Noob Equipment Guide
Everything You Need to Get Started Making Videos
Welcome to the newsletter!
I’m glad you decided to take the first step toward learning media production.
While 5 Minute Film School will offer guides on shooting and editing videos, equipment and software reviews, and the occasional rant on the state of the business, the key to learning video production is to start shooting and editing video. Now.
So before any specific “how-to” guides, I want to give you some basic equipment and software recommendations to acquire if you’re serious about learning video production.
I know some of it is expensive. But long term, everything here is worth it. And many items can be acquired overtime.
Worst case you can film in 4K, edit, score, and publish your projects, all from your phone.
So no more excuses.
Learn the tools.
We don’t have to pay for film stock anymore. And no one is going to give you permission to make a movie. You just have to go for it.
Note that there is a lot of other important gear, but this stuff should get you started.
The basics: Computer, Software, Camera Rig. You might have some of these already.
Buy a MacBook Pro. Just do it.
I don’t know what model is best for you, but get the 16” with lots of memory. And lots of graphics memory. You can always add more hard drive space with external storage and get a more stripped down version like this model.
I resisted getting a MacBook Pro, and had fancy PC laptops, but I finally caved and got one of the last Intel models and couldn’t be happier. It’s really great, especially if you have an iPhone or iPad. AirDrop is amazing for media professionals.
But the truth is you don’t need a Mac.
And you can build a more powerful rig for a lot cheaper if you’re on PC. Down the road I will cover the topic in more specific detail (possibly a guide on building a video rig), but if you’re buying or building a PC, make sure you get:
An awesome graphics card, an i7 or i9 processor (or save some money on AMD), and a SSD. Thunderbolt 3 for storage/expansion. And lots of RAM (or upgrade it yourself). And skip the touch screen unless you’re going to draw on it (and it’s stylus compatible).
So you bought or built an awesome MacBook Pro or PC gaming beast. Now what are you going to run on it to learn video production?
The most important program will be your non-linear editing (NLE) software. There are three main editing programs used professionally: Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro X, and Adobe Premiere Pro. (And also Resolve).
They will all do the job.
If I were learning, or experienced and looking to switch, I would try Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s intuitive, and it integrates seamlessly with After Effects and Photoshop, two other programs you will need for media production. I suggest getting the entire Creative Cloud suite.
The one thing to keep in mind with Premiere/Creative Cloud is that you’ll still end up needing a program for audio, like Pro Tools. One of the advantages of Final Cut Pro X is that it comes as a deal with Logic, and Logic is excellent for working with audio.
You’ll also want a program like ShotPut Pro to make sure your files are copied accurately without corruption.
Finally, download Sony’s RAW Viewer and DaVinci Resolve to learn about color correction and LUTs. Both programs are free and Resolve can be used to edit, if you’re looking to save some money while learning.
Get a Sony A7S III.
Yep. Just do it.
You’ll never really outgrow it and it will produce amazing images. This might seem like overkill for some, but when you upgrade to a dedicated cinema camera, you’ll still be able to use this setup as a B-Cam.
Then grab two lenses for the Sony A7S III. As close to the Sergio Leone lenses as we can get while staying on budget. So instead of 20mm and 70mm Cooke cinema lenses, you’re going to get the Sigma f1.4 20mm Art E Mount lens and the Sigma f1.4 85mm Art E Mount lens.
Just the basics. Excellent glass at an excellent price. Excellent glass at any price really.
You probably also want to get a gimbal to help produce smooth tracking shots.
And of course you need a good tripod. Don’t skimp here. A great tripod can last you a lifetime. A good starter tripod is something like the Sachtler Ace, although I would encourage you to invest in at least a basic professional setup.
And don’t forget lots and lots of gaffers tape.
(If you want another option for a cinema focused rig, I suggest checking out Blackmagic Design Cameras for a high quality cinema camera on a budget. Or if you already have a DSLR that shoots video, like a Canon 7D, use it.)
One other thing you might want to begin practicing with is movie lights. You don’t need anything fancy. But you can score some excellent lights for cheap if you keep your eye out.
Buy up old Kino Flos when people dump them on Craigslist (you’ll save thousands and have lights that will last the rest of your life). If you have the cash, remote phosphor panels are excellent. But even some of the standard LEDs are super useful.
Check out the Wescott LED Panels that are flexible and water resistant. They won’t hold up to serious abuse, and the stand mounts/clamps aren’t the best, but the lights themselves are great. Plus they’re very lightweight and can be gaff-taped into place.
Also check out Kino Flo color balanced bulbs for using in standard fixtures.
The key here:
Don’t overthink it. You can shoot everything with these two lenses and this camera. And it will look amazing, if you follow the principles we’ll cover in the newsletter over the coming months.
This camera and these lenses will produce a better image than most cameras used to shoot most of the existing digital motion pictures and television shows that have been made. The democratization of technology is really here for making movies.
Cinema lenses used to be a major road block to producing high quality, cinematic video content on a budget. And good cinema lenses will still go a long way to achieving a desired “look.” But the glass in the Sigma Art lenses is so good now, that it really comes back down to composition and technical proficiency with the equipment.
You just need the right lens for the right shot, with a good exposure. 20mm for wide shots. 85mm for closeups. Use the waveform, and you can see if your exposure is where it needs to be.
A light meter + waveform = idiot proof. Buy a good light meter if you’re serious about shooting video. It will make your life a lot easier. And if you enjoy cinematography, get the ASC guide and study it. The charts are a great resource.
Once you get a handle on the basics of exposure and depth of field, everything starts to fall into place. But you just have to mess around and practice.
We’ll go into camera operation in much more detail in a later guide. A couple things to keep in mind while experimenting:
With movies, we’re pretty much always shooting 24 frames per second. As a result we’re always exposing our film/sensor with 1/48 second shutter speed. So the frame rate and shutter speed don’t usually change as we shoot movies.
ISO/ASA also usually doesn’t change as we work on a project, as we usually shoot at the optimal native sensitivity of the sensor (often 800ISO for example).
So what are we adjusting as we shoot video?
Mainly the amount of light hitting the sensor, by adjusting the aperture or by limiting/controlling the light entering the lens with filters and lighting set-ups.
The key: once we get the camera set up, and we’re nailing our exposure, we’re mostly focused on composition and focus while filmming the actors.
Another secret to shooting great footage: Try to use natural light as much as possible. It’s the best. Shoot when the light is best. Then it will look amazing.
A lot of learning movie equipment and software is just messing around with it and having fun. Don’t forget to enjoy the process.
I hope you found this equipment introduction and overview helpful.
Keep an eye out for upcoming guides on the basics of shooting and editing video!