a well-designed camera with good controls, a headphone socket, a swivelling touchscreen, and excellent autofocus. Canon video has better color than their competitors. It has a fairly large (APS-C) sensor, so you can get creative with shallow focus. It shoots 1080p Full HD but not 4K. You can buy it body-only, or as a kit with an 18-55 or 18-135 lens.
Which lenses you buy depends on your style of filmmaking, and whether you’re happy changing lenses regularly during a shoot. I mainly use two lenses: the Canon 10-22 ultrawide zoom (though I’d rather have the newer, less expensive 10-18 below), and a 50mm medium telephoto prime lens. More about choosing lenses for DSLRs.
18-55 or 18-135 kit lenses
Canon make two ‘kit lenses’: an inexpensive 18-55 (wide angle to medium telephoto) and the 18-135 (wide angle to telephoto). Both are stabilised and have quiet autofocus. The longer lens is compatible with their forthcoming Power Zoom adapter.
17-55 f/2.8 zoom
If you can afford it, the fast 17-55 f/2.8 is much better for video than the kit lenses. It has a constant aperture so exposure doesn’t change as you zoom. This makes it more useful for news and events.
This is the first lens you should buy after the kit lens: image quality is excellent, the wide f/1.8 aperture lets you put backgrounds out of focus, and 50mm is the ideal length for closeups of people. It’s small, light and good value.
10-18 ultrawide zoom
The 10-18 is very good value for an ultrawide zoom: it’s small, light, sharp, and has image stabilisation.
Tripods, monopods and other camera supports
A tripod is pretty much essential, though a monopod is quicker to set up.
Some vloggers just use the flexible Gorillapod Focus, which can clamp onto posts or railings or sit on a table. You can also spread out the legs to make the camera easier to handhold.
Fluid head video tripod
The Benro S6 kit is good value and includes a bowl head for easy levelling.
A video monopod like the Manfrotto 562B-1 is more portable and much quicker to set up than a tripod. It may be a better choice for news and events.
The inexpensive P&C Pistol Grip makes the camera much easier to handhold, particularly with a viewfinder attached.
If you’re shooting news and events singlehanded, you probably need an on-camera microphone. I use the directional Rode VideoMic Pro.
You’ll get better results for presentations and interviews if you put a lavalier (tieclip) microphone on the presenter. I use the Rodelink wireless kit for this.
If you can’t afford a wireless kit, the Audio Technica ATR3350IS is an affordable powered lavalier microphone with acceptable sound quality and a very long lead.
You could also plug this, or Rode’s superior smartLav+, into an iPhone in the presenter or actor’s pocket (using the Rode REC app). You can then sync the sound later: much cheaper than a wireless setup.
You should be listening to your audio as you film.
I use Sony 7506 studio headphones, which are popular with professionals.
Audio Technica ATH-M30 are cheaper.
Five-in-one fold-out reflector/diffusers are a great way to soften and ‘fill’ natural light.
The 80D has very good touchscreen autofocus, but an eye-level viewfinder will make it easier to handhold or use in bright sunlight. You won’t be able to swivel the screen when it’s attached.
I use the Zacuto Z-finder Pro.
The Kamerar QV-1 is much more affordable. It seems to be currently unavailable in the UK so the UK link below is to the similar Tarion TR-V1 .
Other things you’ll need
You need fast, reliable memory cards: I buy SanDisk Extreme. I think it’s better to use several smaller cards (16Gb) rather than one big card.
The 80D has good battery life, but you’ll need at least one spare. It’s safer to use Canon’s own batteries as damage caused by other copies will void your warranty.
The much cheaper Wasabi batteries are reported to be reliable, though they don’t hold charge as well or last as long.
Bags and cases
I use a ThinkTank camera bag myself, but if I was buying a new bag I’d go for a padded bag without dividers, and put the bag and accessories in neoprene lens pouches and wraps. You need to measure up the size of your gear before you decide what bag to buy.
For the ultimate in protection, particularly for gear that will be thrown around (or checked into hold luggage), Peli cases are hard to beat.
Neutral density filters
If you want your footage to look ‘film-like’ with moving subjects, you need the shutter speed to be half the frame rate (so if you’re shooting 25fps, your shutter speed should be 1/50). That can cause problems in bright light: you may want to use a wide aperture to blur the background, and in any case you shouldn’t stop down beyond f/11 to avoid diffraction softening the image.
You can keep the shutter speed slow, and the lens open, by using neutral density filters. They cut down the light without changing its colour.
For standard and telephoto lenses, you could use a variable ND filter. But these can cause problems with wide-angle lenses (you get a strange cross pattern as you increase the intensity). So I’d get a set of fixed filters instead, though they’re slower to use. This set of Tiffen filters is reasonably priced and will fit the 10-18 and 18-135; you could get stepping rings to adapt it to fit smaller lenses. If you’ve gone for the 17-55 lens, you’ll need a 77mm set instead.