Is a DSLR good enough? Should I rent those lights? What happens if they ask for 4K?!
Everybody goes through the same process when trying to pick the right gear. The good news is, there has never been a better time for video production. There are more products, price-points, and equipment options than ever-- but this can also produce a lot of stress and confusion, because there’s so much crap to choose from!
Start by asking yourself these questions:
What can we feasibly accomplish?
Expectations should be set before an agreement is even written. Say your client requests a video in the $2000 range. He wants a 10 minute production, 1920/1080 export, with full color correction and audio mixing. Sounds a little unrealistic. Maybe you should consider doing your best with some in-house equipment and the good ol’ run-and-gun routine. Or referring them to a smaller production crew!
How much picture quality can we get for our money?
Don’t be afraid of 4K. If they have the budget for it, do some research and find the most cost-efficient camera for the size and resolution that the client requests. Can you rent some nice prime lenses? Start with the image sensor and then consider how much glass you can get. Remember, renting glass is cheap! Here are a few things to consider with your client:
Frame Rate - What sort of feel are you looking for? True slow-motion, high speed videography, video and film looks-- the frame rate can have a huge impact on how your footage feels.
Focal Aesthetic - For cameras with detachable lenses, this is essential. Do you need some very beautiful, shallow-depth product shots? Or are big, wide, symmetrical frames more important?
Low Light Capability - All cameras handle lighting situations differently. It is impossible to predict all of the uses of your camera, but the more you can anticipate the easier it will be to decide what lighting limitations and environments you need to account for. If you intend to mostly shoot outdoors, lighting ISO might not be a concern.
Do your research. Use sites like B&H, CNET, DPReview, and PCMag for product reviews. A good general rule of thumb is to play it safe and buy products that have been on the market long enough to be tested, reviewed and compatible. That being said, you don’t want to buy a camera so old that they will quit offering support and hardware!
Is pristine audio a priority?
All the best filmmakers know that sound is just as important, if not more, than video. But what’s more essential for your project? Maybe b-roll is the focus of the piece and you can get some sound bytes with an affordable handheld/mounted recorder. Or, do you need to hire your favorite grizzled boom guy and give this production the full treatment?
Do you need to shoot large amounts of continuous footage?
You: “Did you get that?”
DP: “No, the 5D cut out 5 minutes ago.”
Know your limitations, both personal and technical. You can’t hold a boom and balance a steadicam AND monitor a sound mixer for thirty minutes straight. Some cameras can’t even record for more than 12 minutes at a time. Take a moment to consider how long the clips will be. This will also get you thinking about the budget of post-production. For instance, if you’re shooting a live event, don’t take your cousin’s gaff-taped Canon 6D out just because it’s free-- take the time to consider a camera that can properly withstand the circumstances of your shoot.
Is storage an issue?
This last one almost always go overlooked. You don’t want to be the producer who comes home with a 200 terabytes of unbelievable footage, only to waste a week of your client’s time trying to find a place to store it.
Remember, for everything that you shoot, you’ll probably have to back up twice for safety. Put file storage limitations in mind when picking your camera-- you’ll thank us later.
Every artist needs to find the tools that they enjoy working with. Some sculptors like to work with clay, while others may choose metal. If you don’t enjoy your tools, chances are you won’t be able to produce a great product. So, before you even ask any of these questions, make sure you know yourself, and what equipment you’ll enjoy working with.