The Indie Filmmakers
Equipment Guide

By Christian Bell

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Cameras
Accessories
Audio
Lighting
As Raindance's resident tech guy, one of the most common questions I get from new filmmakers is 'What camera should I get?', followed shortly by 'What cheap sound kit should I buy?' and 'What else do I need?'  Well, these questions do not have easy answers.  These days there are more options than ever before.

When planning to buy any kit, consider how you are going to use it and how often.  Very often renting, even when done repeatedly and even for small things, is a better option than buying.  Did you know that Raindance Premium Members get discount rental at two of London's finest rental houses, PEC and New Day Pictures?

The technology is changing so fast and there is a lot of uncertainty as to what will come out on top. The question you need to ask yourself is, if I am spending £1000 on it, am I going to get 1000 worth of experience, know how, profit, quality, quantity from it?  If no, drop your price.  And keep in mind that these days you may already have a pretty decent camera on your phone.

Lack of camera should never stop you from making a film.  Below we have a solution for every budget.  I've tried to use amazon links wherever possible, it being a site we all know and trust (plus it means I can use those awesome widgets).  However if you decide to purchase any of the pricier gear on this page I strongly advise shopping around first.


£30 – 150

VTech Kidizoom Video Camera - £30

Portable, durable and it comes in nice shades of blue or pink.  Admittedly you might have trouble selling your DoP on the idea.  But at just £30 you can't really go wrong.  Plus it's built with small, destructive children in mind so presumably the camera can take a fair amount of punishment.
Get it here

Flip HD - £128

production may have stopped but these are still great little cameras with a neat range of accessories.  Good picture quality and a very straightforward workflow.
Get it here

Kodak zi8 HD - £125

Much like the flip but with one excellent feature that camera lacks.  An external mic jack.  Get a good mic and now you have the perfect, highly portable shooting kit.
Get it here

Super8

Lo-to-No Budget FilmmakingNot the crazy option you might think it to be.  all that film charm and will give you a good disciplined work ethic for later films.  Film stock can still be brought and purchased at Widescreen Centre or from a few amazon and ebay sellers and you can tell people you're shooting on film... then just mumble the 8mm part.  Cameras are constantly on ebay. (though that pesky J.J. Abrams movie has made any searches for Super 8 gear tricky, though I'm still holding out hope that they'll release a new Super 8 camera to tie in with the movie) There's just something enduringly cool about Super 8.
Here's a couple of sites to check: Super8Camera | CheapSuper8CameraShop
And here's some good cameras to look out for:
Canon 1014 XL-S, Canon 814 XL-S, NIZO 6080
For stock and processing go to the Widescreen Centre in London.

£150 – 400

Panasonic Lumix TZ10 - £180

A none too shabby video function for the price.
Get it here

Zoom Q3SD/HD - £99/£199

This is essentially the Flip with an awesome microphone stuck on the top.  And because it's from the people at Zoom, who specialise in audio, the quality is excellent.  Definitely worthwhile.
Get SD here
Get HD here

16mm - £220

Yep.  You can indeed get a 16mm film camera for this price.  Of course stock and processing costs will have you on the streets fairly swiftly.  Not forgetting of course that you get what you pay for.  But still, it's 16mm!  Cameras are constantly on ebay, key ones to look for being the Russian Krasnogorsk-3 cameras.  There's a good amount of them on sale.
If you want to get your hands on a super16mm kit, at time of writing ebay has one for £6000.
Widescreen centre has stock, or approach some film labs.

Sony HDR - £290

A compact and powerful HD camcorder at a small price.  And, rare for a camera at this price these days, it's actually shaped like a traditional camcorder.
Get it here

Sony HX9V - £310

An extraordinarily powerful compact camera capable of recording true HD.  Just goes to show how thouroughly stills cameras are putting high end camcorders to shame.  Rivals the quality of DSLR footage at a fraction of the price.
Get it here

DSLRs

In this price range you can get into the DSLR game.  But you won't be getting the range of accessories which really make DSLR footage shine.  Choosing a DSLR can get a little confusing.  Pick a number and add D to the end and chances are that Canon have released a corresponding camera and it seems a new model is released just about every month.  The subtle differences between each one would take too long to go into here, so below is just a broad summary.

Nikon D3100 - £440

A decent DSLR with a simple set of easy to use features.  Brilliant for its price.
Get it here

Canon 550d - £600

The budget Canon DSLR.  The results this camera gets are head and shoulders above camcorders in its price bracket.
Get it here

Canon 60d - £1000 (with lens kit)

Captures beautiful HD images and has a handy flip out screen, which makes shooting at awkward angles that much easier.
Get it here

Panasonic Lumix GH2 - £1060

A great camera with a range of shooting modes and an articulating screen.
Get it here

Canon 7d - £1400 (with lens kit)

An indie filmmaker's dream.  This camera has a wide choice of shooting modes to suit your project.  It also allows HDMI out while shooting so you can preview your HD images on a monitor rather than having the crew huddle around the camera.
Get it here

Canon 5d - £2000

This has become the gold standard that every low budget indie production aims to shoot on these days.  It gets great results but the price jumps up once you factor in all the accessories that you will need.
Get it here

£750+

Canon HV40 - £750

You're not really going to get a cheaper HDV camera.  This gets great HD images and has the ability to record at 25p.
Get it here

Canon XM2 (miniDV) - £800

Sure, it's miniDV which is fairly redundant in this HD world of ours, but there's still a gritty edge to the DV look.  It's dated, but still a quality camera.  Plus I'm still a big fan of tape formats.
Get it here

JVC GY-HM100U - £1300

Records HD at 24p and records onto SDHC cards.  A powerful choice indeed.
Get it here

Panasonic AG-HVX200 - £1600

They used these on Cloverfield, I'm told.  This can shoot full HD at 24p, which allows you to get close to that iconic film look.  Cheap though it is, it shoots on pricey P2 cards.
Get it here

Canon XHA1 - £3400

The current workhorse here at Raindance.  It is a pricey beast but it gets great results.  Used they can sometimes drop to the mid 1000 mark.
Get it here

Sony Z1/Z5/Z7

These are great to work with and my defacto choice when doing any basic filming.  They're HDV, so use cheap and cheerful miniDV tapes.  Pricey purchase but rental kits are nice, cheap and comprehensive.
Used Z1 - £2900
Z5 - £3500 - £4500
Z7 £4000 - £6000


Remember that the camera is just one of many bits of kit you are going to need.

Tripods

Absolutely essential.  How much you are going to have to spend depends in part on your choice of camera.  These days the attachments are fairly universal, however if you get one for £15 it's likely to be a little too flimsy to support larger cameras and wont have the same beautifully smooth pans that you'll get at higher prices.
Cheap and cheerful - £14
Heavy duty (with remote control) - £440
That gives you a bit of an idea of how widely the prices can vary.

Monopod

Perfect when you need just a little extra stability.  Forget the expensive ones.  It is, after all, a pole with a screw on it.  For filming you're only likely to use it to get a little extra stability.
Get one here

Stock

SD card 16 GB | SD card 32 GB | miniDV tapes | 8mm/Hi8 | Super8 cartridges
Super8 cartridges | P2 64 GB Card

Cables

XLR | Firewire | 3.5mm | RCA Phono | XLR to 3.5mm Jack | Triple RCA coupler

Gels - £60 per roll

If you can sneak onto a film set then it's worth checking out the skip outside the studio.  You can often find still useable gels cast aside.  Otherwise you can buy some here in a range of colours.
Blue | orange | yellow | red | dark green | medium red | medium purple | purple | dark green/blue
congo blue | night blue

Extension cords - £25

Get some here

Gaffer Tape - £5

A film set would soon fall apart without gaffer tape.  In both the literal and metaphorical sense.
Get it here

Crocodile Clips - £5

For attaching gels and filters to lights, for making adjustments to wardrobe and production design, the uses of crocodile clips are numerous.
Get it here

Black Wrap - £20/25

Used for sculpting the shape of your lighting and to stop excess light washing out your set.  All the times I've used this stuff and I don't believe I have ever seen a fresh roll.  You can get one here.

Glidetrack - £230

These come in a wide variety and though the level of movement they provide is limited, the resulting images still add a wealth of production value.  They are available in an assortment of different lengths.
Get it here

Indiedolly - £450 - 1000

There are numerous guides to building your own dolly and track kit floating around online but they involve at least a little diy know how and the ownership of tools, thus I have never tested them.  But if that sounds like you then it's definitely worth looking into.  Or you can get one for a mostly reasonable price.  Make sure it'll fit your tripod before purchasing.  Here
or here
or here

C stand - £100

The alternative to having your runner holding a flag in place.  The uses of these on set are countless.
Get one here
or here

Smoke Machine - £30

Nothing like a smoke machine to add a little eery atmosphere to your film.  I would be wary of where you use it though.
Get one here




Images only make up half of the film going experience.  You're going to need great sound too.  Here's the gear you may need.

Azden SGMX1 - £90

A quality shotgun mic that comes at a pretty reasonable price.
Get it here

Seinheisser ME66 - £225

A brilliant, highly directional mic.  
Get it here

Hama RMZ-14 - £30

Cheerfully cheap and awesomely awesome.  This budget mic gives you great directional sound for the price and should fit even the most basic cameras.
Get it here

Zoom h4n - £260

A great portable audio recorder.  A perfect way of capturing sound for your DSLR movies without breaking your budget.  It has two XLR inputs and even has a good quality stereo mic attached.
Get it here

Fostex FR-2 LE - £400

A powerful field recorder that records to flash cards and features two phantom power XLR mic inputs.
Get it here

Fostex FR-2 - £880

A great professional grade sound kit, capable of recording to either hard drive or flash cards.  It has the ability to generate timecodes which will be a great help when syncing up your footage.
Get it here

Tascam DP-008 - £215

Designed more for music, his bit of kit still has a great deal to offer to filmmakers.  It has two phantom power XLR inputs and allows you to record to eight seperate tracks.
Get it here

Tascam DP-004 - £120

The smaller, cheaper equivalent of the DP-008.  It has four recording tracks and ¼ inch jack inputs.  No XLR inputs unfortunately, but you can't argue with that price.
Get it here

Beachtek DXA-5DA - £250

Designed as an attachment to provide great audio with any DSLR with a mic input.  It has two XLR inputs and a display that allows you to monitor audio settings and levels.  It can also be used with regular camcorders.
Get it here

JuicedLink CX231 - £180

Attaches to the base of any camcorder with standard tripod fittings.  This piece of kit provides you with two phantom powered XLR inputs and a range of gain and level controls.
Get it here

Rhode NTG-2 - £170

A great directional condensor mic that can run off phantom power or AAs.
Get it here

Blimp - £185

Cuts out excess noise and shelters your microphone in a hardy cocoon.  People have built their own.
Get it here

Radio Mics

Be warned that with radio mics you most definitely get what you pay for.  You can pick up a very basic set pretty cheap.  Also be aware that with the digital switchover coming into full effect in 2012, many radio mics will become redundant, so if you're buying a more expensive set make sure it won't be affected.

Sony WCS 999 - £85

People have said bad things about these as well as the numerous cheap radio mic sets that crop up on ebay.  But do you really expect great results at this price?
Get it here

Sennheiser ew 100-ENG G3 - £699

A great, but pricey, set of radio mics.  This set is fully compliant with the 2012 digital switchover.
Get it here

Boom Pole - £80

There are many who have diy-ed there way into cheapness.  Again, I have not tested.  Owning one of these is essential of you want to get decent sound.
Get one here

Clapperboard - £10

Very helpful for syncing up sound and picture in post.  Using one will also just put every one in a more filmy mood.
Get one here
You'll probably need some chalk to go with it.

Deadcat - £25

Also known as a windshield, or sometimes a 'dougal' to us brits.  A cheap solution is suggested in its name but I would not recommend it.  This one is designed to fit the Rhode microphone above.  Get it here





Lighting is a tough one but has gotten easier for the indie production with greater digital flexibility.  Now that colour correction is cheap, creating a visual look can often be put off to the grading room (though getting it right on set will always be far superior). When lighting your film, you can get away with using just about any type of light but you will lose the flexibility that a proper lighting kit will give you.  Unless you intend to work as a DoP and will be getting extensive usage, it's a much better idea to rent lighting equipment.

Work lights - £10-£30

There are many who experimented with using work lights for filmmaking, however they are not without their issues.  They get exceedingly hot so it is definitely not a good idea to use them for lighting intimate indoor scenes.  Plus they do little more than blast out light, offering very little in the way of control.
Portable Halogen
Twin Site Lights
5 Metre Work Light

Britek - £200 – £300

Designed for photography but this is still a cheap and cheerful versatile kit.  A step up from worklights at any rate.
Get a kit here

Reflector - £15

Yet another piece of kit that can be cobbled together for a pittance.  If you've got anything that reflects light it's a suitable substitute, though if you're prepared to spend you can get it here.

Polyboard

Would you believe it, you can get a board of polystyrene fairly cheap.  My suggestion is to construct something from A3 boards and gaffer tape.  Paint one side black and you've got a polyboard without paying the extortionate price of a 'film' polyboard.  Get polystyrene here



So, no more excuses.  Go make your film!
And if you've done so and are now using lack of post production options as an excuse, then check out our Zero Budget Software Guide.

No money need not mean no movies.  And above all else remember this: The only people who care what you shot on are other filmmakers.  A good film is a good story and no codec, lens or CCD chip is going to help you there.  Get what you can and get filming!

Have you found any great pieces of kit for small moneys?  Anything you want me to find?  Let me know.

 

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About The Author


Christian Bell A graduate of the Metropolitan Film School, where he made short films about tortured misunderstood artists, Christian Bell now devotes his time to the Raindance cause in the hope that he can somehow make amends for his crimes against cinema. 

He spends all too much of his time watching films no-one has ever heard of and then preaching the word to all who will listen.

The rest of the time, Christian is an editor and he has recently launched Raindance's new Post-Production Services.  Take a look here.

 

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Independent Filmmakers Equipment Guide