What kit do you need to film a feature-length documentary?
It’s a question I’m often asked, so I thought it would be useful to put together a brief kit list. Here is what has been used to film Boom! over the past six months.
Cameras and lenses
I’ve been shooting with two Nikon DSLR camera bodies. The Nikon D7000 I already owned for photography and has recently experienced a big price reduction due to the release of the new model D7100. I added to this a Nikon D3200, which is comparable in terms of filming capability, and in fact much cheaper than the D7000. If I was starting from scratch, I would happily have two of the D3200.
Both cameras shoot in HD at 24 frames per second, and use cheap as chips SD memory cards.
In terms of lenses, I’ve been using a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D and a Nikon AF-S 18-105mm.The 50mm is my go-to lens for creative interview shots, with its shallow depth of field. The 18-105 is great for a wider angle.
The reason for using two cameras? It gives me a choice of angles during editing and acts as a backup, should the footage from one camera become corrupted, or out of focus, or a battery fails. Two is better than one.
You can get away with sub-par footage, but there is no room for poor quality sound.
On each camera I’ve mounted a Rode Videomic which gives me a reference audio track, useful for later synchronization. You can’t really use the audio straight out of the camera, so I record audio separately using a Zoom H2N. Into this I plug a cheap lav mic, which I usually tape behind a collar or lapel using a small piece of surgical tape.
For interviews, I’m lighting my subjects with two continuous softbox lights. These are quick to set up, don’t get too hot and give a much better look to the interview. Depending on the location of the interview, I occasionally just use one light, letting natural light do its work on the other side of the subject.
You need a stable shooting platform, so I use a couple of Manfrotto tripod legs. I’ve got four different heads for these, including a couple of ball heads (useful for attaching the slider, see below) and a fluid video head.
In addition to the tripods, I use a DSLR slider for capturing cinematic footage and a handheld steadycam for getting ‘fly through’ footage, although I’ve not used this very much yet. For filming vox pops on the street, I’ve got a shoulder mount rig with follow-focus and matte box.
This kit lives in a Lowepro Classified shoulder bag and an old wheelie suitcase. In addition to the kit described above, I carry a spare battery for each camera, a pouch of spare memory cards and spare batteries for the audio recorder, videomics and lav mic.
You really don’t need much in the way of expensive kit to film a feature-length documentary to a high standard. The video quality you can get from consumer level DSLR cameras these days is outstanding, as is the sound quality from £100 portable digital recorder.
To buy everything on this kit list new comes to around £2,000. There are definitely areas where you can save money through buying second-hand or opting for cheaper alternatives.
More important than kit is a vision for the movie, access to experts and the time to bring it all together.
You can back Boom! on Kickstarter at www.kickstarter.com/projects/martinbamford/boom-a-feature-length-documentary-about-financial/.