When we started Audience Productions in 2005, we would hire whatever we needed to get a specific job done. In 2009, we splashed out and bought a camera, tripod and lapel mics, in order to have stuff on hand without having to worry about pick-up and return. If you’re interested in becoming a videographer, and want to ensure you have everything you need without wasting money on stuff you don’t, this guide might be of use.
CAMERA AND LENSES
We started out with a Sony Z1P, a very popular prosumer model camera that had a decent fixed lens and XLR inputs for sound. A really nice tape-based camera that you could run and gun with. We were doing a lot of events, and it was especially useful on those smaller budget jobs in low light and noisy environments.
It wasn’t until a trip to Thailand in 2011 that we bought a Canon 5D Mk2 as a couple of CF cards. The 5D is actually a DSLR, but the ability to use a range of top-quality lenses means you can get great-looking videos from it.
We also bought a SYGMA lens for the camera. Our DOP, Richard Michalak, reckoned there was very little difference he could see between the Canon lenses and the Sygma lenses, but we could see a double price difference, which led to us snapping up the same lens for half the price.
We bought a directional rhode mic for the Z1P as well as some Sennheiser wireless lapel mics, but these days we rarely use either. When we upgraded the camera to the Canon 5D, it no longer had XLR inputs or the ability to monitor audio, because it’s primarily designed for taking stills. To maintain the audio quality we were used to, we bought a ZOOM H4N – a standalone audio recording device that you have to sync up in post.
We flexirent our computer hardware, meaning we always have the latest, top of the line Mac. In terms of monitors, we use two BenQ 27-inch screens, and we always edit on external hard drives. Initially these were LACIE, but now we go for Western Digital (ranging in size from 500GB to 4TB). It’s expensive to have lots of hard drives because you never want to get rid of a project. This means occasionally having multiple back-ups across different drives – just in case.
Looking at software, we bought Final Cut Studio 2 when we first started the business, which came with a range of useful programs. Prior to this, we had used a few other options on other projects, like AVID and Media 100, but Final Cut seemed to be the industry standard at the time and most affordable for a new business.
Part of mastering any piece of equipment or software is doing a course. We did a Z1P course so we knew the intricacies of the camera as well as a FCP intermediate course. This was invaluable – there are so many shortcuts I use as a result of that course. Obviously you’ll become faster and more proficient over time, but a course allows you to get a jumpstart on that process and ask any troubleshooting questions before they become a major problem.
We have a very portable set of lights that do a pretty good job for us. We’re blessed to work with a cinematographer who makes lighting look really simple. But hiring lights is usually the way to go – we tend to use natural light for a lot of our shoots. Some jobs you’re moving so fast that the idea of setting up lights just doesn’t get a look in, so it isn’t worth paying for them.
There are some necessary items and some nice-to-haves. The things we consider necessary are a couple of batteries and CF cards for your camera (we have three of each for one camera). A battery charger should always be in your kit. You’ll also want a laptop with a self-powered hard drive to get footage off cards and safely into storage, before recording over the cards (we use a Lacie 1TB Rugged). Once the cards are filled, you want to be able to quickly get the footage off without halting the filming schedule. The laptop also means you can go to clients’ offices and show them edits you’ve have been working on, but make sure it’s fast enough for you to revise edits on the fly in front of them. It’s very helpful to visit clients, get answers and show them options.
WHAT YOU DON’T NEED
People always go on about picture quality and the latest expensive camera, but in most cases they’re unnecessary. While we would obviously like to be able to use them and even own one, the high-end models are simply beyond the scale of the work we do. Besides which, a good DOP can make a bad camera shine. (At least that’s what Richard tell us.)