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Essential Filmmaking Kit For Beginners [Not To Cheap Out On]

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In this article, we’re going to share with you the most essential filmmaking equipment that you shouldn’t cheap out on.

Filmmaking is expensive, we know this, but we don’t realise until we’ve spent the same amount of money on gear as we would on a mortgage just how expensive a career choice it is.

But unfortunately, the love of film is too strong, and most of us are in too deep! After a few years you begin to realise what pieces of video kit were worth the cost and which ones were a complete waste of money, but for those of you who are just starting out here’s some first-hand experience of what not to cheap out on.

1. Tripod

Naturally, a tripod is the first corner we all cut, it’s just there to hold a camera, right? It’s not going to impress a client, it’s not going to offer you 4k or Steadicam shots, and it can be replaced by almost any flat surface, or so you think…

One of the first bits of video kit you will buy, along with a camera and lens, is a tripod. Why? Because it is fundamental to making professional films and getting paid work. Tripods can be eye-wateringly expensive, with the top brands like Sachtler setting you back $2000, and after you’ve bought that shiny new A7iii, you’ve probably only got $100 left.

Here’s the thing though, tripods come on every shoot with you, and if they’re cheap they’re either going to be good but incredibly heavy, or it’s going to be light but so bad it doesn’t even hold your camera. If you are shooting on a mirrorless camera with a pancake lens you may get away with it, but shooting on an FS700 with a 24-105? Forget it.

Three reasons you shouldn’t cheap out on a tripod:

  1. You will end up replacing it, buy a good one upfront and you’ll end up spending less than if you keep replacing a bad one with another bad one. Think of it like buying a house vs renting a house, it may be more upfront but in the long run you get a better return on your investment
  2. You only have one spine, look after it. Most shoots will involve you walking through long corridors, upstairs, through fields, and getting lost in the process so having to do it all twice. Carbon fibre single legs are so dreamy they would give Colin Firth a run for his money. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as watching your team of freelancers struggle with their heavy tripods, whilst you glide past with your light sticks strapped to your back.
  3. Your shots will be ruined if you go cheap. No one wants to pan or tilt the tripod head only to see a horrible wobble, and with a cheap tripod you have to set it up and leave it, but even if you change something on the menu of your camera, you’ll see a wobble.

Just. Don’t. Do it.

2. Laptop

You probably didn’t even think of this when you drew up your video kit wish list, but what are you going to edit it all on? That $500 laptop which can barely run solitaire isn’t going to cut it I’m afraid.

Computer language is an alien one for many filmmakers, so it can all be overwhelming when choosing, but there are a few things that you need to have on your checklist.

  1. The processor. An i7 might cost you more, but if you are wanting to export your 3 minute film without having to wait for the stars to align then it might be worth the extra buck, especially if you are editing in 4k.
  2. 8GB RAM should be your absolute minimum, with 16GB being far more ideal. Wait until black Friday or some post-Christmas deals (you have a fair wait we know) and you’ll pick up something surprisingly cheap, but a combination of 16GB RAM and an i7 will give you some significant processing power and space to stop premiere pro crashing every 5 minutes.
  3. The graphics card. You want to be able to view your footage right? It’s quite hard to edit when your computer is struggling to render the moving images even at 50% on HD.
  4. Internal memory. This might not be all that important if you are working mostly on external hard drives, but if you forget it then having some space to back up your footage on your laptop can be a life saver on a shoot. On this note, it’s also worth mentioning that a solid state drive (SSD) will do you better than a normal HDD to optimise performance and power.
  5. You may get all of the above relatively cheap, but the trade off is size. Some people prefer large screens like 17 inches, other people prefer having a laptop that can fit in any camera bag, in which case you’re looking at 13 or 14 inches. Either way though, a slim laptop will be a blessing when trying to squeeze it into your packed camera bag.

Also, check out our article on the best budget laptops for video editing.

3. Batteries

There’s a reason knock off batteries are a tenth of the price of branded ones – because they’ll last a tenth of the time. I remember with vivid pain the day all 3 of my knock off batteries decided to stop working whilst on a shoot, I was lucky I was working with someone who had a spare official one…never again.

You might think if you buy 4 knock off batteries you’ll get 4x as long to shoot (which if you are a sony A7S owner is appealing), but you may end up having your shoot cut several hours short. If you are going to buy knock off batteries do your research thoroughly to make sure they are rated just as highly. If the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is.

4. SD cards

Many cameras shoot in formats that require certain sizes and speeds in the SD cards (or CF etc.), XAVC S won’t allow you to record on anything below 64GB for instance. But if you have a camera that doesn’t give you a minimum requirement then you may be tempted to buy lots of cheap ones. Why is this bad? Because the speeds will be low and that will result in two things.

  1. Your camera will randomly stop recording because it can’t write to the card fast enough, which during an interview or event is a horrible situation to find yourself in.
  2. It will take forever to download onto your computer, and we mean forever, not ideal if you’re in a rush.

All of these pieces of video kit have been bought cheaply by most filmmakers, including myself, but if you can force yourself to spend that extra $200 here or there (we know it’s easier said than done) then you will be making your own filmmaking experience a far more enjoyable one. I leave you with four words to live by… buy cheap, buy twice!

Also, check out this guide on the essential video kit from DSLR Video Shooter.

Aram Atkinson
Aram Atkinson
Aram is an award-winning writer, director and DOP. He specialises in commercials and high concept dramas.
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