A lot of people these days are wanting to make movies, videos, short films, music videos, vlogs, and all sort of other things, and with good reason. Current technology has made it easier and more affordable than ever to get your hands on the gear you need. Be weary though, and prepare to be thrust into an ocean of decisions. There’s lots of equipment to choose from, so where do you start? That’s where I’ll hop in. I’ll go through the different types of affordable cameras and break down the pros and cons, as well as with microphones. I’ll even explain my own setup for you, but in the end, I am only giving you my own opinions. You must decide what works best for you.
1. Cameras- We’ll obviously start here, since this is a “movie maker’s” reference. There are TONS of different cameras to pick from! Where to start? To give you a short course, there are two main types of cameras used for low/no-budget film these days: camcorders & DSLR’s. A camcorder is your typical home video camera, but in the higher price range, these things can shoot some high quality video! A nice one to look into is the Sony HDR-FX1 HD Professional Camcorder.
Here is a nice quality test video of this camera, courtesy of habitatskater89 from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHobpf6ajGs. This camera is in the $900 range- not too bad, but still kind of expensive for some low-budget filmmakers. Another good option is the Panasonic HC-V520 for under $400, which actually has exceptional HD quality for its price. The pitfall with camcorders for filmmaking is that they look too much like video, and require a bit more coaxing in the editing room to give that extra “film look” it needs, but it can be done quite successfully. Another disadvantage is the deep depth of field. Depth of field can be very briefly explained with a physical test. Put your hand about one foot away from your eyes. Look at your hand, notice everything behind it is blurry. Now avert your eyes behind your hand. Notice everything behind is now clear, and your hand is blurry. This is a similar effect that can be acheived with more expensive cinema cameras with interchangeable lenses (meaning, you can buy extra lenses for your camera and use them, which you can’t do with a camcorder), and a very large internal sensor that offers a shallow depth of field.
This Photo Demonstrates Shallow Depth of Field.
The second option for cameras is the DSLR, which I highly recommend. The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflux) is primarily a still image camera, but can work like a conventional digital cinema camera (like an ultra-cheap version of the RED One camera), allowing you to change lenses, shoot 24fps in 1080p HD, manual shutter speed, and full control over ISO, exposure, and aperture. The sensor in these things let you capture a look that is closer to being “film-like” than a that of a traditional camcorder, but, when it comes to DSLR cameras, you have many options to choose from. For reference, we’ll start with the two most iconic brands, Canon & Nikon. Both companies offer cameras from entry-level to professional flagship cameras. Since the pro cameras are above $1,000, we’ll steer clear of them for now. Instead, I’ll reference the two best entry-level models of the crop. You have the Canon T3i (or 600D in Europe), which is amazing! It features a completely moveable LCD screen (trust me, this comes in handy, and is a rare luxury in the entry-level DSLR world), and an external microphone port, allowing you to just plug and go with an external microphone, which we’ll cover next. It has superb image quality, and is an overall great camera! I would also recommend the Nikon D3200, which features everything I just noted from the Canon, besides the LCD screen, which is static and non-moveable. I have extensively used both cameras and can say from experience that you should really look into them if you are thinking about buying a camera for high quality video and/or photo. Both cameras can be afforded for just under $600 a piece.
Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i
2. Audio- There are only two affordable recorders I would suggest you pick from, personally: The Rode Video Mic ($150), which can be plugged straight into any camera or sound recorder that has an external 3.5mm microphone input, and the Zoom H4N ($230), which is its own recording device with two insanely amazing adjustable microphones built in, and 3 extra inputs for more mics (I own and LOVE this device!). All cameras I listed prior have built-in, internal microphones you can use, but they are of horrible quality, and sound is just as important, if not more important, than video, which is why an external recorder of some sort HAS to be in your kit as soon as you can afford it!
3. Lights- I would never recommend going all-out on lights. Stay simple. There’s no reason to splurge on them when you can go to your local harware store and buy “can lights” for $10 a piece. Buy 3 or more, and go grab some incandescent, halogen, or even fluorescent flood lightbulbs (make sure your camera’s white balance is set according to the bulb you’re using, and never combine two different types of bulbs in the same scene!)
4. Software- Once you buy your setup, and assuming you already have a computer that can handle HD video and fairly intense rendering, you’ll want some software. On a budget, I would highly suggest Sony Movie Studio Suite ($140), or Hitfilm 2 Express ($150). Hitfilm 2 Express is amazing, as it is a video editing and special effects package all in one. For screenwriting software, I use Celtx, and haven’t found a reason to switch to something else in the 3 years I’ve used it. http://www.celtx.com for a free download.
Last but not least, don’t forget plenty of memory card space, and a decent tripod! For HD video, you need cards with a fast transfer (look for Class 10, 20mbps and up, though 50mbps is optimal for perfect video capture). You can get professional-grade 32gb cards from PNY for $20 online. You can get decent fluid head tripods for $60, and trust me, you won’t regret getting one!
That does it for this article! I hope this was informative and helpful. This is an easy way to spend less than $1,000 for AMAZING quality. Before I leave off, here is a full rundown of my current gear, which I’ll follow with a link to my short film, so you can see the gear in action.
I shoot on a Nikon D3100 (now $380), a Zoom H4N (I got a nice package kit for $250), 3 can lights ($30), tripod ($60), 4 misc. memory cards for under $50, and my editing software for $150 (I now use software that costs well over $600 now, though). That comes out to $980 as my initial investment, and the quality of my first short is definitely worth that much to me. If you have the drive to make high quality video, save up the money to invest in a similar setup to mine, if you like what you see, that is.
My current setup being put to the test
To know what you can do on a $5 budget with gear that cost less than $1,000, here is a link to my short film, “Numb”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKwC76zTYok
Coming soon is part 2 of “How To Write Great Original Screenplays”. Here is the first one if you missed it: https://kyleoliverblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/how-to-write-great-original-screenplays-part-1-of-3/
written by Kyle Oliver, 5/2/2014
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Kyle Oliver is an award-nominated writer/director/editor,
& the owner of Vintage Image Films. You can find Vintage
Image Films on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VintageImageFilm
© Kyle Oliver, 2014