2016 DMAA Holiday Gift Guide for Filmmakers
Happy Holidays DMAA students and parents! I always get asked about what cameras, computers and software people should buy. Well, for the most part, our DMAA students don’t need to buy anything yet. Seriously, our programs are able to provide everything that most students need to create and complete their projects at school. Most importantly, if your kids aren’t taking pictures all the time, or trying to make movies at home on their own, don’t get them anything yet. They aren’t ready.
But, maybe you are looking for a last minute gift from Santa, or a way to spend all of those holiday gift cards and money. There are some small to medium priced items that can really be helpful if you have a little extra cash.
1) SD CARDS - SD Memory Cards are not the most glamorous of gifts, but are an essential item for photographers and filmmakers using certain types of cameras. Having your own card at school means you don’t have to share with 100 other students and lets you keep your own work safely on your own SD card. And, they are cheap (by comparison with other fancy photography items.) If you are shooting video on our Sony cameras you will need a 64GB card SDXC Class 10 / U3 card or better. Our A7 cameras won’t shoot video on anything slower or smaller. These cards run about $25 on Amazon. For our Canon T5i and Panasonic G7 cameras, just about any reasonably fast, modern SD card will do, but I would recommend getting 32GB cards if you want to shoot video. These cards cost between $12-$14.
2) PORTABLE HARD DRIVES - First of all format your portable drives with ExFAT if you want them to work on both Macs and PCs. The prices of portable hard drives have fallen dramatically in the past several years to the point where you can now buy an external USB 3.0 1TB (terabyte) drive for about $50-$70. Search for “portable hard drives” if you are interested. Hard drives allow students to keep massive amounts of digital work with them at all times, moving it from home to school and back. This can be helpful for video students wanting to move large video files or continue editing on their Adobe software at home. It is also a good way to move or keep full quality versions of your files to save for your portfolio. The faster and more reliable versions of hard drives (SSD) solid state drives are still significantly more money, with 500GB USB drives costing about $150 or more. But, they are much faster and far less prone to data loss. Search for “portable SSD Hard Drives.” Remember to format your drives with ExFAT if you want them to work on both Macs and PCs.
4) SOFTWARE - It is possible to have the same Adobe software at home that we use at school in our DMAA classrooms. We are currently running the 2015 versions of Adobe Creative Suite and will be updating that to the latest 2017 versions after the new year. Adobe CC runs on both PC and Mac systems, although you may want to pay attention to the minimum specs required for it to work. Unfortunately the Adobe Creative Suite is not free. The student rate for the entire Creative Suite is about $20/month. For photo students, the photo plan is $9.99/month and includes just the Photoshop and Lightroom programs.
5) CAMERAS - Oh boy. Don’t go buy a cameras unless you really want one right now for your own family, or unless your kids are really filming or photographing stuff all the time. Otherwise, just wait and use the school equipment until you figure out what you really want. The camera you already have (on your phone) is probably good enough to get you all the way up to the mid-range DSLR category. Our current entry level photo cameras (Canon T5i) and our entry level video cameras (Panasonic G7) are both available for about $500-$550 with a small kit lens. They’re nice because they are interchangeable lens cameras, so they get much better results with better lenses. In reality, new cameras come out every year (Canon now has a T6i) and it is costly to always go chasing the latest technology. If you buy quality lenses, they will last you forever if you take care of them. You may go through 4-5 cameras over 15 years but still be using the same lenses if you take care of them.
6) LENSES - Lenses are just stupid expensive. You are welcome to email me if you have any serious questions about buying professional lenses for your cameras. But, if you want to have some fun, try buying an older manual prime (no auto focus) lens on eBay, and adapt it to your camera. Canon FD, Nikon Ai, Pentax, Russian Helios, or even older Zeiss lenses can be found for between $30 and $100. Adapters are available for just about any camera for about $10. A good starting point is a 50mm prime anything. My favorite bargain lens is the Pentax 50mm SMC M f1.7. It has what is called a k-mount (Pentax) is ridiculously sharp, fast and cheap. I just saw one on eBay (used) for $27 with free shipping. Mint versions may cost $50 or so. There are lots of review sites for old lenses out there on the internet if you are curious.
7) MAKE A MOVIE OR TAKE PHOTOS RIGHT NOW - Instead of buying something that you may or may not use, consider making a movie right now with the equipment you already have, even if that is just your iPhone. Push it to the limits. Be creative. Write and tell stories about the things that are all around you. Make a cheap DIY stabilizer at Home Depot. I think you will be surprised what you can already do. There is no better training tool than making amazing art with mediocre equipment. It is far better than making mediocre art with expensive equipment.