Building Your Photo/Video Kit: 5 Gear Essentials

Gear Essentials

Before you can start creating amazing photos and videos, you need to have the right equipment. Building the right kit is essential for ensuring the quality of the content you’re going to produce, as well as the efficiency with which you produce it. These tips will help you maximize your budget while also making sure you have everything you need to capture your vision.

 

1. Cameras

DSLR cameras remain cheap alternatives to cinema cameras, while still providing fabulous resolution and great ergonomics. Before buying your camera, you should know that almost all of them function in a similar fashion, even when it comes to the menu navigation. The best DSLR cameras are manufactured by commonly known brands like Canon, Panasonic, Sony, and Pentax, and almost all of them are in a similar price range.

When choosing a camera, think of it as both your work buddy and your tool of trade. Ask yourself questions like: Do I need 4k resolution? Do I need slow motion/high frame rate? Do I need a high ISO for filming in low light conditions? Do I plan on taking high resolution photos? After you answer these questions, you should be able to narrow your search down to a few different cameras according to their specifications.

These cameras are currently the leaders in the DSLR world, outperforming many of their competitors in almost every category.

    • Canon EOS R5
    • Sony A7S III
    • Sony Alpha 1
    • Panasonic Lumix S1H
    • Panasonic Lumix GH5 II
    • Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

They all have great image quality, extreme low-light capabilities and high dynamic range, allowing more control for color grading. Here are some visual references from each one:

 
Canon EOS R5

Video: Motocross Bike Racing Through A Corner by BlackBoxGuild.

 
Sony A7S III

Video: Chinatown Chicago by philcagenfilms.

 
Sony Alpha 1

Video: Violinist Playing In Outdoors 1 by Mrnobaharan.

 
Panasonic Lumix S1H

Video: Beautiful Green Park In Sunlight With Pedestrians by BlackBoxGuild.

 
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

Video: Camera Pans Slowly Across The Fast Food Dining Table. by Valentyn_Volkov.

If you live close to a camera-rental house, consider renting out a few different cameras to demo before making a final decision.

 

2. Lenses

Close-up and Isolated Shot of Camera Lenses by rohitseth.

Also called “glass” among professionals, lenses are what the camera uses to see the world. Their characteristics and light-transmitting speed are what makes them unique pieces of gear that affect the look of your video. We highly advise that you don’t spend your entire budget on your camera, so that you have enough funds left over to purchase a high-quality lens.
Remember, your lens is just as important as the camera; top-notch cameras will often deliver a bad image if paired with a low-quality lens, so don’t skimp on the glass!

If you plan on shooting in low-light conditions, you’ll need a lens with a low aperture, like f/2.8 or lower. The faster the lens, the more range you have with your exposure and depth-of-field.

Note: f-stop measures how fast light transfers through the glass onto your sensor. The lower the f-stop, the faster the lens is, thus allowing you to film in darker environments.

These are the four main types of lenses:

  • Prime Wide Angle: Wide-angle lenses have a focal length of 25mm or less. They’re good for establishing shots, editorial filming, and landscapes.
  • Prime Standard: A standard lens has a focal length between 25mm and 75mm. These are good for run-and-gun style shooting, portraits, interviews, and editorial filming.
  • Prime Telephoto/Super Telephoto: A telephoto lens has a focal length between 75mm and 800+. These are good for shooting sports and wildlife.
  • Zoom Lenses: Different from the prime lenses listed above, a zoom lens offers variable focal lengths that can go from wide to standard, or from standard to telephoto. A 24-70mm f/2.8 is a great lens to have in your kit. It’s good for editorial filming, portraits, landscapes, and travel videography.

Note: Just because you have a zoom doesn’t mean you don’t have to move! Zoom lenses can often make beginner videographers lazy. Why would you want to get closer to a subject, when you can just zoom in? Bad idea! It’s important to always move around with the camera, “working” your subject and experimenting with different angles. Getting closer to your subject improves composition, giving you a better-looking image. Only utilize the zoom when you can’t get close enough.

 

3. Tripods

Tripod on the Shore of a Mountain Lake by packerfansusie1.

Tripods are an absolutely essential part of your video kit. They help you film steady shots, as well as achieve smooth camera movements, like tilts, pans, and zooms.

Tripod benefits include:

  • Sharper and clearer images when filming in low-light conditions
  • Fluid camera movements (tilts, pans, and zooms)
  • Holding extra gear, such as sound recorders and light panels
  • Being essential when filming extreme closeups and macro shots
  • Removing unwanted camera shake, making your images look more professional

When choosing your tripod, make sure to consider the weight factor. The tripod’s weight should always be more than the weight of your camera and lens combined, guaranteeing a solid base for your camera.

Additionally, you should consider investing in a tripod with a “quick release” plate, which allows you to quickly remove the camera from the tripod to go handheld. This is helpful when shooting editorial events.

Lastly, invest in a “fluid head” tripod. The head is what attaches the camera to the tripod; a fluid head is designed to smooth out any sudden movements when panning or tilting.

 

4. Storage


SD Card by ammza12.

Choosing the right memory card for your digital camera, camcorder, or drone isn‘t as complicated as it may seem to many at first.

Memory cards can be divided according to several criteria:

  • Card type
  • Card capacity
  • Data write speed
  • Producer

 

Card types and their capacity

By far the most widespread platform is Secure Digital cards, i.e. abbreviated as SD cards. Usually you will find the names SDHC, SDXC and also microSDHC or microSDXC. Let’s explain the individual differences.

  • SD – The format originally came from MMC cards. All cards with a capacity of up to 2 GB were marked with SD.
  • SDHC – This type of cards has allowed manufacturers to use higher capacities, up to 32 GB. Older SD card readers can’t handle these cards, but all devices that now read SDHC cards are able to read back and write to SD cards.
  • SDXC – this label boasts cards with the highest capacity from 64 GB up to 1 TB. However, this standard theoretically allows the production of cards up to 2 TB, but such a card would now cost a fortune. Devices that can read this type of card also support SD and SDHC formats.
  • microSD – mainly used by manufacturers of mobile phones, action cameras, drones, various cameras, etc. As with “large” SD cards, this designation was used for cards with a capacity of up to 2 GB
  • microSDHC – same size as the previous type, only increasing the capacity to a maximum of 32 GB
  • microSDXC – same size as the previous type, only increasing the capacity to 64 GB to 512 GB

 

Data write speed (card speed class)

Cards are usually marked with a number in a circle that indicates the data transfer speed / write speed, up to number 10. Higher speeds are already marked with the UHS-I symbol. Unfortunately, the same class mark doesn’t mean the same speed. For example, you might encounter a class 10 card with a maximum speed of 10 MB/s, and also a class 10 card with a maximum speed of 90 MB/s.

UHS-I – Ultra High Speed, which brings a customer a higher speed guaranteed by the manufacturer. Card speeds range from 10 MB/s to 170 MB/s.

UHS-II – even faster class of the UHS cards, this class of card is equipped with extended contacts for communication with the camera. The maximum read and write speed is 300 MB/s.

For example, for video on the Panasonic DMC-GH5, the card is important for maximum output, as the camera supports 4K video streaming up to 400 Mbps, so either an external recording device or a very fast card is required.

When it comes to storage capacity, it’s important to choose a card that has enough space for your whole shoot, plus more. Keep in mind that the higher the resolution/frame rate you record at, the larger the video file sizes will be. A 64GB card can record about an hour of 1080HD video or about 35 minutes of 4k video. It’s wise to purchase a backup card, as well.

Due to high bitrate, memory cards with a capacity of at least 128 or 256 GB are often used for video recording today.

SD cards and CF cards are what the camera uses to store your captured data. Their speed class and capacity are the main factors to look at while building your video kit. Speed class is how fast the card manages to record data. For example, a speed class 2 card won’t be able to continuously record HD video for more than 30 seconds. For 4k recording, we recommend class 10 or ultra-high-speed class 1 and 3.

Here are speed logos representing speed classes from slowest to fastest:

 

5. Lens Filters

Optical Filter by magraphics.

Lens filters are essential for enhancing your desired look or for overcoming extra light/shine obstacles.
There are 3 main types of filters that should be part of a basic video kit:

  • UV Filters: For protecting the front part of the lens from dust, dirt, moisture, and potential scratches. They have almost no effect on the look of the image, but keep your glass safe and sound.
  • Polarizing Filters: These help to dramatically reduce reflections, while enhancing colors and increasing contrast. This kind of filter can be used for any type of videography to cut down on the shine of objects.
  • ND Filters: These help to reduce extreme light entering the lens. They’re ideal for capturing the sunny sky without losing the texture and color of it. Also handy when shooting timelapses.

Besides the key essentials above, here are some additional accessories to include your basic gear kit:

  • An extra battery or two for your camera. They run out pretty quick.
  • Camera and lens cleaning kit. A must-have to keep your gear clean and increase the life cycle of the lens and camera sensor.
  • A case or backpack to carry all your equipment around.
  • If you plan on recording audio, a small shotgun mic will provide much better sound than your on-camera mic.
  • If shooting in darker environments, a small LED light with a shoe mount will come in handy.

There you have it. Now it’s your turn to build and customize your kit for your own projects. Happy filming!

Top image: Camera Gear Device Set On Dark Background by Blackzheep.

Smooth Moves: How to Shoot with a Gimbal Stabilizer

How to Shoot with a Gimbal Stabilizer

Gimbals are amazing. They’re exciting to use, relatively easy to figure out, and they expand your filmmaking style and the types of shots you can acquire to a countless degrees. You can add tons of production value at relatively little cost to your gear kit, all by just adding a gimbal.

Immediately, your shots will reveal more life, more exploration, and more creativity.

There are definitely many nuances and subtleties that need to be taken into account before and as you’re shooting with a gimbal, though, along with the overall concepts you’ll need to get the best footage possible. And even though it’s a fun tool, it’s certainly not a toy, and doesn’t work for every application — so read on to become a gimbal ninja (gimja? ninbal?). Actually, there’s already a Gimbal Ninja.

*Note: these are mostly for larger handheld gimbals (Mövi, Ronin, etc), but many principles work for smaller gimbals as well — just not smaller drone gimbals.

 

Balance It Out

The most important first step to shooting with a gimbal is to get it balanced correctly. Smaller gimbals, like the DJI Osmo or the GoPro Karma Grip don’t require you to balance them beforehand, but for larger gimbals like the Mövi or the Ronin, you’ll need to get them dialed in perfectly for optimal results. Typically, this is the order of how you should balance your gimbal:

  1. Front/Back Camera Balance (rough)
  2. Tilt Axis Balance
  3. Roll Axis Balance
  4. Front/Back Camera Balance (fine)
  5. Pan Axis Balance

Tweak each clamp or bracket mechanism and check the balance. Make any adjustments so that everything is perfectly level and doesn’t move after you put the camera in the position you want.

 

Carrying Styles

There are a few ways to carry most gimbals. While holding handles at chest height, the camera can either be upright and below the handles, or inverted and above the handles. You can also grab the center handle and go lower to the ground, and in the case of the Ronin, you can grab one of the side handles and turn it upright into “briefcase mode.”

Most of the time, your shots will be in the standard setup. It offers a ton of versatility and can accomplish almost every shot this way. When you flip it over and invert the camera (thus inverting your image), you can raise it higher above your head, so it’s good for overhead shots or higher perspectives, and can actually give the camera operator a bit of a break from the strain of standard usage. You just need to invert the footage in post.

You’ll want to use the center handle for anything where you want the gimbal to be on just one side of your body, and usually near the ground, or at least below your waist, such as following someone’s feet or rising up from the ground. “Briefcase mode” (handles pointing up and down) is also for low-angle shots but has the added benefit of being more narrow since the handle is now up and down. New handles and rings and all sorts of ways to carry these gimbals are also being built constantly (see Mövi Pro).

 

Controlling the Camera with the Gimbal

This is the most fundamental part of using the gimbal. You need to be aware of how you want it to act with your movements. Normally, when you pan or tilt, the gimbal pans or tilts the camera. Some gimbals have connecting thumb controls, giving you the ability to control the camera independently of where you’re facing, and most gimbals will actually let you adjust and refine the smoothness within the controls or an app, but more on that later.

Video: Young Businessman Arriving At Work Pushing Bicycle Carrying Helmet by AilaImages.

It takes a decent amount of time working with gimbals to understand how much you prefer to have to “force” the camera into moving, and how easy it is for you to move it around comfortably, so I recommend practicing not just in general, but specifically on shots that you’re envisioning for your project.

 

Camera Movement Options

Since you now have all the creative benefits of your new tool, you can really experiment with all kinds of different shots and movements. Here are some of the various shots you can get:
 

Dolly/Tracking Shot

Instead of the traditional way that usually calls for rails or a metal track and a wheeled cart (a “dolly”), you simply walk, run, bike, or ride in an office chair for your motion while holding your camera.
 

Crane/Jib Shot

Usually, you would have to construct the jib, then move the thing around. It can be quite cumbersome, especially if you don’t have a lot of room. The beauty of the gimbal is that you can get these rising/lowering shots much more easily by either just bending over or squatting. You’re limited to your body’s reach, however. Here’s a clip using the Ronin in a jib/crane style:

Video: Sunrise France Reborn Statue Eiffel Tower Bir-Hakeim Passy Paris 4K Stock Video by fuzzfocus.
 

Pass-Through Shot

This is when the camera moves through a very tight space, like a window or a hole, and keeps recording, all in one move. The gimbal eliminates many of the roadblocks that would come with traditional Steadycams or shoulder rigs and allows you to fit into spaces that are smaller. (Although, if you’re the aforementioned Gimbal Ninja, you can pretty much do anything.)
 

Lockdown Takeoff Tradeoff Shot

We don’t know exactly what the official name of this shot is (or if it’s actually an official shot), so we made up that name. Since gimbals are so versatile, relatively compact, and (relatively) lightweight, they can be transferred between people, between stands, or even between moving objects. You are able to do a move to follow the action, rest the camera on a stand while the action pauses, then start the next move as the action picks back up, all without having to stop recording. Similarly, you could hand off the camera rig to another operator mid-shot and keep things fresh.

 

Using a Rig

You can take away most of the strain on your body by using a rig. Most of them run between $2,000 and $8,000, depending on the options, so they’re not cheap, but they are well worth it. After using a rig just one time ourselves, we realized we should never shoot without it. In addition to saving your body, you can shoot longer, and depending on the rig, you can do more moves with a greater range of motion because of the lack of body strain.

Video: Taking Video Of Runners by coolstock.

The main thing to take away about using a gimbal rig is that you need to have it sized and adjusted as best as possible so that it performs ideally. Once you learn your limitations, your balance, and your range of motion, you’ll start getting the best shots.

 

Avoiding the “Swimming” Motion

One of the things to be on the lookout for while you’re operating the gimbal is a vertical “bobbing” or “swimming” motion that occurs in the footage when the camera operator is walking. This is most common when walking at a normal pace, but not as much when moving very quickly or very slowly. This happens because the gimbal doesn’t control the vertical movement of the camera, so when your arms move up and down too much, it’s visible.

The low-cost/higher-strain solution to this problem is to bend your knees, walk with very even, deliberate footsteps (“rolling” from heel to toe), and hold the camera out further away from your body. You may not be able to eliminate it, but you can definitely tone it way down.

Video: Camera Operator. The Man Will Film With The Video Camera. Front View. The Young by AstudioFilm.

The high-cost/low-strain solution is to buy a rig, and then possibly even buy an arm or adapter that adjusts for these movements and eliminates them completely. The Easyrig’s Serene Arm is the arm of choice for many operators, but it’s an additional $3,000 on top of the cost of the rig. (Shooting in high speed/slow motion also reduces the visible shakiness, so keep that in mind, as well.)

 

Working with Apps and Accessories

A lot of the different gimbals’ accompanying apps can help out in many ways, too. You can calibrate the gimbal, set how sensitive the gimbal is to your movements and how much padding you want when you stop moving, and you can turn on or off the movement feature altogether.

There are also tons of accessories, and since there are ports located on most gimbals, you can plug them in directly. Things like basic thumb controls for movement, control boxes that change all your camera settings, follow-focus rings, and wireless monitor transmitters are all common accessories to add to make your shots easier to obtain and duplicate/replicate.
(Also, more money, of course).

And don’t forget about the simple things, like tools and wrenches you may need to set up the gimbal (usually included), or extra batteries, or even a C-stand to use for holding the gimbal between shots.

Video: Operator Shoots Video With Ronin in the Spotlight by studio343.

 

Adding an Extra Person

Another way to make it easier for yourself is to have someone else controlling the camera while you just focus on the movements of the gimbal through space. This “dual operator” mode is quite common for most gimbals and a wireless remote or controller is simply an add-on, or may even come with the gimbal itself. You can actually use the remote yourself if you have the gimbal on a stand to perform nice pans and tilts, eliminating the need to bring along a tripod.

This brings me to my final few points: Some people, when talking about gimbals, may say or write something like, “Even though it’s versatile, it can’t replace your dolly track, slider, tripod, etc,” but I think that’s not exactly 100% true. You can make dolly-esque moves with the gimbal and something as simple as a skateboard or office chair, instead of bringing along a bunch of metal tracks to your shoot. You can do subtle front-to-back or side-to-side moves like a camera slider track would do, and, as I said in the previous paragraph, you can put the gimbal on a stand and do pans, tilts, and rotations with a remote. This has the potential to save you not only money but also the time and energy it takes to carry all that extra stuff around.

Video: Young Attractive Woman Walking Urban City 4K Stock Video Footage by fuzzfocus_exclusive.

Of course, you don’t really want to use a gimbal when going handheld for something like a timelapse (although we’re sure someone has done it successfully), nor would you want to use a gimbal on a stand for an action scene — but for the most part, pretty much every type of shot is possible. You just have to be good and work at it, and that’s where practice makes perfect.

Top image: Young Man Using Steadycam For Shooting On Beach by danr13.

New to Shooting? 5 Basic Camera Functions You Need to Know

5 Basic Camera Functions

Understanding your camera and being able to adjust it to get the look you want is the first step in capturing great visuals. The number of presets, automatic settings, and extra features vary from camera to camera, but these fundamentals hold the key to having supreme executive power over your recording device. (All of these principles also apply to still photography, but this post is more video-focused in some sections.)
 

1. Understanding the ISO

ISO is your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The more your ISO increases, the more your camera’s sensor will boost the brightness of the image. At a certain point, visible “noise” or “grain” will be added to compensate for the lack of light, so try to keep your ISO as low as possible to reduce the amount of distortion, while going high enough to actually see your subject.
 

2. Shutter Speed

This is the amount of time that your camera’s shutter is open (or “on,” depending on your camera model), exposing light on each frame. For instance, a shutter set to 1/60 is letting in light at 1/60th of a second during each frame. The higher the shutter speed, the more crisp and “jittery” your footage will look, and the sharper your photos will be. In video, your shutter speed is typically set to double your frame rate (30 fps = 1/60 shutter), but you can experiment with slower and faster shutter speeds to produce different looks. One common mistake is confusing shutter speed with frame rate — they have vastly different effects on the image.
 

3. Aperture

The aperture is the size of your lens’ opening, and is usually a set of blades or a diaphragm that allows light to pass through to your sensor. This is similar to the iris of a human eye, constricting and opening to control the amount of light that goes through the lens. The smaller the number, called “f-stop” or “t-stop,” the larger the opening of the aperture, and vice versa.

With a larger aperture (but smaller f number — yes, it’s confusing), your depth of field is more shallow, which means less of your frame will be in focus when shooting. Keep more of your image in focus by closing your aperture, especially if you’re shooting landscapes.


 

4. White Balance

The white balance is how your camera registers light and gives your image/video a color temperature. It’s measured in Kelvin, with each light source’s hue having its own corresponding temperature. Mid-day light is usually around 5600 Kelvin (K), with a candle down on the “warm” end at 2000K, and dark shade on the “cool” end at 9000K. Most cameras are pretty good at automatically setting your white balance, so don’t be afraid to use the auto setting — but if you want more control, you can use the in-camera presets or manually set the white balance yourself.

 

5. Frame Rate

Your frame rate is how many frames are recorded during each second of video, commonly abbreviated FPS. Technically, unless you’re using a film camera, it’s FIELDS per second, since you’re not actually capturing frames of images.

As far as frame rates go in media today, most feature films are shot at 24 fps, web video is commonly shot at 29.97 or 30 fps, and things like broadcast news, live sports, and multi-camera sitcoms are typically shot at 59.94 or 60 fps (unless you’re in a country that uses PAL instead of NTSC, which is shot at 25 and 50 fps). However, many consumer cameras today are capable of recording 60, 90, 120, 240, or even up to 1,000 or more frames per second!

You can choose any frame rate you want for your footage, but you are going to get vastly different results with each setting. A lower frame rate like 24 fps will give you a more cinematic or “film” look, adding much more blurred motion to your video. Shooting at 29.97 or 30 fps will give you a more digital or “video” look, and 59.94 or 60 fps will give you a more “soap-opera” or “live/broadcast” look with less motion blur.

Video: Fire Performer, Slow Motion by soraphotography

If you want to shoot slow-motion or high-speed footage, you need to shoot at least 60 fps and slow it down in post-production. Any less, and the image will stutter and look a little off. The higher the frame rate is, the slower your footage will be when played back at regular speed.

Once you’ve mastered these five basic camera functions, you’ll be able to work in any environment with any camera.

Top Image: Detail Picture Of Camera Lens Aperture And Anti Reflective Coating by petrsvoboda91 .