Recently I put together a list of all the gear I would recommend to use if building out a DSLR for documentary filmmaking from scratch. I bothered to find pics and links with short explanations of the what and why behind each item, hope you dig it.
You could go with a Canon 7D and save some money. I’ve chosen to go with the larger sensor and better low light performance. If you absolutely HAVE-to-HAVE over cranking @ 720p60 and full time HD previewing then go with the 7D, but I will laugh at you when we compare how much better my footage looks than yours. I’ve been pulling focus just fine with the 5D’s LCD and love the image quality I’m getting. The shadow detail is AMAZING and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The above pic links to the body with kit lens which is ok. Get the body only and save some loot to put towards the Canon 24-70 2.8 or the 70-200 2.8; your call.
If you want a traditional tripod, just call up B&H and they’ll match you up with a great one for your needs (tell them I sent you). Otherwise, the Gorillapod Focus with the Ballhead X is a wonderful, low visibility tripod that you can place on park benches, office tables, wrap around sailboat masts, bike racks, etc. Since I’ve abandoned a regular tripod and gone totally run and gun (everything fits on my back), I’ve been amazed at how easily I can integrate the Gorillapod with a surface in the field and have just as good if not better stability than with a regular tripod. And typically it’s in a tighter, more natural space than I would be able to place big and bulky sticks in. The Ballhead X is very smooth and adjustable. By loosening the bearing a bit I get a very smooth follow both side to side and up and down. Love it.
You want to make a documentary? You got to have a lavalier microphone. It is imperative that you have isolated and good sound of your subject’s voice and a lavalier mic is the best way to get it. The boom on your camera and the boom on the Zoom (say that one 5 times fast) are essentially complimentary and backups to the sound recorded on the lav. Yes, they cost considerable money. Yes, your doc will have crap sound if all you record is audio of your subject 10 feet away in a crowded room with distractive, ambient noise. I wear cargo shorts and put the Zoom and receiver in my pocket when I need to run and gun, otherwise this stuff lays on the picnic or boardroom table. Combining the Zoom boom audio with the lav audio makes really, really nice full sound.
This is my ultimate run and gun in the great outdoors lens. Stand a minimum of 4 and a half feet from your subject and you’re good to go. It’s light, reasonably priced, and consistently gives me the photogenic bokeh I’ve been longing for. I’ve bothered to include links to a haze protection filter and a lens hood. The haze filter is mainly on to protect your lens, some are more expensive and some are less. The lens hood will help prevent unwanted stray light from entering the lens plus they look cool. With this baby clicked onto your 5D, your camera is truly your gun.
The nifty fifty is extremely fast, very light, and the first prime lens I would recommend to a dslr documentarian. Shoot in extreme low light, shoot solid landscapes, even run and gun with it when you don’t need to zoom. Again, don’t forget the protection filter.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention this wide zoom. I purchased this for my initial rig. In retrospect, I may have been better off ordering the 24-70 but work already owned it. This is an amazing lens for doing time lapse and landscape work. I’m still learning to wrap my head around the wide angle perspective it offers; this lens will make it into my oft-mentioned but yet to be executed indie film work.
I know this has been a long list. I really appreciate all of you that stop by to read what I write up so I want to make sure you get your money’s worth. Hopefully this post gives you a good list to start with and customize to your own documentary needs. Happy DSLR-ing!
proactively • the best things in life are free • peter
Disclosure, to comply with the FTC’s new rules
None of the manufacturers listed above are paying Peter Salvia to write this article and, so far, none have sent him any samples or demonstration items. Peter is a B&H Sales Affiliate and receives a commission from items linked to B&H and purchased through this site. Oh yeah, and he’s an Apple Certified Trainer so you can derive his bias for yourself.