Gear is easy to pick when there isn't a budget. With very few exceptions, you just pick the top price point in every category, and you are good to go.
It is also easy to pick gear when the budget is bare-bones, because you just pick the cheapest model and shoot. However, practically speaking, most of the time the budget requires some decisions. As you plan your gear choices, keep this philosophy in mind: don't sacrifice on your camera kit, but if you must sacrifice, do it on the additional items. Most projects can be shot without additional equipment, but if you cut corners on your camera kit, the entire project is universally affected.
It is also nice to remember that DSLR cameras have allowed for impressive results with some very basic lighting, creative hardware store-rigged camera support equipment, and post-production setups. So if you are stuck with a camera kit, make it the top quality you can afford because the rest of the production can be creatively and cheaply assembled and still result in a high-quality product. If you must scrimp, scrimp on the add-ons, not the core gear. Often, the camera kit is a third of the overall budget, but this percentage can be increased if you are on a limited budget. The quality of your piece depends on a quality image; decide what is most going to impact the image and prioritize those purchases. In most cases, this means that camera, lenses, and tripods will be the first and most important purchasing decisions.
It is easy to get lost in the ever-growing list of "extras" beyond the basics you need for a shoot. Let's start with the basic items of camera, lenses, and tripod, and then we can look at the "extras" and what is optional vs. what is good to have on any set.
Here are a couple sample camera packages that range in price for you to use as a guideline.
For most people, the problem is the lack of funds to buy or rent exactly what they want for their shoot. These are our recommendations for those people:
Camera: Canon T2i Body Only, $700 Other DSLR cameras have different frame rates, and some have a larger sensor or can be used with better results in low-light situations. With that said, the T2i is a great camera and can deliver unbelievable images. Don't let the desire for a top-of-the-line camera stop or delay you from shooting. It is
sometimes best to get a good camera and spend some more money on some extras to make your project look better. Don't blow your entire budget on the first item on the list.
Lenses: Rent Canon 50 mm 1.4 and Zoom Lens or Buy Nikon AiS Lenses and Use Adapter Ring Again, go into any camera rental shop, website, or catalog, and you will quickly have a list that is too long for the number of lenses you want to have available to you on your shoot. This package helps you keep it simple. If you are shooting your first project or you are a seasoned photographer, sometimes focusing on a few lenses can actually help you create more interesting shots. Make it a challenge on how to best set up and shoot with a single lens, and you will be surprised just how many great and interesting shots you will capture.
Tripod: Manfrotto 503 Fluid Head and Manfrotto 351mvb2 Tripod Tripods are often overlooked, and if you are coming from a still photography background, you may not be aware of just how good a friend a good fluid-head tripod can be for shooting video. Since the cameras are so light and any movement will show up in your shot, we feel this tripod delivers great results for the price and is pretty easy to work with and move from location to location.
Some people have a modest budget that allows them to get close to what they want but not quite everything they want/need.
Camera: Canon 70 or Panasonic GH2 The 7D allows you to shoot with more frame rates, is built rock-solid, and creates a beautiful image. The GH2 is a huge step up from the original GHl. Both the 7D and GH2 output HD video signals, which is a huge plus when pulling focus with external monitors. The GH2 has an autofocus feature while recording video, which may work for some shots but is not recommended as a solution for pulling focus.
Lenses: Rent Zeiss ZF or ZE Lenses or Buy Canon L Glass Zeiss lenses are well known for a reason. We like working with the ZF lenses with an adapter because the ZF lenses have an iris ring, so we can control the aperture independent of the camera. If you don't have the budget to buy Zeiss but want to buy some great-quality lenses, then go ahead and buy the Canon L series lenses. They are truly great lenses that can create beautiful images. A plus is that if you have a Canon camera and use the camera for taking stills, you can take advantage of the autofocus and automated features between lens and camera.
Tripod: Sachtler Video 20 Head with Carbon Fiber Tripod Sachtler fluid heads and tripods are great, well built, and awesome to use. The downfall is that they are big and heavy, and if you have only a camera with a lens attached, they make the tripod seem like a tool that is too big for the job. Don't let that fool you. The larger the fluid head, the smoother the movement you can create. You won't be disappointed with the results, but if you are moving from location to location frequently, just be aware that these are not light.
For some lucky few, money is no object, and they can secure exactly what they want/need. Here are our recommendations for those folks:
Camera: Canon 50 Mark II In our opinion, this is still the best DSLR camera on the market period. If you have all the money in the world, buy a couple 5D Mark II cameras and get extra coverage. This creates the best image in almost any light condition, and the skin tones captured are unmatched.
Lenses: Rent PL Mount Oalsa Cinema Lenses or Buy Leica R Primes If you want the very best lenses in the world, then you want cinema lenses. For all but a few people, buying these lenses is not an option. The good news is that cinema lenses are available for rent in almost every major city with a motion-picture camera rental house, or there are online rental shops that will ship them to you. You will need to rent or convert your camera to a PL mount. Be warned this is not a cheap process to have done, but if you shoot enough, it may be well worth doing. If you can find Dalsa Prime Cinema lenses, that is the lens of choice for DSLR cameras. These cine lenses were made by former Panavision designers using the very best Leica glass in the world to create the Dalsa lens series. These are somewhat rare to find, so just be forewarned they are not going to be readily available wherever you are located.
Tripod: O'Connor 1030 Head and Tripod Again, a workhorse tripod in the film industry can be your best friend in the DSLR film world. This one is amazingly easy to use for any level of operator.
The Next Three Things You Should Buy
After you have your camera, lenses, and tripod, you should buy or rent the following items, in order of priority:
Viewfinder When trying to get accurate focus and check your lighting and exposure, this is an invaluable tool. Using just the LCD screen is hard (but doable), and this makes using the camera for those purposes so much simpler.
Camera Support Unless you are able to shoot your entire project on a tripod, you will need to have some sort of camera support that assists you in getting stable handheld shots. Without this, you cannot hold the camera and expect usable results in any sort of reliable fashion.
Monitor Once you have a handheld camera support rig, you will want a field monitor you can attach to the rig. Some camera support systems allow you to offset your camera so you can use a viewfinder, but not all allow that. Also, operating handheld can be hard when you are pressed against a viewfinder or looking at the small LCD screen. A larger screen that you can position so you can see for framing and composition while shooting is a huge asset.
If you don't have the budget for a monitor, then buy Duvetyne and a viewfinder.