A recent post over on "The Frugal Filmmaker" facebook page led me to write this article. This is by no means a "difinitive" solution, just a humble opinion.
The question read a little like this:
"I have $1000, and I want to get a basic filmmaking kit so I can start making movies. What can I get?".
Surprisingly, I reckon you can get quite a bit with that cash... and in this day and age, you can stack up with the big boys (indie films, etc) for a lot less than their typical film budget!
I'm going to design a kit for beginner filmmakers and videographers, which can be used as a guide... or as a shopping list. I will not suggest anything I haven't personally used, or properly researched. Towards the end of the article, I will give alternatives to the gear I mention. Please do not leave comments saying "oh but such and such camera/recorder/mic is crap blah blah"... This isn't constructive, and nor is it welcome.
Lets get on with it then.
First off... the camera:
PANASONIC LUMIX GH2
AVERAGE PRICE: $5-600 (at time of posting, B&H list the GH2, body only for $500)
The Panasonic GH2 has been a welcome addition to my camera kit for a little over 6 months. I bought mine with the 14-42mm kit lens... and I would recommend it as a purchase, but it's not really "necessary". It can be bought for around $120-$200 seperately... or for about 1-200 bucks more than the GH2 body only on most websites. Snoop around on eBay, find a bargain.
The reason I picked the GH2 is simple. Quality video, small form factor. You have the usual slew of frame rates and resolutions: 1920x1080 24p/30p, 1280x720 30p, 60p, 60i. PAL models can be found, or through the wonders of Ptools (more on this later) can unlock PAL framerates 25p/50i at I believe both resolutions.
The other benefit of the GH2, is that you can adapt just about any lens to it... and get beautiful cinematic images. There are options to hack it, but the image quality out of the box is easily useable in about 90% of situations. Low light performance is amazing right up to 1600iso...
The downside is, this works like a DSLR... not like a camcorder. Although, there are benefits to starting off with a DSLR/Mirrorless system camera... such as learning how to manually adjust aperture, shutter spees and iso settings, and understanding through self teaching (or googling) how these settings work together to affect your footage.
The GH2 is also a fairly capable stills camera, great for snapping DVD cover shots... or web promotional images. Most of the work I submitted for my Photography class last year was done with the GH2 (while everyone else shot with Canon and Nikon)... and nobody saw a difference.
A QUICK NOTE ON GH2 HACKS:
You DO NOT NEED to hack the GH2. In fact, if you are new to video... don't even bother until you've learned how to use this camera first. Hacking unleashes extra video quality, and some other features that a beginner doesn't necessarily need. Google can help you, should you still wish to hack your camera.
FUJIAN 35mm f1.7 CCTV lens
AVERAGE PRICE: $25-40
This is one amazingly awesome little lens, that with a 7 dollar adapter off eBay (C mount to micro 4/3 adapter) can help you achieve excellent low light shots, extremely shallow DOF to assist in gaining cinematic imagery... and all for a lot less than you'd expect. This lens has a lot of character, but there is a reason it's only $30.
This lens was originally desinged to be used on CCTV cameras (surveillance systems), and needs to be adapted to the GH2. This will make it a completely manual lens, it doesn't communicate with the camera at all. Adjusting the focus and aperture happens all manually using dials on the lens. This is an excellent way to learn how to manually focus... which can be tricky at first, but easy to master with regular practice.
OTHER LENSES CAN BE FOUND CHEAP ON EBAY... IF YOU'RE UNSURE OF WHAT CAN BE USED ON A GH2, GOOGLE IT... or go to the FRUGAL FILMMAKER FACEBOOK GROUP AND POST A QUESTION.
SLIK PHOTOGRAPHER TRIPOD
AVERAGE PRICE: $75-80
This is the absolute basic tripod. With practice you can achieve smooth pans with it, but I would strongly recommend saving yourself a few extra bucks... and going to a fluid head system.
WEIFENG 717 TRIPOD with legs
AVERAGE PRICE: $150-200
The price is steep, but definitely worth it. I use this tripod primarily in just about everything I shoot. Although I prefer the look of handheld, there are times where a tripod is absolutely needed... and every film maker should have one in his kit.
You can find this tripod on eBay.
Average price: $130-150
The rode Videomic is the barebones shotgun mic, that can be used on camera (although I recommend using a boom stand, handheld boom or pistol grip) to achieve better audio results. You can feed this mic directly into the GH2, and it will work well enough. I would advise that you use an external recording device, and purchase a $5 cable (or less) that will run the feed from this recorder into your camera for syncing (more on this later).
I have used the Rode VideoMic on every short film and videography job I have had in the last 3 years, and it has yet to fail me. My only gripe is the bands on the shockmount. There are plenty of other cheaper shotgun mics out there, but I purchased this one purely because of it's superior sound.
ZOOM H1 HANDY RECORDER
Average price: $80-100
The Zoom H1 is a voice recording device that allows a microphone, mixing board feed, or any other "line feed" to be directly connected into the line/mic in jack and recorded in high quality WAV format. You can manually adjust the volume of whatever is being fed into the recorder, so that you don't distort your final audio product. It can also be used in a pinch as a handheld mic with it's built in microphones, should you need to do an on-the-spot interview or record foley/sound effects for your production.
Sandisk Extreme 40mb/s CLASS 10 16gb card (up to 64gb)
Average price: $20-40 (depending on capacity)
Without a few of these, you're not going to be able to record anything you want to out of the camera. If you intend to shoot with the GH2 out of the box (no hacks) then you can get away with Class 6 cards (I recommend Sandisk cards only, as I feel they are more reliable). If you decide to push the limits of your GH2, you should purchase Class 10 cards... and the fastest datarate you can get (30mb/s through to 95mb/s). I shoot with 40mb/s cards, which handle the 'Flow Motion' hack quite well with minimal problems. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH, YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY!
You will want at least two cards. you don't want to be left in the field/on set with only one card. If that card is dropped/damaged/faulty/full... you will want a backup card. I recommend having more than two, but hold off buying extras if you can't afford it. I'd say 2 is your absolute minimum.
Average price: $10-40 (Depending on wattage etc)
If you walk into your local hardware store, mosey over to the lighting section... you'll see the 'worklights' for around $10+ depending on wattage. These are an inexpensive alternative to the usual "set lighting". There is a catch to using these, and that is... or the most part, they let off an orange glow... which can be a bitch. If you play with the white balance settings on your camera, you can turn that orange glow into a white glow (or blue... if you so wish). The other catch is, they use Hallogen bulbs... which run hot (like, really hot) and chew power.
You'll want at least three lights. You can get any type you like... but I'd recommend at least two on stands, and a smaller individual light with a handle... just in case.
Whenever I need lighting for a production, I always check out the hardware store. You can find a lot of really good inexpensive lighting systems. In a pinch, a bedside lamp has been known to give good light for specific situations...
And this completes our kit. By my count that's around $900. This is by no means a "great all rounder kit"... but for the most part, you can get by with these as a starter kit.
Yes, you can cut corners here. You can buy a cheaper tripod, buy a cheaper mic etc... and put the money into lenses. But, I would recommend you focus your attention to the audio department. Most people forget that audio is 50% of the film watching experience... and if its horrible, it will take away from your visuals.
You can replace the GH2 in this kit for, instead...
a Sony NEX 5-n.
The 5-n is around $400 on eBay, and shoots footage that looks just as good as the GH2's footage. The camera is considerably smaller than the GH2, but still holds similar functions that make the GH2 great. If you're looking to pinch pennies on the camera side of things... then go for this camera. I haven't personally used it, so don't blame me if you purchase and don't like it.
A Canon 550D/T2i.
This was one of the more popular Canon DSLR's for beginners in the beginning of HD-DSLR filmmaking. It's the smaller, cheaper brother of the Canon 5D MKII... just without some of those bells and whistles. Boasting 1080-24p and 720-30/60p options in video mode, and 18mp stills in photo mode... you can pick one of these babies up body only for around $4-500. Even cheaper if you go second hand. There's a catch... You can't adapt a lot of the cheaper manual lenses to the camera, such as C-mount or Canon FD glass without running into problems. Nikon primes, M42 primes and some non Canon FD glass can be mounted with adapters, and will work great. 12 minute recording time limit per clip is another problem, although Magic Lantern (a hack for Canon cameras) can really unlock this cameras potential as a filmmaking tool.