Making videos with friends for fun is a great way to build a reel and, most importantly, fun. You get very good at getting the shots you want without having a production budget and learning the ins and outs of the camera. People have been making some really cool stuff with an HDSLR and kit lens. What happens when someone hires you for a project? Will you be able to turn in a product with one battery, one CF card, and a kit lens?
(These opinions are my own and do not reflect those that I work with. I am listing equipment that I use and that I am successful with. I hope that covers myself)
A lot of times certain gear can’t be replaced with skill, no matter how much skill you have. Audio is a perfect example. No client will ever be satisfied with the audio picked up from that tiny mic on the 7D, especially with background noise and multiple people speaking. I do a lot of training/safety videos and the audio is the most important. If you can’t hear what the worker is teaching, you won’t be able to follow the video. I recommend using a shotgun mic to get room noise and as a secondary audio track. I use the Azden SGM-1X Shotgun Mic. To mic the individual I use the Sennheiser EW112-p G3 Wireless Lav. This is all recorded into the Samsung Zoom H4n. It is also a good idea to get a good set of headphones to hear your levels and make sure everything is working properly.
Now that covers a basic audio set up that can be used for various jobs. One or two people talking in a narrative fashion and interviews can be accomplished with this setup. A lot of people think a simple tripod will get you all the shots you need. This is false. Having locked off shots will give you a clean professional look but they are boring. Other than interviews, a video should have some camera movement (with a purpose). No matter how good you are, you can’t fake a non-fluid tripod head. Panning left and right only works when it moves smoothly. No client will pay for jagged camera moves. Sachtler is the best that I have used and there is a reason why the cheapest head is $1,024.95. I have really enjoyed the Manfrotto 503HDV tripod although I am looking to upgrade to heavier, more durable legs.
Handheld rigs are needed to shoot with a DLSR when not on a tripod. Ideally, you want one with a shoulder support, counter weight, quick release plate, and light weight. I am a fan of the ones that have a way to attach to a tripod for quickly changing lenses and shots (I’d rather put my rig on a tripod then on the floor). The Z-finder seems to be the best option for turning the back of the LCD into a viewfinder. It is compact, light, and works. When on the move it is a lot easier to use than a monitor. I use the Zacuto Z-Finder jr.. Even on production shoots, I use this when I am running around grabbing broll. A monitor is a must when there is a director onsite and when a client wants to watch what you are shooting. You won’t be able to cram more than two people behind this camera without hindering your view, which is the most important. Most client’s want to see the scene from the camera’s point of view but it is important that you are also able to watch to insure focus, exposure and framing.
Lenses is one of the biggest topics out there so I won’t get into unneeded details. Those 5.6 kit lenses are good for outdoors but will not work for indoor shoots. You need fast glass if you want to shoot inside. As far as focal lengths, the more the better. You can’t shoot everything with a 50mm lens. If you could, they wouldn’t make other ones. My lenses range from 17mm to 85mm. I may even look into something wider and possibly a 100mm. A fader ND will be needed to get shallow depth of field outdoors.
I recently got the Dfocus follow focus and although I have not used it on prior shoots, I am looking forward to racking focus in the future. I will be shooting sheet metal tools on Wednesday and this will come in handy to add to the video.
A lot of people forget about the small things when talking about gear. I can’t say how important a utility knife is. Batteries are a huge part. You can’t shoot all day, or even half with just one battery. I carry three at all times to keep the shoot moving. I have two 16GB cards and looking to get two 8GB cards. The two 16s are great but there have been times where I needed an extra card. I have never had a problem witth the SanDisk Extreme Cards. With this investment of cards it’d be a good idea to get a card case. I recommend a water tight case like the Gepe Card Case. More importantly you will need a case to haul of the equipment in. The professional standard seems to be Pelican Cases (nothing else compares).
There are several tools out there and some are needed more than others. I believe that gear are just tools to get the job done. It takes skill to operate these tools and even all the gear in the world won’t make a beginner look like a professional. Great filmmakers are making shorts with practically nothing and that is great. But, you won’t be able to meet the demands of a client with a kit lens.