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Holiday Gift Guide for Filmmakers

So, first of all, nobody needs to spend any money to be part of El Dorado's Digital Media Arts Academy. Our classes are well equipped and students have tons of opportunities to learn using the latest and best equipment in our classrooms. But, I always get questions from parents and students about video cameras, computers and other gear, so here are a few ideas. If you are looking for more economical camera alternatives (under $600) I recommend using your phone's camera. Seriously - don't waste your money. Your smartphone's camera is better than cameras costing hundreds of dollars, so you really can't justify the expense until you get to that mid level - interchangable lens - price range. Here we go.......

Holiday Gift Guide for Filmmakers (and other fun ways to spend your money!)

SMART PHONE MOUNT FOR TRIPODS - A small, affordable tripod mount for your smartphone allows you to get more stable, professional shots from the camera that is already in your pocket. Today's smartphones shoot 4k video, time lapse and super slow motion. What more do you need? Check out this highly rated mount on Amazon for $15 -

HARD DRIVES - Everyone seems to think that portable hard drives are really expensive. That is so 2012. 1TB USB 3.0 hard drives are now $50 - $55. That is crazy fast and cheap compared to just a few years ago. I’m not even going to list brands here - just type “portable hard drive” into an Amazon search and buy anything on the first page with good reviews. (Just don’t buy a wireless one - we want fast, fast, fast for digital media) SSD versions of these drives start at about $100 for 250GB so they are more expensive, but they are faster and less prone to damage and data loss. Portable hard drives are nice for backing up files and transferring larger media projects to and from school if necessary.

SD CARDS - Camera memory cards don’t sound like glamorous gifts (sort of like batteries or socks) but should not be overlooked. We recently picked up a couple 64 GB high speed cards from PNY for $24 each on Amazon. There are lots of different brands here with tons of different speed ratings. We needed a 64 GB card with this speed rating for our Sony A7s camera and the price was right.

ND (Neutral Density) filters are like sunglasses for your camera. They allow you to keep your iris (eye) open in bright sunlight, thus achieving cinematic depth of field. My suggestion is to get a larger one 72mm or 77mm and then use cheap step up rings ($7) to attach them to all of your lenses. If you get one too small, it won’t work on your bigger lenses if you have them. This is not the first item I would get, but certainly not the last.

MID RANGE CAMERAS (around $600) - In this price range, consider either the brand new Panasonic G7 for $597 on Amazon with a small kit lens (shoots 4k video) or the Canon T5i that we use in Video Production ($649 with a small kit lens, or $744 with a kit (small lens though) similar to what we use in class - with microphone, backpack and extra batteries - the price goes up about $250 if you want the same lens we use in class 18-135mm) The Panasonic G7 is newer, has 4k video, uses micro 4/3 lenses, and is probably a little better in low light up to ISO 3200. The Canon uses the more common Canon EF lenses, does 1080p video, and can do quality video up to 800 ISO. A year ago, this was a no-brainer to go with the T5i for this price, but the Panasonic is impressive and can use other lenses (like Canon or Nikon) with adapters. Adapters with electronic lens controls (like the Metabones) are expensive, but adapters for manual lenses are under $100. Nikon and Canon don’t have anything this cheap that does 4k video and Sony cameras in this price range don’t have microphone inputs. Be aware that Sony, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic all use different lens mounts. New cameras are coming out all the time, so keep your eyes open and read lots of reviews. Camera choices are often determined based on what lenses you already own or are able to adapt.

LENSES - Camera lenses may represent the best overall investment for your cameras. You will be using your quality lenses years after you have upgraded your cameras and they will retain their value if you need to sell them on eBay sometime down the road. They are, however, ridiculously expensive. You will probably want to start with a single zoom lens designed for your camera. Many basic zoom lenses can be found for $200-$300. For example, here is an article reviewing micro four-thirds lenses for cameras like the Panasonic G7 that I mentioned earlier.

The best bargain I have found for prime lenses is for older, manual prime Nikon Ai lenses on eBay. 4k shooters may not be impressed with the softer image of this older glass, but for everyone else, paying $100-$150 for a 50mm lens is a real treat. Just realize you will probably need a cheap $15 adapter and that this is an older style, prime (non-zooming) lens so none of your new electronic features like auto focus will work on the camera. Here is an example of this style of lens on eBay -

Those with more money to burn may want to consider the gold standard for many, the Canon L-series lenses (with the distinctive red band around the barrel of the lens) By comparison, a Canon L-series 50mm lens will set you back between $750 and $1200. Canon L-series zoom lenses start around $600. Every camera company makes their own top of the line lenses. I recommend you do some serious research before spending this kind of money.

MICROPHONES - Video shooters really need clean sound, and the built in microphones on DSLR cameras are terrible. I am really curious about this Movo VXR280 unit for under $50 on Amazon. microphone It gets 5-star reviews. Our video classes are using the RODE Video Mic R with our Canon T5i cameras. There are kits on Amazon for that microphone, cables, and a boom pole for about $150. Rode makes a cheaper version called the RODE Video Mic Go for about $100. More serious video shooters may want to consider a real RODE NTG2 mic and a cable adapter that adapters that XLR cabled microphone to the 3.5mm headphone sized input of DSLR cameras, but that might set you back closer to $300. With most microphones, you usually get what you pay for, which is better dynamic range.

TRIPODS - Just like lenses, tripods can also represent a good long term investment, and usually outlast your cameras. Video and photo tripods differ a bit in that video tripod heads only pan and tilt, but are built a little heavier. Currently our video classes are using the Manfotto MVK 500 AM tripod legs and head combo. Those cost about $300 on Amazon - They are built well and have held up to student usage. Manfrotto makes quality stuff in that mid price range. You can spend a fortune on Miller, Cartoni, and Sachtler tripods. An Indi filmmaker favorite and cheaper alternative would be the Fancierstudio tripods like this one for $99 - The Fancierstudio tripod (we have 2) is definitely a bit clunkier than the Manfrotto but is made of aluminum and heavy duty materials, so it should last.

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