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An independent guide to low budget
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Must Have CheckList

A reliable digital Camera
with the best optical
zoom you can afford.

Mini DV tape already

Extra batteries

A battery charger that
will work in your
vechile as well as
a wall plug.

Emergency power.

Lots of power cords.

A case that will hold
camera, batteries
and charger

Lights and Gels

A very good tripod

A very good microphone.
Resources for shooting a Low Budget Digital Film


A reliable digital camera with the best OPTICAL zoom you can afford

Canon GL-1: When I started out I bought and used a GL-1. The one out now is the GL-2 . These inexpensive Canon's are fantastic cameras that come with a 20X DIGITAL ZOOM. I got the GL-1 because the only really important differences between the high end XL-1 and this one are the additional lenses the XL-1 can use. All of the accessories to the XL-1, especially lenses, are very expensive. (Even the case for the GL-1 runs $400.) The picture quality is exactly the same for both XL-1 and Gl-X--that is broadcast quality. Plus the Gl-1's 20x optical zoom was actually better than the built in zoom on the XL-1. (Digital zooms are worthless--if you are going to zoom digitally do it with Final Cut, Adobe, Avid whatever editor you are using.) The small size of the GL-1 allows you to hide it in your coat--to keep from getting caught, or to protect it from snow. With the GL-X's it is not as obvious you are making a movie. When I buy a second camera I might get an XL-1. But the trend now is HD and those cameras are getting cheaper. Check out the ads in FilmMaker and in the back of Macintosh magazines.

Recently though I bought a new Canon XH A1 and in one word the XH A1 is terrific. Here are a few notes for those who are thinking about buying an HD camcorder, and who have had experience with a Canon miniDV camera such as the GL1 or GL2 (or any other miniDv camcorder). I wondered if the XH A1 shot in SD (Standard DV) as well as HDV. It does. I went through many articles not finding this and called Canon. So this means you can sell your old model miniDv camera (mine was a GL1--and used GL1's are fetching about $1200 on Ebay.) and still access, read, upload and download your Standard 4:3 miniDV tapes.

Do not touch the LCD display. You can actually see it in daylight which is great. But be very careful not to touch the screen with a finger. I brushed a corner of mine and got a shiny spot. What is nice is that the LCD display and viewfinder can work at the same time.

One very minor but annoying problem was the manual. Would you believe it doesn't tell you how turn it on. Unlike my GL1 which had and on/off switch, this has a power dial. No where in the manual does it tell you, you have to push a tiny button at 3 o'clock on that dial and then turn it to turn the thing on.
If you need to capture footage you shot on an older Canon miniDV camera the XH A1 will realize that and play your old tape in its correct taped format.
The camera works well with Final Cut Studio. To change from capturing miniDV to capturing HDV I just use easystepup in Final Cut and that's it.
I used to use a soft case with my GL1. This is a heavier camera and I switched to a hard Vanguard VGP-32. It is the perfect size for this camera with sizeable foam for tight fit.
One big surprise for me was the battery. It goes inside the camera, is huge and can last 7 hours. Now, I'm still just getting used to it, but so far I just love it.

The new intel 24" iMac is unbeatable for editing. I use Final cut Studio. Terrific for watching your own movies. Lightning quick on rending. However, if you have an older mac (I have a G4 imac twin 800 too) Keep it! These new mac's can NOT run anything in classic.

Mini DV Tape

This JVC tape is the best dv tape I've found. Rarely have I had problems. Purchase way more than you think you'll need. I have found it best to give, and label each tape with a short name like Apple, Baby, Cat, etc. You need to run each tape through to the end at high speed and then tape over the entire tape with the lense closed and a plug in the sound intake--to have continous timecode on the tape--and you want to do this before you begin shooting. And always flip the don't tape over switch after you've shot on a tape.

No matter what camera you use check for an energizer battery for your camera.  Opposite is the replacement battery for my GL-1 and they are much cheaper than canon's-and work fine.  It's good to buy a couple of 2-hour batteries for filming.

And since power is essential  (Someday you will leave a camera on and run the two hour battery down before your get to the shoot.) I always carry a spare battery charger.  The Li-ion below works in your car, in a wall socket. It's a great insurance policy to have with you

A backup power supply is a must.  I actually carried a UB1270 Universal Battery (this is a small gel, 12 volt about a third the size of an auto battery, and very portable for $25) and an inexpensive, FANLESS, inverter (get a smaller inverter without a fan as the fans always make noise.) similar to this 90 watt targus.  My GL-1 uses very little power.

The combination of inverter and gel battery could power my GL1 for a day, or lights for short time. ALWAYS bring a long extension cord just in case the magnetic field of your inverter messes up your electronics (wireless mikes, etc.) so you may want to stash the inverter far away.  

This terrific Targus case is a great substitute for the
$400 Canon case.

And a case is essential to protect
your camera from eveything from sun to rain.

When I started out I used low-wattage daylight lightbulbs and was able to get a 450 watt output for only 120 watts of energy by using 6 of Commerical Electric's 75 watt daylight spiral lamp bulbs on a tree-like light stand (with clip on lights). This was great because they (I used at least 3 of these setups) didn't blow fuses in peoples houses. However, as I learned more about lighting, I discovered the bulbs I used had color holes. That is parts of the visible spectrum were missing and showed up in the scenes. Now I use a set of Britek 650 watts. A set of 3 lights runs around $429. And I use color correction gels to adjust when needed. You should get a variety of gels and practice using them. Many companies have sample packs of, not only color correction gels, but difusion gels, etc.


I now use an Manfrotto 3130 head on a set of heavy duty metal tripod legs. The Manfrotto is distributed by bogen and has a wonderful fluid movement. Before I got the Manfrotto any attempt to do a pan had jerks. Don't try to save here--get the best you can afford.  The Manfrotto is as good as some tripods that cost over $1000.

Hard Drive

Take my word for it, you really want to buy a new external hard drive for each project. I bought a 80GB hard drive for my 72 minute movie KNAPTID and it was not really big enough after creating trailers, promotional material, etc. Since then I purchased a Western Digital hard drive which is a godsend. This hard drive is silent--compared to the loud fan noise of my other units. I just love it. Don't forget to set your preferences in Final Cut or whatever you are using so allmovie clips, renderings etc, are saved to the HD you've purchased for the movie. (Even though this is a great unit make sure you back up material, on DVD data disks, whatever.)

I've successfully used an Audio Technica AT822 mic. It is a great mic that does not need a power boost from a sound mixer. If you are doing both features and documentaries this is an ideal choice and they are even cheaper now than when I bought mine. If anything, they are a little too good at picking up sounds, so I have purchased a Sennheiser K6/ME66 which solved some echo problems I had shooting in a narrow room. You can't go wrong with even more expensive directional mikes. With my ME66 I use a Behringer Eurorack MXB1002 for mixing which works great if you have someone who knows how to use it. Read up on microphones in ifilms book or the digital filmmaking handbook.

For an interesting comparison of mics (the one I used when deciding on the Sennheiser K6/ME66) check out

If you are making movies and need to make samples, or sell DVD's as I do, the Bravo disc publisher is the machine. I had to send mine in for repair and turn around time was less than one week. (An epson photo R200 will do in a pinch for printing on printable DVD's but it is a chore.) You can refill the ink wells on the Bravo and the R200 but with the epson you'd need a chip to reset the inkwells.

Final Cut Pro is like nothing else. Do not buy Final Cut Express--no one I know who has used Final Cut Pro likes Express. If you are going to go low end get Apples iLife and use iMovie and iDVD instead, they are both included in ilife. Do buy Final Cut Studio which also includes Motion and SoundTrackpro (a terrific sound editor) and DVD Pro.  The days of VHS are ending. You want to have Final Cut during shooting because if you start editing right away you can catch errors before your cast takes off. Both Adobe Audition and Peak (a limited version of which shipped with earlier versions of Final Cut) are fantastic sound editing tools. I use the Adobe software on my PC. (I do everything else on my mac.) Photoshop is a must for filmmakers. We needed a grocery store and got one just by putting neon signs made up in this program on photo of a friends cabin. Buy an earlier version such as 6.0 and upgrade and you’ll save a bundle. The much, much cheaper Adobe photoshop elements 2.0 or higher will do in a pinch. You could put neon signs on a cabin using just elements, however, you will not be able to the do the more advanced stuff as mentioned in Photoshop for digital Video.  

If you have to use a PC instead of a mac get Adobe Production Studio.  It contains all the great Adobe PC film editing programs, Premiere and After Effects, and Photoshop CS2, Encore DVD, and Illustrator. So this bundle is a bargin for PC users.

And if you want to see my feature film.


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