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Updated March 2023
I’ve put together a basic kit list for low-budget filmmakers, documentary makers and citizen journalists. It includes a camera, tripod, microphones, headphones and audio recorder, plus accessories. I’ve based it on a mirrorless camera. These give plenty of creative control and you can use different lenses.
- If you want something that’s quicker to use – and needs fewer accessories – you could get a prosumer camcorder, a professional camcorder or a cinema camera.
- For an ultra-portable, easy to use kit, you could use an iPhone or the tiny OSMO Pocket stabilised camera.
- If you’re on a really tight budget, I’ve made a list of the best HD video cameras under $300.
- You could buy used. I usually use MPB. They offer a six month warranty, and buying from them is more straightforward and safer then eBay.
My main recommendation is the Panasonic G85. It can shoot full-quality HD footage with 2x slow motion, and record Ultra HD 4K. It’s mirrorless so you can use the eye-level viewfinder while you’re filming. You can use the tilt-and-swivel touchscreen for high or low angle shots and for setting focus. I use one myself.
It has a weathersealed magnesium alloy body and comes with the option of a sharp 12-60 f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom lens. It has good in-body image stabilisation which makes it easy to handhold. >More about the Panasonic G85
Check price/buy Amazon | Adorama | MPB | eBay
If you have a bigger budget, it’s worth considering the professional Panasonic GH5 II. It’s more solidly built, has better controls and inputs, and records in higher quality video formats. It has ‘IS Lock’ image stabilisation, which makes it easy to handhold static shots without a tripod. And unlike the other two cameras, it’s fully compatible with the DJI Ronin-SC handheld stabiliser.
Check price/buy Amazon | Adorama | MPB
>More mirrorless and DSLR cameras for filmmaking
Which lenses should you choose? It depends on your style of filmmaking, and whether you’re happy changing lenses during a shoot. The cheapest option for creative filmmaking is to stick with the basic kit zoom and add a medium telephoto ‘prime’ (non-zooming) lens. On a tight budget, you can get good results with used manual focus primes with an adapter.
If you just want to use one lens, you could buy the camera body and add the (expensive) 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens. It has a constant aperture so you won’t need to adjust exposure when you zoom. It’s fast for a zoom lens, so it’s good in low light, and allows you to get creative shallow focus effects.
Check price/buy Adorama | Amazon
>More lenses for filmmaking with Panasonic cameras
A tripod is an essential accessory for filmmaking. The solid, affordable Velbon 638F has a quick-release plate (for easily mounting the camera) and a pan and tilt head for smooth camera movements. It extends higher than many other budget tripods.
Check price/buy Adorama (US) | Amazon UK
Other kinds of camera support
A video monopod is quicker to set up than a monopod in crowded or fast-moving situations. But you’ll still need a tripod for static shots. You could also consider using an electronic gimbal stabiliser.
>More tripods, monopods and stabilisers
A separate microphone will make a big difference to sound quality. Your choice of microphone will depend on what kind of situations you’ll be filming. You could use a lavalier microphone clipped onto clothing, a directional microphone on the camera, or a wireless system.
A budget clip-on lavalier microphone is the most inexpensive way to improve audio for dialogue and presentations. The Boya BY-M1 (review) is an affordable powered lavalier microphone with acceptable sound quality and a very long lead. I use this for presentations to camera – it works well.
You could also plug this, or Rode’s superior smartLav+, into an iPhone or audio recorder in a presenter or actor’s pocket, then sync up the sound later. This is much cheaper than a wireless setup.
If you’re shooting news and events singlehanded, you probably need an on-camera microphone. The Sennheiser MKE400 has good sound quality, switchable audio output levels, a built-in windshield and a headphone socket. It comes with connectors for cameras and mobile phones.
If you can afford it, a wireless lavalier setup is worth getting as it gives presenters and actors freedom to move around.
The Rode Wireless GO II is a bargain system. It has a built-in microphone, but I’d connect a lavalier such as the Rode Lavalier or the BY-M1. You can also get a dual channel version with two transmitters, which is ideal for interviews or dialogue.
If you’re recording live sound, you really need to be using a separate microphone and listening on headphones as you film. But some cameras, including the G85, don’t have headphone sockets. You can get around this by using an affordable audio recorder such as the Zoom H1n (review). Use splitter/adapters to send audio to the camera and your headphones. If the camera fails to record the audio, you’ll have a backup on the recorder which you can sync up when you edit.
The H1n has a built-in high-quality stereo microphone so you can also use it for collecting extra sounds for your production.
- With the G85, there’s an unofficial alternative for audio monitoring. You can use a micro HDMI to VGA plus audio adapter, and connect your headphones to its audio output. (This doesn’t let you control the volume, though you could add an inline headphone amplifier.)
I use Sony MDR-7506 studio headphones, which are popular with professionals.
>More microphones, headphones and audio recorders
Other things you’ll need
You need fast, reliable memory cards: I buy SanDisk Extreme. I think it’s better to use several smaller cards (16Gb) rather than one big card.
You’ll need at least one spare battery. It’s safer to use Panasonic’s own batteries as damage caused by other copies will void your warranty, though I’ve used ExPro with no problems.
Depending on what and where you’re filming, you may also need lighting or reflectors.
Neutral density filters
If you want your footage to look ‘film-like’ with moving subjects, you need the shutter speed to be half the frame rate (so if you’re shooting 25fps, your shutter speed should be 1/50). That can cause problems in bright light: you may want to use a wide aperture to blur the background, and in any case you shouldn’t stop down beyond f/11 to avoid diffraction softening the image.
You can keep the shutter speed slow, and the lens open, by using neutral density filters. They cut down the light without changing its colour.
For standard and telephoto lenses, you could use a variable ND filter. I use Tiffen which are relatively affordable. I bought a 58mm one to fit the filter threat on my largest lens. I use stepping rings to connect it to lenses with smaller filter threads.
Variable ND filters can cause problems with wide-angle lenses (you get a strange cross pattern as you increase the intensity). So you might want to get a set of fixed filters instead, though they’re slower to use.
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