You might have had an idea for an art-house or documentary film for some time, but there is always that hurdle of equipment and costs starting from scratch, along with questions of the right gear to get a professional look. You may have a small crew that wants to help with your endeavor, but to start we put together a setup that will work for solo shoots, and you can add additional equipment as you see fit. While it’s up to you to learn techniques and find your groove, getting started is the first step to letting the world see your art. Who knows, with some practice you could make the next sleeper indie hit.
We have put together a list of equipment based on recommendations from people in the business, even though given a shoestring budget to buy on, the quality of production on this equipment will look professional and are backed by real world reviews for durability and functionality.
A DSLR camera for Video?
DSLR cameras are all the rage for indie filmmakers these days. With lower cost for a quality and speed that can rival camcorders 3x the price, paired with greater mobility explains a lot. Starting out with a “kit lens” like an 18-135mm is just fine getting your feet wet since they have a good amount of versatility. Later on you may want experiment with specialty lenses like the “nifty fifty” 50MM lens (shallow depth of field) for that cinematic effect of focused subjects with a smooth blurred background also seen in a lot of interviews, and wide angle lenses like an 11-16mm lens for larger than life wide panorama shots and wide close-ups in tight spaces.
The Canon EOS 70D is our first choice since it is a favorite of indie film makers on a budget with an ultra-high image quality of 20.2 megapixels and great features for shooting on-the-fly custom settings for video. From stable shots, to a dual pixel subject focus locking technique, it lets you shoot video like a camcorder with speeds of 24, 25, and 30 fps. The ability to shoot in MPEG-4 makes editing a breeze as well. Make sure to grab the Canon free accessories pack if you get it through Amazon for the bonus 32GB SD card and case, because hey… it’s free. With an 18-135 lens, it runs about $1350.
A second choice for about the same price would be the Nikon D7100, and while it has higher resolution, it is more complicated to operate some menu settings on-the-fly during a shoot, and it does add a certain warm skin tone that may or may not be the look you are going for. It is still outstanding in the realm of DSLR video and it does outshine the Canon on a few points. It has better moire handling (the artificial banding effect on textured clothing), and it has a better dynamic range – separating the detail between lights and darks more efficiently which is noticeable with things like cloud details in a sunny sky. With a 18-140mm lens it comes in at about $1200.
An example of a short film that was made with the Canon 70D (Watch in HD)
A side by side comparison of the Canon 70D vs. the Nikon D7100 (Watch in HD)
If you are going to be shooting in harsh daylight and need to really see what you are shooting you may want to invest in a viewfinder like the Xit XTLCDMVL Professional Locking LCD Viewfinder. About $30
The Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder allows you to use its on-board mics and add external mics to record up to 4 channels simultaneously to sync to your video. Then you can then use its built-in mixer to blend the channels and balance your recordings perfectly. About $200
The Rode Videomic Shotgun Microphone with Rycote Lyre Mount setup is a professional grade microphone that sits on the camera plugs directly in, and picks up sound from the cameras field of view. Around $200
If you think you may be shooting in darker areas and need an on-camera light, check out the NEEWER 160 LED Power Panel Digital Camera Light that includes a diffuser and tungsten filters. About $28
If you are shooting indoors, you need additional light on a darker shoot, or are doing interviews, you can get a lot of mileage out of some good lighting that can make all of the difference between a good and great shot. A basic kit like this 2400 Watt Fancierstudio Kit with Boom Arm Hairlight Softbox will give you the light you need for a few subjects. Get the kit for around $130
Tripods are absolutely neccesary for the stillest shots, especially if you are going to be in them. A sturdy and inexpensive tripod like this 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod will work perfectly, with a 3 way pan head, bubble level, and a quick release mount. About $22