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Family documentary: What to Purchase first

Travis McNeill

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Lights, Then Camera?? 

I'm starting out with a DSLR that records Full HD 1080p 60 FPS. I want to purchase a C100 MK2 in 2021, to finish up the project(if I even need it). Now what lights should I get to start the project? The Arri Softbank D3 Three Light kit or 1 Lupo Superpanel 30 1x1 Full Color RGB?  I just need to purchase a dimmer(s) for the arri lights, to control output. I'm worried about running these inside small houses in the summer, the heat might be unbearable for the person sitting under the lights. With the Arri I have my main, kicker and background lights, I think that's a plus. Is the superpanel a beter fit? I've read a few of the post on RGB lights, learned a lot so "Thank You"! For my older relatives, this would be a better fit, no heat beating down on them. I have the ability to turn the power down to match the ambient light, don't know how close I can get to matching the color. Would make location recording easier. I don't want to waste money, on the superpanel if it has limitations I don't know about. 

Camera, lights then get started??

Bad Idea, this feels like I'm wasting more time. Nothing else to add. I'm just looking for advice from professionals on how to start. Only camera accessorie(s) I think I need is a field recorder, for the DSLR. This way I can record audio when the camera stops recording. Then use so clever editing to keep the interview going.  

Learning as I go

This semester I'm starting a class on video editing. I've purchased a few books on documentary work, plus I like to add my humble begins to the project to inspire, someone to pick up where I left off. Any tips on how to stay motivated, how to plan, how to pack, how to structure questions or what ever you like to share, I love to hear it.

Thank You 




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  • 2 weeks later...

By my understanding, you are making a one-off, non-commercial, just for fun production right?

If this is the case I don't really advice you to go any buy any of the stuff you mentioned. It would be a few thousand dollars, and unless you are making money off of it, it's not worth it. In this case I would recommend you simply go ahead and rent, it might seem like spending few hundred per day is expensive, but it's actually very affordable for the quality you are getting. You can rent on weekends and only pay for one day, or rent for whole weeks and paying for 3 day/week. I don't really know where to go as I live in Europe, manye someone based in states can help.

Bt in any case, 1080p is more than enough , and 60p is nice for some slow-mo. Wouldn't recommend get anything more than that.

If you do plan to shoot for many days (for more than 10 days) or plan to do multiple projects in future, then I would recommend you look into a company called Aputure for lights, their lights are very high quality and affordable (they are also coming out with a full RGB panel mid 2020). And stay away from Tungstens, they are old tech and suck a ton of power, it's easy to trip a breaker with them unless you know what you are doing. One exception is to buy used tungsten from rental houses, they're moving onto LEDs and are selling off their old Tungstens for pennies (like a 650w for $100), tungstens are built like tanks so age doesn't matter.

One thing I would recommend you to buy is a good on camera monitor, it's the only thing many DPs own now days, as you can always rely on your monitor. You generally learn your monitor better with time and it really speeds up your workflow. Something like the small HD 702 or focus 5. You can find used ones for cheaper, but their prices have came down a lot now days.

One last tip is to go a talk to your local camera rental houses, they can offer you deals on used gear. Finding a good one can go a long way when it come to renting.They also can teach you how to pick out a kit - lesson that are way too long for a forum post. They are is most cases very friendly, even if you don't seem high value to them - find a new one right away if they hostile to you because you aren't high value.

Anyways, welcome to the forum and feel free  to post any questions you have. But always search if it has been posted before you ask. Many questions have already been answered. Here's a few links that might help:


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For low budget and indie stuff it may be better to get couple of good light stands and couple of decent size reflectors to control light. The main problem tends to be that there is enough light but it is of wrong quality and from wrong direction or is just too harsh. I like to use couple of foldable Lastolite style knockoffs which have changeable silver, white, black and diffusion surfaces. They are handy on small shoots.

Can also use styrofoam with one white on other side and black on other and the other having silver on other side and white on other. You can do these by yourself for couple of bucks if needed.

You may want to have one led light which is easy to adjust and is about 40 to 100w range. I like to use daylight led for more output and just gel it down if needed. You will lose light with adjustable leds because they are rarely used on colour temp setting where all leds are on full power.

Probably you would like to have another light which has lots of output. I would personally use something on 1kw range tungsten for that type of shoot. It can be controlled with the aforementioned reflectors to get the light look nice without making too artificial classic tv interview look (unless you really want to make it look like that)

I personally like to use 2 light setups and control it in other ways like flags and reflectors to make the output look nice. I think the worst thing one can do is to purchase 3 similar lights like a redhead style kit with similar stands and everything

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  • 5 months later...

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