So, you’re looking at getting into filmmaking in a serious way, but what do you actually need to invest in before you can head out to shoot some professional looking footage? We’re probably all aware that everything starts with a camera that’s capable of shooting good quality video – often alongside stills – but what are the fundamental extra accessories that will turn that basic DSLR or CSC into a well rounded outfit that’s going to deliver on the movie front?
Well, the first thing to realise is that, unlike a dedicated cinema model, that camera in your hands comes with a host of shortcomings that would preclude using it in a professional capacity straight out of the box. Video capability is often added more as an afterthought, and there will be shortcomings in terms of handling, connectivity and audio performance that will hold you back. The list of accessories you can go out and buy to improve matters is virtually endless, but here’s a break down of the crucial pieces of extra kit you need to get started: everything else can follow as and when your budget allows.
You won’t want to be shooting your footage hand held since there will be inevitable shakes and wobbles that will take the professional edge off your production. Every time you walk, for example, the camera will be moving up and down, and it’s very difficult to execute a smooth panning movement without the help of an accessory of some kind. So your very first piece of essential kit will be a stabiliser or a rig
for the camera: what you go for will depend on the kind of films you’re intending to make, and it could be that you’ll ultimately need more than one accessory to cover all eventualities.
A compact and lightweight product such as the Sevenoak Camera Stabiliser
, which will take up very little space in a gadget bag, utilises counterbalanced weights and a gimbal to take away the shakes, and immediately transforms the quality of footage you’ll be able to achieve out in the field. The Pro 2 Mini Camera Stabiliser
, which can accommodate cameras up to 3kg, operates on a similar principle, and will allow the filmmaker to follow the action while still having the capability to produce silky smooth footage.
Both of these products are good starting points, but if you’re looking to fit a lot of accessories to your set up then you might need to look at a different option. A cage
, for example, is designed to fit around a camera and to provide protection and stability and mounting options for accessories such as microphones, monitors and lights. There are other benefits too: the Sevenoak DSLR Camera Cage
, for example, is designed to accommodate most film-capable DSLRs out there in the current market and it comes with a removable top handle for low down shots, a mini HDMi to HDMi adapter cable, a quick release base plate, cold shoes and 1/4in and 3/8in mounting points.
Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to mount your camera, your next piece of essential kit has to be a supplementary microphone
. Your camera's inbuilt one won’t be up to the task of providing professional audio, so you’ll need to look around for one that’s capable of doing a better job. If your DSLR or CSC features a 3.5mm jack socket – and most of them will - a really good all-round option is a mic such as the Saramonic VMic Pro
, which will sit neatly in your camera’s hotshoe.
This particular microphone is a great first step up: it’s highly directional, meaning that it will pick up sound coming from the front rather than the sides, and it comes with a stereo headphone output, something that’s crucial since you’ll definitely be wanting to monitor the sound that you’re recording out in the field. A good quality set of headphones, by the way, is another on the list of ‘must have’ accessories that needs to be in your essential filmmaking tool kit.
Once you get more fully into the world of mics you’ll find that there are all kinds of options open to you, and a range of different microphone types that will do specialist jobs, but to get started an on-camera model is a good overall choice and will do just fine. The VMic Pro also comes with a specialised shock mount system to prevent vibration and mechanical noise, while the microphone itself is covered by a ‘wind sock’ that’s designed to cut down on extraneous noise on blowy days.
You can, of course, film in a lot of situations without using your own lighting, much as you can take still photographs much of the time without having to resort to flash, but if you want to be able to tackle the full range of shooting situations you’re likely to encounter then you will be wanting to have a light panel or two tucked away in your kit bag.
is most certainly the way to go, as it's continuous, lightweight and portable and can run for ages on a set of easily sourced AA or Sony V-Lock batteries, meaning that you’re not wedded to a power supply. Nanguang produces a wide range of lighting panels that will do a variety of jobs for the filmmaker: there are compact models that can fix directly to a camera or a cage, for example, larger panel lights
that are ideal for lighting an interview situation and even Fresnel
and ring lights
that can perform specific jobs as you advance further into your filmmaking career. For that essential kit list, however, aim to have at least two to three bi-colour panels with you on a job, so that you’re ready for interior or exterior filming, and remember that these will be just as useful should you have a still photography job to take on.
What we’ve gone through so far should get you started, but there will always be extra accessories you suddenly discover you can’t live without. For example, dedicated cinema cameras will invariably come with built-in ND filters, and these are considered to be a crucial part of the feature line up. The reason is that, without the facility to cut down on the light coming into the camera, you’ll be restricted to a single shutter speed unless you adjust the aperture, which in turns changes your depth of field and potentially messes up the continuity between takes. You might also want the option to shoot at a wide aperture to capture a cinematic narrow depth of field, and again you can’t do this without using an ND filter.
So one of these will need to find its way into your essential kit list: fortunately, Kenro distributes a selection of Marumi High Grade ND Camera Filters
that will do the job, and again these will tuck into your bag and take up virtually no room.
Now you’ve got started on your filmmaking you’ll need to add to your kit as and when you feel the need. But at least you’re up and running and learning on the job, and you’ll be secure in the knowledge that from now on you’ll be buying kit as and when you need it and everything you add to your kit bag will have fully justified its place.