I have been receiving a lot of questions lately about how to put together an inexpensive video kit for shooting climbing on a budget. I decided to detail some of what I have learned over the years and give boulderers and sport climbers something to shoot for when it comes time to throw down thousands of dollars on new equiopment. Let me preface this post with a simple statement: Buying good camera gear does not make you a good shooter and editor, it takes tons of practice to dial in techniques and practices that make your work flow more efficiently and allow you to create well edited material. Also, it is important to stress that you DO NOT need the best gear out there to make great climbing movies. You can shoot on a budget, be creative with your edit and come away with a product that will rival the big dogs and appeal to a wide variety of people. Making movies is an art form and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, stand up for yourself and defend your vision to the death!
To help simplify the process of purchasing new equipment I have broken down the options for camera kits into two categories: “Intro Video Kit” and “Advanced Video Kit”. This way, you can start with the basics and over time you can add to your kit and have a really nice setup that doesn’t break the bank. I will also detail some valuable accessories that you should save up for that will add some production value to your video work at a small price. For the sake of this post I will be detailing a CANON based kit but be aware that Nikon offers a very comparable set of tools at around the same price.
Intro Video Kit: TOTAL: $2165.00
Canon T4i (Body Only) – $800.00
I started out shooting on a t2i, and this is Canon’s upgrade to that camera at around the same price. This is an intro DSLR video camera and has everything you need to make some great video. This rig shoots 1920 x 1080 at 24 fps and 30 fps which is really all you need. If you are obsessed with slow motion (60+ fps) you will need to make a significant purchase to acquire those capabilities. With proper color correction and export settings you will have no problem creating amazing video with this camera, just keep in mind that if you put a budget lens on this camera you will loose significant quality. This camera has a 1.6 crop sensor so remember that when you put on a 50mm lens, you are actually shooting at 80mm. But don’t stress, it still looks great and with your other lenses, you will be able to cover a wide range.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 – $125.00
A fine lens with great depth of field and at the price, it cannot be beat. Great for shooting in low light and has a nice sharp focus. When you upgrade to the f/1.4 in the “Advanced Video” kit, you will get a bit more low light capability as well as a drastically improved focusing system for only slightly more money.
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM – $840.00
This lens will be your workhorse and has outstanding quality, which you will get from any “L Series” lens. For sport cimbing and bouldering, you want to be able to shoot wide so you can get up close and personal with your video and not worry about trees and other obstacles that keep you from shooting long. Canon pro glass is well worth the investment and the alernative to this lens is a Tokina or Sigma that just can’t stand up to the picture quality you will get with the Canon L Series. The EF Mount works on the 7d as well so when you upgrade your camera, you already have a great lens.
Manfrotto 190XDB with 701HDV Video Head – $230.00
This intro tripod is a great startup rig, and with a basic video head, it will improve your video work in a huge way. You absolutely cannot live without a tripod so make sure you budget for one no matter what!
Clik Elite Jetpack 17 Backpack – $75.00
I have been using Clik Elite products for a while now and love what they have to offer. The Jetpack is a nice starter pack for a camera, a couple lenses, your accessories and a tripod. It jams into a bouldering pad quite well, and even fits inside a big sport climbing pack so you wont get your expensive camera gear chalky.
Sandisk 8GB SDHC Class 10 SD Card x 3 – ($15.00 x 3) $45.00
You need a class 4 memory card or higher. I suggest a class 10 with the t4i since you won’t drop frames and the write speed is fast enough to keep up with long video bursts. I like to have a collection of 8Gb or 16Gb cards on hand so that when one card fills up you can store it and keep shooting. Also, incase the media fails, you won’t loose 32Gbs of data off one card.
Extra battery – Canon Brand (LPE8) – $50.00
Don’t skimp out and get a knock off brand for your additional battery. Buy name brand and you will have a lasting product that will help out a ton in a pinch. When you are shooting long clips of climbing you can burn through a battery so it is great to have backup when there is no charger in sight.
Advanced Video Kit: TOTAL: $5498.00
Canon 7D (Body Only) – $1600.00
The 7d is a drastic upgrade from the t4i. The sensor has the same crop as the t4i but the color quality and blacks and whites are much sharper and easier to correct in the editing room. You also get a great photo camera with the capability of shooting up to 8 fps. The ISO range is extended and the sound quality is better. You get what you pay for and the upgrade is well worth the investment.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – $400.00
This 50mm provides better focusing controls, better low light capabilities, and more depth of field. This lens is a must have for any advanced kit and will create some great portrait and close up imagery.
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM – $840.00
Like I said above, this lens is versatile and sharp at 17mm and at 40mm. If you are looking to go wider, check out the 8-15mm fisheye listed below in the accessories.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM - $1350.00
When it comes to long lens video, this telephoto is a great addition to an advanced kit. On the 1.6 crop sensor this lens can zoom to around 320mm, give your shots some depth, and let you get close ups of holds and scenes that you would otherwise never get. This lens is also great for b-roll shooting during interviews and allows you to get up close and personal without being in anyone’s face while they are focusing on climbing.
Manfrotto 504HD Head w/536 3-Stage Carbon Fiber Tripod System – $990.00
Going carbon fiber will change your life forever and upgrading to a better fluid video head will give you those smooth pans you always dreamed of. When you are hiking into the boulder field or up to the crag, it is really nice to cut down on weight and increase performance at the same time.
Clik Elite Pro Express Backpack – $160.00
This is one of Clik Elite’s best pro bags. It’s just the right size to fit the 7d body with the 70-200mm, as well as your additional lenses and accessories. Looks good, carries well, and will take a beating.
Sandisk 16GB Memory Card x 2 – ($50.00 x 2) $100.00
Unlike the t4i, the 7d records to compact flash media, which is a bit more expensive. It is always best to have a couple cards on hand so when you run out of space on one card you have a backup.
Extra battery – Canon Brand (LP-E6) – $58.00
Remeber, dont skimp. Get the canon brand and be thankful when you are shooting in the field and run out of juice.
Here are some great additions to your kit that will boost your production quality and help you create some stunning shots. I would suggest adding to your it over time with little purchases here and there…
Promaster SystemPro Timer Remote (Canon) – $170.00
This timer lets you shoot long bursts of photos with the t4i or the 7d for time lapse video. Don’t overdue it…
Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM – $1500.00
The Fisheye from Canon offers an even wider view than the 17-40mm and on the 1.6 crop, it’s more like a 13-24mm. This lens lets you go super wide, get up close and personal, or show off an entire landscape without missing anything.
Kenko TelePlus MC7 AF 2.0X DGX Teleconverter – $190.00
When you connect this adapter to your 70-200mm lens, you double its range, so your 200mm becomes a 400mm and lets you get creative and see angles you never thought possible. I haven’t found a problem with knockoff brands for the adapters like this and saving some money here is really nice.
Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket Memory Card Carrier – $19.00
Once you start acquiring a lot of cards, you need a nice way to keep them safe and secure. The wallet from Think Tank does just that and keeps them dry and safe.
Glidetrack HD 30″ – $380.00
Once you see what a Glidetrack can do to your production value you will never want to be without it again. You will need to remove your tripod head and mount it to the glide track to get nice smooth pans, and you can get creative and pan on a tilt or push in and out on a subject.
Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 Camera Mount Wireless Microphone System with ME2 Lavalier Mic – $630.00
Pro audio is made easy with this lav mic from Sennheiser. Well worth the investment, you can have pro sound for interviews and never have that annoying wind noise or hiss you get from most mics. When using this lav mic setup on the 7d, you can get crisp sound and really step up your game.
Lowel Rifa-Lite eX 44 One-Light Kit – $400.00
It’s really nice to have some extra light on a subject when shooting interviews for climbing film and a simple softbox can really help out when shooting in low light or to offset the subject from the background. I have a few lights that I use often but I couldn’t live without a nice Rifa-Lite softbox.
Black Diamond Bosun’s Chair – $70.00
If you have ever hung from a rope for more than 10 minutes, you know how bad it sucks. I have a Bosun’s chair and it works great for those long shoots on a rope when your friend just can’t seem to repeat that one move… A couple ascenders and some step aiders are nice to have in the kit as well.
Sennheiser MKE 400 Microphone – $200.00
Most new shooters feel obligated to strap a shotgun mic on their DSLR but I find that to be a huge waste of time and money. In the editing room, you can easily manipulate sounds and create your own audio without the additional cost of an external mic, but if you insist on spending the money, Sennheiser makes a nice small mic that wont get in the way when shooting climbing.
Here are some examples of what you might want to start thinking about when you get to the editing stage. This is not even close to a full list of equipment needed but it will get you started. You will definitely want to get your hands on some quality editing software. I use Premier and it came bundled with my CS6 Master Collection. This is a great investment and a great editing program so download a trial and see how you like it!
Compact Flash and SD Card Reader – $40.00
Any generic card reader will work but it’s great to have one reader that will work on compact flash and SD cards. Get a firewire reader to save some time on transfers.
27″ 3.2 Ghz IMac workstation – $2000.00+
The difference between editing on a laptop vs. a desktop is staggering. A nice big screen, a good mouse and a keyboard go a long way when edits get long and detailed. Max out your ram, get some good headphones and don’t get a cheap computer and think it will work. I edit on a dual 2.66 Ghz 6 core intel Xeon Mac Pro Workstation with two 27″ monitors and when I have to edit on the road on my 15″ laptop, it feels like I am being punished…
Lacie Raid Drive (6TB) 2Big Quadra – $600.00
Storage is often overlooked when purchasing video equipment but you have to keep in mind that all that video you are making needs to be kept safe and secure. Getting your hands on a raid drive is very important and with mirrored backups you decrease your chances of loosing it all. Don’t forget, any spinning disk drives will eventually fail no matter how nice they are. It’s only a matter of time…
Hopefully this post has given you some insight into the video world and if you are serious about getting some gear and filming some climbing, I hope this has helped. It is possible to piece together a kit over time but at some point you will have to spend some serious cash to get what you really need to make nice video. Nothing makes good video like practice so don’t be afraid to experiment and try new techniques and ideas. It’s an art form after all!!