This is a list of all the camera and sound recording equipment that I use, along with why I chose each item and a mini-review of each. If you’re thinking of buying any of these items, please consider using the links below to help support me develop this website 🙂
Portable Storage / Backup – WD Elements 1TB USB 3.0 High Capacity Portable Hard Drive
I’ve deliberately put this item first on this list in order to emphasise how important it is to back up every. single. thing. you. shoot! Rule-of-thumb; if the contents of that memory card hasn’t been copied to AT LEAST two different places (preferably three or more) then consider you haven’t saved it yet. Whether it’s RAW photos or video clips, the last thing you want is to lose them due to hardware failure or simple human error. Don’t say “it’s easily done” – it’s not easily done, it’s easily not done, so take it seriously and get it right or risk disappointing clients and seriously damaging your reputation. Take along your laptop and a harddrive like this on every shoot, and ideally (if you have a good connection) copy into something like Dropbox too (click the link to signup for cloud storage now). Once you get back to your home/studio you can use a NAS for long-term redundant storage (see later on…)
Main Camera – Canon EOS 700D
I actually use a 550D but since that’s a bit older now, I’d recommend purchasing the 700D if you want a brand new model. Alternatively, get the Canon EOS 650D Digital SLR Camera – Black (Inc. 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens Kit) which is pretty much the same camera.
The only exception to that would be if you’re wanting to install Magic Lantern onto your DSLR to open up a world of extra possibilities on your camera (hint: I think you should). At the time of writing, the Alpha release has only just been published for the 650D, so if you want to get going quickly the 600D might be a better shot.
Main Lens for Photography & Video – Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
This lens is amazing. It’s expensive, and you have to pay extra for the (essential) EW-83J Lens Hood, but it’s worth every penny. Especially useful for video, the fast f/2.8 aperture lets loads of light in so shooting in dark conditions becomes possible, and the lovely shallow depth-of-field that the wide aperture gives you is great for that cinematic film look as well as producing lovely blurred backgrounds to isolate and emphasise your subject in a photograph.
Camera Flash – Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash Unit
Essential if you want to get good, professional shots with flash. The built-in popup flashes in DSLRs are very basic and end up with nasty-looking pictures, and if you’ve got a big lens like the 17-55mm (above) then that casts a shadow due to where the flash fires from. A good flashgun gives you much more power (and control over that power) as well as allowing you to point the light up at the ceiling to bounce it down on your subjects, producing a much softer and more natural look, and without those hideous shadows behind everyone’s shoulders and heads!
Secondary Camera – GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition
Just, wow. The things you can do with this camera are almost unending. From humble uses such as a full 1080p secondary camera for B-roll or cutaway footage, shooting timelapses, being strapped to the side of a car to film a chase scene to using its 120fps slow-motion capabilities or just shooting some 4K footage 60 metres underwater, you can see why I bought one of these…
When filming anyone – actor or “real person” – who must deliver a long passage of script straight to camera, it’s hard to beat a teleprompter. The on-camera talent can read even a lengthy monologue from the teleprompter and it appears they aren’t reading at all. This kit contains all you need to hold a tablet computer (not just an iPad, despite the item description) in place and appears to be made out of MDF and Perspex so is good quality. I use this Android app which costs 82p x2 (once for tablet, once for phone to remote control) and although it’s not the best app I’ve ever used, it does the job adequately enough.
The XXXD range of Canon DSLRs take SD cards, and the GoPro Hero 3 range of cameras – being diddy as they are – take MicroSD cards. For my 550D I actually use 2x 16GB cards because I bought them when the price of 64GB cards was much higher, but if I was buying today I’d go for the 64GB size for both cameras.
You wouldn’t in a million years dream of using the built-in microphones in either the Canon DSLRs or a GoPro camera for finished audio in your production, but something like this can give you absolutely fantastic results without breaking the bank. This has a standard jack plug on the end so can connect into most audio recorders, or with Magic Lantern installed on a Canon DSLR so that you can kill Automatic Gain Control and tweak the settings, you can get some very acceptable results even using the jack-in on the camera. It has a +20 dB setting which means the signal can be boosted by the mic, not by the camera, which means much better quality audio. The deadcat (sadly you have to pay extra) is great for shooting outside in windy conditions, and the microphone’s hotshoe mount also has a female thread so you can attach to a tripod to mount, or to a monopod if you want to use it as a boom operator! (You’ll need an extension lead if you’re going to do either of those; the supplied cable length is only long enough for if you mount it on your DSLR’s hotshoe.)
Wireless Lavalier Microphone System – Sennheiser EW 100-ENG G3-GB Portable System with Bodypack Transmitter and ME 2 Omni Lapel Mic
This set combines a high-quality Sennheiser lavalier microphone (which can also be plugged into other audio recorders [eg. below] if you’re not using it wirelessly with a bodypack transmitter and a portable receiver which can plug into your video camera and clip on the hotshoe mount at the top. The sound quality is crisp and clear, and the wireless system is very easy to use. Set your levels on the transmitter, receiver and your camera so that it’s bouncing just above the half-way mark and you should get really nice clear audio with no clipping.
IMPORTANT: You’ll need a licence to use this device in the UK, and if you’re not in the UK then you’ll need to buy the appropriate version for your country and get licenced with whoever does the licensing in your region. In the UK, you need to viist Arqiva’s PMSE (Programme Making & Special Events) website at http://www.pmse.co.uk/ You can get wireless systems which use unlicenced space in the spectrum, but that’s also more prone to interference from other wireless devices (eg. baby monitors, cordless landline telephones, etc.)
Portable Audio Recorder & Stereo Microphone – ZOOM H1 + ACCESSORIES
This is an amazingly good quality and versatile device for such a low cost. It records high quality WAV files (it can do MP3 as well, but what’s the point?) either from the jack input (useful for external microphones such as lavaliers and shotguns) onto a MicroSD card, but it also has a stereo microphone on the front so you can mount it as an all-in-one audio recorder at an event or mounted on top of your camera to get a stereo recording. It’s the younger brother of the Zoom H4n but at less than half the cost with just the basic features I need, it’s really superb. My only complaint is the MicroSD card slot is extremely fiddly to open, but at such a low price I guess they had to skimp in places.
Handheld Recording Microphone – HHB FlashMic (discontinued)
This has now been discontinued and replaced by the “iXm Digital Recording Microphone”, which means if you keep an eye on eBay, now and again a good second hand one turns up at a fraction of the original selling price ($1,200USD). It’s a Sennheiser microphone with a 1GB audio recorder integrated into the bottom, so if your subject is roaming around doing pieces to camera and then interviewing other people in the shot, you can get superb quality audio (it records 16 bit WAV files at 48kHz) which you just sync up in post later on. No need for any wireless licences or transmitters/receivers!
It’s important to be able to sync up audio and video accurately when editing together your piece, and although you can achieve this simply by clapping at the camera, a proper clapperboard makes you look and feel much more professional (especially if you’re also shooting a “behind-the-scenes” or outtakes roll), plus you can write scene and take numbers on the front which someone then calls out for the audio track, making the editor’s job a whole lot easier.
Useful for both photography and film-making, a reflector can make all the difference when it comes to the lighting in your scene or photograph. You can use it to bounce light onto a subject’s face or just into the scene generally, and depending on how you want it, you can reflect different colours (white, silver, gold, etc.) or use black to help absorb light. You can also use the semi-transparent material as a diffuser to soften light.
Telephoto Lens – Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS
I don’t use telephoto a huge amount so haven’t been able to justify buying a more expensive telephoto zoom, but this one works very nicely and still gives some great results. The aperture is quite small especially when zoomed all the way to 250mm, so it’s not ideal for low-light use but great the rest of the time.
50mm Prime Lens – Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 II
The fact that this lens was released in 1991 and Canon haven’t seen fit to update it since then says a lot. For only £75 you really do get a lot of lens for your money. The wide f/1.8 aperture makes it ideal for portrait photography and you can also get a nice film look with that shallow depth of field. Since I got my 17-55mm f/2.8 lens I’ve not been using this as much for video because its focus ring is tiny, so I’m thinking of selling it to buy the f/1.4…
Tripod & Monopod – Giottos GTMTL9351B
I use the Giottos tripod and accessories because they’re really nice and sturdy whilst not being too expensive. Despite not being carbon fibre, they’re not too heavy either and the bag holds them all nicely. The monopod, as well as being great for telephoto photography, doubles up excellently as a boom arm for the Rode VideoMic Pro!
If you’re out shooting video for a long time, then doubling up the charge inside your camera is definitely a good idea. Plus, if you’ve got big hands like me then the battery grip makes the camera MUCH more comfortable to hold for long periods of time, as well as much nicer to hold in portrait mode due to the duplicated buttons and controls. The battery grip also makes everything fit together much more nicely when used on a DSLR shoulder rig, and if you’re just taking photos… well, it makes you look a lot more professional 😉
DSLR Rig: Shoulder mount and Follow Focus
This is what you need if you want to take your film making to the next level and really feel the part whilst you’re at it. It allows you to steadily hold the camera for long periods of time and focus nice and smoothly with the follow focus. The matte box doesn’t actually take any filters although the barn doors can help you keep flare away from the lens (photography lens hoods would look silly whilst using this). The only thing this is missing is proper focus rings to attach to your lens; the on that comes with it is RUBBISH, and doesn’t work at all if you’ve got a battery grip fitted, which is why I’d recommend the next item…
With one of these on, you’ll be all set to go with your follow focus setup, as they fit sturdily to your lens and don’t slip about at all. Being larger, they also fit perfectly if you’re using a battery grip as I do. I bought the whole set so that I’d have sizes for all lenses, and partly because I couldn’t work out which one on its own would fit my 17-55 f/2.8 lens. Well, Internet, I can now tell you that it’s the 70mm-80mm which fits, so if you only need one and you have the 17-55, that’s the one to go for!
Equipment Bag – Lowepro Flipside 400 AW Backpack
I’ve had a few smaller bags in the past but as soon as you start having a few lenses and other things, unless you have a proper backpack with 2 shoulder straps then you begin to feel the pain very soon! One of the best features of this bag is its security: it opens from the back not the front, so people can’t sneak up behind you and take your camera/lenses. It does have a smaller front section, though, so be careful not to put valuables in there! To access the bag whilst still wearing it, you keep the bottom waist strap tied, unhook your shoulders and slide it round to your front. Then unzip and you can access the inside contents, all without having to take it fully off!
Editing Computer – Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7 Monster Machine
Click the link in the title above for the full specs of my super-dooper editing computer or watch the timelapse of my brother and me building it back in August 2012:
Headphones – Sennheiser HD201 Closed Dynamic Stereo headphones
A good set of headphones is useful for monitoring audio when out-and-about as well as when editing – especially if you’re working at home and you don’t want to annoy the wife and/or wake the baby by going over the same bit of audio again and again until the edit’s just right! This pair of headphones isn’t the best, but the sound is good and they do the job without being too expensive.
Long-term, backed-up network storage – Netgear ReadyNAS (2x 2TB)
For long-term storage of large files and large amounts of data that I’m not currently working on live, a NAS is the best thing for the job. It has 2 discs in, which rather than doubling the capacity creates a striped, double copy (“redundant”) of everything, which means if one of the discs were to fail, I wouldn’t lose any data. The NAS alerts (via email) you of the problem so you have time to order another disc and replace the faulty one. The NAS then automatically re-syncs your data without you having to lift a finger.
Since this connects to your network switch (I use a Netgear GS108 8-port Gigabit Ethernet Unmanaged Switch), not just your computer, anything on your network can access it so it’s great for showcasing photos/videos around the home or office, and if you have something like a PS3 or a Smart TV they can stream straight from this box. You can also access the files on it remotely when you’re away from your home/office (via your Internet connection), which makes it a very useful box.
I’ve paired mine with a little UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) which also protects my main computer; this is basically a battery which is constantly topped up from the mains and then the NAS/PC are powered from the battery. This means that if there’s a powercut, the connected devices won’t conk out straight away, so I have time (several minutes) to save my work and shutdown before the battery runs out. The ReadyNAS can even monitor the UPS automatically so if I’m out, it can shut itself down if it needs to.
For editing video or photos, it makes life much easier if you have a large, hi-resolution monitor. This monitor is nice and large at 27″, without being too big or breaking the bank. The picture quality is superb, and the 1080p resolution means there’s lots of space for video tracks in Premiere and layers in Photoshop so it makes working much more enjoyable and less tiring. You can spend more money and get higher resolution screens, but I find this perfectly adequate for my work. The Spyder colour calibration is an essential too if you want accurate colour in your projects – I was amazed at how much of a difference it makes, and you can calibrate other monitors and laptop screens too, which is especially useful if you’re flipping between different computers whilst working!
Editing & Post Production – Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements 11 Bundle (PC/Mac)
Whilst this doesn’t give you all the power of a fully-fledged Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, it’s great for the basic and some pretty advanced stuff too.
HDR Software – Photomatix Pro
The best HDR Software out there, in my opinion. Easy to use with fantastic results and plenty of room for creativity. To learn how to use it, I’d recommend Trey Ratcliff’s superb tutorial.
Hot Shoe Spirit Level
Although my tripod has about a million bubble levels all over it, it’s still useful sometimes to have this little spirit level, which just pops into the hot shoe where you’d put the flash. It’s great for if you’re not using your main tripod and a handy little gadget to keep in your camera bag…
Canon Remote Shutter Release
I don’t actually use this as often as I thought I would when I bought it, as the 2-sec timer on the camera is more convenient to use and lets you step back and not wobble the camera when pressing the button (for me, that’s usually when taking multiple exposures for HDR photography). However, the one thing that you need this for is if you want to use the BULB setting, which basically lets you lock the shutter open for as long as you like until you close it again (useful for very long exposures, eg. star trails etc.) Another use is if you’re taking group photos with your camera mounted on a tripod and want to take a photo immediately (ie. not wait 2 seconds) without wobbling.
Every photographer and videographer should have one of these in their bags. One end lets you clean marks and smears from your lens, and the other end has a brush which lets you gently wipe dust, hairs etc. off. Never use your t-shirt again!
Rechargeable Batteries – Duracell 15 Min Fast Battery Charger with Four AA Rechargeable Batteries
Many of the items on this list require AA batteries so I’ve stocked up on rechargeable batteries and a couple of chargers so that I’m never without plenty of batteries. The day before any shoot I have everything on charge so that on the day nothing can go wrong. It’s also a good idea to take batteries out of things when you’re not using them – even if leaks are unlikely, it’s never worth running the risk!