DSLR Video Gear Guide
What is the best DSLR for video? What gear will give the most value and provide the most versatile production setup? I’ve spent a lot of time researching and reviewing video equipment to find the best options – and the best deals. This is my list of equipment choices for getting geared up on a tight budget – especially if you’re getting into DSLR video production. Items with a ★star★ are ones that I have personally selected for my own production work. Prices listed are accurate as of the time of this writing, but may change.
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Shooting video on still cameras began as something of a novelty – now it’s an industry. An increasingly popular choice amongst both independent filmmakers and major studios, these cameras offer beautiful image quality with an interchangeable lens system in an affordable package.
For lenses, please visit the DSLR Video Lens Guide!
Canon T2i, ★T3i, T4i $550 – $650 – The Canon “T(number)i” series has been a favorite amongst video professionals on a budget since the T2i. The T2i, T3i, and T4i (and the newly-announced T5i) all share an identical 18 MP cropped sensor and capture lovely HD video. The differences between the models are relatively minor – the T3i added an articulating LCD viewfinder, which becomes a touchscreen on the T4i. I think the T3i is the sweet spot for budget shooters right now – it can usually be found significantly cheaper than the T4i and the fold-and-flip screen is actually very useful for video work.
Canon 60D $900 – The 60D is the more serious older sibling of the T3i. While it still uses a cropped sensor, just about everything else on the camera is a step up – the image processing, focus system, and general build quality of the unit make it a very respectable choice for video or photography pros. For less than $1000 – with a versatile kit lens – it’s an excellent buy.
Canon 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III $2500 – $3300 – If there was one camera that legitimized DSLRs for serious video production, it was the 5D Mark II. The Mark III continues its legacy; it’s the industry standard for DSLR video work. Both have full-frame sensors and produce absolutely stunning video. For serious photographers and video professionals, it’s the camera of choice.
Nikon D7000 $1000 – Most DSLR photographers stick to one brand, even as they move from camera to camera, so that their lenses and accessories will carry over. I’ve been a Canon user for years, which is why this list is so Canon-centric, but there are great options out there from Nikon, Pentax, Sony, and more. The D7000 is roughly the Nikon equivalent of the Canon 60D and has some fantastic features – a magnesium alloy body, multiple card slots, and autofocus during video recording. If you’re just getting into DSLR video production, know that you have a lot of options – choose the family of cameras that feels the most comfortable to you, since you’ll probably be sticking with it for a while.
Sony NEX-5N $700 – Sony’s NEX series is kind of amazing – tiny interchangeable-lens cameras that capture crisp 1080HD video at 60 frames per second. The NEX line is part of a new trend towards small, mirror-less digital cameras. They don’t offer the same level of manual control that full-fledged DSLRs do, but they’re capable of capturing beautiful images and video in surprisingly affordable packages.
CAMERAS – Dedicated Video
While this guide was written with DSLR video production in mind, that’s definitely not the only way to go. Dedicated video cameras aren’t going going anywhere any time soon and there are some great deals out there worth considering. Most of the equipment listed here will work with either a video camera or a DSLR.
Canon XA10 $1700 – The XA10 offers a surprising amount of professional features – such as manual controls and XLR audio ports – in this diminutive camera. The clever top handle/accessory mount detaches to make the unit even smaller and the built-in hard drive is a nice touch. It does not use an interchangeable lens system, but it’s still a versatile, affordable option for a dedicated mid-tier camcorder.
BlackMagic Cinema Camera $3000 – The Cinema Camera is almost the stuff of legend – when it was first released, build issues and overwhelming demand made it nearly impossible to find. The units are just now starting to become widely available and, despite their unusual form factor, they’re truly remarkable cameras. Available with either Canon EF or micro four-thirds interchangeable lens mounts, the Cinema Camera can capture RAW video at 2.5K resolution. That level of image quality is unheard of at the price that the Cinema Camera retails for. While they have their share of quirks and shortcomings, the Cinema Camera is still probably the best value out there in digital video cameras.
Until you’ve used a high-end tripod, you don’t realize what a difference they make. Once you do, it’s tough to go back. The following tripods are not top-of-the-line – those can go for several thousand dollars. They are, however, a massive step up from the $50-and-under models you’ve probably seen around. Any tripod will improve your shooting, but the following models will give you some pro features.
Ravelli ATV, ATVP $90 – $140 – Ravelli’s two-tone aesthetic is a bit old-school, but they make high quality, affordable tripods. The ATV is a good bet if you want to stay under $100, but the ATVP’s more robust legs and bowl mount make it a tempting upgrade. Ravelli is also generous with accessories, providing two handles and a carrying case with both tripods.
VariZoom VZ-TK75A $190 – This is Varizoom’s equivalent of Ravelli’s ATVP. VariZoom’s tripods are well-reviewed and inexpensive – and the understated all-black aesthetic is more to my taste. The VZ-TK75A only comes with one handle, but a second can be attached.
★Provista 7518XB $190 – The website DSLR Video Shooter pointed me towards Provista tripods. The 7518XB has all the features I look for in a tripod, is well-reviewed, and is an all-around good bargain. The long grip under the bowl head is a nice touch and, like the Ravelli tripods, it comes with two handles. Caleb Pike gives an in-depth review of a similar model here.
If there is one place where the shortcomings of DSLR video become really apparent, it’s in the audio department. The built-in microphones on most DSLRs are dreadful – the sound they pick up is typically distorted and unusable. Just about any external microphone will give a massive boost to the quality of your sound.
Neewer Camcorder Shotgun Mic $30 – This surprisingly inexpensive microphone will give dramatically better results than the built-in mic on a DSLR. Shotgun microphones are mono and very directional, which makes them great for recording dialog or an interview. It’s technically an XLR microphone, but comes with an XLR to 1/8 inch cable. It also comes with a simple shoe mount, but you might want to upgrade to one with a shock absorber.
VidPro XM55 $90 – This shotgun kit from VidPro takes the “kitchen sink” approach. It includes a shock mount and stand mount, shoe adapter, standard and dead cat wind screens, a variety of cables, a hard case, and more. That’s a lot of kit for under $100. The audio quality is decent – I see this as an excellent complement to a digital recorder.
Rode VideoMic, VideoMic Pro $150 – $225 – The VideoMic and VideoMic Pro are mainstays in the DSLR video community. Rode is a respected name in audio equipment and both of these mics will capture great audio. Both come attached to their own proprietary shock mounts, but the Pro does so in a much smaller, more elegant package. The Pro also has an on-board level adjuster. It’s definitely the nicer of the two – the standard VideoMic looks and feels cheaper than the Pro, but both will get clean sound and provide good value.
Azden SGMX2 $220 – Azden’s two barrel shotgun mic is long – almost 16 inches – so you’ll need to be careful about where you mount it. Since it captures either omni or supercardioid, it’s a versatile choice. It also includes a handful of accessories, like a shock mount and two wind screens, but you’ll need to buy your own cables.
In addition to lacking decent microphones, most DSLRs have limited inputs and no way to monitor audio as it’s being recorded. A portable digital recorder solves these problems – although, depending on your setup, you may need to synch your audio and video after filming. Many digital recorders have on-board microphones good enough to act as your primary audio source, but they also work well with external mics.
Tascam DR-05 and Zoom H1 $100– Tascam and Zoom are the two big names in portable digital audio recorders. The DR-05 and H1 lack some of the features of more expensive models, but both capture audio in a cheap, portable package from either an external 1/8 inch mic or their own built-in – surprisingly good – microphones. They’re also small enough to be mounted to a shock mount.
★Tascam DR-40 $160 – The DR-40 is a little powerhouse – it has multi-directional stereo microphones, inputs for two 1/4 inch or XLR mics, and can record from multiple sources simultaneously. It can even record a safety track at a different level than the main recording. Its build quality isn’t quite up to the Zoom H4N’s standard, but it’s an excellent blend of features and value. One slightly surprising quirk – while it has two 1/4 inch mic inputs, it does not have a 1/8 inch input. This is easily remedied with an adapter, but it’s something worth remembering.
Zoom H4N $270 – The H4N is one of the most popular recorders for DSLR video. Its feature list is very similar to the DR-40‘s, but it has a more rugged metal body and some additional bells and whistles. It generally runs for about $100 more than the DR-40 and different pros will give you different answers as to whether it’s worth the upgrade cost. Both the H4N and the DR-40 are full-featured and excellent additions to your audio setup.
Tascam DR-60D $350 – While the DR-60D doesn’t have a built-in microphone, it adds tremendously to the audio capabilities of any DSLR. It features just about any microphone input you could ask for with phantom power and high-quality preamps. It also has a feature that serious audiophiles crave: physical knobs. With its integrated mounts, the DR-60D was clearly designed with DSLR work in mind. DSLRs are notorious for the audio shortcomings – this miniature recording studio features everything they are missing and then some. Just remember to pick up a decent microphone to go with it.
FOLLOW FOCUS KITS
One of the advantages of shooting video on a DSLR is the flexibility it gives you with depth-of-field. Using a follow focus lets you smoothly shift between focus points, or quickly adjust the focus on moving shots. Since many DSLRs disable autofocusing during video recording, getting smooth, accurate manual focus is a must.
★The 50 Dollar Follow Focus $50 – The aptly-named 50 Dollar Follow Focus has an unconventional belt and lever design that I think works especially well for DSLR video work. It’s easily adjustable and doesn’t require you to attach gear rings to your lenses. The unit is designed and built by a small shop in Montana that takes a lot of pride in its work.
Opteka CXS-800 Gearless $80 – Gearless follow focus systems trade some of the precision of a geared kit for convenience and flexibility. Since they work using friction, they don’t require gear rings – but they are probably not quite as reliable as geared units and certain lenses may not work well with them. Regardless, many users love them and they’re a solid option.
Kamerar FF-3 $120 – I’m a big fan of Kamerar’s precision and quality – and their follow focus is very reasonably-priced. This is a traditional geared follow focus, so you’ll need to attach gear rings to each lens you want to use with it, but one is included with the kit.
Rail systems add a lot of versatility to your camera rig – if you want to add a follow focus or matte box, they’re almost always a necessity. They also allow you to mount field monitors, microphones, audio recorders, and other accessories.
Opteka CXS-25 $25 – If you want to get started with a rail system for not a lot of money, the CXS-25 is a simple, affordable solution. It will allow you to add a matte box or follow focus, but – because of the length of the rails – probably not much else. It could be easily paired with a stabilizer like the CowboyStudio Shoulder Support or the Opteka CXS-2.
Fotga DP500 $60 – Fotga’s DP500 is a well-made, adaptable rail system that includes a lens brace. This could easily be paired with front handles and a shoulder support to create a very effective stabilizer with all the flexibility of a rail system.
EzFoto Rail System $115– This is the next step up from the Fotga DP500 – it adds a built-in quick release plate for additional flexibility. Like the DP500, it could easily be upgraded into a full stabilizer system.
RIGS AND STABILIZERS
Because they were designed to take still images, the form factor of DSLRs is all wrong for handheld video. If you plan on taking your camera off-tripod, a stabilizer is a very worthwhile investment, especially since there are such inexpensive options out there. In addition to getting some of the shakiness out of your handheld footage, many stabilizers are built on 15mm rail systems, giving you added flexibility even when your camera is tripod-mounted.
CowboyStudio Shoulder Support $25 – This inexpensive plastic brace has gotten some very positive reviews in the DSLR video community. Since it clamps to your whole body, it allows you to go “hands-free” like a much more expensive steadicam rig – and since it uses a standard tripod mount, you can pair it with a more robust rig, like the Polaroid Chest Stabilizer.
Fancierstudio FL01 $50 – There are a number of nearly identical stabilizing rigs like this and they actually offer a ton of versatility very inexpensively. The folding handles allow you to switch from a shoulder rig to one with a top handle quickly. Since these units don’t use standard 15mm rails, they aren’t as expandable as their more expensive counterparts – if you want to mount a follow focus or matte box, you’ll need to attach a rail system. If you want a simple stabilizer, though, they’re a good investment.
Polaroid Video Chest Stabilizer $60 – Caleb Pike, over at DSLR Video Shooter, loves this rig and it’s easy to see why. The all-metal construction is surprisingly solid and the rig offers a lot of flexibility. Although it doesn’t come with mounts for a follow focus or matte box, it uses standard 15m rails, so it is easily expandable and customizable.
Opteka CXS-2 $130 – The CXS-2 is a well-made, stable, run-and-gun video rig. It utilizes an optional counterweight system to balance your gear, but you’ll need to attach a rail system (like Opteka’s CXS-25) if you want to mount accessories to the front of the camera. There are 15mm accessory rods on the side that would work well for a monitor or audio recorder. It’s not tripod-mountable, but it’s a great handheld rig.
Pro Steady DSLR Rig $180 – Amazon and eBay have a ton of similar rigs to this one in the $100 to $200 range. They offer the flexibility of a standard rail system and are frequently paired with an inexpensive matte box or follow focus. The build quality on these rigs and accessories is not stellar, but they are probably the most inexpensive way to get started with a well-outfitted rail system.
★Opteka CXS-300 $180 – The CXS-300 is clearly inspired by the much pricier Red Rock Micro. The stabilizer has a shoulder support with an optional counterweight and the long dual-rail system gives a lot of versatility. Unlike the Opteka CXS-2, the entire unit can be tripod-mounted. Opteka generally makes solid gear and the all metal construction of the CXS-300 makes it a very good choice.
Photography & Cinema Prime Video Rig $260 – The fine folks over at CheesyCam worked with Photography & Cinema to put this kit together and it’s a pretty amazing deal. The Prime Video Rig is not just a single video stabilizer – it’s as an entire rail system tool kit, capable of transforming from a light chest mount to a full shoulder rig and much more. It’s incredibly well-made, adaptable and customizable – the package on Amazon includes Swiss rods and a friction arm for even more options. It’s the priciest stabilizing option on this list, but also the best value.
OK, first things first: matte boxes look cool. The iconic rectangular shades definitely help transform the look of a DSLR from “just a camera” to “movie camera.” They are also, however, genuinely useful pieces of equipment to have on set – especially during sunny outdoor shoots, when lighting conditions are difficult to control. If you want easy filter access or a simple way to control light and glare – or if you’re worried about looking like a “real” video professional – a matte box is worth picking up.
DSLR Matte Box Sun Shade $30 – Make no mistake, this is not a “real” matte box – there is no way to add filters and the construction-quality (it’s mostly plastic) is fairly low. For the price, though, you could do a lot worse – it will give your rig a professional look and allow you to shade your lens in sunny conditions. If you’re planning an outdoor shoot – or just really need to look the part – it’s probably worth investing in.
Opteka MB-X Pro $130 – Opteka’s matte box pairs nicely with the CXS-300 and offers some real value. It includes two filter slots, “donuts” to fit a variety of lens sizes, and is solidly made of metal. Considering what most matte boxes with those features retail for, the MB-X Pro is probably the best bargain in the category.
Kamerar MAX-1 $140 – The MAX-1 isn’t quite as full-featured as Opteka’s model – it doesn’t come with lens donuts and has only one filter tray – but the construction is top-notch. Kamerar makes very solid, very reasonably-priced equipment, and their matte box is no exception. This would look very good on the Photography & Cinema Prime rig.
VIEWFINDERS AND MONITORS
In the wrong lighting conditions, small LCD monitors are just about impossible to see. A magnifying viewfinder extender or external monitor will allow you to clearly see what’s going on, letting you accurately gauge things like shot composition, color temperature, and focus.
★EzFoto LCD Viewfinder Extender $20 – This is the low-end of the viewfinder price spectrum, but it will get the job done. It magnifies the screen and blocks out excess light. If you plan on filming outdoors, pick one up. Actually, pick one up regardless – it’s just too inexpensive an upgrade to pass up.
★Carry Speed Swi-View $9 – Most LCD viewfinders use a magnetic frame system to attach to the screen. For cameras with articulating screens (like the T3i and T4i), the Swi-View is a custom sleeve that allows a viewfinder to be attached when the screen is flipped out. Note that this is the sleeve only – you’ll need to pick up the viewfinder itself separately.
GGS Perfect HD $60 – The GGS has the added bonus of looking like a much more expensive viewfinder than it actually is. The construction is solid and it’s an excellent option for users of DSLRs without articulating screens.
Lilliput 7-inch $190 – Lilliput is the go-to brand for inexpensive field monitors. This 7-inch model features a built-in rechargeable battery for under $200. Lone shooters can generally get by with a viewfinder extender (like those listed above), but a field monitor is an awfully nice upgrade – especially if you need to quickly review footage with a director or client.
The following odds and ends are the little things you’ll be glad you thought to bring on set. They aren’t major investments, but they can save you a serious headache. Some of these accessories are designed specifically for the Canon T3i (my camera of choice), but there are options out there for virtually any model.
★Meike Battery Grip, LCD Timer $25 – $40 – Shooting video drains the batteries on a DSLR much quicker than taking still photos. Battery grips effectively double your power capacity. One quick tip: name-brand battery grips are generally a few hundred dollars, but there are almost always decent third-party options available for much less. Whatever model of DSLR you have, do a quick search and you’ll probably find plenty of options. Whether or not you want a version with an LCD screen is entirely up to you – I don’t tend to use it. One added bonus of using a battery grip is that, because of the location of the battery compartment, you can usually change batteries without taking the camera off of its rig or tripod. Note that adding a grip does make a camera significantly taller, which can potentially interfere with the placement of accessories like follow focus units.
★Wasabi Batteries with Charger $20 – Wasabi is generous with its battery kits: for less than the price of a single Canon brand battery, you get two high-capacity batteries, a charger, a car kit, and a European plug adapter. It’s a good idea to have at least twice as many batteries as your camera can hold, so that you can charge one set while you use the other.
★Transcend 32GB SD Card, CF Card $24 – $44 – The last thing you want on a shoot is to run out of media, so make sure you have plenty of whatever format is compatible with your camera. You want to pay special attention to the class rating on the media you buy – if the rating is too low, you may not be able to capture video at the resolution or frame rate you want. Transcend’s class 10 cards are a safe bet, plus they’re cheap and reliable.
★EzFoto Hotshoe to 1/4 inch Adapter $4 – If you need to mount something with a 1/4 inch tripod mount onto your camera – such as a digital recorder – this is the cheapest, easiest method. Odds are good that just about every camera accessory you buy will attach using either a hotshoe or tripod mount, so it’s worth having a few of these around.
Campro SM3 Shock Mount, Alzo Shock Multi-Mount $15 – $50 – A shock mount will have your camera-mounted microphone sounding much better. The SM3 would be a great complement to a microphone like the Neewer Camcorder Shotgun, which only comes with a standard mount. You could also use it with a small digital recorder, like the Zoom H1, but larger devices will require a more robust mount, like the Alzo Multi-Mount, which also features additional hotshoe-style mounting points.
★Neewer LED Video Light $35 – While it won’t replace a full lighting kit, this battery-powered, camera-mounted LED light will give you extra illumination in a pinch. It has a built-in dimmer switch and will work with a variety of batteries.
Rail System Tripod Mount, Cold Shoe Mount $14 – $19 – Investing in a rail system is a great way to get all your equipment in one place, but you still need a way to keep it all together. A tripod mount or cold shoe mount will allow you to mount most accessories directly to your rail rig.
7 inch Magic Arm $35 – Basically a tripod rail mount on an articulated arm, the Magic Arm will allow you to mount an accessory to your rig and position it for the best possible results. This is probably not necessary for a mic or audio recorder, but is fantastic for a field monitor or portable light.
★Joby GP3 with Ball Head $80 – Joby’s popular line of GorillaPods will not replace the utility of a real tripod. They are, however, extremely useful to have around. They can be used to mount lights, microphones, or digital recorders, and if you need a quick way to get a camera into an unusual position (in a tree, on top of a shelf, on a chain-link fence, whatever), they’re hard to beat.
If you have a suggestion for high-value DSLR video equipment you’d like to see included in this list, either comment below or get in touch directly – I’d love to hear your thoughts!