If you’re anything like us, you might be a complete gear junkie. You regularly peruse various camera or lens-centric blogs and participate in forums dedicated to discussing the latest tech. You know who shot the latest movies on what, and you constantly imagine the possibilities available to you with today’s top filmmaking gear.
What it takes is some experience to realize is that while cameras and lenses are essential, they are only a small piece in a much larger scheme of production-related equipment. The other stuff might not be nearly as romantic or exciting, but it can be just as useful and game-changing as any camera. Here’s a list of essential camera gear for almost anyone planning to shoot a video or film.
Practical Filmmaking Gear that Might Save Your Shoot
1. Diddy Bag
Typically diddy bags are used by camera assistants to carry all the tools and extra bits and pieces they need for their job. If you do a fair amount of assisting you probably already have one! But if you don’t, we recommend making it a habit to bring a diddy bag to all shoots, even when you have an assistant. You never know when you’ll need that one tool or piece of kit that no one else on set has. Better safe than sorry.
A diddy bag can be anything, but the essential characteristics are durability and ease of organization. This bag is going to go through hell so you’ll want something built to last. And you’re going to be putting a lot of odds and ends in there. So you want something that makes keeping track of it all a piece of cake.
Something like a CineBag Production bag will check all the boxes. It’s built like a tank, and it has more pockets and zippers than you’ll probably ever need. But like all camera gear, CineBags come with a hefty price tag, and if you don’t want to fork that out, you could instead look into construction-oriented bags. You’ve likely seen your fair share of Huskey tool bags on set — they work like a charm for a fraction of the price.
It’s also worth noting that your diddy bag (especially if it’s a CineBag) could end up weighing 30-40 pounds with everything in it. You might consider a bag with wheels if your back is easily hurt or if you’re especially conscientious of that kind of thing (which you should be)!
2. Gaff Tape
From taping gels to hiding lav mics to securing cable, gaff tape could very well be one of the most used material in your kit. There are lots of options in terms of colors and sizes, and it’s fairly pricey, so if you’re looking to go lean on your first purchase, we recommend a roll each of 2″ black and 2″ white.
In case there is any question about the utility of gaff tape, our friend and photographer Jay P Morgan can show you about 50 different ways to apply the stuff. Enjoy!
Always have one of these in your pocket on shoots. In case you’re not familiar with what a Leatherman is, it’s a popular brand of multi-tool — essentially a Swiss Army Knife with pliers. Some are more robust than others, but your basic Wingman model has everything you need: pliers, a blade, scissors, Philips screwdriver, and a flathead screwdriver.
It’s pretty self-explanatory, but just in case you don’t know: you will constantly be cutting things and tightening things in this business.
Your camera, tripods, jibs, sliders, and more are all held together by common nuts and bolts. To keep everything from falling apart at the wrong time, you should carry some basic tools with you to tune up your various pieces of equipment.
A great start to your toolkit should include Allen hex sets, metric and imperial, an adjustable crescent wrench, a screwdriver with multiple sizes of Phillips and flatheads, a box cutter, and needle-nose pliers. Depending on your gear, you may also want a set of jewelers screwdrivers for the really tiny bolts.
Whether you’re syncing audio or not, nothing beats an old fashioned slate for quickly identifying a shot for your editor (hey, that might be you)! Slating may cost a few seconds in the moment, but it can spare you a few hours in post-production — especially if you’re planning to sync using audio waveforms, but your software can’t seem to line it up. A basic dumb slate is pretty cheap, and you’ll use it on every shoot.
6. Lens Cleaners
People usually carry a lens cloth of some sort, but some smudges just won’t go away with a basic wipe down. Fingerprints and be particularly tricky, as the oils in your skin are more likely to smear than they are to wipe off. In these cases, it’s a good idea to have a box of Kimtech wipes and Pancro lens cleaner on hand.
Kimtech wipes are like tissues, except that they do not shed fibers, and they absorb oils very well. Panaro cleaning fluid is alcohol-based and evaporates very quickly, leaving your lens clean and residue-free. You’ll never meet a smudge or speck that this combo can’t get rid off!
7. Zip Ties, Bongo Ties, and Velcro
We put these all together because they’re just different iterations of tools for sticking things to other things. We’d recommend getting some of each because they all come in super handy, especially when it comes to rigging up a camera.
8. ShotPut Pro
This isn’t a piece of equipment per se, but in our opinion, it may be one of the most important production-related purchases you ever make.
ShotPut Pro is a checksum file copy program. In other words, not only does it copy digital files from one location to another, but it runs an algorithm that checks to see that every byte was copied without error.
Though a simple drag and drop typically works without incident, on occasion, a file or two or even a whole mag full of video clips can corrupt during the transfer process — whether due to a bad cable, a faulty hard disk, or even a simple software error. In these instances, it’s not uncommon to discover the error long after the cards have been formatted, making it impossible to transfer again.
ShotPut Pro helps make sure you never find yourself in that situation by verifying that all your clips have been properly copied from mag to hard drive. Try to use it on all of your projects — it can add significant time to an offload so there are rare occasions when you simply can’t use it, but you’ll grow to hate those situations.
This year alone, a filmmaker on the Motion Array team had two corrupted media dumps when they didn’t use ShotPut Pro. Fortunately, in both situations, they caught the issue before the cards were formatted, but those experiences confirm the importance of using a checksum program to dump footage.
ShotPut Pro is not the only software out there that does this. Pomfort Silverstack and Red Giant’s Offload software are also popular options that you should check out. The best software to suit your needs will really depend on your workflow and the variety (or lack) of features that you’re looking for. At any rate, whatever application puts your mind at ease with regards to your offloads is the one you should go for!
Like we said at the beginning, some gear is exciting while some is pretty mundane. If you spend any time in “the business,” you’ll probably find that you get just as enthused about the boring stuff as the big stuff. What are your favorite pieces of essential filmmaking gear?