Gear Guide

NOTE: This page used to be filled with embedded Amazon links to the products I mention, but recent changes in WordPress, Amazon and several major web browsers have rendered them invisible to many viewers. Until I have a few hours to insert text links throughout, please use Google, your imagination, and a bit of forgiveness as you read some references to invisible images.

I’m constantly being asked for recommendations for camera and film/video production gear. Obviously, your first two places to look should be elsewhere: Vincent Laforet and Philip Bloom‘s gear pages. Those two fine DPs are excellent examples of high-end workflows.

Here you will find my humble recommendations, based merely on my own professional experience and personal opinions. You’ll find that I’m more of a bargain-hunter than Vincent Laforet but much more gear towards high-end solutions than say, cheesycam.com (an excellent resource for students and shoestring-budget solutions).

I need to write a blog post about my off-site secure camera equipment storage solutions, but for now this is just a list of gear I frequently find myself recommending. I am making huge omissions at this point (lighting and lenses, for example), but I’ll update this page often.

Camera

This section will be expanded in the future, but for now I should recommend DSLR users to look at the Canon 5Diii, my personal camera body of choice. I also love the Canon 7D when I need a bit more zoom out of my lenses, but it’s getting a bit old for the market. The 70D is excellently geared towards video and in some ways is the best-suited for video out of any DSLR available. If you are saving pennies to buy an HDSLR video-enabled still camera, the Rebel T2i is an amazing value.

Now here’s where I want you to pay particular attention: don’t buy the Canon LP-E6 batteries. Some aftermarket cousins are far less-expensive and actually last longer than the Canon version (a general observation over months of side-by-side use). Make sure that they are properly chipped so that the battery status indicator is accurate and they can be used in a Canon charger. Stay away from anything that needs its own charger.

Also, don’t buy CF or SD cards that are too expensive, just because you think it will make your footage look better. The class 10 Transcends are great, as are the Sandisk Ulta II cards (I prefer the Ultra III for faster transfer speeds to the computer, but Ultra II works fine). I recommend a dedicated card reader, but don’t feel that you need a $200 “pro” level card reader unless you’re truly dealing with massive amounts of data every day.

The GoPro Hero HD is another camera that has to be mentioned. This $299 crashcam is made to be mounted to a car, surfboard, bicycle, helmet, chest, tripod, or anything that moves. It shoots 1080/30p or 720/60p video, and can shoot time-lapse stills as well.

Camera Support

The only thing you must have is a good tripod. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on a good video head/legs combo, but for HDSLR work a good starting point is the Bogen 701 HDV head and a set of corresponding legs. (Note: a video head isn’t ideal for still photography. You’ll probably want another dedicated photo tripod.) I use the 501 head and appreciate that the plates are interchangeable, making for rapid change between mounting devices without removing the plate from the camera.

Of special note is the Pedco Ultraclamp. I bought one of them years ago using an REI annual dividend check and I’ve used it across the USA and Europe to rig small cameras, audio recorders, LED lights, flash mounts, and all sorts of other random tasks. Buy one and you’ll discover how many ways it can help you. There are similar products out there that are larger, more expensive and more complicated, but this little tool literally always has a place in my camera bag.

Beyond that, I recommend a monopod with a nice head on it (I use a Bogen 701 HDV head on a cheap $20 monopod). Throw the camera strap around your neck, hold tension in it by putting both hands on the monopod (spaced apart for stability) and you actually have one of the most versatile support rigs I know of.

I use a Glidetrack Shooter for many of my dolly slider shots. I mount the camera to the Glidetrack using a Bogen 701 HDV head, which allows pan/tilt control. I’ve also used Kessler’s Pocket Dolly and Cineslider and love them both, if you are looking for a more high-end, precise product.

My current camera crane of choice is the 8/12-foot Kessler Crane. The Kessler Jibs (including the Pocket Jib, Traveller, etc…) don’t offer any tilt movement in the crane head, which makes it a very limiting tool. The Cranes are excellent and portable. The Hercules head and K-Pod legs are also amazingly overbuilt and can handle a tremendous load.

If you need a shoulder rig, I recommend the offerings from JAG35, just because they’re reasonably priced but built intelligently. I don’t use an LCD magnifier/hood.

I like the Glidecam HD line for long-distance moving shots (when you can’t pull it off with the monopod). For a Canon 5Diii + Tokina 11-16 lens, I wouldn’t recommend anything lighter than the Glidecam HD-2000. Some say that the HD-4000 is a must at this level, but the heavier your Glidecam the less time you’ll be able to use it (but the more stable it will be). The HD-1000 reportedly works well with small cameras, up to the size of a T2i without a battery grip or monitor.

Audio

I use a lot of mics, plugged into a lot of devices, and I’ve used 10 times more than I currently own. For most jobs, you’ll find a way to use the Zoom H4n. The onboard stereo mic set is excellent, and often outperforms studio mics that cost twice the price of the H4n. Excellent mics are expensive, but by a huge margin, the best bang-for-your-buck lavalier mic is the Audio-Technica ATR3350. The batteries last forever and you can buy replacements in bulk for a few dollars.

Once you’re ready to drop a few grand on mics, get a nice pair of Sennheiser EW-G3 wireless transmitter/receivers, then start replacing that Sennheiser mic with nicer ones from there.

Flash Triggers & Batteries

I saved for years as a student to buy a set of Pocket Wizards (roughly $1000 for three receivers and one transmitter) to plug into my strobes, then stumbled upon these triggers, priced at a “why not?” threshold of around $40 for a full set. I’ve never looked back. Someday I may need those Pocket Wizards but in the meantime I earn good money using these reliable little workhorses.

While we’re on the topic of flashes, I use Eneloop rechargeable AA and AAA batteries in my gear. They last forever when being used, though they’re not designed to hold a charge on the shelf for a long time. Charge them before you go out for a shoot and be prepared to get 400+ full-power flashes out of one AA set. I use a 4-bay La Crosse battery charger and my only regret is that I didn’t get a model that charges 16 at once.

Time-lapse

If you have a laptop and a Canon camera, the Canon EOS Utility (included with all Canon DSLR cameras) is an excellent tool to learn how to shoot time-lapse videos. Just attach the camera to the laptop using a USB cord and control the camera from the EOS Utility software.

The next tool to get is probably a delay-control remote. Canon makes an overpriced one, but the Satechi remote has been my tool of choice for about two years (still using the same battery).

Another amazing little tool is the $65 Wingscapes PlantCam, which is a weatherproof, leave-it-outside-all-year 4 MP camera that lasts about eight weeks using two AA batteries. The $150 Wingscapes Birdcam 2.0 has 95% of the features that the PlantCam has, plus a lot that are suited specifically for motion-capture photography, and it produces 8 MP images (though the sensor appears to be the same in each). Definitely worth a look.

This is far from a complete list, so leave a note if you’d like to see more recommendations in any of the categories I omitted. Thanks for reading!