Many people will tell you that the best tool a production can have is a great crew. They’re right, in a woolly, philosophical sense: the right equipment won’t lead to the right video. But they’re still important. Knowing what the right equipment is, of course, can be difficult.
To a significant extent, it depends on what you’re filming, and on the preferences of the directors and crews filming it. Opinions tend to vary, as do the range of options available.
So which cameras do professional filmmakers use? And what other equipment is most important to the success of your shoot.
4K Super 35mm Cameras
We only film in 4K and love the Super 35mm sensor, so we tend to use cameras like the Sony FS7, Canon C300 mkii and the Arri Amira. They’re good for low light environments, they have high frame rates for slow motion, they’re big and heavy – which gives them some necessary stability – and they have high dynamic ranges, giving us superior control over our picture quality.
For most situations, this is the kind of camera we’d use.
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Of course, the keyword there is ‘most’. When we need something lighter and more manoeuvrable – without sacrificing quality of footage – we’d use the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. They can be easily mounted in restricted environments, you can travel with them in your hand luggage, and they can be easily mounted on gimbals.
For an interview, we’ll use Kino Flo soft lighting to create the right mood and to paint the interviewee in the best possible…uh, colours. If we’re lighting a set, it’s high-powered HMI lighting all the way.
For situations where we have to travel light, battery-powered LED lights can be an acceptable compromise.
Speaking of gimbals, we use a mixture of full-sized and handheld gimbals depending on which camera we’ve chosen: if it’s the Blackmagic, it’ll typically be handheld; if it’s the Super 35mm camera, we’ll use the full-sized version.
As for what they are: gimbals are stabilising, three-axis pivots that help you create fluid camera movements – creating the impression that the camera is floating through the hair without vibration or anything else that might take you out of the scene.
Again, depends on the shoot. We’ll usually deploy a mixture of prime and zoom lenses as needed: the former have fixed focal lengths and provide better image quality; the latter ensure better flexibility.
Monopods are useful as they are flexible and can keep the camera stable midair; tripods help us keep it still and fixed in one place; jibs work like see-saws and offer the camera a range of vertical motion that an individual operator won’t have; and sliders and dollies provide similar movement along the horizontal axis.
Our sound team uses a range of equipment, including boom mics (the big fluffy ones), radio lapel mics (which capture sound on individuals), and multi-channel mixers, which ensures that audio quality is consistent and doesn’t unduly favour bass or treble.
The director, the crew, and any clients who happen to be visiting the set need to see what’s happening. Good monitors are an integral part of that – so we use wireless ones to make sure we always have a clear view of the goings-on without getting in the way of the action.