What do you need to make a movie?
You can shoot video with almost any camera. You can even film and edit on your iPhone. But if you’re serious about filmmaking, you’ll probably need
- a mirrorless camera, DSLR or camcorder
- microphones, headphones and maybe an audio recorder
- a tripod to keep your shots steady
- lights or reflectors
- a computer with a good editing app
You don’t need to buy everything. Hiring from other filmmakers is a good choice for equipment you won’t use regularly, and it’s also a way to try out equipment before you buy.
Choosing a camera
Your choice of camera will depend on how much you can afford, and what kind of movies you want to make. For most people, a mirrorless camera or DSLR (where you can change lenses) is the best choice. I recommend the Panasonic G7 for beginners on a budget.
But if you’re shooting events, news or documentaries, camcorders are more convenient. And cinema cameras like the Canon C100 combine the best features of camcorders and DSLRs, though they’re expensive.
Sound is as important as pictures, and you won’t get great audio with the microphone in your camera. Using a separate microphone will make a big difference. Lavalier (‘lav’) microphones, which clip onto clothes, are the most affordable way to get good sound. Wireless lavs are great if you can afford them. You can also use a directional microphone on a boom pole.
You really need to be listening to the sound on headphones as you shoot. But some cameras have limited audio recording options – and no headphone sockets – so you may need a separate audio recorder.
Tripods and camera support
It’s important to keep your camera steady. Some cameras have very effective built-in stabilisation, but most filmmakers use a tripod or monopod at least some of the time. If you want to be able to pan and tilt your camera smoothly, you’ll need a fluid head tripod. You can also get sliders (for smooth tracking shots), electronic gimbal stabilisers (for continuous flowing shots), and jibs (for vertical camera movements).
Lights and reflectors
Once you start to get serious about filmmaking, you’ll want to control the lighting. To start with, you can use inexpensive five in one reflectors to enhance natural light. Basic work lamps are a good starting point for learning about creative lighting. For filming on the go, LED panels are the most convenient option, though good ones are expensive. For a budget studio setup, CFL soft box lights are a good choice, but they’re not very portable.
You can edit on Macs, PCs, phones or tablets.
I use Macs. They’re designed for video editing and widely used in the film and media industry.
You’ll get more for your money with a PC, but they aren’t as user-friendly and you’ll need to check that the spec is good enough to run your editing software. Video editing – especially 4K – takes up a lot of space and needs a powerful computer.
If you don’t need to be portable, a desktop computer will be better value for money than a laptop.
If you’re just doing small projects, you can keep all your video on your main system drive, but for large and more ambitious projects you’ll probably need external drives. Solid state drives (SSDs) are faster but more expensive than hard drives.
You’ll also need external drives for backing up and archiving projects.
All Macs come with iMovie. It’s easy to learn and use, but also offers a lot of creative control with adjustments and corrections. It may be all you need.
I use Apple’s pro Final Cut Pro X. It looks similar to iMovie, and is still easy to learn, but has a full range of professional features. It has a trackless ‘magnetic timeline’ which is very fast to use once you’re used to it, though it’ll seem unfamiliar if you’re used to more traditional editing apps. Unlike some of its competitors it’s a one-off purchase with free upgrades, rather than a monthly subscription.
Adobe Premiere Pro is another pro editing app for Mac or PC. It’s powerful, and integrates well with the other Adobe creative apps, but it’s less user-friendly than the Apple apps. It’s only available on subscription, which can work out expensive (there’s a big student discount). But many colleges and creative businesses already subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud software suite, which includes Premiere Pro. There’s also a more basic version, Premiere Elements, which you can buy outright.
Looking for a free pro option? Black Magic Design make a free version of their DaVinci Resolve app for Mac or PC.
If you’re shooting on iPhones or iPads you could edit with the free iOS version of iMovie, though it’s more limited than the desktop version. For pro features, LumaFusion is the best option, though the interface isn’t very user-friendly.