December 10, 2013

A Comprehensive List of the Top Tools in Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary InfographicGetting started in documentary filmmaking is a lot like getting started in narrative filmmaking -- most of the time you're just picking up gear that is cheap and readily available to you. But, if you're looking to find out what the pros are using, PBS's POV, the longest-running showcase of documentary films on TV, asked working documentarians about the tools and equipment they used in their projects. Continue on to check out an infographic -- a comprehensive equipment list of the cameras, lenses, microphones, and post-production software (and more) used by the pros.

Buying or renting gear is a major commitment. I know that when I first started out, I wrestled over what equipment to buy, because when you're using every extra penny to purchase or rent, you don't have the luxury of "trying stuff out". So, knowing what other working filmmakers are using takes out much of the vetting process that most of us can't afford in the beginning.

POV asked 147 filmmakers, including directors, producers, cinematographers, and editors with varying levels of experience about what they used to make their films. Probably one of the most pressing questions any of us had when we first started out was, "Hey, what'd you shoot that on," and that's the first question POV answers -- what cameras are being used in doc filmmaking?

DSLRs, because of their size and portability, are definitely an industry favorite. However, the Canon C300, which has a similar form factor, is still the camera of choice for most documentarians -- narrative filmmakers are also known to use it (the Palme d'Or winning film Blue is the Warmest Color used two of them).

Choosing a microphone is one of the most important decisions you'll make in terms of gear. Sennheiser mics, namely the MKH 416, make up 54% of what documentarians use in the field, followed by Zoom products (H4n). Being the owner of both a Sennheiser and H4n, the great sound of the Sennheiser makes for great formal interviews, while the H4n performs well in the field.

Check out the infographic to see what kinds of NLEs, color correction software, accessories, and a bunch of other tools documentary filmmakers are using. (Be sure to take a good look at "Other Equipment Filmmakers Love" -- a lot of good tools you might've not thought to use. Thanks to Matías for sending this our way!)

For all of the documentary filmmakers, does the list reflect your choices for your films? What equipment is missing from the list that you'd recommend?

Link: POV's 2013 Documentary Filmmaking Equipment Survey -- POV

Your Comment

67 Comments

FCP7 still going strong.

December 8, 2013

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moebius22

And will be as long as it's supported by Apple OS'. I know I'm not transitioning to FCPx until I have to.

It's actually a small gift that Adobe and Apple gave me in the last year. Rather than making me think I need to upgrade each year/each iteration, they showed me I can use the same system for years. I may well get 10 years out of FC7 when its all said and done.

December 8, 2013

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Chris

I just got my first X job ..... A finishing job. Thus far .... I don't really like the timeline navigation. There are some cool things like the stabalisation. That's awesome. One click and it's done in a jiffy. The timeline navigation is the one thing that annoying me to no end right now. But I guess it's a new paradigm I'll have to get used to. Or maybe I'll just buy Avid.

December 9, 2013

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Nigel Thompson

Sad

December 10, 2013

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Kiel

Interesting article, although someone should let one of the editors know that MPEG streamclip does indeed transcode batches as well.

December 8, 2013

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A professor told me it softens clips. Any truth to that?

December 8, 2013

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moebius22

I always get color shifts with MPEG Streamclip. But scaling is actually very sharp. So sharp, I got aliasing artefacts around sharp objects (like graphic) so I stopped using it. Although it does do batches :-)

December 8, 2013

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Hr

In my experience, yes.

December 8, 2013

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Ty

In my experience, no. But it has been a while.

December 8, 2013

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Brian

There is, but so does compressor technically. You will get better results with Sorenson squeeze and resolve light. If you just need an offline codec though, streamclip is perfectly acceptable.

December 8, 2013

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The most fascinating factoid in the bunch is the overwhelming preference of FCP7 and a Mac. After trying to get PremiereCC to behave itself with all of its quirks, and about to start a new doc with about 100 hours of footage, I've been trying hard to like it. In my short form projects, it's been awesome, but I'm just not excited about the prospect of holding it together under the load of many hours of 2K. Just in the initial organizing of bins and material as I log my footage, it does strange, unexplainable things, and in a recent 1/2 hour piece I did, I felt like I was walking on eggshells and saving every few changes. I never had this kind of anxiety using FCP7. It's all tradeoffs, yes, and PPCC has some incredible features, but editing a feature doc can be like marrying somebody for a few years...I need to make the right choice.

December 8, 2013

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Not trying to start a flame war, but maybe take another look at FCP X when 10.1 is released soon? Organization/keywording is one of its main strengths.

December 8, 2013

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On big projects I like to organise my select material in different spots down the timeline for better review than clicking on clips in the bin. From there as I review that footage the clips I rate higher I move to the track above and if I want to refine it further I will move the better clips from that selection to the track above that. Then I take those top layer clips and move them to the head of the timeline for editing.

Is that something I could do with FCPX now because when it came out I couldnt work like that and thats far more important to me than any new feature it might have.

Also until it has SAVE AS. It will remain iMovie Pro. Sorry but there are simple fundamentals that editors need more than whats touted as reasons to change. I used FCP from version 4-7 and need proper file management. Not dodgy workarounds with spars discs etc. If they add SAVE as I and others would probably try to keep more of an open mind but till then whats the point?

December 8, 2013

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Also how long has it taken to get to 10.1 which isnt even here yet. Whats it been since 10? Three years maybe?

Thats typical Apple when it comes to their "pro" apps. Look at Aperture, DVD Studio Pro in the FCP suite never received an update in the years I was using it.

December 8, 2013

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Been about 2 years, but yeah, only small 0.x updates. The initial release was barely a pro editing system; wasn't until 10.0.3 that it was really useable (multi-cam, etc)

December 8, 2013

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Chris

So if I have for example a three hour edit on the timeline can the mangetic timeline instantly insert and drag edits or do you have to wait for it? Just curious. Either way a pro app needs good simple features. Multicam but no SAVE AS is a joke. Versioning as you work is something you need on every project and each day.

December 8, 2013

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1. I may be missing something about your workflow (I'm sure I am), but even the original version of FCP X had the position tool that would let you put clips wherever you want in your timeline, including lifting them out of the primary storyline as a connected clip and rearranging the ordering of connected clips to mimic "track" behavior, without needing to close the gaps.

2. The next version of FCP X will likely have a "save-as" like functionality similar to Logic Pro X's "alternatives" feature, which I've liked as all "alternatives" travel within the project.

That said, even today there are two great ways to do a "save-as" in FCP X

A. You can duplicate the project and have two separate projects in your project library.

B. You can toss your whole timeline in a compound clip and then "duplicate as audition".

3. Low version numbers have absolutely nothing to do with how featureful FCPX is and has become over the years. We're "only" up to 10.0.9, but those 10.0.X updates have brought features new-and-old to the program - multi-cam, XML, codec support, hardware broadcast monitoring, a million small things that have added up to lots of saved time.

The fundamentals of the program - deep organizational tools in the event browser, the magnetic timeline - are largely unchanged, yet the program is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was back in 2011 (which wasn't as far behind as people remember it being, IMHO).

December 8, 2013

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manfesto

On big projects I like to organise my select material in different spots down the timeline for better review than clicking on clips in the bin. From there as I review that footage the clips I rate higher I move to the track above and if I want to refine it further I will move the better clips from that selection to the track above that. Then I take those top layer clips and move them to the head of the timeline for editing.

Is that something I could do with FCPX now because when it came out I couldnt work like that and thats far more important to me than any new feature it might have.

Also until it has SAVE AS. It will remain iMovie Pro. Sorry but there are simple fundamentals that editors need more than whats touted as reasons to change. I used FCP from version 4-7 and need proper file management. Not dodgy workarounds with spars discs etc. If they add SAVE as I and others would probably try to keep more of an open mind but till then whats the point?

Also how long has it taken to get to 10.1 which isnt even here yet. Whats it been since 10? Three years maybe?

Thats typical Apple when it comes to their “pro” apps. Look at Aperture, DVD Studio Pro in the FCP suite never received an update in the years I was using it.

1. I may be missing something about your workflow (I'm sure I am), but even the original version of FCP X had the position tool that would let you put clips wherever you want in your timeline, including lifting them out of the primary storyline as a connected clip and rearranging the ordering of connected clips to mimic "track" behavior, without needing to close the gaps.

2. The next version of FCP X will likely have a "save-as" like functionality similar to Logic Pro X's "alternatives" feature, which I've liked as all "alternatives" travel within the project.

That said, even today there are two great ways to do a "save-as" in FCP X

A. You can duplicate the project.

B. You can toss your whole timeline in a compound clip and then "duplicate as audition", then all versions can live in (and be cycled through in) the timeline.

3. Low version numbers have absolutely nothing to do with how featureful FCPX is and has become over the years. We're "only" up to 10.0.9, but those 10.0.X updates have brought features new-and-old to the program - multi-cam, XML, codec support, hardware broadcast monitoring, a million small things that have added up to lots of saved time.

The fundamentals of the program - deep organizational tools in the event browser, the magnetic timeline - are largely unchanged, yet the program is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was back in 2011 (which wasn't as far behind as people remember it being, IMHO).

December 8, 2013

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manfesto

Sorry about the duplicate responses, my first few attempts to post timed out :-/

December 8, 2013

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manfesto

Thats cool. Most of those features added since the release of X were really just playing catchup to version 7 and were features that we had since before version 4 in many cases. I wouldnt call that progress when it shouldnt have been missing those in the first place.

The metadata management I like and wish Premiere was better in that respect as I've come to really respect the benefits of tagging and key-wording. Colour coding would be nice to and timeline visual commenting I wish I had too. Example would be drag selecting a group of clips somewhere in the edit and instead of clicking group you could click COMMENT and a visual tag would appear in a top layer that didnt render but at a glance you could know what that section was about without having to play it. I achieve the same thing using a blank clip labeled appropriately on a top layer but a quicker method would be nice.

I will keep an eye on FCPX as it progresses but my main issue is the mistrust I have for Apples treatment of their pro apps. Thats based on their history of doing so and not on opinion. Apple make great hardware and a great OS but niche apps few use (we are few in the scheme of things) Apple are not interested in.

December 8, 2013

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1. Yeah, lots of features were catchup features like XML and broadcast monitoring, though the multi-cam implementation is better than it ever was in 7.

FCPX may have needed a bunch of things to catch up to FCP7, but it has more than its fair share of unique things FCP7 never had, like top-and-tail editing, background rendering, certain codec support, actually useable chrome keying, 64-bit and proper multi-threading, etc.

At this point, I’m more than willing to call it a draw :)

2. Actually, you can do that in FCP X with titles.

Just connect a blank title (I already have one pre-saved to use as an After-Effets-like Adjustment Layer) and change its name in the “Info” tab to your comment.

I may start doing this, what I’ve been doing is adding markers to my timeline and using my Timeline Index (which is useful for a whole host of other things), this seems a bit more visual!

3. I definitely understand the justifiable suspicion you and many others have of Apple’s Pro Apps (FCPX’s launch was clearly done without nearly enough feedback from the professional community, it never should have been sold as an FCP7 replacement so soon), they have a lot yet to do to try and re-earn trust from you and many others.

But I do think that they’re trying very hard.

Every version has been clearly influenced by complaints from the professional community, and they’ve continually updated the “In Action” section of the FCPX webpage to show high-profile users and companies using their product - something they let stagnate on the other Pro App webpages.

I’m also an audio person (I was into audio well before I was into video), and the new version of Logic Pro X released this summer has been rather well received - yes, it was very late, but by-and-large the Audio community seems to be in agreement that it did a much better job of accomplishing FCP X’s original goal - modernizing the program with better performance, great new features, and a fresh interface that would make the interface more approachable by rookies, but without sacrificing any of its predecessor’s power or usability.

Unlike with the FCPX-FCP7 change, any Logic Pro 9 user can sit down in front of Logic Pro X, and after a few minutes of getting used to the new color scheme, get to work just as they had before.

Clearly, Apple didn’t want another FCPX debacle on their hands :)

Now I’m just waiting on Aperture to be updated...

December 8, 2013

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manfesto

I wish it well but even if it could be a workhorse it still doesnt have the live connectivity to After Effects that I just cant give up. I've used Motion on and off over the years but its no After Effects. Now being able to just right click on a clip in the timeline and send to After Effects, do whatever and then not have to import it back or anything, its just there in Prem is what dreams are made of :)

If Apple brought back Shake I think there would be a noticeable turn around. Dont get me started on what Apple did to Shake :( When in the original Superman movie he finds Louis dead in the car and he screams out "Nooooo!" (epic moment) well thats about half as pissed off as Shake users were when they found out what Apple did with Shake.

December 8, 2013

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And your comment on Aperture being updated is what I mean. I used to be an Aperture user and waited and waited, then switched to Lightroom and good upgrade after good upgrade. You would think Apple would at least upgrade that because there are far more people taking photos these days than video editors out there.

December 8, 2013

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Yeah, dynamic linking is really Adobe's ace-in-the-hole for After-Effects heavy workflows that no other NLE can really touch right now. If I were a heavier AE user it might be enough to force me to use Premiere Pro, but every time I open PP it feels like I've just taken a step back in time :)

I don't think upgrading Aperture is quite that trivial,

I think the delayed release of Logic Pro X seemed to imply that Apple had to switch gears mid-development and retool what they were doing to avoid an FCPX-like fiasco - like maybe they had bigger changes in mind but had to scrap them to avoid alienating their existing users again.

I'm wondering if something similar is happening with Aperture - like maybe they had some grandios plans for a UI overhaul but didn't want people calling it "iPhoto Pro" and had to scrap it and start from scratch, adding to the development timeline.

I've begrudgingly switched to Lightroom (for now), but I hate it - coming from Aperture, I find I don't like its organizational tools, editing tools, workflow, or slow performance. Unfortunately, it's just sooooooo much better than Aperture at noise reduction, pushing shadows, and pulling highlights.

All I want is for Apple to improve the raw processing engine, they can leave the tools and workflow alone. But given how long it's taking, they probably have much more than that up their sleeve.

I figure if they didn't plan on updating it, they'd have killed it by now.

As you've pointed out, they're not scared to do it, they've done it once already with Shake :(

December 9, 2013

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manfesto

Have you looked into Element for After Effects? They did the titles for the recent Star Trek movie with it right from within After Effects. Really amazing what it can do and all basically real time in AE. And I'm saying that with a very extensive background in 3DSMax and Maya. To see AE doing so pretty decent 3d is amazing. While it cant do everything a dedicated 3D app can do its great for a lot of things. This week I'm doing heaps of titles using the AE 3d camera tracker and then using Element adding 3d titles to each shot. Within minutes you can have a 3D title tracked and locked into live action footage.

I too switched to Lightroom for the noise reduction. Maybe Apple just keep Aperture on the shelf because it needs no upkeep? Shake had a pretty demanding community in a constantly evolving industry it would always require development, much like editing apps.

December 9, 2013

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Try duplicating insfead of save as and audition clips. Its really different than FCP7. Once you learn workarkunds its really quick to use. I don't think I would jump into it with that big of a project.

December 8, 2013

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I feel the same way. It's great for smaller projects because you mostly bypass transcoding. However, if I'm working on a large doc project with a large volume of material it slows way down and things get a little sketchy. If they ever get it up to "workhorse" level it will be awesome - but I have never gotten the rock-solid and responsive feeling from PPro like I did with FCP7 or especially Avid. In my experience, Avid is pretty much indestructible although I don't use it on the regular on my personal system.

December 8, 2013

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Ty

Really? We just finished 10 43 minute docs on CC. You can imagine the amount of footage on that. No issues.
I respect Avid, but hate working it. I got 8 great years out of FCP7. Incredible software.
I like FCP X now, but have no reason to change.

December 8, 2013

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marklondon

About Avid, same here - Maybe it's just because I learned in FCP. It always comes down to personal preference which is why the debate never ends, but Avid feels dated to me. I work primarily in PPro despite its shortcomings - we use dynamic linking a lot for sending stuff to AE and also do color correction and grade within our timelines in PPro because picture lock is not a luxury I am allowed to experience. That is most likely what bogs down my projects. However, I still think things slow down noticeably in PPro when you are working with thousands of clips instead of hundreds.

December 9, 2013

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Ty

I recently had to take over a project from another editor that was using PP as it could not handle all speed adjustments with 4K RED footage (not due to his computer) and FCP X handled without any issues, and being able to just drag and adjust the clip speed is ideal versus guessing a % like in FCP 7. The proxy switch to regular footy to 4K is way better in FCP X.

The whole no save button is not an issue, it is basically the equivalent of FCP 7 auto saving every minute. If FCP X crashes, which has maybe happened 2-3 times in the last year I have been using it, I have never lost more than 2-3 min of work if that.

Back to RED footage I get real time 4K playback on my iMac 2012, so if there is a project that has a tight deadline I don't even create proxies.

The export speed is way faster in FCP X than FCP 7, 7 would take forever in the past and the time estimate never seemed accurate.

With the Magnetic Timeline if you don't want to use it all you need to do is add a slug and it is now like 7, I do both, magnetic timeline to cut stuff down which is a huge time saver as it automatically pushes stuff back-then once stuff is trimmed down I add the slug and move stuff to exact spots. Once again don't knock it till you try it. I think it's funny that all the FCP X haters continue to hate without trying to learn it.

Working with Resolve is also very smooth with FCP X.

I will say that FCP X is a little trickier with working with another editor, but the XML workflow does work for this, and Apple does need to find a better solution for this.

December 9, 2013

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In the case of FCPX I think most of those that knock it have tried it. I myself bought it when it first cam out assuming Apple would have done a good job because of their past with FCP and the update was overdue and expected to be a good one. 3 weeks later of solid use I got a refund. Last week browsing the App store I went to see what was new with FCPX and noticed where it said BUY it said INSTALL. I guess when they did the refund they didn't delete it from my account. So I clicked install just to see if it had improved.... I lasted maybe 20 min before I got too pissed off to continue. Its a collection of gimmicks and thats all. Why did they have to screw the three way colour corrector?

Premiere is just as easy to work with Resolve.

SAVE AS is needed not for auto save but for versioning. When there end up being many versions of an edit for different reasons... Then the client comes back to the original edit anyhow...

And working with other editors isn't important for everyone but is for many. To be able to collaborate with another editor in a different room, state or country just be emailing a version of the project file (assuming they already have a copy of the footage on their HDs). And it doesn't need to be a big project for that to be needed. Two people working on a doco.

December 9, 2013

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As I mentioned you can work with different editors with XML's and as you mentioned assuming they have the media also.

As far as versions you can save different versions of projects, it is just a different process then 7.

And you stated exactly what I am talking about, you only gave it 20 min and then gave up.

December 9, 2013

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As far as my comment on workflow with Resolve I was NOT referring to PP, but to FCP 7.

December 9, 2013

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No I gave it 3 weeks almost 3 years ago and then last week I gave it 20 min to see it they fixed it and they hadnt. How much time do I need to see if somethings there or not? If its not there in the first few minutes then waiting longer wont make it appear.

As for XML thats a last resort workaround. To send the actual project file it opens up exactly as it left, filters, settings, titling, key-framing, overlay modes, audio settings, markers, labels everything. XML can only do so much.

I will take a look again when 10.1 eventually gets released. But it will need to be a big upgrade rather than the dribble of features we used to have.

December 9, 2013

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If you are complaining about SAVE AS, you don’t know the software. Please stop spreading misinformation. FCPX has SAVE AS functionality, only they chose to call it DUPLICATE PROJECT because the FCPX team loves alienating their customer base. (I have no idea why).

December 10, 2013

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Jorge

Panasonic GH3 is not good for documentary filmmaking?

December 8, 2013

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Where does it say that?
In my experience GH3 would be amazing, except for the lack of resolution in the read LCD and the fact that you can't focus check while recording.

December 8, 2013

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Brian

People just experience blindness to everything which isn't Canon sometimes, for this Panasonic is one of the most underrated manufacturers it sometimes seems.

December 8, 2013

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It is interesting how Canon always takes a battering in the camera articles but seem to be well regarded by documentary users in the field.

December 8, 2013

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Saied

Pretty sure there are no such things as...

Canon EFS 50mm 1.8
Canon EFS 50mm 1.4

EF mount, yes. EF-S mount, no.

December 8, 2013

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Grant

Swiss army knife? Nice!

December 8, 2013

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FWIW, there are new interviews on the H'wood Reporter site with the Canon honchos.

December 8, 2013

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DLD

I'm curious what exactly is meant by that heavy "Canon" showing in the Specialty Cameras category?

Did some people think that just meant "what is your B camera" and answered "Canon" because they have an old 7D they keep around for when their Cinema EOS is busy?

When I think of that phrase, I think of GoPro or little Sony cameras or something with underwater or night vision capabilities. Does Canon make devices I've never heard about?

December 8, 2013

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trackofalljades

I thought the same thing, although I know some who regard Canon's higher-end DSLRs as specialty cameras for their low light sensitivity. Sometimes the 1DC will get rented if we know we will shoot at night, or indoors with available light. I think you are right though, the question on their survey probably confused people.

December 8, 2013

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Ty

Its a very Canon biased framing of information.

December 8, 2013

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Noticed an discrepancy in the document: "MPEG Streamclip doesn't do batches" in fact is does do batch processing by simply hitting command+b to open the batch window and off you go working on hundreds of files in a batch.

December 8, 2013

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I see now that there were two little asterisk saying "actually it does" haha doh.

December 8, 2013

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It's probably also worth mentioning that, at least as far as I know, MPEG Streamclip (a wonderful tool) is basically dead now as it doesn't function under 10.9, right?

Does it? I'd love it to...

December 8, 2013

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trackofalljades

You mean Mavericks? Mine does.

December 9, 2013

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John

Don't worry, MPEG Streamclip DOES still function under 10.9

December 9, 2013

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Nick

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