One of the first things people ask when they decide to start filmmaking is this: What indie film gear should I get? My first answer is usually “use what you have.” This is because having more expensive gear does not make you a better filmmaker. But continued practice with the indie film gear you already have can help you hone your craft.
My selections are based on ideas about low-budget shooting. As a result, I am not going to go into much detail about the small accessories (batteries, memory cards, etc) unless it’s worth noting.
As you supplement your research, don’t forget to add in those costs when you start buying your indie film gear. There’s nothing worse then having to stop in the middle of a shoot to charge batteries or off-load video from a memory card.
Keep in mind that the camera is only part of the equation. Audio and lights can make all the difference. In fact, audio should be thought of as 51% of your film. The audience will forgive poor images but they will not forgive poor audio.
With that said, hopefully the indie film gear we highlighted below will help you further research.
Cameras For Indie Filmmakers
Canon Rebel T5 (~$500 bundled with lenses) The Canon Rebel T5 is great starter DSLR that shoots good 1080P video. The camera for the most part is fairly inexpensive and can capture great images.
If you grab the Canon Rebel T5, don’t forget the batteries!
iPhone 6 and 6Plus (~$ – depends on carrier) The latest iPhones actually shoot very good video. Just be aware that there is not a lot you can do to change the field of view. Please don’t use a digital zoom. It generally doesn’t turn out well.
You can get lens sets for the iPhones. I personally I have not tried using lens sets, so your results may vary. I also recommend an app like Filmic Pro. That will give you better control over the exposure then the basic camera app.
The iPhone compresses the video a LOT. So you’ll need to play around with test footage and color correction before you final shoot. And your footage will need good lighting to work well.
Black magic Design Pocket Cinema Camera ($1,000) The BMPCC is a fantastic camera for the price. It has great dynamic range, raw and offers Prores shooting. Do not forget to grab a good lens in a micro four-thirds mount, plenty of batteries (it goes through them fast) and plenty of space on your computer.
You can use Canon lenses on it if you use an adapter (the recommended adapter is the Metabones Speedbooster). Oh, yeah – they used this camera for some shots in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Canon 70d (~$1,300 with lens) My first camera was a Canon 60d, and I still use it from time to time. This is the successor, and it’s great if you’re a little more familiar with the technical aspects of shooting. It’s a great EF-S mount camera and will shoot great images.
Panasonic GH4 (~$1,700, and you’ll need separate lenses) This is a very good camera, and it is nice that it shoots 4k internally. It is a micro four-thirds sensor and lens mount and has a lot of options for great images. Be sure to get some good lenses.
Canon 5d Mk III (~$3,300 with lens) The 5d Mk II started the DSLR video revolution, and the Mk III is just as good. It also has some name recognition with it, but in all honesty I would go with one of the other cameras in this section – as a matter of fact, I did.
Sony A7s (~$2,500) I went with this camera, and it is awesome! It is small and light and has amazing low light capabilities. It’s a full-frame E-mount, but adapting Canon EF lenses is a snap.
Canon C100 mark ii (~$6,500) I honestly haven’t shot with the Mark II, but I know the first C100 creates some beautiful images, and this set comes with a fantastic lens. It is a great option if you have the budget for it.
Lenses For Indie Filmmakers
Rokinon Cine 3 Lens Kit (~$1400) At this budget point, you’re probably going to want to invest in a good set of lenses, and Rokinon makes some fantastic lenses at this price point. I’ve shot with them, and they are absolutely beautiful to shoot with.
They come in a variety of lens mounts, although Canon EF lenses are pretty easily adaptable (and they are available in micro-four-thirds for the BMPCC (but I’d recommend a Speedbooster instead).
Audio Gear For Indie Filmmakers
Rode Videomic Pro, Boom Pole, Zoom H2n (~$450) The audio gurus at Rode offer a great budget audio recording setup. You can put the Videomic on the boom and run line down to the H2n. This was the first audio setup I ever used, and it worked really well.
Just be sure you understand how to set your audio levels, use good boom techniques, and properly slate so your video and audio match up.
Tascam 60d Mk II Recorder, Rode NGT2, and Rode SM3 Shock Mount (~$550) This is a huge step up from the low-budget setup, but it’s higher quality in terms of recorder and microphone. The NGT2 is a great budget shotgun mic and can carry you through a lot of shooting situations. But don’t forget the batteries – the 60d eats batteries.
Past these starter kits, I don’t have any experience with high-level audio gear. But sooner or later it makes sense to hire a pro sound recordist who knows his stuff when I need superior audio quality beyond what I can get with my own gear.
Light Kits For Indie Filmmakers
5-in-1 Reflectors I list this under low-budget, but these are extremely useful at all budgets (even major Hollywood productions use large reflectors and diffusers), especially when shooting outside, but they are also great for shaping light indoors, too.
Photo Basics 403 uLite 3-light kit Basic three-point lighting is fundamental, and this is a great, flexible, and surprisingly powerful small lighting kit.
Digital Juice Three Point Aura Light Kit (~$650) This kit includes three 500 watt fluorescent lights, for a total 1500 watts of available light from this kit. They are bright, lightweight, and run cool. Just don’t forget that they are daylight balanced, not tungsten balanced, which impacts white balance.
Digital Juice Miniburst Kid (~$900) This is a great and very flexible LED three-light kit. It has daylight and tungsten filters, and it runs on Sony NPF batteries and wall outlets. I’ve put these lights on a ceiling fan shaft when I needed to raise the ambient light in a room, and it worked fantastically.
Keep in mind this is by no means an exhaustive list, and it is based solely on my own research and experience. I always recommend doing your own homework before making a major purchase, and if possible I recommend trying equipment before buying it.
There will be a time that higher end equipment upgrades will be necessary, depending on your budget. But hopefully you found this short list of equipment is helpful.