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Guide to Essential Equipment for a Freelance Videographer

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Introduction

In the current era, technological advancements have broken down barriers that once seemed insurmountable for creating high-quality video and photo content. Even those who once feared producing nothing but shaky shots now find themselves facing a world of possibilities.


Both in the professional and consumer realms, a wide array of tools has radically revolutionized the video creation process. From high-performance solutions like the Ronin, capable of stabilizing hefty cameras, to nimble Osmo devices, ideal for steadying smartphone shots, innovation has opened the doors to a significant portion of young talents. Many of them venture into the world of video by crafting content on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, initially catering to friends' and family's businesses or companies, while others focus on their personal social profiles. Over time, they refine their skills and invest in equipment to enhance the quality of their products and extend their services to a broader audience.


However, it must be acknowledged that in certain contexts, such as generating social content for small shops or businesses, the difference isn't solely determined by equipment choice. Instead, it's the ability to initiate and refine a project over time, coupled with accumulated experience and targeted investments, that significantly contributes to growth and success (start now, improve gradually - a good rule of thumb).


But what if your goal is to pursue a professional career as a videographer and you need to decide which tools are essential? Undoubtedly, having the right equipment plays a pivotal role in ensuring the quality of your productions. From investing in a high-quality camera to utilizing appropriate microphones. This isn't intended to be a videomaker equipment buying guide; rather, it's a personal testament where I'll discuss only the equipment I regularly employ.


Scrivania montaggio video Mac studio m2ultra
Video editing desk


Mirrorless Cameras

Ever since I started using mirrorless cameras (the first one being the Lumix Gh3), the two broadcast cameras I used to use have spent most of their time locked away in a closet. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and more portable, and even though they don't offer motorized zoom, I use them regularly even for broadcasting and streaming purposes. Investing in a quality mirrorless camera is the crucial first step. It's not uncommon to find yourself navigating through various brands, spending hours on YouTube watching reviews that dissect different features. These videos can certainly provide insights, but they don't always convey the firsthand experience of someone using the camera in the field. It's in actual practice that you learn the nuances and gain knowledge, regardless of the brand. For example, when you're shooting a wedding and need to quickly set up the camera without the chance for repetition, your expertise makes the difference.


A more effective strategy might be to visit a photography store, get expert advice, and perhaps even rent the equipment you're interested in before making the final purchase. The market offers numerous options, and while most current mirrorless cameras can record in high resolution to ensure sharp and detailed images, your ultimate choice should reflect your specific needs. For instance, I use the Lumix S5 because, among other things, it allows me to preview video frames in new social media formats (9:16, 4:5, etc.). Since I often shoot videos for clients who require these types of formats in addition to the standard 16:9, I don't risk cutting out subjects in post-production framing. Another equally valid approach is gaining experience by working with industry professionals as a second or third operator. This opportunity will not only allow you to test the camera in the field but also to fully grasp what it means to be a videomaker, whether it's an event, a wedding, a party, or a corporate video.


As your career evolves, you'll find that many of your equipment choices will be guided by the projects you're presented with. For instance, if a client requests a time-lapse that spans several days, perhaps to document the progress of a construction site, you might opt for specialized equipment designed specifically for time-lapses. This way, you'll preserve your expensive mirrorless camera, the availability of which could be crucial for other assignments.



Lenses

Choosing the right lenses can make a significant difference in the quality of your shots. Often, when we purchase a mirrorless camera, many brands offer combinations of camera and basic lenses that suit the needs of our initial projects. As our client portfolio evolves and our professional skills improve, we might gradually opt for more high-performance and versatile lenses.


For instance, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG DN is an excellent choice for those using a full-frame camera and seeking a zoom with wide apertures. Prime lenses with wider apertures can deliver exceptional results, especially in low-light environments.

Personally, I use Lumix lenses of the same brand, such as the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm, all with a f/1.8 aperture. These lenses are particularly well-suited for video creation, as their weight and dimensions are nearly identical, making them easy to use on gimbals without the need for repeated rebalancing when changing lenses. For wide-angle lenses, the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN is an excellent solution, although it's worth noting that due to its relative weight, it might feel slightly front-heavy on lighter cameras. I personally find it more comfortable to mount it on the heavier Lumix S1 rather than the more compact Lumix S5.




Support e Stabilization

A stable tripod is an essential element to avoid unwanted vibrations in fixed shots. If your focus is on static framing and you also have photography needs, you might consider a tripod head that allows vertical adjustments for vertical format shots. Personally, I've had success with the Manfrotto Befree, which offers excellent versatility and relative portability.


However, if your work also requires smooth movements and tracking shots, getting a gimbal for your camera becomes crucial. The choice of gimbal largely depends on the weight of your equipment. While there are compact and portable gimbals that work well, for cameras with heavy lenses, it's advisable to opt for products with adequate load capacity. Personally, I've successfully used the Ronin S for several years, pairing it with the Lumix S1 and the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN lens, even mounting an XLR microphone adapter from Panasonic. The high load capacity of this gimbal has provided me with excellent results and impressive battery life, despite its age.


However, it's important to note that, despite their excellent performance in many contexts, gimbals can be limiting in situations that require quick changes in framing. They are ideal for walking and tracking moving subjects, as well as creating dynamic sequences, timelapses, and motion timelapses. However, they might be less convenient for subtle movements, capturing static subjects, or slight handheld camera movements. In the latter situation, a slight movement of your hips while the camera is securely against your chest (using the monitor) or against your head (using the viewfinder) can yield remarkable results. This approach can be particularly effective with cameras that offer good internal stabilization, allowing greater control over focus and utilizing the slight movement to reveal the subject from behind a scene element.



Lights

While natural light often remains the best choice for many projects, there's no denying that lighting is a fundamental pillar for achieving quality videos. Investing in a set of adjustable lights for indoor and outdoor use is crucial. Battery-powered LED panel lights offer great versatility, allowing you to achieve the desired lighting effect precisely. Reliable brands like Aputure, Manfrotto, and LS offer high-quality products at affordable prices. In some situations, it's essential to have at least one of these lights in your backpack, along with a lightweight tripod. Personally, I always carry the Manfrotto Lumimuse in my pocket, which has saved me several times in low-light situations.



Dji Mic x2 videomaker firenze
DJI Mic

Mic and audio

Audio quality is equally important. Using external microphones such as lavalier or shotgun microphones allows you to capture clear and clean sound. If your work frequently involves television productions and broadcasts, radio microphones are ideal, especially suited for journalism and interviews. Brands like Sennheiser and Sony offer high-quality options. Alternatively, recently, more affordable brands with excellent quality and often greater versatility have emerged, such as DJI Mic. These microphones are perfect for events like weddings (placed in the groom's pocket) and also work well for television interviews and corporate videos, discreetly fitting behind jackets and shirts without compromising audio quality. Given their compact size, I strongly recommend considering their purchase, both as backup microphones and as a primary choice.




Schede sd attrezzatura videomaker
Let's not forget the memory...

SD Cards

Absolutely, having fast and suitable memory cards for recording high-quality video is essential. It's important to carefully examine the technical specifications and recording speeds of the cards, not just the price, to ensure they can handle high bitrates and complex video formats. Having a sufficient number of cards and available storage space is always necessary, considering that sometimes it might be preferable to format the cards only at the end of a project for the sake of keeping the original footage available in case of issues. This is especially helpful when working on extended shoots. I've encountered situations like covering events such as Lucca Comics, where multiple camera operators were capturing different sessions around the city. When there wasn't enough time to return to the studio to offload footage, a team member would meet us to collect our memory cards with our video content, which would then be handed off to the editors, sometimes multiple times throughout the day. This is a small personal example of how having a good number of memory cards available is crucial.



Batteries

Batteries are indispensable for both the video camera and microphones and lights. For the video camera, I always opt for original batteries, while for lights, I have also experimented with non-original brands, although some have proven to be unreliable over time (and I'm talking about just a few months of use). Make sure to always carry chargers with you. Chargers are particularly useful during long-duration events, allowing you to leave batteries charging at a strategic point to keep them ready for use at all times.




Bags and Backpacks

After several hours of use, even a light load can become burdensome for your back. It's important to choose comfortable backpacks equipped with waist straps, as they stabilize the load and reduce stress on your shoulders. Personally, I've had great experiences with the Laowa Flipside backpack paired with a Neewer trolley, which offers a versatile solution. When I need to transport studio lights and tripods, I prefer using shoulder bags often provided with the tripods themselves.



Editing software

In addition to physical equipment, video editing software is essential. Programs like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or DaVinci Resolve provide powerful tools for editing, color correction, and adding special effects. Personally, I find satisfaction in editing with Final Cut, and sometimes I complement it with CupCut, which, while not considered a professional software like the ones mentioned earlier, addresses certain gaps in Final Cut's features. CupCut, for instance, offers the ability to automatically generate voice-based subtitles, which can be exported as .SRT files (and imported into Final Cut), along with many other useful functionalities.


It's important to note that some video projects require recent computers with an adequate amount of RAM and high-performance graphics cards. Personally, I use a Mac Studio with an M2 Ultra for its power, but I also have a base MacBook Air with an M2 for its portability and lightweight nature. I use the MacBook Air for quick on-the-go editing projects, and although it has performance limitations, I've successfully edited 4K videos and utilized heavy noise reduction plugins like NeatVideo.


Hard disk per il montaggio video
You're never enough for me... dear hard drive.

Hard drive and backup:

Fast and reliable hard drives are essential, especially when working on projects in high formats like 4K and above, or when generating ProRes files for editing. Personally, I use Samsung T5 and T7 SSDs for editing. Once a project is completed and delivered to the client, I transfer it to a traditional hard drive to free up space for new work. However, I make sure to create a backup on another hard drive containing both the project files and the footage before doing so!








Training and Learning

Constantly improving your skills is crucial. Investing time in learning new shooting, editing, and storytelling techniques through online courses, tutorials, and workshops is an important step. However, much of my learning has happened directly in the field, working closely with other professionals, solving real-time problems, and gaining new skills through practical experience. Collaborating with fellow videographers or photographers is a great way to learn and acquire new skills, not only on a technical level but also in client management and care. In fact, no matter how skilled you may be in video production, if you're unable to establish and maintain a human connection with your clients, long-term success will remain limited.





If you're interested in knowing about equipment that might be suitable for you, feel free to contact me, and I can give you some advice. And if you're in Florence, we could even try working together for a day as videographers
















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