DSLR rig on a budget – what to get first

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DSLR technology has changed the film industry.  Just a few years ago SLRs were limited to those who could afford the enormous price tag but now due to demand and technology the cost of purchasing one has plummeted.  What’s exciting is that consumer 2k/4k cameras are now hitting the markets, which means it’s only a matter of time before those costs start reducing too.

But let’s get a sense of reality here for a second, a Canon 7D – which with a Magic Lantern Hack can shoot raw footage – is still going to cost around £700-£800 just for the body and when you start looking at fast, prime lenses that cost will escalate – quickly!  Then we start to think about ad-ons to make filming on the DSLR more efficient and practical and before you know it we are on eBay scouring China for the cheapest bits of equipment you can find…

Fear not friends as I was and still am in that boat and have indeed stopped myself from purchasing kit from the Shenzhou Province in the middle of the night.  What I have done is produced a list of ways in which to obtain those bits of kit you so desire.

1: Purchasing a body is important as you have a decision to make.  Canon or Nikon.  I have a Canon 7D which I purchased a few years ago and I love it. It may not be full frame but I don’t care as this camera has shot me some beautiful footage and at the time of purchasing the 7D shot at 50fps that the 5dmk11 could not.  Some of you maybe thinking “well it’s easy for you as you could afford it” but what I did in order to purchase it was rent/borrow kit off friends or companies and use any profit I had from a filming job to fund any new kit that I purchased.  After around 2 or 3 jobs I had enough money to purchase a body.  The trick is always to start small and upscale ensuring that you do not spend thousands of pounds on kit that you may not ever pay back and by the time you do it maybe out-dated.  Debt is BAD – do not purchase kit unless you have the funds to do so – be patient, look for more filming work – do a wedding video for a knock down price if need be.

2: Lenses.  If purchasing a body was important then your choice of lens is going to blow your mind!  I’m not the first person to say it but it’s all about the glass people!  If your going to be shooting video you’re going to want to purchase prime lenses as they are faster (let more light in) but the good thing is you don’t have to break the bank purchasing them.  Even if you have owned an old Nikon SLR and have switched to a Canon you can still use both sets of lenses through converters and if you scour eBay you can find some old-school bargains that can keep you ticking over and earning the money until you can afford the expensive 1.2 primes!

3: Ad-ons.  This is when you start pimping your SLR out with kit that makes it more of a video camera.  If we take into account the fact that you already have a tripod the next piece of kit you should purchase is a follow focus rail system.  A FF system will greatly assist you in getting those nice pull focus shots and switches your grip from being underneath the lens to the side of the lens.  If you look around eBay you should be able to pick one up fairly cheaply but avoid the Indian/Chinese cheap versions – they are just going to break.

The next piece of kit I would purchase would be a shoulder support and handles.  Acquiring this will mean you can trot off with your mates and really start to get that indie-vibe film going – it also gives you some stabilisation for your shots too.

Finally, there are 2 more pieces of kit to purchase when you have the funds 1. Field monitor and 2.Matte Box.   A field monitor that mounts onto either your new rod system or hot shoe on the camera.  Having a bigger screen makes a massive difference, as your D.O.P does not need to keep asking for playbacks, as they will be able to see for themselves.  Make sure you colour balance it properly or you’ll be caught short colour correcting for hours (it happened to me once – it wasn’t pretty!).  Secondly a matte box that mounts onto your rail system will help block unnecessary light coming into your lens – it also looks freaking cool too!

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