Monday, September 17, 2012

What I Use to Shoot DSLR Film/Video (A Complete DSLR Filming Equipment List)

A couple of months ago, I did a post on what I thought I would need to get into the DSLR filming game (previously having always rented/borrowed other people’s equipment).  Well now that that has happened, I think it’s time to update the idea to what I actually use on a regular basis when shooting.  I’m helping a friend put together a purchase list, so this kind of goes hand in hand with compiling the list, so I thought I’d just do both things at the same time.  Also, I think we’re going to be upgrading to a Black Magic Cinema camera soon, so this is a good way to take inventory on what will be cross-compatible (I’m pretty sure it’s almost everything except for the 7D battery grip).

  • Canon EOS 7D body
    I spent a long time deciding which Canon DSLR we’d go with.  Here is a post on the decision, but long story short, most cinematographers I spoke with actually preferred the cropped sensor, telling me the full sensor on the 5D has too much depth of field, believe it or not.  The 7D also has 60fps (for slo-mo) and TWO image processors (making it better than the 60D or T3i family).  Canon actually released a 6D at Photokina today –basically the 7D with a full-sized sensor and some more bells and whistles, but it’s $2,100 and I’m thinking the 7D is still the way to go (it’ll be interesting to see what Canon does with the 7DmkII).
  • CF Cards and case
    I try and use only SanDisk class 10 cards.  They are consistently the fastest and most durable cards available.  That said, you pay a premium for SanDisk.  I do own a few Transcend cards that have never let me down and seem to be almost if not exactly as fast. For the case… Pelican makes great CF card cases, but they are ridiculously overpriced.  I use this one from Cowboy Studio.  It holds 4 CF cards (and/or SD cards) and cost $8 vs. $25 for the virtually IDENTICAL Pelican case. Here’s a previous post I did on CF/SD cards.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (77mm threads)
    This lens is a must have for Canon cropped sensor users.  From what I understand, at the 16mm end of the spectrum, it can even be used with the full sensor 5D. Here is a previous post on this lens.  I don’t often make this bold a statement, but: BUY THIS LENS!
  • Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 US IS (72mm threads)
    This was the kit lens from my 40D still camera.  I don’t use it very often, but I always take it along for use in a pinch.
  • Nikon E series 50mm f/1.8 (58mm threads)
    Purchase via Craigslist for next to nothing (like $50). I actually took the lens apart and removed the click mechanism for the aperture ring to make it more like a cine lens.
  • Nikon E series 28mm f/1.2 (58mm threads)
    Same as above.
  • Vivitar 70-200mm 1/3.8 (58mm threads)
    Same as above.
  • Nikon F Mount to Canon EF mount adapters
    Every now and then you’ll get a loose one, but they can’t be beat for the price (under $10 on eBay).  I recommend buying more than you need, that way if a couple are loose, you can just toss them and still come out ahead on price. Beat in mind these won’t transfer exif data or allow auto aperature and focus.  You can pay more (quite a bit) for adapters to handle these things from the camera body, but I prefer to just control everything manually.
  • Rear Lens Caps
    I had to buy new Canon back caps for all the non-Canon lenses since I outfitted them all with Canon mount adapters.
  • Lillput 7” LCD Monitor
    Here’s my previous post on this item.  For the price ($200), you simply can’t beat this monitor.  Having an external LCD for pulling focus is essential when using sticks.  It’s a little trickier (cumbersome) when shooting hand-held.  I haven’t purchased an LCD magnifier/loupe, but I really need to.  They are essential for pulling focus hand-held, especially in bright sunlight when the camera’s on board LCD is essentially useless.
  • Extra Batteries for LCD Monitor
    Cheap and readily available via Amazon or eBay
  • Cokin P Filter Holder with adapters for all lens sizes
    I like to have only one set of filters that can be used with all my lenses, and I like not having to thread them into the end of the lens each time I use them.  This is very similar to a matte box system.
  • 85mm Square ND Filters
    You cannot shoot outdoors (in sunlight) without ND filters.  These are essential filters that (supposedly) don’t change the color cast of your shot while lowering your aperture so there is more depth of field to your shot.  These come in various darkness levels, with a “ten stop” (3.0) being the darkest glass you can get.  Here’s a previous post on the system.  I should probably update the post, since it sounds a little more negative than how I currently feel using the Cokin P size system.
  • Bolton Hard Case
    These are FANTASTIC water tight cases, and beat the PANTS OFF the price of a Pelican Case.  You can read my full review here.  I purchased two sizes, the 18” and the 20.5”.  In retrospect, I think the 20.5” is overkill for my needs.  I will likely get another 18” and use only two 18” cases for my camera(s) and lenses in the future.
  • Vivitar VIV-PG-7D Battery Grip
    When you take the battery out of the body and move it to the grip, you remove one of the hottest items from the camera setup and reduce instances of overheating (the other item being the LCD screen) .  Using the battery grip also allows you to power your camera on 8 AA’s if you’re ever in a pinch.  Bear in mind, using the grip ads girth to your camera, and will change the physical set-up of your rigs, rods, follow focus, etc. I actually ordered a different grip than this Vivitar, but the Amazon vendor ran out of the brand I bought, and they sent me this one instead.  The knob on the Vivitar that tightens the grip to the body remains loose even when the grip is tightened all the way, and thus rattles and creates some sound.  I have to tape it down to prevent this (pretty annoying).  That said, this non-OEM version is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than the Canon grip, and is virtually the same piece of equipment.
  • Extra Canon Batteries
    This is the one place where I am sure to ONLY purchase OEM.  There are too many crap batteries out there to gamble.  Canons recharge quickly, retain their charge the longest, and last considerably longer than any of the knock-offs.
  • XTG Dual Battery Charger
    I love having a charger that tells me how much charge is left on each battery (two independent LCD screens).  I also love being able to charge two batteries at a time, and the fact that it comes with a car charger as well as a wall plug is great when shooting in the field.
  • Photography & Cinema Gear Box (GB-1)
    I spent about three weeks pricing simple camera rigs/cages and pricing parts to build my own.  Even when I was thinking about just buying aluminum or steel “blanks” and drilling/threading my own holes, I was just under the price of this rig ($79 as a promotional price, but it hasn’t gone up to the “MSRP” in the two months I’ve been watching the item).  It’s a solid camera cage for a fair price (not the bloated “fake” prices from some other manufacturers charging a premium because something is “professional”), and comes in just over the price of any decent DIY rig I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a LOT).
  • Quick Release Adapters
    Having a “universal” quick release plate receiver on every device is a must for me.  I really don’t want to be messing around with threading the camera onto different equipment when I should be shooting.  By mounting a receiver plate to my crane, fluid heads, dollies, hi-hat, etc., I save a lot of time when switching the camera from one piece of equipment to another. I spent a lot of time researching which brand/system would be “the most” universal and cost effective.  I finally ended up going with P&C’s custom Fancier 717 system, because for the price of one Bogen 557, you can get THREE P&C quick-release adapters.  I haven’t used them enough (haven’t purchased the Fancier 717 fluid head yet) to say whether or not this was the best way to go.  I may still end up going the Bogen 501HD fluid head and Bogen 557/357 quick-release plates route, depending how the 717 stuff functions (if the 717 is not satisfactory, I’ll switch to the Bogen 501HDV and/or 701HDV heads).
  • Two Bogen 3046 Tripods
    These are pretty heavy duty.  I actually use one as the legs for my Kessler Krane, even at 12 feet. I don’t extend the legs though. Hopefully this is just a temporary situation.  I’m still looking for a super cheap (I don’t care if it’s really old and heavy) industrial tripod to use with the Kessler Crane.
  • Bogen 3047 & 3063 Heads
    Left over from still shooting. These use the same octagonal quick-release plates so they’re interchangeable.  They will soon leave the kit as I upgrade to fluid heads though. Actually, they’ll probably remain in the box for “emergencies.”
  • Bogen 3221Tripod w/ Bogen 3030 Head
    This smaller tripod and head get used to support an LCD monitor, either the Lilliput 7” in video village, or sometimes a larger 24” LCD for video village.
  • Hi-hat
    It’s a 16” circular piece of wood with a 3/8” bolt through the center and a quick-release plate receiver.  It keeps the camera stable when setting it on the ground or on the surface of a dolly (no sticks), etc.  It’s the best $12 you’ll ever spend.
  • Skate Wheel Dolly
    You need to build one of these.  Here’s a post on the subject.  This version is really heavy duty (you can ride on it, even with a crane on the platform) and cheap to build.
  • Ladder Dolly
    Similar to the dolly above, but a little lighter duty.  As the title would indicate, it’s a dolly that rides on an aluminum ladder instead of rails like the bigger dolly above.  This is good when you want to place your dolly higher up in the air (for a table shot, for instance) as you can simply set the ladder across two objects. (here’s a video from YouTube user “hawaiirod”)
  • Sand Bags
    For keeping light stands and tripods in place.  These can also be placed under dolly track to minimize bounce and rattle.
  • Apple Boxes
    You will invariably need to raise things up, whether it’s equipment or people.  You could always grab whatever is lying around, but it’s nice to know you have something solid and stable, and of a standardized size.
  • Utility Cart
    This cart from Harbor Freight is absolutely the best way to go.  It’s super solid and cheap, and holds a lot of weight. For under $100 it simply can’t be beat.  You could go for the larger version (36” wide instead of just 30”), but you’ll likely run into problems getting it through tighter doorways.
  • Laptop with Canon EOS software installed
    For monitoring the camera (if you don’t have an LCD monitor) and for transferring data from CF cards to hard drives.  You will also need the EOS software (previous post on subject) to install the Technicolor profile, which you ABSOLUTELY should do (previous post on subject).
  • CF/SD Card Reader
    For transferring data to a hard drive when the cards fill up
  • Clamp on Lights
    El cheapo lights that consist of a spring clamp, an aluminum reflector cone, a bulb fixture and a cord.  They’re $5 and can be attached just about anywhere (you’ll usually need to put a diffuser in front of them and/or flags around them). You can find them at Big Lots or Harbor Freight.
  • Ikea China Balls with dimmer switches
    This is the best/cheapest diffusion lighting I’ve seen.  There is no easier way to control the overall “brightness” of a set.  Make sure you purchase dimmer switches made for higher wattage loads.  If you run a series of lights (several China balls or whatever), regular dimmer switches will overheat and sometimes burst into flames (seriously). Actually, the search I just did shows that Ikea doesn’t sell the cheaper ball shape anymore, just weird shapes that are a little pricier.  However, Filmtools sells something similar (identical?) to the old Ikea balls for cheap.
  • Various Light Stands
    I always buy stands when I see them for super cheap at thrift stores and in the clearance bin.  You will eventually end up using them, so why not get them for super, super cheap instead of paying a premium in an “emergency situation?”
  • Bounce/Fill reflectors
    I found some collapsible car windshield sun deflectors (some in gold for a nice warm tint, some in silver for a more neutral light) at Big Lots for super cheap and bought them all.  You can also just use white poster board.
  • Lots of Extension Cords
    You’ll hear the term “stinger” on set.  I say extension cord.
  • Lots of Clips
    Many people use wooden clothes pins (often referred to as C47’s), but I prefer to use metal document clips like you’d get from an office supply store.
  • Cord/Accessory Bag
    For adapters, HDMI cords, and everything else that doesn’t have an “official” home.  I use an old, large, soft-side camera bag for mine.
  • Extension Cord Bag or Bin
  • Tape
    I am still looking for a good source for cheap Gaffer’s tape.  Gaffer’s tape (a heavy duty cloth tape) is WORLDS APART from duct tape, but you pay a premium.  It’s like $14 for a single roll!!!
  • Sharpies, China Markers, Pencils
  • Water Bottle
    Stay hydrated, kids!

Going over this list, I still need to buy:

  • LCD Magnifier/Loupe
  • Follow Focus
  • Fluid Head
  • 10 stop ND filter (3.0)
  • I should probably make some flags for lighting.  Currently we just drape cloth over stands.
  • Matte/Dulling Spray (for dulling bulbs and reflective surfaces)


Notice anything else I’m missing or something that’s in your kit that you couldn’t live without?  Lemme know in the comments!

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