Set of camera gear for a school to use for teaching filmmaking to young teenage students?

Is basically exactly a year since I wrote my newbie guide to filmmaking gear based around the GH2, so now is a timely time to write a short update?
It is a tribute to the GH2 and Panasonic’s range of cameras as a whole, that they still line up as a very competitive choice even today in early 2016!

Lots more interesting cameras have since come along, such as Sony A6300/RX10mk2, Nikon D5500/D500, & Panasonic G7. But if you want to keep costs down and the max bang for buck then my guide from a year ago still holds relevant the bonus that a year later you can find these secondhand even cheaper than before!

Here is a post I wrote in response to a request about gear for Highschool for their young filmmaking students. Naturally with a limited school budget, and the need to buy multiple gear kits for several student groups to be able to use at once (and not to mention the risk of youth breaking gear!), costs need to be kept under tight control, so my GH2 gear guide still holds very relevant:

A few secondhand Panasonic GH2 is my vote. Dirt dirt cheap, and you get top notch quality from it! Waaaaay better than any Canon APS-C DSLR (heck, people rated a hacked GH2 above a 5Dmk3 even!).

Another thought is several GH1 bodies (nearly as good as GH2, but lacks live HDMI), plus one or two GH2 bodies for when they want to use it with an external monitor (Aputure FineHD VS-2, a quality 1920×1080 screen for dirt cheap!! 😮 Amazing), plus one G6 (or even G7, which some people even prefer over a Gh4! It is better than a GH4 at low light) for when they want 60fps FHD slow motion on a production (or 4K).

Get a few RJ Lens Turbos, and Nikon F mount lenses.

Nikon D5200 is also a solid choice! I own one myself (plus lots of Micro Four Thirds cameras). Again, maybe if you go with Nikon instead consider a mix with several D5200 plus one D5300 for when you want 60fps FHD slow motion on a project.

For audio I’d avoid a Zoom H4n like the plague. (Ditto Canon for a camera body) An H4n or a Canon both “kinda” (but not really) made sense in the very very early days of the HDSLR Revolution (years ago), when there were very few other options. But it makes no sense to buy either today at all.

I’d go instead with a Tascam DR-60D mk2, paired with a cheap Xiaomi USB battery bank (Xiaomi is like the Apple of China!) which I Velcro to the back plus a camera strap around the handles of the Tascam. No need then for a mixing bag! And you’ll be able to run for a looooong time with that set up! (vs the internal AA batteries which get eaten up if you run only on them, but with a USB battery pack you never need to worry about that)

That there is my set up before I upgraded to a Sound Devices 552 (waaaaaaaaay more expensive! But worth it, for me as a semi pro soundie). A Tascam DR-60D mk1 is also worth getting if you find a very cheap deal on it, but improvements in the DR-60D mk2 I feel is worth it. (Tascam DR-70D is also worth a look, but for your school needs is not really worth it the extra XLR inputs)

For microphone, get perhaps one Sennheiser MKE 600? (I have a NTG2 at the moment, which is a solid microphone and I got a good deal on it! But I might suggest going with a MKE600 or perhaps a NTG3 instead) And the rest be HTDZ HT-81 microphones (which is what I started out with years ago, recording into a Zoom H1). Again following my suggestion of having the bulk of the gear being cheap while still decent (HTDZ HT-81) but get one or two nicer pieces (which are still frugal) for use on more important projects which deserve it (or/and for when they’re under closer supervision by you, so they’ll be looking after the equipment). This means they’ll also learn to appreciate the quality difference which can be output from lower end equipment vs better equipment (and also how it can *not* matter… how a HTDZ HT-81 in skilled hands will sound better than somebody clueless on a project using a MKE600).

So that is for outdoor recordings, for indoor you’ll want something else (due to reflective surfaces which will bounce the sound back, not ideal for using a shotgun in). I’m using a Takstar CM-60 at the moment, until I can afford an Oktava MK012. So I suggest you get a few CM-60 for indoor audio dialogue.

For a boom pole I got this:

But I mainly got this because of the FREE SHIPPING, as I live in the middle of nowhere in a small island nation called New Zealand. Sometimes shipping of big bulky items from the USA can be painfully expensive! But if you’re in the USA then there are well priced boom poles with free shipping for you to choose from at B&H / Adorama or

How to pick a camera when buying more than one?

When buying multiple cameras there are two key ways to look at it:

Complementary cameras or matching cameras.

In some cases you want your cameras to be “matching cameras”, such as when doing multi camera coverage of wedding ceremony or doing an interview. Such as 2x GH4 to cover the wide of the interview and the close up, or one to cover the interviewer himself and another on the person being interviewed.

But in most cases you want your cameras to be complementary instead. As you need to view each camera body as merely one kind of tool in your box of tricks. So when you go out on a shoot, you can pick the best tool for the job.

Thus for cameras to be complementary, you want one camera to cover the weaknesses of the other, and in the reverse too.

For instance GH4 + BMPCC:

96fps vs 30fps
Compressed vs raw
Photos vs n/a
4K vs 1080

Or A7s vs BMPCC:

FF vs S16
Amazing low light vs so so low light
Compress vs raw

You can see how in each case, one does well in covering some of the weaknesses of the other camera.

Thus you can see how for many people getting a BMCC and BMPCC makes no sense at all really, as they’re two very similar cameras.
So this BMCC + BMPCC combo only makes sense if you’re looking for two “matching cameras” rather than two “complementary cameras”, or if you already have a BMCC and you want the BMPCC to just cover for the big weakness of the BMCC: its bulky size.

I really wouldn’t recommend the BMPC4K at the moment, URSA Mini 4K is just around the corner for the same price and is better in every way.

What I’d suggest is getting a Samsung NX1 right now (or any one of the currently top three hybrid cameras: Samsung NX1 / Sony A7s / Panasonic GH4. But I reckon the NX1 is the best of the 3 at the moment) and a set of Nikon F mount lenses. Then when the USRA Mini ships (and “if” it gets the favorable reviews we’re all expecting) get that as well. You’ll have a killer combo of two cameras able to cover a wide range of needs. Don’t worry that the URSA Mini is still a few months away from shipping, as having the Samsung NX1 to start with is still a phenomenal camera, and when you’re just starting out your equipment really isn’t your limiting factor just yet. As gear has got so good and so affordable.

If you lean towards doing a lot more multi camera work (such as weddings) than single camera, then I’d suggest instead starting out with a Panasonic GH4 for you, plus Panasonic G7 for your second shooter (your second shooter might supply their own camera, but even if they do, it is best if their camera matches well with your own. Makes life easier in post), and 3x Panasonic GH1 bodies (which go for merely US$150 on eBay, and still are quite damn fine cameras! Does miles better than any Canon Rebel series DSLR shoots) to cover the multiple extra angles during the ceremony and speeches. Then once they ship, pick up a BMMCC and BMD VA for your single camera work (music videos / adverts / short films / etc). Or get a BMPCC if you simply can’t wait for that.

I wrote this post in response to this thread on bmcuser, and felt like sharing it as a blog post too because my response is length yet generic enough it might be helpful for others too looking at getting more than one camera.

A priced out gear kit for a newbie to filmmaking, using the Panasonic GH2.

Was talking to friend online about what first camera he should get, he is looking at a Panasonic GH2 so I thought I’d go and cost up what the total cost would be for a small starter’s kit (obviously, you don’t have to get everything all at once! You could just start with a camera and one lens, thus I’m listing this in rough order from most important to least important of the items to get first. Although, this ordering can be debatable depending on a person’s needs):

  1. Panasonic GH2 (US$418, but if you look at past sales on eBay you can see a common sale price for the GH2 can be closer to mid US$300-ish and less, so won’t be hard to find it cheaper than US$418 with a little patience and bidding in auctions)
  2. SanDisk Extreme 32GB (US$23)
  3. Nikon F to Micro Four Thirds Adapter (US$14)
  4. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 (US$92)
  5. RJ Lens Turbo (US$129)
  6. Couple of spare batteries (2x US$12.50)
  7. Yunteng Y288 (US$57)
  8. Vivitar 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5 in Nikon F mount (US$90)
  9. Zoom H1 (US$100)
  10. UltraDisk 4016 (US$21)
  11. EM-320E shotgun mic (US$21)
  12. Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 (US$200)
  13. Feelworld FW759 (US$126)
  14. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (US$390)
  15. Vivitar 135mm f/2.8 ($65)

Even though both him and I are New Zealanders, I’ve priced it up in US dollars to make it easier to read for an international audience.

To get the first 7 items on this list to get yourself out the door and start making a movie, it would just cost US$758 (418+23+14+92+129+2*12.50+57)

To get the first 11 items on this list (so you’ve then got a few more choices in focal length, and you’ve got capturing sound covered in the most basic way) the total would be US$990 (418+23+14+92+129+2*12.5+57+90+100+21+21)

To get everything on this list would cost US$1771 (418+23+14+92+129+2*12.5+57+90+100+21+21+200+126+390+65)

You can see a large chunk of this cost is in the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, which is phenomenal lens but also a bit of a niche item as an ultra wide angle lens and thus why I put it right near the end of the list to get. Another large chunk of the cost is obviously in getting the GH2, so if you’re really looking to save costs I’d suggest the Panasonic GH1 instead at only US$150-ish on eBay. As in many ways it is nearly as good as the GH2 except for the big one of lacking live HDMI (but this can be viewed as a good thing when saving money! As now you’re not getting the monitor either…. because you can’t use it at all! Bingo, saved another US$126).

These are just the prices I could find from just a few seconds of searching for each item, I’m 100% sure a patient person could with only a little bit of luck get this kit for much cheaper.

Not at all coincidentally, I own all these items on the list (with the exception of the GH2, I started with the GH1. And the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, I went with the better but much more expensive Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 instead), thus I’m recommending them on the basis of my own hours and hours of research in deciding to buy them for myself!

Obviously this is just a starting out kit, and much much much more can be spent on many areas. Such as in particular audio is a weakness in this list (it is after all mainly aimed to be a starting camera kit, for an aspiring future DoP to start out making their first short films). And you can always get more lenses! Haven’t even listing a single piece of lighting equipment at all! Another huge hole, of many.

But as a completely entry level introduction to filmmaking on a very small budget, I think this would be a brilliant collection of kit to begin with!

I’ll finish this off, with a few other camera body options to consider (but the rest of this list basically remains the same, no matter what camera body you choose out of these. With the exception of if you get the monitor or not, you need a camera with live HDMI out to use that):

  • a) Panasonic GH1 (if you’re not planning on getting a monitor then I’d recommend the GH1 over the GH2, as it is a lot cheaper and will be for your needs 95% as good)
  • b) Panasonic G6 (another one to consider if you aren’t not getting a monitor, as like the GH1 it lacks live HDMI out, but in just about every other way it is better than the GH2)
  • c) Sony NEX-5N (the only camera that can rival the GH1 in terms of bang for buck! It too is available for US$150ish on eBay)
  • d) Sony A5100 (this is actually my preferred choice, and the best camera currently on the market that is underneath the NX1/GH4/A7s price point)
  • e) Sony A6000 (basically the same as the A5100, but is more expensive and lacks XAVCs or a touch screen. But has an EVF, and doesn’t have the minor overheating issue that the A5100 sometimes has)