Video is getting bigger and better every year, and I’m sure nearly everyone knows at least one aspiring filmmaker. I love filmmaking and photography, but the main problem I have with it is the amount of equipment one needs to get the job done. This can mean big, important pieces such as a camera or lights as well as tiny, essential accessories that make life a whole lot easier. If you are looking for something to gift your filmmaking friend or for some key components to upgrade your kit, check out the following.
1. Compact Lights
If there is one thing that can’t be overstated, it is that light is essential to filmmaking. Now, I’m not saying you should pick up a big ol’ lighting kit for your buddy—they hopefully have something already—but a good choice is an ultra-portable light that can serve in roles a standard kit can’t. A good example would be the Aputure MC RGBWW LED Light. This extremely lightweight light can create nearly any color, and features special-effects options such as Paparazzi, Fireworks, Police Car, and more. This is perfect for creating distinct looks or effects or even just serving as a tiny fill light in a compact space. It’s well worth a look, and any emerging filmmaker can benefit from having one.
2. Production Slate
Nothing makes a small production look and feel more professional than a slate. It is also an extremely functional tool. Primarily, it is used to help sync audio in post when using dual-system sound, though all the notes written on the slate for each take will help keep your shoot and edit organized. It is a very good habit to use one on set, no matter how small the production.
3. Portable Storage
Video takes up a lot of space, and newer cameras with higher resolutions and frame rates are only making filmmakers more frantic. Fast portable storage can always be put to good use, and small SSDs are a great bet for keeping precious video safe. There’s nothing worse than losing footage due to a faulty drive. For a regular drive, Samsung makes the highly reviewed T7 SSD in multiple sizes and colors.
Another storage option that would make a great gift for a filmmaker is a CFexpress card. Superior to conventional SD cards, CFexpress cards offer the breakneck transfer speeds needed to efficiently handle demanding workflows. One CFexpress card we often recommend is Prograde Digital's CFexpress 2.0 Type B Gold Memory Card. With a guaranteed minimum write speed of 300 MB/s, Prograde's CFexpress cards enable uninterrupted capture in several formats, including 6K and 8K ProRes 422 HQ, among others.
Though they might not be as rugged as something like the Samsung T7 SSD, Prograde's CFexpress cards are resistant to shocks, extreme temperatures, X-rays, and other harsh conditions, so your footage will be safe and secure. One thing we do want to note is that while these cards are backwards compatible, that compatibility only applies to specific XQD cameras, so be sure to confirm that the gear of the person you're shopping for is compatible with these cards.
We're also partial to OWC's new line of Type B CFexpress cards: the Atlas Pro series. Featuring the same on-paper transfer speeds as ProGrade's Gold series, the Atlas Pro cards impressed us quite a bit in our recent hands-on review.
Available in a variety of storage capacities ranging from 128GB to 2TB, and featuring read speeds up to 1700 MB/s and write speeds up to 1400 MB/s, the Atlas Pro cards are designed to meet the demanding needs of professional workflows. The Atlas Pro cards are also incredibly rugged, featuring a design that's resistant to bending, shocks from drops, and X-rays. Additionally, the cards feature an IP67 rating, meaning they are dust-resistant and waterproof. In other words: Filmmakers can rest easy knowing their footage is safe and secure.
4. Camera Cage
Figure out what kind of camera the filmmaker in your life uses and pick up a cage for it. Offering a large quantity of threads and attachment points, cages make configuring cameras for video much easier. These metal exoskeletons also take the strain off the camera itself (namely the hot shoe) and will protect it from damage. Usefulness with a side benefit of protection seems like a great upgrade to me.
5. Gray Card and Color Charts
File this under stuff no one knows they were missing until they have it. Gray cards and color charts are invaluable tools when it comes to post-production. They make getting a base color grade incredibly fast and effective. Some software will even automatically detect it and apply the fixes for you! If your filmmaker friend doesn’t already have one, this is something they should greatly appreciate. Make sure to get a pocket-sized one for easy carry: the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Video.
6. Gimbal Stabilizer
Handheld shooting is in vogue. It’s a distinct look that many filmmakers aim to capture and it is easy—no heavy tripod required. When done well and when it helps the story, the visceral feel can be amazing. Most of the time, however, it is just distracting. A gimbal stabilizer can solve this problem. Relatively simple to understand, a gimbal uses sensors and motors to compensate for movement and provide a smooth handheld look. It can seriously save a video. With mirrorless cameras becoming more and more popular for video, gimbals have also been getting smaller, with the DJI Ronin-SC a popular choice.
Capturing video has a lot to do with getting a properly exposed and focused image. The best way to do that is with a good monitor and, no, the one on the back of the camera doesn’t always cut it. Something like the Atomos Shinobi 5.2" 4K HDMI Monitor will provide a larger, brighter image with scopes, focus peaking, and other tools for ensuring what you capture is the best it can be. If you want to do even better than this, upgrade your gift to a monitor/recorder combo, such as the Atomos Ninja V, which can do all the same things as the previously mentioned monitor, but adds the ability to record in less compressed formats.
8. On-Camera Microphone
A great video can be ruined by terrible audio. An easy way to get better audio is with a dedicated microphone, and there are numerous small ones that just pop right onto whatever camera you are using. These on-camera shotgun mics are substantially better than any in-camera mic and some even offer options for controlling the quality of the sound. Shotgun mics are useful specifically because they capture audio coming from a single direction and cut down on some ambient noise to limit distractions. And, if you want to get a filmmaker an on-camera mic, the standard to beat is the RØDE VideoMic Pro.
9. Wireless Audio System
You know what’s better than an on-camera mic you plug into your camera? A wireless one. Luckily, wireless audio systems have come down in both price and size in recent times, with the RØDE Wireless GO II being a perfect example. Plug in your existing mic, or pick up a new lavalier, connect the receiver to your camera, and you are good to go. Eliminating cables is a liberating experience and one that I highly recommend.
10. Portable Audio Recorder
One more audio thing because, well, if you haven’t gleaned this already, audio is super important and often forgotten. Going direct to camera is useful and convenient but, for the best, you will want to move to dual-system sound. This involves a separate, dedicated audio recorder and professional-grade microphones. Hopefully, you will have a dedicated sound recordist to go along with it. Specialized tools offer expanded controls and quality that you can’t get otherwise, and this is true with audio recorders. For getting started, the Zoom H4n Pro is a good pick, though I like having the Tascam DR-10L for on-talent setups and, for more serious setups, the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II can record 32-bit float, which is essential raw audio with tons of latitude in post.
Now for the real fun: drones. Aerial video and exciting camera moves are a big thing today for punching up the look of a video, drones are how you get it done. DJI is the dominant player in the consumer drone world and I would recommend two options. Go with the Mavic Mini 3 Pro if you think whoever you are gifting will use it more for fun and limited filmmaking experiments, or opt for the Mavic 3 for true cinematic 4K video.
12. Gaffer Tape
Do I even need to explain why gaffer, or gaff, tape is good? It’s a strong, usually cloth-backed tape that doesn’t leave a residue and has become the standard of any production kit. It won’t solve every problem, but it can solve a lot of problems that crop up on set. Most common uses are taping down cables on set, securing accessories, and anything else that you can imagine.
Have any other ideas for gifts for the budding filmmaker in your life? Share them with us in the Comments section.
Steadicam Solo Stabilizer & Monopod.
I know several clients who would be thrilled with the results you get using a device like this.