There’s no two ways around it: If you want to a make a movie, you’re going to need gear. That said, it is possible to find the kind of workhorse tools that can help you shoot beautiful footage without going totally broke. Renowned cinematographer Jim Denault, ASC, says that it’s definitely possible to shoot your movie with minimal gear — you just need to know what to buy or rent and how to use it.
In his CreativeLive class, Shooting the Scene, Jim explained that “often, the most visually-striking movies are shot on one or two lenses.”
“You can definitely over-order,” he says, adding that he’s “shot movies with no zooms.”
There’s also a beauty in the simplicity of only using what you absolutely need.
“The fewer decisions you can make, the fewer decisions you have to make,” Jim says.
So what’s the best camera to make a movie? It depends on what you need from it, what your level of expertise is, and where you’re renting.
Renting, says Jim, is a great option, because most cameras aren’t ready to shoot right out of the box; you’ll need accessories and other tools, which can take an expensive camera and turn it into a truly exorbitant expense. And once you’re found a rental house that you really like, he says, it’s easy to fit your needs around what they offer.
But if you truly have your pick of gear, Jim says, some of the key considerations are lighting options and locational options. Are you going to be moving around a lot, or shooting a lot of scenes outdoors? How much control will you have over the lighting — and what’s your budget like for lighting accouterment, like softboxes and additional lights? What’s your crew setup looking like?
Often, your best bet is to go with the simplest gear, and eliminate redundancy when possible.
Quite simply, a DSLR or mirrorless digital camera (like a Canon EOS or a Sony A7S) can do a lot of what you need. They’re affordable, but the image quality is also right up there with the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters.
Or, if you’ve got a little more funding, you can opt for an interchangeable lens video camera, which is a little more high-quality, and offers a lot of variety in shooting. But, like Jim says, a single lens can absolutely do the trick.
There are also a lot of new features for iPads which make them somewhat viable if you need additional footage — just be sure to get a stabilizer, tripod, monopod, or other add-on to control the device a little better.
For more on what to consider when picking a camera, check out this video with Jim.