Filmmaking Equipment Guide – Low Budget

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]cquiring equipment for DSLR filmmaking can be almost as enduring as learning about filmmaking itself. In this guide, you will find all the essentials needed to go out and start making a movie. This guide will focus on the core equipment needed; we will not venture into external components such as external monitors. This guide will cover the core basics such as cameras, lenses, rigging, audio, and necessary accessories. All items will have a click through link that will take you to the product page on Amazon. If you purchase from that link, Amazon will give a bit back to us.

The guide will be broken down into three budget bands.

  • Low Range Budget £1500-£2000/$2000-$3000
  • Mid-Level Budget £2500-£4000/$3500-$6000
  • And High-Level Budget £5000-£7000/$7000-$10,000

The bands will be geared towards new filmmakers and perhaps those who have been doing this for a few years and are looking to take a step forward with their equipment. I’ve always been a big believer in that you should only upgrade your equipment when the equipment you currently have is holding you back. Far too many people want raw cameras and cameras that shoot 6k for the sake of being part of the scene. This list will remain faithful to keeping things low cost. When we proceed up the brackets, equipment will not increase in price solely because we have extra budget. If an individual piece of equipment will stand through all bands, it will remain on the list.

We live in a beautiful time, as when I first jumped into the DSLR game there was little to choose from; Camera A for £500/$750 or Camera B £1500/$2000. Neither were definitive winners, and you always had to have a workaround because they were not initially designed for filmmakers. The video mode in the 5d was an add-on that photo-journalists requested.

Now six years later there are so many options to choose from, I can no longer keep up with all the new technology. What is great is that some of the initial DSLR’s still hold up today, and what’s even better is that the price of the equipment has significantly lowered. You can pick up the body of a 550d for £225/$250 now. That was a dream six years ago.

Low Budget

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]amera: As previously mentioned, the 550d is now at an incredibly low price and as long as you respect the camera and what it can and cannot do, you will get fantastic results. This video here was shot on a 550d and I was at first convinced it was shot on 16mm, and I think it’s because the filmmakers understood that they weren’t going to get a cinematic blockbuster from a 550d.

You get 1080p at 24 frames per second or 60 frames per second at 720p. While you lose the extra pixels, you can upscale your footage using various plug-ins and still pass it off as 1080p. It has an APS-C sensor which is close to a 35mm film camera, but with the sensor size you have to incorporate the 1.6x crop factor. A 50mm will become an 81mm lens.

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]enses: A great lens to pair with this camera is the Canon 50mm 1.8 which you can pick up for under £100/$100. The lens is built quite cheaply and feels more like a toy than an actual tool for photography, but who cares what something feels like when it produces great results.

In an original IndieTips video, we discussed what budget lenses you could pick up for a limited amount of money. I haven’t changed my recommendations since then, and I still think that the Canon 28mm 2.8 is perfect for a wide and a Canon 70-200 f/4 is great for a telephoto.

Do remember the crop factor when acquiring lenses. While the 28mm is a wide lens on a full frame sensor, yet on the 550d it becomes a 45mm. If you have cash left over from this shopping trip an investment into a Tokina 11-16mm would be reasonable.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]udio: Likewise, in another IndieTips video we discussed how you can capture good audio. A primary point of that video was that you cannot cheapen your sound department as sound has to be great. Poorly recorded sound is the calling card of amateur filmmaking.

 

Weeks of research were spent on trying to find the best shotgun mic and recorder combo. There are a lot of comparisons between the Rode NTG2 and a Sennheiser MKE600, and between the Tascam DR-100 and a Zoom H4n. At the low budget level, the NTG-2 and Tascam Dr-100 Mk I is the best option.

However, you are going encounter low-level issues—a reminder that this isn’t going to get you Christopher Nolan’s crispy audio, it’s going to get a decent sound pick up. Ideally, in this situation, you would need a pre-amp, but we don’t have much leg room in the budget at the moment.

The NTG2 operates either from an AA battery or P48 phantom power which can be supplied by the DR-100. The battery power option makes the NTG2 ideal for scenarios where the DR-100 might be losing power. The Dr-100 also has the option to run from two AA batteries over its Lithium-ion battery. The mic uses an XLR output and for the best quality, I would advise on keeping the output on XLR and not adapting the XLR to 3.5mm jack.

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The rugged TASCAM DR-100 offers high-end recording features to musicians and engineers who demand more from their portable recorder. It features four built-in microphones, two cardioid and two omnidirectional, with analogue limiting and filtering for great-sounding recordings. A pair of XLR microphone inputs with phantom power welcomes pro-grade condenser microphones, and line in and out connectors are also provided.

As a side note, you’re also going to need a boom pole. The Rode 3m Boom is a great starting point.

The DR-100 is a stellar recorder for the DIY Filmmaker; it’s going to be staying in the kit right the way through.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ripods: Your DSLR is lightweight, even when rigged up with a follow focus, a monitor, and several other accessories, a DSLR doesn’t even come close to the weight of a pro cinema camera. That said, in my experience there is no advantage what so ever in purchasing a heavy duty tripod. Heavy duty tripods have twin legs and a floor-level spreader. This helps keep the tripod stable when under duress. But honestly, not needed for DSLR shooting. Perhaps I would invest in one if I was shooting up in the mountains near a ravine with wild bears roaming around the place, but if you’re just shooting short films in your uncle’s café then stick with the following recommendation.

Manfrotto_IMG_0011I recommend the Manfrotto 190xPro3, this is the updated version of the tripod that I’ve had since the very start. It reaches 160cms; with the head and camera on top of that, it reaches the eye line for anybody around 6ft (and under) correctly. It’s made from aluminium so it is light to carry but won’t fall over under a gush of wind. However, if it is a windy day, the tripod has a hook where you can attach your bag to give the tripod that extra weight and ease your mind.

The Manfrotto 701HDV Pro Fluid Video Head coupled with the 190xPro3 is a dream combination. The engineering behind the fluid head allows you to pan with just the pressure of a pinkie finger. Now the payload is 4kg, which theoretically means this could hold a c100 with a lens and monitor. But as the weight increases, the fluidity of the head decreases. I’ve tried using a 30kg cinema camera on this and it doesn’t work, at all.

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ightingThe key to any beautiful image is the lighting. Without lighting your image can look flat and dull (sometimes that is the desired effect). Pro lights can start at £300/$400 and run up to £5000/$7000 and more, it may look daunting having a budget of £200 for lights and thinking you don’t even have a starting point, but fear not. eBay has you covered. You can buy an 800w Redhead from eBay for £50. I need to disclose these lights are Chinese knockoffs. The wiring can be a bit suspect and the build is very cheap, but you’re getting an 800w light source for £50. My advice is to give the light to an electrician to check over and make any adjustments.

One 800w light is enough to fill a room, in which you can use some reflectors and flags to play around with the light control.

300 and 160 LEDs are also something that I greatly recommended. They produce a bright light, little heat build-up and are light to carry. Also, they don’t require an AC/DC power current as they run off batteries. The downside to these LEDs is that the light they create isn’t as attractive perhaps in comparison with a pro light. Another recommendation is the 5-1 reflector that you can pick up anywhere.

The final light to recommend is an ARRI 150w. You can pick these up for £300, the difference here is that you’re paying a lot more for a lesser amount of light. It seems counterintuitive, but there’s a reason why ARRI is such a respected company with their cameras and lights.

If you didn’t know, it’s because they are so reliable and great.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]torage: If you have just shelled out close to £1000/$1500 for a camera and set of lenses, you’re going to need something to carry them safely around in.

A Lowepro rucksack will do just that. I have the andFastPack_350_left throughout every camera change and lens change I’ve gone through, this camera bag has remained with me. It has enough room for the camera and an attached lens, along with four other lenses. The top section has enough room to store a notebook (the writing kind), some filters, pens, wires, and the charger if needed. Suffice to say you can store a lot in this camera bag.

At the end of this list, we’ll talk about accessories such as memory cards and so forth.

For the low-range budget, you’re looking at around £1500/$2000. This may seem like a lot, however, it is not. I had already £1000/$1500 in when I bought a 550d and a few lenses nearly 6 years ago. Of course, you don’t have to acquire all of the suggested lenses, but with the above equipment list, I would say it’s enough to go to a location with an actor or two, and make a film.

The Mid-Range band will be added sometime this week. Follow our Facebook or Twitter page to be notified when The Mid-Range section

US

Canon 550d
Canon EF 50mm
Canon EF 28mm
Canon EF 70-200mm
Tokina 11-16mm
Rode NTG2 Condenser Shotgun Microphone
Rode Boompole
TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
ManFrotto 190xPro3
Manfrotto 701 HDV FluidHead
Lowepro Fastpack 350

Total $2556 (lights not included).

UK

Canon 550D
Canon EF 50mm
Canon EF 28mm
Canon EF 70-200mm
Tokina 11-16mm
Rode NTG2 Condenser Shotgun Microphone
Rode Boompole
TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
ManFrotto 190xPro3
Manfrotto 701 HDV FluidHead
Lowepro Fastpack 350

Total £1932 (lights not included).

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.