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
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. The Panasonic G85/G80 is a good camera to start with. But if you’re shooting events, news or documentaries, camcorders are more convenient.
The new stabilised Osmo Pocket is an affordable, very compact alternative to basic camcorders and phones.
For really high-quality images, cinema cameras like the Canon C100 combine the best features of camcorders and DSLRs, though they’re expensive.
If you’re buying a interchangeable lens camera, you can buy it with a kit zoom lens, or buy the body alone and choose lenses separately. For an APS-C camera with kit lens, I recommend adding an affordable 50mm lens for low light shots and creative shallow focus.
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. 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 could be a good choice.
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.
On a Mac, you could use the free iMovie. I use Apple’s pro Final Cut Pro X myself.
Adobe Premiere Pro CC runs on PCs and Macs: it’s only available on subscription, as is the simpler Premiere Rush (which also runs on iPads and iPhones).
DaVinci Resolve is a free, though complex, pro program for Mac and PC: you’ll need the paid Studio version to edit 4K or 10-bit footage.
On iPhone or iPad, iMovie is adequate, though LumaFusion is more professional.
On Android, you could use PowerDirector or Kinemaster.
Hire if you can
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.
I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and Editshots.