December 8, 2017

Watch: These Are the Ten Tools Every Filmmaker Should Buy

These items are pretty much mandatory if you want to make a film.

If we had a dollar for every time someone asked us “What camera should I buy?,” we could have bought an Alexa by now. After that, the most frequent question we get asked around here is “What else should I buy?” In his latest wolfcrow video, Sareesh Sudhakaran attempts to answer just that. Now, the title of his video is somewhat misleading, because, in truth, you will likely rent many of these items before you dive into a real investment, but these items are certainly essential on any serious film set.

Take a look at Sudhakaran’s list and reasoning, and read on for our take, below:

1. Camera

Obviously, you can’t shoot a film without a camera. Whether or not you need to buy your own is an open question, but you’ll certainly want to do your research to determine which is the best tool for you either way. You’ll find in-depth camera reviews and tech specs galore on this site, but there’s nothing like getting your hands on a camera to find out whether it’s going to meet your specific needs.

Borrowing or renting different cameras is a great way to start. Sudhakaran advises that you check out which inventory rental houses have to see what’s popular at the moment. Then, if you end up buying, you’ll know how to “spend money on the camera others want.”

Sudhakaran recommends the Sony Alpha a7S II and Panasonic GH5 for lower-budget options (around $2K each) to meet your basic needs. We would add that, if you want something from the next bracket that might offer more options and better quality before jumping up to a $30K RED, the Canon C200 and Panasonic EVA-1 are attractive cameras that were both released this year in the $7K range.

2. Lenses

Sudhakaran admits that choosing lenses is probably a more personal decision than choosing cameras, and different projects will require different looks. You'll probably want couple stand-bys in your kit, like a 50mm lens T2 and maybe an 85mm, but you can have a lot of fun exploring the wide, wide world of lenses.

You can get started with some basic overviews of offerings from brands like Samyang, Sigma, and Tamron, and move on to amazingly extensive comparisons—like in this anamorphic lens test from ShareGrid or in this Vintage Cinema Lens Library—to get a feel for the unique qualities that different glass can bring.

A bokeh chart comparing vintage cinema lensesCredit: Vintage Cinema Lens Library

3. Tripod

A good set of tripod legs and a fluid head is a worthwhile investment because it can last through several different cameras and years of shoots. At the high end, Sachtler is the reliable standby, but Manfrotto sticks are a go-to choice for indie productions. No matter which combination you end up with, make sure it has a bubble level for balancing, and do not buy a friction head. Fluid heads are a must for smooth pans and tilts.

4. Microphones

Similar to tripods, good mics are a necessary and longterm investment.Sudhakaran argues that they are in fact as important as your camera purchase, and we can certainly say that audio is as critical to audience appreciation of your film as video is, if not more so.

Your first mics will be a shotgun (likely to attach to a boom or c-stand) and a wireless lavalier set, which includes a transmitter and a receiver. Sudhakaran recommends the Sennheiser ME-66 for your first shotgun (a longtime staple of the indie world), and the Sanken COS 11D as a lav mic. RODE, Sony, and Sennheiser each make affordable lav sets that are worth a look.

5. Audio recorder/mixer

Sudhakaran suggests that you will inevitably need an external audio recorder (as in, not attached to your camera) to manage your various audio channels. This may not be possible for run-and-gun documentarians but, either way, you'll want to make sure you have native XLR inputs and high-quality cables to run your captured audio through. If you are hiring an audio person or team, they will likely have their own preferred gear, but If you choose to purchase your own, the offerings from Sound Devices are a good place to start.

SmallHD Focus 5" monitor

6. External monitor

External monitors, which essentially allow anybody on set to see what your DP is seeing, are becoming both more affordable and more competitive in terms of features that they offer. SmallHD offers a wide variety of budget-friendly production monitors, as small as 5" and as large as 17". We are impressed with the company's Focus 5", 800-nit, camera-mountable monitor that will only run you about $500.

7. Extra batteries

This one is a no-brainer. We are living in an electronic world, and you can pretty much never have too many batteries and chargers on hand. Aside from batteries specific to your camera (Sudhakaran recommends FXLion as a reliable source for these), make sure to have plenty of standard household batteries on hand, too. Many mics and useful on-set gadgets require AA, AAA and 9V. And while you're at it, smartphones are essential production tools now. Heck, you might even be using one as your B-cam, so make sure to pack your cell phone chargers and invest in an external battery charger for these, too.

8. Media & Backups

Another no-brainer that you can't have enough of. Barring physical damage to your cast or crew, is there anything worse than losing footage, or running out of space before you even capture it? Buy as many cards as you can afford, and try to have a minimum of four on you at all times.

9. Light stands

Even if your gaffer is bringing her own lights and gear, you'll want a couple c-stands around, as they are some of the most useful and versatile tools on any set. Not sure what to do with them? Here's a beginner's guide.

10. Lights

Our mantra of late has been that this was the year of the LED. As we said back during our extensive coverage of NAB 2017, "Some of the most awe-inspiring gadgets we saw at NAB 2017 were definitely lights—including one that is virtually indestructible, another about the size of a soda can, and an LED that can replicate any hue on the color wheel without the use of a single gel." Again, even if your electric team is bringing a truckload of stuff, no filmmaker today has an excuse not to throw a couple basic LEDs in their standard kit. Blind Spot Gear has some excellent, affordable options for this purpose, starting with the Tile.

We would add a few small items that you’ll always want to have in your kit, like something to clean your lenses with, Sharpies, and the most useful item on any set: gaffer’s tape.

Do you agree with Sudhakaran's choices? What's missing from the list or what's unnecessary? Let us know in the comments.      

Your Comment


Lenswise, in the Happy Shopper end of the budget, you also have the Helios 44 58mm f/2.0 with counterparts Mir-1B 35mm f/2.8, Jupiter 9 85mm f/2.0 and Jupiter 11A or 37 135mm f/4.0. A dark horse in this is Carl Zeiss Jena with the black 50mm f/2.8 standing out. All of these are M42. Also a lot of low budget commercial stuff uses old Canon FD.

For M42 and FD on crop sensors like those on E-mount and EF-M cameras there are now focal reducers. (About time too for Canon EF-M, my EF-M to M42 focal reducer is now in the post from China)

December 8, 2017 at 1:17PM

Julian Richards
Film Warlord

If you're on a budget, I've done for a long time without an external audio recorder or an external monitor.

December 8, 2017 at 9:37PM

Stu Mannion

that's me right now

December 21, 2017 at 10:20PM


I would of had a flag/silk kit up there somewhere. You can get them pretty cheap if you want to buy them and they really help to create good looking images.

December 9, 2017 at 1:09PM

George Nelson
Director / Cinematographer

Slow news day.

December 10, 2017 at 7:58AM


Am I the only one who is confused about the "unsexy" picture this guy creates (in more than just this video) to talk about producing pictures?

December 10, 2017 at 11:48AM

Lorenz Schuster

No Film Kindergarten

December 10, 2017 at 2:48PM


I never leave for a shoot without Flexes and Flags... Bounce, Diffuse or block the light, sometime just a large black peice of fabric that is easy to carry around will save the day to block some lights, same thing applies for white to diffuse or bounce.

December 11, 2017 at 5:37AM

Bruno DesRosiers
Director / Director of photography / Editor