Menu

Low Budget Filmmaking Equipment List

Updated July 2019

I’ve put together a basic kit list for low-budget filmmakers, documentary makers and citizen journalists. It includes a camera, tripod, microphones, headphones and audio recorder, plus accessories. I’ve based it on mirrorless cameras, as they give plenty of creative control and you can use different lenses.

This page includes affiliate links.


Camera

These two Panasonic cameras can shoot full-quality HD footage with 2x slow motion, and record Ultra HD 4K. Because they’re mirrorless, you can use the eye-level viewfinder while you’re filming. You can use the tilt-and-swivel touchscreen for high or low angle shots and for setting focus.

I use the Panasonic G85 myself. It has a weathersealed magnesium alloy body and comes with the option of a sharp 12-60 f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens. It has excellent in-body image stabilisation which makes it easy to handhold. >More about the Panasonic G85

The Panasonic G7 is the budget alternative. Its plastic body is smaller and lighter than the G85/G80 and doesn’t have in-body stabilisation, but it’s very good value. It comes with a choice of kit lenses: an inexpensive 14-42 (wide angle to medium telephoto) or the sharper 14-140 (wide to long telephoto). You can also buy the body only. >More about the Panasonic G7

Check prices/buy

Panasonic G85 Adorama | Amazon
Panasonic G7 Adorama | Amazon

>More mirrorless and DSLR cameras for filmmaking 


Lenses

Which lenses should you choose?  It depends on your style of filmmaking, and whether you’re happy changing lenses during a shoot. The cheapest option for creative filmmaking is to stick with the basic kit zoom and add a medium telephoto ‘prime’ (non-zooming) lens. On a tight budget, you can get good results with used manual focus primes with an adapter.

If you just want to use one lens, you could buy the camera body and add the (expensive) 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens. It has a constant aperture so you won’t need to adjust exposure when you zoom. It’s fast for a zoom lens, so it’s good in low light, and allows you to get creative shallow focus effects.

Check price/buy 

Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8 Adorama | Amazon

>More lenses for filmmaking with Panasonic cameras


Tripod

A tripod is essential, even with the G85 which has excellent image stabilisation for shooting handheld.

The Benro Aero 4 is light, sturdy and can convert to a monopod.

 

If you’re on a tighter budget you could consider the Velbon 638F.

Check prices/buy

Benro Aero 4  Adorama | Amazon
Velbon 638F Adorama | Amazon

Other kinds of camera support

A video monopod is quicker to set up than a monopod in crowded or fast-moving situations. You could also consider using an electronic gimbal stabiliser for smooth moving shots.

>More tripods, monopods and stabilisers


Sound

A separate microphone will make a big difference to sound quality. Your choice of microphone will depend on what kind of situations you’ll be filming. You could use a lavalier microphone clipped onto clothing, a directional microphone on the camera, or a wireless system.

Lavalier microphone

Boya BY-M1

A budget clip-on lavalier microphone is the most inexpensive way to improve audio for dialogue and presentations. The Boya BY-M1 (review) is an affordable powered lavalier microphone with acceptable sound quality and a very long lead. I use this for presentations to camera – it works well.

You could also plug this, or Rode’s superior smartLav+, into an iPhone or audio recorder in a presenter or actor’s pocket, then sync up the sound later. This is much cheaper than a wireless setup.

On-camera microphone

If you’re shooting news and events singlehanded, you probably need an on-camera microphone. I use the directional Rode VideoMic Pro.

Wireless kits

Rodelink microphone, wireless transmitter and receiver

If you can afford it, a wireless lavalier setup is worth getting as it gives presenters and actors freedom to move around. I use the Rodelink Filmmaker Kit (review).

Radio mic
The new Rode Wireless GO is a bargain alternative with a shorter range. It has a built-in microphone, but I’d connect a lavalier such as the BY-M1.

Check prices/buy

Boya BY-M1 lavalier microphone  Adorama | Amazon
Rode VideoMic Pro Adorama | Amazon
Rode Filmmaker Kit  Adorama | Amazon
Rode Wireless GO  Adorama | Amazon.com

Audio recorder

 

If you’re recording live sound, you really need to be using a separate microphone and listening on headphones as you film. But the G7 and G85 don’t have headphone sockets. You can easily get around this by using an affordable audio recorder such as the Zoom H1n (review). Use splitter/adapters to send audio to the camera and your headphones. If the camera fails to record the audio, you’ll have a backup on the recorder which you can sync up when you edit.

The H1n has a built-in high-quality stereo microphone so you can also use it for collecting extra sounds for your production.

  • With the  G85, there’s an unofficial alternative for audio monitoring. You can use a micro HDMI to VGA plus audio adapter, and connect your headphones to its audio output. (This doesn’t let you control the volume, though you could add an inline headphone amplifier.)

Check price/buy

Zoom H1n  Adorama | Amazon

Headphones

I use Sony MDR-7506 studio headphones, which are popular with professionals.

Audio Technica ATH-M30 are cheaper.

Check prices/buy

Sony MDR-7506 Adorama | Amazon
Audio Technica ATH-M30 Adorama | Amazon

>More microphones, headphones and audio recorders


Other things you’ll need

Memory cards

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.

Spare battery

You’ll need at least one spare battery. It’s safer to use Panasonic’s own batteries as damage caused by other copies will void your warranty, though I’ve used ExPro with no problems.

With the G85 you could also add a battery grip. I use an inexpensive third party grip, which is much cheaper than Panasonic’s own DMW-BGG1.

Check prices/buy

Third party battery grip Adorama | Amazon.com
Genuine Panasonic battery grip Adorama | Amazon.com

Bags and cases

I use Manfrotto and ThinkTank bags. You need to measure up the size of your gear before you decide what bag to buy. It may be more convenient to use neoprene wraps rather than bags with dividers.

My main pack is the Manfrotto Advanced Travel Backpack which can take the G80/G85, several lenses, a laptop and a travel tripod.

Check price/buy Adorama | Amazon

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. Tiffen get relatively good reviews and are affordable. This 58mm one will fit the 14-140 or 12-60 kit lenses as well as the 12-35 f/2.8. You can use stepping rings to adapt it to lenses with smaller filter sizes.

Check price/buy Adorama | Amazon.com

Variable ND filters can cause problems with wide-angle lenses (you get a strange cross pattern as you increase the intensity). So you might want to get a set of fixed filters instead, though they’re slower to use.