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Got A Camera, What Else Do You Need?

OK, so you just spent all your hard earned cash on a camera and just realized that you’re not at the end of the dollar spending days.  There are the endless number of accessories to purchase.  So what are the essentials that you should have in your kit?  Here is my list of five must have accessories.

  1. Filter For Your Lens – Run, don’t walk, to your nearest camera store or jump right back on your computer and get yourself a UV filter for that new baby of yours.  It will act as the first line of defense for the most important part of your camera.  Yes, introducing another piece of glass between your subject and your lens will slightly affect the picture but all it takes is a kid swinging something and scratching your lens to ruin your day.  For me, I’ll take the slight loss in picture quality for the insurance this buys me. For most cameras a UV filter is all you need.  One noted exeption is the Sony EX line of camera, Sony decided to not to filter out the IR frequency aggressively on their EX1/r an EX3 cameras so blacks tend to have a brownish-red look.  A UV/IR filter will usually take care of this.
  2. Camera Case – You’ve made the investment into the camera, so why not protect it.  I prefer to keep my camera in a hard case rather than a soft case or camera backpack.  I figure I’ve spent thousands on my camera so I’m willing to spend a couple of hundred on a case to keep it safe.  I like Pelican cases but there are a lot of other good ones out there.  If you prefer a soft case get a quality one from a manufacturer like Porta Brace, or Kata that has adequate padding.  And a big tip, put some sort of moisture absorbing device in with your equipment.  There have been reported cases of moisture causing corrosion on some of the circuit boards in cameras then causing shorts leading to expensive repairs.  I have one or two Desiccant Silica Gel canisters in all of my equipment cases.  Their rechargeable and are pretty cheap.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking  about:
  3. Extra Batteries – This is one of those things you don’t want to be caught without.  For most cameras you aren’t just stuck with the manufacturer’s batteries.  Lenmar makes batteries for a lot of the cameras and for the higher end cameras, there are some very good larger capacity batteries made by Anton Bauer, IDX, Ikan, and Switronix to name a few.  Batteries for higher end cameras aren’t cheap but it’s always good to make sure you have enough for continuous shooting.  I always have three batteries on hand, one on camera, one on charger, and one on standby.
  4. Tripod – This is a huge one.  Both in need and cost.  You could shoot everything handheld but it ultimately becomes tiring for your audience to see shaky cam work and for you to hold 5 lbs for 8 to 12 hours of shooting.  OK, shock alert, a good quality tripod could cost as much as that camera you just bought.  At the low end of the tripod spectrum you have your Velbons that you see in most store.  They start at around $50 and will be ok if you’re going to just lock the camera down and shoot.  If you need to pan or tilt you’ll discover their shortcomings very quickly and I don’t trust that a tripod like that would hold any camera of decent size.  The next jump up is to the $200 range and includes manufacturers like Davis & Stanford and Smith-Victor.  After that, for most people, sticker shock starts to set in and you jump to the entry level pro gear with names like Manfrotto and Libec.  Expect to spend a minimum of $500 and we haven’t even gotten to the true fluid head tripods yet.  From there things go a little crazy, or so I thought when I was researching tripods.  At the upper end you hear names like Miller, Sachtler, Vinten, what is thought of by many as the holy grail of tripods, O’Connor.  The advantage that you’ll get with these tripods are noticeably smoother panning and tilting, more stable support, and you won’t see backlash when you stop your camera move.  Now the price of admission for one of these is about $1500 for the cheap seats and it goes way up from there, like $15K for an O’Connor.
  5. White Balance Card – This last one is the least expensive but perhaps will have the most dramatic affect on the picture you capture.  Anyone who’s been on a shoot with me will know that I always have my fold out white/grey card handy.  I tend to white balance (WB) all of my shots.  There are two uses for a white card.  One is to use it for manual white balancing of your camera.  Every lighting situation yields a difference color temperature, so even changes in camera placement or moving lights could change the color temp, so I try to WB for each setup.  The other way to use a white card is to set your camera to its default color temp (usually either 3200K or more likely for 5600K), actually shoot the white card and adjust in post.  How you use it is really dependants on what your workflow will be.  Discuss this with your producer and editor to figure which one will work best for your project.

The entire series of videos on that site are really informative but for the white balance explanation watch Part 7.

There are a lot of other accessories that I’m sure you’ll discover that you really “need”.  A matte box, follow focus, external mic, digital audio recorder, external video capture device, dollies, cranes, steady cam devices, the list goes on and on.  But for starters, I feel the five that I’ve listed should be in every shooter’s standard kit.  I’m an advocate of buying quality accessories.  If you buy quality gear you’ll be able to use it on other cameras.  A quality tripod for instance, will outlast your camera.  In fact your tripod can last through several cameras.  I purchase most of my non-camera equipment used from people I can trust and when I resell it I usually get about what I paid for it.  In some cases I’ve actually made money and have used that latter mentality to move up in quality.

Just know that there is an endless list of things that you could get for your new baby.  But once you get your basic kit together you can take your time and slowly acquire those other accessories that you “have to have”

That’s my top 5… what other accessories are essential for you?

Happy shooting and let’s go make a movie!

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2 Responses to "Got A Camera, What Else Do You Need?"
  1. Sion Shankel says:

    Great stuff!! Gitzo is also a top of the line tripod…but very expensive. You reminded I need another UV lens for the new camera thanks!

  2. Chris says:

    I tried the link. It said the page could not be found. Otherwise thanks for the great article. I think if I keep reading your tips and other informative articles and videos, I may not have to worry about trying to go to a film school. (which I can’t afford)

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