NITSAN SIMANTOV. PHOTOGRAPHER. FILMMAKER.

East Grinstead photographer and filmmaker Nitsan Simantov. Wedding photography and commercial video production in London and West Sussex.

Gear: Lens adapters

This is not going to be a complete guide to adapters, but there are a few very important things here you should know. If you've already gone a different rout than what is recommended here then just keep this in mind for future gear decisions.

  • Invest in manual Nikon-fit lenses where possible. (F mount, which includes Non-AI, AI, AI-s, etc. Not Nikon FT1 though.) They are the most adaptable and there's a very large choice. They are usable on most Nikon cameras and pretty much anything else.
  • If you would like a wider choice of lenses you can also consider M42 mount, Olympus OM mount, Non-electronic Canon EF mount lenses (Such as Samyang) and some Pentax mount lenses. This isn't a complete list of adaptable lenses but they are the main ones I look for. With all of these you can get low cost adapters for Canon cameras and all mirrorless cameras. The important thing about sticking to Canon-adaptable lenses isn't only so that you can use a Canon camera, it's also important because it keeps your kit compact and quick to set up. This is because your lenses are all adapted to canon on the lens side using tiny flat adapters that you often don't even notice and that remain on the lens, and on the camera side you only need one larger adapter which brings your camera to be EF lens compatible, this is also the place where you can add extra features to the camera (see below). This means no swapping adapters around while shooting. If you don't do this, you may find yourself carrying several large adapters to allow all your lenses to fit the camera.

Adding features:

Using a mirrorless camera allows you to add some important features between the lens and the camera:

  • Internal filter system

This is useful for reducing harsh reflections which will show up with pretty much any filter which is in front of the lens rather than behind it. Mainly these will show up when you have some back-lighting or strong highlights in the shot.

  • Helicoid focusing

[Definition: A helicoid is a spiral or screw-like shape. A helicoid focus system is a system which moves the glass by the use of a mechanical spiral, this is often found inside lenses.]

A helicoid adapter is an adapter that gives you another focus ring behind the lens. This allows you to use the lens as usual, but then focus much closer than the lens would normally allow just by turning the second focus ring. This just works by extending the lens away from the camera. There is no glass in this filter and you don't get dark blurry images like most macro tubes, because it only moves forward a maximum of about 5mm. This is an absolutely amazing solution, and it makes many lenses go from being a pain in the ass to being gorgeous versatile lenses. For example, my Voightlander 35mm f1.4 and Samyang 85mm f1.4 are both lovely, but on their own they only focus from about 80cm to infinity, which is very annoying for portraits on both lenses and actually pretty much anything I would want to shoot with a 35mm can't be focused on because it's way too close. The helicoid adapter fixes this issue and I freakin' love it. On full frame this is my adapter system of choice. 

  • Focal reducers

This only works on crop-sensor cameras or in crop-mode on full frame cameras. This adapter takes the image given by a full frame lens and projects it onto a smaller sensor area. You basically get a full frame image on a crop sensor. This means you get a wider and brighter image as well as a shallower depth of field for any given field of view on a subject.

This is my adapter of choice when working with crop sensors.

HIGH RES RAW IMAGES: http://bit.ly/166tpd1
Lens Turbo links:
● Amazon UK link: http://amzn.to/XgX6t3
● eBay USA Link: http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-532...
● eBay UK link: http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-534...
● Amazon USA link: http://amzn.to/1mdT4xz
● B&H Link: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/len...



What to avoid:

  • Invest in dedicated mirrorless lenses only if you're willing to sell them later. They can be great for their compact size and sometimes great video autofocus capabilities.
  • Never buy FD lenses unless you are 100% sure you will always use mirrorless cameras. Currently there are still great DSLRs on the market, and there's a fair chance someone like Nikon or Canon will make the next great camera you will want to get. With FD lenses you're pretty much screwed. They are adaptable, but in order to focus to infinity you will need glass adapters, which lower quality, reduce light and add extra crop, basically all the stuff you don't want in a lens system.
  • Never buy Canon EF lenses unless you're a stills shooter and are willing to sell on eBay later if needed - or you have way too much money and you're not sure what to do with it. There are much better alternatives for filmmaking, and this is not a lens system you want to get stuck with, especially since they require electronic adapters and because Canon have very often been unfair towards indie filmmakers. For example the $12,000 1DC, which is basically just a $6,000 1DX with a few tiny changes to allow it to shoot 4K.
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DIY: Lighting

There are almost limitless possibilities here. I have some great professional low cost lighting solutions in the main lighting section of this book, but for those on a near-zero budget, here are a few things to consider.

Natural light

There are almost limitless things you can do with natural light, you just need to know how to use it. It's actually not much different to working with artificial lighting, you just need to move your subject to suit the environment, rather than move the lighting. It's somewhat more restrictive, yet also allows more freedom because you can move around more easily.

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DIY: Tools

You don't need to buy all of these tools, I just add tools to my kit as I need them. I'm certainly glad I invested in tools, it allows me to do loads of things, even now that I'm no longer working on a DIYer's budget. The amount you should spend will vary from tool to tool, very often a budget tool can be worth buying but I'll discuss this for each tool below.

MUST-BUY tools

It would be unacceptable not to buy these:

  • Safety goggles. Use these for ANY small or large project that you are doing. For fuck's sake just do it! I recommend Bolle brand, which is about £10 each and is really great quality, but if this is over your budget, even a £1 protective goggle is a huge step up over not using anything at all.
  • Ear plugs (if working with loud power tools). These cost a dollar for a pack of 5 on eBay or your local £1/$1 store.
  • Dust mask (If sawing or sanding anything!). These start at about £1 each but you need to make sure you get quality ones that are rated for the kinds of dust you are working in.

 Important super-budget tools

  • Extra large pliers
  • Needle nosed pliers
  • Locking pliers
  • Hacksaw
  • Utility knife

Awesome additional tools

  • Power drill (£10 - £45).
  • Leverage-assisted pliers. The SOG Pocket Powerplier is awesome.
  • Rotary tool (£25 - £80)
  • Leverage assisted cutters. The best ones around are the Knipex CoBalt. (£20 - £45)
  • A multimeter (£5 - £25).

Useful additional tools

  • Large bolt cutters.
  •  
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DIY: builds

The useful basics

These builds are really worth making because they aren't too complicated but are very helpful for creating better films.

DIY shoulder rig

DIY lighting

The additional builds

These are things I would personally not bother with. I'd rather spend this time making films, not making unnecessary equipment to weigh me down or slow me down when I go shooting.

DIY Matte box

This is one of those things that just isn't for me. It adds another thing to carry and set up. If you use filters often, this can save time, but most of the time this will dramatically slow down lens changes.

This one here is made from a cheapo eBay cokin filter system.

LINK

I then attached a "french flag" made from some black plasticard (an old DVD box or similar will also do) and a plastic hinge. The hinge was by far the hardest to find and currently I do not know where to get them other than looking on eBay. USA readers may have better luck since you have lots of good DIY stores.

 


DIY follow focus

This is another thing that just adds setup time and a lot of lens change time, however, it can be very useful too.

I would recommend something really simple, like a jar-opener. Similar to this Varavon one, but from the dollar store if you want to save a few bucks.

I just use my fingers, but this isn't always so easy when working with crap lenses. I mainly work with manual lenses that have a smooth focus ring, which is why I don't need a follow focus most of the time.

● eBay UK link: http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/710-534...
● eBay USA link: http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-532...
● Amazon UK link: http://amzn.to/1jGVkXq
● Amazon USA link: http://amzn.to/1mGjuBe
● B&H Link: http://bhpho.to/1rUyzo1
● Alternatives from Adorama: http://adorama.evyy.net/c/94842/51926...


DIY glidecam-style stabilizer

The problem with this is that it's near impossible to get acceptable quality results. You'd be much better off just saving up £150 for this. See the "Increasing your budget" chapter.

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Super-budget gear

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The Filmmaker's Ultimate Gear & Stability Guide

All images in this book were shot by me, except this photo of me which was shot by Samantha Wordie.

By Nitsan Simantov

Updated: 17th September 2014
© Copyright Nitsan Simantov 2014 - All rights reserved. Copying prohibited.

Introduction

I have spent a lot of my personal time writing this book. If you find it helpful you can support me by purchasing your gear via the links in this book. 

This is a guide to help you choose the best gear, that's why I will mostly discuss the best equipment that I know of within a reasonable budget. Remember, this is a book about ultimate gear, not a list of every single item I've used or reviewed. I will also mention some lower cost options, but only ones that are actually worth buying.

This book covers some things I find very important. It is something I will continue to update and broaden as often as I can. I would love to hear feedback from you regarding what you would like to see me cover in future chapters of the book. This book is written with the assumption that you either have some basic knowledge of filmmaking and photography words and terms or at least that you will take the time to Google the things you don’t understand.

I apologize that there isn't a photo for every single item mentioned. I did not want to use stock product images or other peoples images (obviously).

Ethics statement

I am an affiliate with eBay, Amazon, B&H and Adorama, this means that when you buy something after visiting my links I get a small commission from those stores. The price for you remains the same of course. This helps me create more great content for you guys. I still always review items honestly, and I never accept any payments to shoot reviews. A few manufacturers and distributors have sent me free review units, and I review those just like I would review something I purchased myself. Note: The affiliate links will give me commission if you purchase within a short time from clicking the link, usually 24 hours to 30 days depending on the store. Thank you for reading and for your support.

Disclaimer

I provide this information in the hope that it will be helpful, but all information given is just my honest opinion. I make no guarantees whatsoever. Please always use common sense for safety and consult a professional if needed.

Jump to chapter

Or just scroll down to read the entire book (recommended).

This is the end of the chapter. Photography by Nitsan Simantov

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Gear: Improve Your Budget

The Filmmaker's Ultimate Gear & Stability Guide

Improve Your Budget

I hear many people say that they don't have enough budget for the stuff they need/want. Sure, sometimes that might be the case, but sometimes people would have a much better budget if they put a bit more time into using their available resources in a better way. 

First scenario, if you really don't have the options to increase your budget as I discuss in this chapter (For example, you are living on a deserted island with a volleyball named Wilson) then my recommendation is to get just the bare minimum for now, like a very low cost camera as I will discuss very shortly further on in the book, and then make the rest of the equipment from DIY tutorials, and then use that to build a portfolio.

But this book is about the ultimate gear, not about DIY gear (maybe that will be a future book), so lets look now look at the options the average independent/freelance filmmaker could use to improve their budget. Many of these will actually still apply to when you are working with less than a pro's budget, for example, if DIY gear is the only thing you can afford then you might consider also making multiple units and selling them on eBay. 

Deciding how much to invest

Many people will tell you, "if you buy cheap, you buy twice".
This means that sometimes it is best to spend a little more on something high quality, rather than spend on an item that is cheaper but will break faster. This is sometimes true, but following a few simple rules it might not always be exactly correct. The two main things to keep in mind are, the options for returning the item and the item's resellability, often those might allow you to try a lower cost item with a smaller risk, but that means that when you get it you should really test it right away to see how good it is, or if you later find it's not very useful to you, that you really do take the time to sell it.

So how do I budget?
I use a combination of these two questions:
1. Figure out how much I have and what the best way is to spend it to push me forwards. works better in the short run.
2. Figure out what I need, calculate the cost, then figure out how to get it. Works better in the long run. Set goals and do your best to get to them.

How to choose the correct items?

Here are the things I consider when purchasing my gear:

Double check the information you find.
For example, when looking at stabilizers you might come across a video by a very lovely person who says that the ProAm Autopilot stabilizer is worth buying, make sure to double check about that, because in this particular case you'd be standing there frustrated trying to get good results from something that is frankly just not very good. Consider the source and how reliable that information might be, and if you think that person got paid to make the review, move on.

Beware of Amazon reviews.
Amazon is one of the my favorite places to get stuff and a good way to easily compare products without spending hours on google looking for reviews. But there's a catch, Amazon is stuffed full of fake reviews.

There's fake positive reviews made by the sellers using fake accounts on their own products, and there are fake negative reviews left on competitor's products. So when looking at reviews, check that person's profile and see if they seem real. Have they left various good, average and bad reviews on multiple items from various sellers in various categories? Here are some things I look for in Amazon reviews. Obviously these are just my observations, not guaranteed facts.

  • Most fakes are dead easy to spot. You click their name and you get to a page that very often just has one review or several items from the same seller.
  • If the reviewer is being overly emotional it's often an indication that it might not be an honest review. It's easy to spot when you're looking for it. For example something like: "What a terrible item, arrived broken, too late to return, ruined our Christmas".
  • Fake reviews are often a bit vague, rather than describe the real uses and experiences with it. For example, "Man, great item, better than all the other ones I've tried, don't bother with any other ones." or "Never again. Very unhappy. Not a good service and not a good item."
  • I usually ignore reviews that are badly written. For example, "i h8 this batery i got it for week and then camera is now broken i cant belive this bad company". This is not necessarily a fake review, but very often that's something written by someone who might be a bit "less smart", and now I'm not saying they are bad people, I'm just saying I prefer to get my information from other sources.
  • I ignore any reviews that seem like they are written by an asshole, because frankly I really don't care about the opinions of assholes.
  • "Amazon Verified Purchase" will appear next to reviews where the item was paid for through amazon, but it is possible to fake this too. It's not difficult for a seller to purchase their own items, or their competitor's items, so don't consider this a golden seal of approval, just a step in the right direction.

So how do you know when an item is good? Usually when it has consistently good reviews from those people you see are genuine reviewers. Over 15 genuine reviews is a good start, but the more the better.

Buy carefully
This is obvious, so lets keep it short.

  • Buy from places where the sellers are accountable for their actions, where there is some safety in place. Amazon and eBay both allow you to see the seller's feedback before buying, and have various buyer protection policies that keep you safer.
  • Always check feedback before buying. I do not ever buy from a store which has no feedback except in very rare cases, for example, a custom made part for a camera that can only be bought form that one place.

Should I buy this item?
A very easy way to prevent confusion is to add the items to your Amazon or eBay "wish list" or shopping basket. I use a mixture of both a list and a basket because the basket makes it easy to see the total cost. This way is easy to keep organized and reduce a lot of the confusion of choosing gear. I add things I'm interested in to my lists or basket, then I have a place that allows me to easily compare prices without having a thousand tabs open in my web browser.

Figure out: What to go cheap on. What to spend more on. What NOT to buy.
For example, a used £20 Wacom graphics tablet should still give you years of editing fun, which is a nice saving over a new £70 model (More on that in the Computers & Editing chapter) and a GH1 camera for some $200 will still allow you to create a beautiful video, this can be a good way to keep costs down while on a lower budget. An example of what not to buy would be one of those useless ugly fake $30 matte boxes from eBay. Specific details will be given in the rest of the book.

Return on investment.
Will this purchase help you make more money or move your career forward?

Consider the item's resellability.
Some items will lose value a lot faster than others. For example, the canon 5D series of cameras held their value incredibly well for many years because they were so popular, and many lenses hold their value very consistently for many years. On the other hand, my Sony A7 went from about £1300 to £800 (approximate eBay price) in just a few months.

Spending VS investing
Remember that most of the time you can sell things on ebay again once you are done with them. Many people never do this which means that for them a sale goes like this: "I have £500. After I buy this lens I will not have £500."
For me, purchases are usually more like this: "I have £500. After I buy this lens I will have £500 in the shape of a lens - until I decide to convert it back into money again by selling it on ebay."
Of course some items can't be sold on eBay very easily, but most of them can.
And of course you also lose some money on eBay fees but this never bothered me.

Use your available resources.
Many people have things they can list on eBay, but don't.
Think about it like this, selling an eBay item could take roughly an hour to list the item including the time to take some photos of it, maybe even less time if you do lots of items together. I now list items in under 30 minutes each including photos, which is not bad considering each sale could add a lot to the budget I have to invest in other things. The new eBay listing page is much better than the old one, which is very helpful.
Think about it like this, "How long will this take me to sell?" and "How much is my time worth?". Especially when you are working with a much lower budget, and especially for those of you who have another job to make money, selling on eBay is a great way to increase your budget, even if it's selling items that are only worth £5 each, those fivers add up.

Don't get attached.
I've seen many people keep equipment they could use to increase their budget because they feel connected to it. Most often it's their camera. They feel connected to it and they don't want to sell it in order to upgrade. I can't tell you what to do in this situation, but I can tell you that I make my selling and buying decisions based on usability, not my feeling.

Sell fast.
All that s*** in the cupboard is losing value. List it on eBay.
Most people will keep items if they think they will use them sometime in the future, but in my opinion that's not the best way. Sure, it takes some time to sell and buy, but I have found that almost all of the items that I "might use soon" never get used, and simply sit there and lose value. So as soon as I see that I'm not currently using the item, I sell it on ebay. This means that:

  1. I have more money, especially since it's not just one item, it's multiple items, that easily adds up.
  2. When I need that item again, I can order the most recent one, or the one that is best for my current uses or budget, rather than the one that I chose last year. 
  3. I likely received a better price for it then if I was to wait for a year and then sell it right at the point I want an upgrade.
  4. I have more cupboard space.
     

Know the current market so that you know if there is an alternative to one of your current items. For example, someone shooting on a Canon 50mm f1.2 would likely gain both quality and a big money saving by selling it and getting the much newer and highly regarded Sigma Art 50mm f1.4.

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Gear: Kit size, travel-ability and setup time.

Here I would like to discuss an important choice every filmmaker has to make. How much should you be buying and carrying with you? Here are some things to consider to make that choice.

Choosing your kit size

Comfort during shooting.
This is important. For example, the size of your camera makes a big difference to how easy it is to get around during the shoot. If working with assistants you can have them carry some stuff from place to place during the day, but if not then a kit you can move yourself can be important. Some things add comfort, such as a monitor for easier focusing, while others take away from comfort, such as moving big jibs around or having a heavy camera. Everything I recommend in this book is aimed towards maximum usability with the least amount of unneeded weight.

Setup time
A very important thing to consider when choosing your kit. Smaller kits are not always faster to set up, but often with less equipment you end up getting the shots much faster. It should be a good balance between something that gives you the shots you want while not slowing you down too much.

Budget
Keeping your kit smaller often also keeps your costs a lot lower, or allows you to invest more into the really important things while keeping the total budget the same. Again this comes down to finding what works for you.

Travel method and distance
When long traveling is needed I limit what I take to what can be carried comfortably. Even if you are a strong person, you want to keep as much energy as possible for the actual shooting not waste it during travel unnecessarily.

Examples of kits for Independent filmmakers:

I've put together some examples of reasonably priced kits for an independent filmmaker that should allow for high quality production while still being fast and comfortable to use and easy enough to carry to the shoot. Keep in mind these are just examples, and this is coming from a person living in Europe where public transport is a lot more common than America and other places where cars are used more often. More information about the items and their use will be given throughout the book. Lets start with the largest:

Narrative work:
Method of travel: One car. Lets assume any actors will arrive separately in their own cars.
People who can carry stuff: 2-3 people.

  • 5D Mark III camera.
  • 6 lenses: 14mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm.
  • Large Lowepro bag to fit camera and lenses.
  • Tripod and fluid head.
  • 150cm slider system.
  • Glidecam.
  • Jib/crane.
  • Audio kit, as needed. (More about this in the Audio section of this book.)
  • Backup camera, backup audio. (More about this in the "Important Items" chapter)
  • Lots of batteries and cards.

Live event shooting:
Method of travel: Train or cars.
Carrying gear: You and two additional camera operators.

  • Three cameras, as suitable.
  • Three support setups, as needed. Often you would have each shooter using a different method of stabilization to get the most variation. For example one would be using a stabilizer and a wide lens, another would be on a video-suitable monopod with a zoom lens, and another could be using a slider for some slow sliding shots.
  • A small bag for each shooter, ideally something they can wear without getting in the way, such as a small sling bag.
  • Audio kit.
  • Lots of batteries and cards.
  • At least one backup camera, but ideally more. Backup audio.

Commercial video:
Method of travel:  Train, taxi, etc.
Carrying gear: Just you.

  • Sony A7s.
  • Audio kit (See the audio section of this book for more info).
  • 4 lenses: 14mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm.
  • Lighting kit.
  • Tripod, slider and fluid head.
  • Backup camera, backup audio.

Personal projects or traveling for fun:
Method of travel:  Flights, walking, biking, etc.
Carrying gear: Just you. Assuming that if you're traveling with friends they probably don't want to carry any of your stuff. This is specifically talking about the kit you carry with when shooting, so we are assuming a battery charger will be at home or in a suitcase at the hotel room, etc. 

  • Sony A7S
  • One or two small lenses of choice. Personally I like the tiny Voightlander 35mm f1.4, and I will likely also take a small wide angle lens, such as Sony's little 16-50mm.
  • Camera strap.
  • Crumpler belt/shoulder bag. Very small and very comfortable.
  • Batteries and cards, as needed.

 

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Stability: Stabilization options

First, lets discuss the different options for stabilizing your camera, later on we'll look at what units I recommend.

Something very important to mention is that you shouldn’t be trying anything for the first time while you’re on a shoot, new things should be tried and tested well before any important shoot. It is especially important to mention here because small camera screens can look deceptively stable, especially since you are moving together with it, but then when you get back home you may get a shaky surprise.

A trick to seeing how stable your footage really is, is to look right at the corner of the image, ideally in play mode rather than during a shot, you will see any shaking much more clearly this way.


Handheld “Flying” stabilizers - £150 to £450

A good one of these with a lot of practice can produce some fantastic results for a reasonable price. I discuss which ones I like most in LINK NEEDED, and the vest systems that can be used to hold these up is discussed in the next part of this chapter. This gives the best results for slow walking, fast walking, and even running if you’re really good. Most of them are not as easy to aim or do very fast moves with.


Stabilizer with vest system - From £450

This option allows you the same stability as a handheld flying stabilizer but with most of the weight sitting on your body rather than your arms and back. It is also often easier to control the stabilizer this way. The down side of these is that they are much heavier to carry to the shoot, and are not very comfortable to try to do anything other than aim and shoot while you're wearing the vest.


Shoulder rigs - £60 to £600

These are provide some stabilization, but still allow a bit of instability movement in the image and a unique advantage of having full control of the camera and focus with very good control over the aim, especially for fast pans and tilts and easier use of focusing aids such as the camera's viewfinder. An important tool.


Electronic “gimbal” stabilizers - £1500 to £3,000

These are a more expensive option, especially for the quality ones, and are pretty new to the industry. Each one may have it’s own quirks and limitations, things to consider are battery life, reliability (especially with cheaper units), being able to aim in the direction you need, etc. This is currently not my choice, but can be very useful and allow for some things that can’t be done with other stabilizers.


Lens stabilisation - From £100

Optical image stabilization is a great option for extra help with stability, but most of the time is really only useful for standing, not walking or running. The problem with this method is that lenses get very expensive with less options for larger apertures, so I do not rely on this as a main form of stabilization, just an addition, sometimes. 


In-camera stabilization - From £500

This option isn’t that common, and it isn’t as good for moving around as a flying stabilizer, and will vary from camera to camera. Most won’t give amazing results and usually will just be an addition that’s useful for when standing still (not so much for walking), but a few cameras do this pretty well, such as some of the Olympus mirrorless cameras. This is a useful option for those who want something that's super compact for travel or as a backup camera. The problem with this is having to stick to a specific camera system to get this feature, which for many people may not be the ideal camera in other ways. If you go for this option you want to ensure the camera is actually moving it’s sensor to stabilize the image, not doing digital image stabilization. More on that below.


Digital image stabilization - Mostly free

Stabilising your footage in editing can produce some pretty stable results, but often with a lot of nasty stretching or smearing of the image and with added crop which slightly reduces image quality and might not give you the framing that you originally intended for that shot. It should be your last option, then it can be a very useful backup to your main form of stabilization.


Youtube stabilization - Free

This is a strange one to add, but I’ve actually used it a few times. It’s probably the lowest ranking, but for some quick things it can be very useful for non-essential stuff to be quickly watchable on Youtube.

Here's a really quick test I shot. Handheld camera and nothing else, with Youtube stabilization added after upload.


Wide lenses - £200 to £400

The wider the lens, the more stable your footage looks. With something super wide (like a 14mm on a full frame camera or 11mm on crop sensors) you can actually get some really good results with very little noticeable shake, although it is best used together with another form of stabilization. Even though this helps a lot, a super wide angle lens is often not the look you are going for, so most of the time I stick to about 35mm on full frame.

Here's a video I made a long time ago. I used the Tokina 11-16mm on a Canon 60D and a shoulder rig. I was able to walk around without much unwanted movement showing up in the footage. The last two shots were done on a Glidecam.


Top-handle stabilizers.

I wouldn’t bother much with this. Often used by skaters to get very low angle shots and this is where it is useful.


"Fig Rig" style dual handle stabilizers

Useful with wide lenses for action shots. It's more stable than handheld but not exactly smooth, the movements feel more harsh. Definitely not something for wedding films.


Tripod - £20 to £1000

A little obvious but important to mention. This is obviously the most stable, but with very little movement options.


Monopod - £20 to £150

I don't use these much. When I want this sort of functionality I just close the legs on my tripod. If I wanted to use it often I would get a monopod again, but generally I find that I don't use them much. They add a lot of stability and a lot of portability but with very little option for movement during the shot, so for me they are not ideal. 


Slider - £120 to £400

For my work these are indispensable. A good slider system adds a ton of production value when used well.


My favorite multi-use portable rig

This gorillapod focus is a joy to use. It can't replace my tripod/slider system, and it can't replace my Glidecam, but it's my favorite shoulder rig, my favorite overall budget rig, my favorite travel rig and my favorite "grab-and-go" rig.


bottom handle grips

Not really a pro tool but a potentially helpful super-low-cost travel stability aid.

 

Jibs

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Gear: "Flying" stabilizers

Glidecam HD series - From £350

Flies very well and has calibration screws in the gimbal. The HD-1000 is lightweight but the other models get noticeably heavier. Every flying shot in my showreel was done with this.

It's not perfect, but even after the many stabilizers I've used, this is the one I always come back to.

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Kovacam K05 with or without its vest system - £200 to £450

The K05 “sled” (the stabilizer itself) flies about as well as the Glidecam and is very rugged. Carbon fibre makes it much lower weight than the large Glidecams, which is good.

The X4 vest system is very well-priced and allows for really professional results for a much longer shooting time, but it is also much larger and heavier to carry to the shoot.

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Monocam / Xcam - £200

These two Chinese stabilizers are both very lightweight and fly very well. They are both made in the same factory as the Kovacam as far as I know and are both far less rugged than the other two mentioned above.

The recommended seller for Chinese stabilizers is Orpheus_C, he sells genuine ones and gives very good service.

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AVOID:

All "C"-shaped stabilizers. Hard to fly. Hard to balance. Cheap but useless.

• Stabilizers without fine adjustment knobs on the top plate. Not suitable for professional work.

• S40, S60, S100, etc. Rebranded under many names. The worst quality I have seen, by far.

• Proaim/Proam/DVCity/CineCity/FilmCity/CamTree/etc. Not all their products are bad, and maybe when you order from them you might get a good service, use google for more information on this. Their products are often lower quality and I don't like that the products are often blatant copies of other things. I also don't like seeing things like them offering $200 payments to people who make reviews (in an email that I assume went out to their entire mailing list). Their Flycam/Autopilot/etc stabilizers are not recommended.

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Gear: Bags and cases

It is very hard to make a definitive claim that one bag is the "best". There are many options for bags and cases, it really depends on your uses. Here are my favorites, starting with the largest:

Me sitting on my older Samsonite in my review video

Samsonite

This four-wheel roller case is absolutely superb. All the weight is on the wheels and you can easily push it about on most urban surfaces. So much nicer than any other form of equipment carrying. I still keep my expensive stuff in a backpack but the tripods, sliders and lights go in here.

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LowePro Pro Runner 450AW backpack - £100

These are robust and give a lot of bag and quality for the price. It is HUGE and comfortable. I've been using it for years and it hasn't failed me a single time. My cat also likes it as a bed.

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LowePro Flipside backpacks - £70

They are designed to protect your gear from thieves by having the opening on the inside of the bag, where your back is. It also allows you to get gear out of the bag while it's still on you. There are now many similar bags available, but I've not tried the others.

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Crumpler Light delight 400 belt pack - £35

I've grown to love this thing. It gets a ton of use for travel, where it holds headphones, travel documents, coins, mobile phone, etc. And I use it to have some important things within reach at all times on almost every shoot. Things like spare lenses, my backup camera, memory cards, batteries, etc. I have also carried my 5D with a big lens in it, and I also use it as an over-the-shoulder "sling" bag sometimes when I'm doing sports.

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Audio case

Very useful. I keep all my little cables, batteries and adapters in here.

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Gear: Shoulder rigs

Shoulder rigs for larger cameras

First of all, if you have a smaller camera, let me save you some time and recommend the Gorillapod Focus rig [LINK]. It's by far my favorite rig ever.

This section specifically talks about shoulder rigs for larger camera systems such as DSLRs, rigs for small mirrorless cameras will be discussed later on in the book. Unfortunately, most shoulder rigs on the market are not great. I have so far had the best results from my own custom builds, which I have discussed in detail on my youtube channel. I have been asked to make my own custom rigs for sale, which is something I will want to do in the near future, but that’s something I currently don’t have time for.

Here are the things I would recommend to look for in a good shoulder rig. This also applies to custom made ones from ready parts or completely home-made ones. This will really vary with preference and difference uses. Be prepared to pay £300+ for a good shoulder rig. I will discuss budget shoulder rigs in Chapter 4.

A well weighted system

This is the most important thing in a rig. If it’s too front heavy, it will be less stable and much harder to hold for long periods of time. This brings me to my next point...

Camera placement

There are two options I would recommend, the first one is better for larger cameras, which is placing the camera above your shoulder and using an EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) or monitor to view the image, which allows for a more comfortable, compact and lightweight system, but will cost more (for the EVF) and require a longer setup time.

The second option is best for lighter camera systems, and is cheaper and faster to set up. Here I would place the camera in front of me and either look at the screen normally or use an optical viewfinder. Some of us are lucky enough to have a camera with a digital viewfinder, this is the ideal camera for a shoulder rig. It’s fast, easy, compact and super comfortable because the weight of the camera is very close to you and much less accessories are needed.

Minimize on unneeded accessories

A more compact shoulder rig that’s easy and quick to set up is going to be more useful and get better results. This will vary with use, but overall try to keep the clutter to a minimum. I suggest removing that matte box and follow focus, either keep them in the bag for when they are really needed, or sell them and work without them. Your rig won’t look as cool but your set up time will be faster, your lens changes will be faster, your rig will be less front heavy and your bag will be lighter too. A matte box is good as a lens hood when it’s needed (which it rarely is with modern lenses) and its filters are easily replaceable with other alternatives if needed. And personally I have learned over time that I much prefer focusing with my fingers alone, as long as I’m using manual focus lenses which have smooth focus rings, one of the reasons I sold all my EF lenses, I don’t like their focus rings for both stills and video.

A good shoulder pad - £85

Ideally you want one that is adjustable onto the shape of your shoulder as well as being long, wide, soft and grippy. No one currently make this as far as I know, but the closest is the one made by Skier, which isn’t cheap, and you still may want to add some padding depending on preference. On many of my shoulder rigs I have used big pieces of foam that are cut or bent to the shape I need with zip ties. This isn’t ideal but better than many commercially available ones.

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Long handles - £120 to £220

This makes shooting for a long time easier on your back and arms (more about that later in the book). I would recommend ones that are fully adjustable. Strength is also very important here. The ones made by Lanparte are some of the best you can get in a reasonable budget.

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A compact system that is easy to fold up.

Where possible, this will make both travel and usage easier, although isn’t that critical.

Top handle - £30

This is very useful but not critical.

Cage - £50+

I would recommend against this for most uses. It’s extra weight and extra cost.

Monitor - £200+

A Monitor and EVF is useful for focusing, but it ads weight, cost and setup time. A good monitor isn’t that cheap and many cameras today simply do not need one with their superb built-in digital viewfinders. Many Canon cameras are also painfully slow to work with when using a monitor.

Safety

I would recommend putting something very soft at the back of your rig. Having an exposed weight or rods is very dangerous. You could break something or hurt someone, and it has happened. Some nice foam should do the trick. Yes, it might be ugly but it will be worth it in my opinion.

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Carbon fiber rails/rods - £40

These are nicer to the touch and save a good amount of weight, which is especially important at the front of the rig. Good quality ones should be stronger than metal rods. This isn’t critical, metal works fine too.

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Extended weights - £60

I do not know of any brands that sell this, but having weights that go out to the sides or otherwise one aiming at the floor and one aiming at the ceiling will do a lot to help prevent unwanted “roll” movement.

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Don’t offset the front half sideways

A straight rig will be more stable, better balanced and more comfortable. You can still use an optical viewfinder with most straight rigs. If you want a very slight offset, you can use a sliding quick release plate system sideways, like the Giottos MH-631 (£25) or a macro rail, which is a cheaper option (£15) but won’t be as multi-functional as a quick release system.

Standard quick release

Using a standard quick release for all your gear will allow you to work much faster. I use the Giottos system.

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Connection block - £30+

Connect your quick release to the rig with a solid but lightweight connector piece.

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Tripod connection

A tripod connection under the rig can be useful if you intend to keep things on your rails such as a follow focus, monitor or matte box. However, my personal choice is to not use these most of the time which is why I wouldn’t say a tripod connection is critical. If you do want one, use two sets of rails and an x4 block in the middle of the rig to allow you to split the rig into two parts for easy tripod use. The rear rails, weights, top handle and shoulder pad can be put down while the front rails and camera system can be placed on a tripod more comfortably.

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Gear: Jibs

Jibs are good for those shots that need to go really high. A very good tool for narrative work, but far less useful in other areas of filmmaking. If it's within your budget, adding one to your kit is really useful. And lucky for all of us there's no big confusion, the Kovacam is a huge step above any other jib I have seen. It is very stable, fast to set up (after the first time) and it has almost no carrying weight, especially with the fill-able water weight. it's a great addition to a creative filmmaker's kit.

If you're working on a lower budget or have a restricted carrying limit, just stick to a good slider for now.

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Gear: Backgrounds

Let's discuss all the main options, because they all have their pros and cons. Why do I mention backlighting here a lot? - Because it allows you to get the subject very close to the background without any shadows, in most setups you can even have the subject touch the background and not have a single shadow.

Paper - £50 plus stands (for a huge 2.7x11m roll

My absolute favourite. It's cheap, even for huge sizes, easy to use and looks great. Some will allow you to light from behind the paper which is a great option. Not ideal for travel, and they require some stands or wall brackets to hold them up.

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Muslin/Cloth -  £30

Many of them are a bit see through so be sure to check about that before buying. They crease up easily, which can have a nice effect for some things, and they are easier to travel with. Backlighting this is an option with most kinds of cloth and then creases shouldn’t show up in the image. Can be hung from almost anything without expensive stands.

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Tabletop - £20 to £10

I use glass and paper for this, and it's absolutely lovely! You can also use a fabric light tent as a cheap alternative, but it won’t hold much weight at all.

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Painted wall - £££?

This requires a permanent space, but it allows you to get more use out of corners and space isn’t wasted on stands to hold up the background. It's a hell of a lot more work and would usually cost a lot more too. Backlighting isn’t an option, so you would still need space between the subject and background.

Pop-up cloth - £30 to £80

These are not as large as most other options, but are very very easy to work with and great for travel. if full body shots (including feed) are not required then this is by far the best option and can be set up almost anywhere in seconds. Some of them will also allow you to light from behind the half-clear material which is great.

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Gear: Lighting

There is no perfect light, but there are some really great lights available today that are great for different budgets and uses. Here are the ones you should be considering.

Dimmable CFLs - £50

This is the best I know of for a very low cost studio kit. These lights give out a decent quality light, although just like most other lights they usually have some color cast. They are cheap for the power you get, easy to use and have 5 levels of dimming, which is not ideal but not that bad. They don't heat up the room too much and don't have flickering issues. My choice for lighting most studio shoots. They aren't great for travel though, they take a long time to set up and they are very fragile. I have four of these and they are fantastic in the studio.

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Yongnuo YN-160s - £24 plus batteries and AC adapters

This is the best option I know of for a low cost travel and outdoors kit. Superb lights with a high output for their cost and size. Can be connected together using various accessories for additional power. Very versatile, but for some shoots these won't give enough power. Don't be tempted by the larger YN300 (which is crap) and the YN600 (which is good but makes unacceptable fan noise).

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Pixapro LED-100D - £300

By far the best lights I know of. Absolutely superb quality

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Big-ass reflector - £20

This is a must have for me. It's super useful for bouncing and blocking light, and very easy to travel with. I have one, which has so far been enough for most shoots.

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AVOID:

Halogen lights. They are very hot (sometimes even a fire risk), bulbs can die in hours and they use up a lot of electricity. 

Home-use LED lights. They don't have a reliable color.

Fake “As Arri” lights. They are heavy and overall not great.

CAME brand lights. They have an unbelievably loose quality control and sell lights that promise 100w and only really give 45w.

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Gear: Slider system

The ultimate slider system

A slider is a very important part of a creative filmmaking kit. It is fantastic for narratives as well as commercial work for giving life and motion to your footage and potentially increasing the production value substantially. For some work it may not be the correct tool, for example if you need to move fast and follow live action.
This kit is intended to be very compact, but it still adds some size and weight so if you need to travel very far without a car you could consider something smaller such as a flying stabilizer, although that is not a direct replacement. A slider lets you create very slow carefully controlled moves, while a flying stabilizer allows for faster moves with a lot more range and live following of action, but with less precision than a slider.

This is the system I have come up with after years of trial and error, and man it's a sweet system! You don't have to buy the entire system, just the parts that work for your uses and budget. Listed from the floor upwards...

Floor goes here - Free

Use this to ensure your equipment doesn't fall into the center of the hearth.

Bag

You may wish to hang your bag under the tripod to prevent it tipping over, although with some setups it may not be needed, especially under 100cm.

Manfrotto MPRO 535 carbon fiber tripod legs - £450

This is the most expensive part of the system, thoroughly worth the investment. It's super sturdy yet very lightweight and has a fantastic range of super low height (almost at the floor) and right up above your head, but without losing stability anywhere in that range. Strong and wide enough to hold a 150cm slider, obviously depending on how you use it.

Manfrotto 520BALL 75mm bowl adapter - £40

This connects the slider to the tripod and allows it to tilt in all directions. Just about strong enough for a 150cm slider, and certainly strong enough for use with shorter sliders with most DSLR setups.

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Giottos MH-361 or MH-621 quick release system - £25

This allows all the slider system to connect to the tripod very quickly. I use a few of these in the system. The longer MH-631 may be a little better here under the slider for a bit of left/right adjustment. With the shorter one you should keep the plate centered for maximum stability.

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Konova K7 or K2 slider - £100 to £350

I have used every Konova slider available (K1, K2, K3, K5 and K7) as well as many many others from various brands. The K2 is by far the best value for money. The K7 is a great high-end slider if you have the budget. The difference between them is very small. 100Cm+ if you want long slides, or 80cm if you want to fit it into a large suitcase like the Samsonite Roller Case. It's really up to personal preference. Sealing the slider from dust is a great idea, see how it's done in this video. LINK.

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Konova crank kit with a custom rotating weight - £135

Be sure to ask for the softer black belt to be sent with the crank, and that your weight is made of metal (not concrete and plastic), these should have better weight distribution to prevent wobbling. This sits on the side of the slider.

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Konova MSB Motor kit - £205

These are superb compact time-lapse kits and the manufacturer's 30-second setup time claim is no lie. The price is amazing for such a good system, and they are compact too so adding them to the kit won't weigh you down too much.

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Another Giottos quick release - £25

This gives a very fast connection to the slider and head system. The shorter MH-621 will be better here, and it's fully compatible with the long one mentioned above.

Varavon leveling base - £60

This allows the head to be adjusted which means you can get some nice rising moves with your slider (because there's a bowl system under the slider) while keeping the head level.

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Varavon 815FH fluid head - £80

One of the best fluid heads in the world. Make sure to get it with the older thicker oil.

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Another Giottos quick release - £25

The head has it's own quick release system but this helps with more compatibility across all your gear. I own 4 of these, three in my slider system and one extra for a glidecam or shoulder rig. I prefer the shorter MH-621 here because it gets in the way less while it's attached to the camera.

Camera system goes here

This is useful for capturing footage. Certainly one of the recommended parts of this system. Without it you often end up with empty memory cards.

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Gear: Tripods and heads

Obviously a very important tool for filmmakers. This is something I rarely use without a slider, so I recommend you consider your tripod and slider system at the same time.

Fluid heads

Varavon 815FH - £70

The king of fluid heads. It has THE best performance for DSLR sized cameras that I have seen, ever. It allows for the ultimate smoothness in precise camera moves, especially after a few seconds of warming up at the beginning of the day by tilting the head in all directions for a few seconds. It outperforms every head I have used, far better than a lot of the big names out there. There were some issues with the oil when the manufacturer (Ningbo Weifeng) stupidly decided to change the oil on this head (and on its bowl-mount identical twin brother, the Fancier FC-02h) to a thinner oil. So if you buy one, and you absolutely should, you need to insist they send you the thicker oil. Varavon have now confirmed they send current units of this head out with the thicker oil, which is the one you want, but please do message them first ensure you get the thicker oil, which should also remind them they should not allow the manufacturer to make such a dumb mistake again. For those who already have this head from the time they were shipping with the thinner oil, you can contact rory@eimagevideo.com and arrange to send your head to china for a free oil change. It cost me £60 total to send two heads there and back, I assume one head would cost less. The reason I recommend this head over the Fancier branded version is because the flat mount on this is easier to use and fit to what you need, like a slider or tripod, and because I worry Fancier might still be sticking to their stupid thin oil.

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Velbon DV7000 - £80

Great cheap-yet-tough flat-mount (not bowl-mount) legs, and they come with a fluid head too, it's very smooth, but mainly only good for very small cameras which are center weighted.

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Manfrotto MPRO 535 carbon fiber tripod legs - £450

So good they are also sold by Sachtler with their own branding. The best combination of rigidity, hight and low weight. Absolutely superb, although could do with a mid-level spreader in some situations, mainly for moving the system around without the legs folding inwards.

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JieYang JY0506 fluid head - £55

A solid and smooth fluid head with a flat mount base. Up to scratch with the bigger brands but at a much lower price.

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Varavon Baby T1

AVOID:

● The Fancier/Wiefeng/E-Image legs with the latch-locks instead of twist-lock knobs, These legs are partially plastic and unstable.

● Friction-based sliders do not have roller bearings, and they don't perform as well as a professional tripod should, especially not if you want to use a fluid head on your slider.

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Gear: Emergency Items

[WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: I am not a qualified expert on these matters. You should always consult a professional safety expert regarding any matters that could put you in danger. This list is not a solution to every problematic situation, it is just a list of useful things.]

Emergency and outdoors items

Some of these items will likely not be needed in some situations, but I thought it was an important topic to cover.

First of all, be prepared. Learning your environment and what to do in various emergency situations is very important. Read up on your environment and consult a professional when needed.

Emergency water

Water purification drops and a water filter are the two main things in my outdoors kit. Of course you should also be taking lots of clean water with you. I take a big bottle of  to every shoot, outdoors or not.

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Backup power - £5+

Spare batteries, solar charger, crank charger or another form of backup power are some of the basic options to get a longer life from your equipment. Be aware that many of the cheap power items available on eBay may be too crap to provide decent power.

Emergency medical kit and disinfectant - £10

My kit mainly consists of large plasters and liquid disinfectant. There are many ready made kits you can buy which should have some more things too. Most importantly, learn how to use it. Consult an expert if needed.

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Puncho - £1

A disposable plastic jacket, this is useful for some environments. In a pinch, use a black plastic bag with holes cut for the head and arms.

Toilet paper - £1

I'm not going to list the various uses for this, just use your imagination. I always take some in my bag, no matter where I'm going. 

Wet wipes - £1

Very refreshing on a long shoot and also very useful for cleaning your hands. I would recommend natural ones.


 


 

 

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Gear: Cameras

Professional cameras

All of these cameras can produce great results if used properly. Don't get too hung up on what camera to buy. Get a camera and sell it later if it doesn't suit your needs. This goes over all the cameras I would recommend on a professional budget (There are of course many many other cameras out there) and in the next chapter I’ll discuss low budget cameras. This list is also limited to cameras that aren’t too big, because carrying a 5KG camera isn’t gonna be a fun option for most of us, especially not when you need lots of other gear with it.


Panasonic GH4 - £1300

Photo from www.panasonic.co.uk

Canon 5D Mark III - £2000

Photo from www.canon.co.uk

My current favourite camera.

Pros

Large full frame sensor. No crop.

No moire or aliasing!

The standard 1080p image from the camera is not the sharpest, but still very nice.

Stunning 1080p RAW video using the magic lantern Magic Lantern hack.

Larger than usual 3.2" screen.

Audio in and out.

Superb low light performance.

No overheating issues.

Superb stills camera.

Lots of lens options.

CF and SD card slots, dual recording option in stills, backup option for stills and video.


Cons

30 minute recording limit.

Not very lightweight.

No digital viewfinder.

No swivel screen.

Black Magic Cinema Camera

Photo from www.blackmagicdesign.com

Pros

2.5k video.

13 stops of dynamic range.

RAW or ProRes video recording.

MFT or EF lens mount.

Cons

Smaller sensor

Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera

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Gear: Audio

This chapter is going to be short and sweet. Here are two fantastic audio kit options for a great price.

Rode VideoMic Pro shotgun microphone - £150

The ultimate DSLR microphone. It's compact, fairly low cost, and includes a +20dB setting which amplifies your signal and allows you to set your camera to it's lowest recording volume to get much cleaner audio.

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Zoom H1 audio recorder and HTDZ HT-320A shotgun microphone - £100

This combination gives almost identical audio into the camera as the Rode (The Zoom can amplify the microphone's volume just like the Rode does) although I do slightly prefer the audio from this setup due to it's natural and "warm" sound. It's cheaper and allows for a backup recording on the Rode as well as recording far away from the camera without cables. But it's larger and heavier and requires more setup time and attention, which is why I use the Rode.

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Lightweight audio stand

There are various things you could use. These little tripods are one of my favourites. Alternatively, a good big boom stand.

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