For all those who have Q’d us about where to start with gear, here’s an excellent set of tools recommended by the Director of Digital Media at Columbia J-School.
My video students at Columbia Journalism School are trained on the Canon C100. It is a great camera, but the $5K+ price tag makes it impossible for most to purchase one for themselves. Also, that figure does not include microphones, tripods, and other accessories necessary to produce professional-quality video.
With some compromises in ergonomics and picture quality, the list of gear below should be an affordable alternative for any video student or recent grad. This gear will give you high-quality visuals, clean sound, and reliable stabilization. I hesitate to call this a starter kit, as you can shoot a feature documentary with this set up.
Camera: The conventional wisdom with video gear is to invest in lenses and peripherals. These items will last you years, while cameras get updated and replaced constantly. I still recommend DSLRs for video journalists starting out. They are cheap. Their sensors are big, the low-light performance is fantastic, and they double as great stills cameras (ironically, an often overlooked benefit). I have years of experience with Canon gear, so I recommend their products. But Sony, Panasonic, and others all offer up great solutions. Shop around. This is a great time to buy.
I recommend two entry-level DSLRs to my students. The Canon T5i w/ EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens and the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 w/ EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens. The T5i has a flip-out screen, but the SL1 is smaller. In terms of image quality, they are the same. My SL1 is so small that I can comfortably carry it with me everywhere I go.
If you can afford it, I recommend getting the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. This is my go-to lens for all my documentary work. It is pricey, but it is a great investment. You will grow with this lens. If you do purchase the 24-105, be sure to get the Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR Camera (Body Only) or Canon EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR Camera (Body Only) to save some money.
Do not forget to buy some extra batteries for your shoots. You can go for the more expensive Canon option or save some money going with a third-party brand. And be sure to get protective filters for your lenses: the Tiffen 58mm UV Protector Filter for the kit lens or the Tiffen 77mm UV Protector Filter for the 24-105 lens.
Audio: The most important part of producing great video is getting great audio. Audio gear can be very expensive and there are many options on the market. But the gear below was specifically designed to work with DSLRs. This set up will transform your DSLR into a fully-functioning video camera:
- Tascam DR-60D to Camera Essentials Kit
- Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone
- Rode VXLR - Mono Mini-Jack to XLR Converter
Your mics go into the DR-60D and then that signal is fed into the camera. Or, when you really want to just go small and stealth, the Rode VideoMic Pro can plug directly into your DSLR (as pictured above). Also, the Tascam DR-60D can be used alone as a great field audio recorder.
My most expensive audio recommendation is the Sony ECM-77B - Lavalier Microphone. This is the microphone I use for all my interviews. It plugs directly into the DR-60D. There are much cheaper lav mics available, but IMHO, the low audio quality is not worth the savings.
Support: You need a good tripod and monopod to get steady shots. Tripods go from super cheap to insanely expensive. I recommend spending a little more now for gear that will last you years. I always shoot with the Manfrotto Fluid Monopod with 500 Series Head and Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Head & 755XB Tripod. They are not the cheapest options, but you will have them for years.
I hope this list helps.