Dan Chung recently asked shooters what we would include in a $5,000 multimedia kit. There was a time not long ago when five grand could not even get you a proper video camera. But, these days, that amount will buy you enough gear to shoot high-quality stills, short videos, and documentaries. While no piece of equipment is perfect for everyone or every situation, here are recommendations for visual storytellers looking to invest in products that produce great images and sound, are compact, and are built to last for years. (All pricing as of February, 2014)
Camera: Sony Alpha a7 Mirrorless Digital Camera with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens. $1998. I own several Canon cameras and lenses, but if I were to start fresh today, I would probably go with the Sony A7. The A7 is a full-frame, mirrorless camera that boasts amazing video features: peaking, zebras, audio meters, microphone input, headphone jack, and an articulating screen. The camera is a dream to operate - both in stills and video mode. It is light and compact, ideal for situations where you need to operate discreetly. The 28-70 kit lens, while not the fastest or best glass available, is flexible and sharp enough for any visual journalist.
Audio Mixer: Sound Devices MixPre-D Compact Field Mixer. $899. The MixPre-D is a versatile mixer that allows you to connect professional-quality microphones to the Sony A7 (and any other camera or audio recorder with a mic input). The MixPre-D allows you to monitor and adjust audio levels using real, robust knobs. Be sure to get the Sound Devices XL3 Mini Male to TA3-F Connector Cable and the Hosa Technology Stereo Mini Angled Male to Stereo Angled Mini Male Cable to make the MixPre-D work with the A7.
Shotgun Microphone: Rode NTG-3 Precision RF-Biased Shotgun Microphone. $699. In the DSLR video world, the Rode VideoMic Pro Microphone has been a popular option for many shooters. However, if you’re going to invest in a great mixer like the MixPre-D, you are probably serious about getting great audio. The NTG-3 is my favorite shotgun mic. The Rode NTG-2 and VideoMic-series of mics, while much cheaper, are no match for the NTG-3 in terms of build or audio quality. This microphone will last you for decades. You can save a few dollars by going cheaper, but this is a wise investment in the long run. Be sure to also get a Auray DUSM-1 Universal Shock Mount for Camera Shoes and Boompoles and an Remote Audio CAXJ12RT Angled XLR Female to XLR Male Cable (12”).
Lavalier Microphone: Sony ECM-77B - Miniature Omni-Directional Lavalier Condenser Microphone: $320. For interview situations, you will need a lavalier microphone. There are great wireless options on the market such as the Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 Lavalier Mic, but I prefer the solid, foolproof-ness of a wired lav: no radio interference to deal with, fewer moving parts, and fewer batteries. And the sound is superb.
Headphones: Sony MDR-7506. $85. Of course, if you’re recording audio, you have to monitor it. The 7506s are industry-standard and affordable.
Monopod: Manfrotto 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod and Head: $300. I never shoot completely handheld. I always have some support rig on my camera. For run-and-gun situations, this monopod allows me to shoot all day with limited fatigue and shake. The three feet on this model also prevent slipping and unwanted jitter.
Tripod: Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Head & 755XB Tripod with Carrying Bag: $450. For situations where you need to lock down your camera, you will need a good tripod. This is my favorite tripod. It is light, compact, and can more than support the weight of any of my cameras. The head allows for smooth panning and tilting. There are more expensive and robust tripods out there, but with the smaller cameras that I general shoot with (especially the A7), those are overkill.
While cameras are introduced and replaced almost monthly, most of this gear list will remain relevant and useful for visual journalists who want portable, high-quality gear for some time.
Not included in this list is lighting. Professional lighting is notoriously expensive. In a future post, I will go into how to build a great lighting kit for about $100.
Here’s the full $5000 gear list again: