My $10K Film Budget – by Bill Pryor
Periodically we challenge our video pros to allot a fixed equipment budget for shooting a low-budget feature. In the decade we’ve been doing this exercise (yes, it’s really been 10 years) the improvements in the video quality available at this price point is nothing short of amazing. You could easily shoot a feature that would look good on TV or projected on the big screen, something that would have been impossible just a few years ago. This year Bill allots his $10,000 equipment budget.
The video world has changed since the last two articles we did of this nature, wherein I said I’d still buy the Canon 5DII. The biggest change is that now there are two real digital cinema cameras for the price of the high end DSLRs. The Sony FS100 and the Canon C100. The FS100 was introduced in mid-2011 at $6500 but has dropped to a street price of under $5,000 today. The Canon C100 is still new and lists at about $6500, same as the Sony did upon its introduction. Both use the AVCHD codec but the Sony does 60 fps slomo at full HD resolution, which the Canon does not. Each camera has its own advantages and disadvantages.
After using strictly DSLRs for professional video and documentary filmmaking work since 2009, I switched near the end of 2012 to the Sony FS100, and that is the camera I’ll pick for the basis of my $10K kit today. The Canon is an excellent camera and I would be happy to use it, but I think it’s overpriced for the market. Also, I prefer the FS100 because of several factors: Sony seems to do a really magnificent job of implementing the AVCHD coded to get better quality than others. At least that’s what I read, and my own footage looks great. But for all practical purposes the quality of the images coming from both cameras is going to be the same. I think the Canon is more ergonomic, but the Sony has the big broadcast camera style viewer that snaps onto the high resolution LCD screen, which has expanded focus and peaking colors so you don’t need an EVF. Also the FS100 does 60 fps slomo, and that would probably be the deciding factor for me if both cameras were equally priced. Another thing I like about the Sony is the E-mount. You can adapt just about any lens out there to that mount. With the Metabones Smart adapter, you can even use Canon’s electronic lenses.
Depending on when you read this article, the FS100 might still be available at B&H for $4199. I’m going with that price, since that’s what it is at the time I’m writing this. The notation says until the current stock runs out, which probably means there’s an upgrade coming soon.
Next thing I’ll need for my $10,000 package is lenses. Since $10K isn’t a lot of money for a basic production setup, I’m going to go with Rokinon cine lenses, and I’ll take the following:
-Rokinon 14mm, $449
-Rokinon 24mm, $749
-Rokinon 35mm, $549
-Rokinon 85mm, $349
That’s a total of $2, 096 for lenses. Although the Rokinons are available in Sony’s E-mount, I’m going to go with the Nikon mount and get a Metabones Nikon-to-E mount adapter for $99. http://www.metabones.com/product/sony-nex/nf-e-bm2-detail
The adapter will live on the camera, so I only need one. Since Rokinon lenses are fully manual lenses, I could go with an EOS adapter that’s not the $400 “smart” adapter. However, if I go with the Nikon adapter I can buy a nice AI Nikkor 35-70 f2.8 zoom on eBay for $300-$500. I want that zoom for shooting interviews for documentaries because I like to change focal lengths during interviews. Between questions I usually zoom in or out. In fact, I picked up that very lens for about $350 and it looks brand new and works perfectly. So I’ll add $350 to my lens cost, bringing the total to $2,545 with that Nikon mount adapter. If I need any longer lenses, such as a 105mm, 135mm, 180mm or 200mm, there are many top quality old Nikkor AI lenses on eBay. That’s a good reason for sticking with the Nikon mount. While Metabones makes a “smart” EOS adapter that allows you to control Canon’s electronic lenses via the side mounted aperture wheel, just as if the camera is a Canon, there’s no reason to go that route unless you already have a bunch of EOS lenses. The old manual Nikkor lenses are, I think, more suitable for video. You can send them to Duclos for declicking, something you can’t do with an EOS lens.
In addition to the lenses themselves, we’ll need protective filters for each one, and I prefer the excellent quality B+W filters because they use Schott glass (allegedly good) and the filter rings are brass–they don’t get stuck quite so easily as aluminum rings. I use 77mm stepup rings on all my lenses as well, so I can standardize on 77mm filters. Not for the protective filters–they go directly on the lens. Let’s say roughly $200 for protection filters (the 14mm can’t has no filter threads). I’m not going to include incidental low cost items such as stepup rings and 77mm lens caps.
One more lens related item would be a good variable ND filter. I have a Schneider but it’s $400 and I think I overpaid for that. Today I would buy the Genustech Eclipse, B&H doesn’t have this model listed, but I think the price is probably around $150.
For a tripod I’m going with the Libec: It’s $945. Unfortunately they’ve discontinued the LS38 system I have, which was cheaper and lighter weight but still handles all the weight I need.
For sound, since we’re into the digital cinema camera world now and don’t really need a recorder, all I have to buy is a microphone, cables and fishpole. As I’ve done in past articles I’m sticking with the Oktava MK12 3-capsule package for my shotgun replacement. It’s up to $393 now; it used to be under $350. Still a great deal and an excellent sound. The benefit of a this system over a shotgun mic is that you don’t get the boominess when shooting in hard spaces as you do with a regular shotgun. The sound quality seems comparable to the Sennheiser sound to me. I’ve had this mic for about 4 years now with absolutely no trouble.
The Sony FS100 comes with a removable camera mic, just like broadcast cameras, and it can be used on camera or as a separate shotgun mic if you want. So if the budget gets really tight, we could lose the Oktava and just go with what Sony includes. It’s a decent mic, but I like the Oktava–those extra capsules come in handy sometimes.
We won’t count audio cables–those are incidental items and the price will vary. I like to make my own.
The next big item we need: lights. I’m sticking with LEDs because I use them for most everything these days. If the budget permits, I’ll throw in some tungsten lights as well because sometimes they’re better–a couple of fresnels can make the day. With a big budget, I’d go with the expensive LitePanels. They even have some LED fresnels. But they are way too expensive for this exercise. I’ll stick with something cheaper. There are excellent quality Chinese knockoffs for under $200 for the LED500s and around $350 for the 1000. They vary in price so I won’t be more specific than that. Fancier is a reputable brand name on Amazon.com. Three of the 500s and two of the 1000s would come to about $1200 and that’s a pretty decent kit. Let’s call it $1500 with stands.
If you want to go up a notch for higher CRI and better peer group standing, check out Flolight. Their new 500 is still the price I paid for the older versions (which are exactly like the Fanciers) at $549. The Flolight 800 is an excellent light at $699. So the same basic package from Flolight would cost about $3045. Lets call it $3300 with stands. Generally you can get decent stands these days for $60-$70.
When I add up all the bold face numbers, skipping the Flolights, I get $9582. That’s pretty close to our $10K budget. Throw in a bag for the camera and one for the lenses and we’ve spent our money. The point of this exercise for me is that if I were buying gear from scratch today, I could get a real digital cinema camera plus the other very basic gear I’d need. I could do most of the shooting I do today with the gear discussed here. Of course I have a lot more than that. I have some tungsten lights, some fluorescents, a dolly, a slider, and lots of other little goodies.
The equipment a person would buy in real life for $10K would depend on the type of shooting to be done. For example, one person might absolutely need a high quality dolly. Another might need more lighting. Another might prefer a DSLR for size and weight reasons. Still another might want a single zoom lens that goes from 18 to 200mm. Also, you could probably shave a thousand bucks off the price by going with old pre-AI and AI Nikkor lenses from eBay. The very good quality early Nikkor 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2.0, 50mm f1.8 and 105mm f2.5 can all be bought for a few hundred dollars. For a wider angle, there’s the Nikkor 20mm and also an 18mm. I’ve seen all these lenses on eBay and all are pretty cheap, thought the 18mm seems to be bringing in a hefty price. Be careful and avoid the newer VR Nikkors that are electronic like the Canon EOS lenses. While you can use a Canon EOS lens on the FS100 or FS700 with the Metabones “smart” adapter, the Nikon electronic lenses aren’t good for anything but Nikons. Stick with the pre-AI or AI Nikkors.
Tags: $10K video equipment budget, budget filmmaking