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Create Your Video Essentials Kit: Camera & Lenses

Ever wanted to create beautiful, cinematic web videos, but purchasing the right camera equipment has you stumped? Well, we hear you, so we recruited Slavik from Alaska Public Media (who also has an excellent blog, called Alaska Video Shooter) to write a three-part series outlining all the necessary equipment you'd need for a day of video shooting.

Photo courtesy of Slavik Boyechko

By Slavik Boyechko, Alaska Public Media Digital Media Director

When the DSLR revolution hit a few years ago, the world of cinema-like videos was finally accessible to the masses, and with it came a massive DSLR gear industry. Thousands of blog posts, product reviews, and unboxing videos later…the beginning filmmaker now faces the daunting task of "what to get?"

So while I thoroughly recommend spending all your evenings and weekends dedicating your life to reading gear reviews, here is an essential summary of the DSLR essentials…so your station can fast-forward to the actual point of all this, making cinematic videos!

Camera Body

Canon 550D/ Laney CC BY 2.0
Canon was the first, and continues to be the go-to choice for DSLR filmmaking, due to a third-party firmware "hack" called Magic Lantern. I recommend the 60D because:
  1. Its recent updated version, the 70D, still doesn't have Magic Lantern
  2. Its swivel LCD screen is essential for low and high shots, which is not an option in the 5D Mark II and III or the 7D
  3. The lower-end Rebel cameras have short battery lives and clunky ISO, aperture, and White Balance adjustments 
  4. You can actually monitor audio with your headphones, with this cable.


Lenses

Radioactive lenses--group shot/ S58Y CC BY 2.0
Like many beginning filmmakers, we started with fixed prime lenses because they were affordable and were low-light sensitive.

But once we could afford them, we've saved ourselves many headaches with lens changes and shaky video by moving to Image Stabilized ("IS") zoom lenses.

  • Canon 17-55mm f/8 IS is on our cameras 90% of the time for Indie Alaska videos.
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS is what we use for our interviews and telephoto. It's expensive and heavy, so if your budget doesn't allow for it, you can sacrifice some low-light sensitivity by going for the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 for wide angle, walking shots, in car, small space, slider shots, steadicam, and generally cool wide shots.
  • As an alternative, the Canon 24-105 f/4 IS can serve as one all-around lens for just about any shot, as well as interviews. But it's not ideal in low light, unless you move into the higher-end DSLRs (like the 5D or new Canon Cinema cameras) which can record high ISO video without much noise.
  • We also have a couple Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 non-IS lenses that are great for interviews locked down on tripods, but lack of IS keeps it out of our bag anytime we go out to shoot in the field.
  • Because it's small and relatively cheap, I recommend keeping a Canon 50mm f/1.4 (or the super cheap f/1.8) in your bag anytime you have really low light or want that razor thin cinematic depth-of-field effect.

This is the first post in a three-part series outlining the necessary equipment for a day of shooting beautiful, high-quality video for the web. Check back next week to learn about audio, rigs, and lights.