Let’s talk gear.*
If you’ve landed on this page it’s probably because you’ve seen one of our YouTube videos or Instagram photographs, and have been inspired to create your own content. Or maybe you’re already a photographer or videographer and just want to see what kit we’re using? In any case, a huge part of photography and videography work is about gear.
It never ceases to amaze me that Dana and I are able to create professional looking videos on our own--without having ever gone to film school or taken a single class about editing--when only a few years ago it would have taken an entire team of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources to create something similar. That being said, even though gear is way more accessible than it used to be, it’s sadly still a huge investment and building a kit can take years of hard work and saving, so before you look at all these items, throw up your hands and say “this is impossible,” try and remember that the most important part of a story isn’t the camera or lens it was shot with, but rather the heart of the story, the way it was told, and the love and energy put into the work!
So even if you have the money, don’t go out and buy all of this stuff, and don’t for a second think that just because you buy expensive gear you’ll be able to make great videos, or, conversely, that if you can’t afford expensive gear you won’t be able to make good content. One of my favorite videos we’ve ever created was shot on a cell phone--and shooting for an entire year on that phone taught me that the cliche “the best camera is the one you always have with you” really is true! That being said, there are a lot of people on YouTube with extremely expensive cameras who will say “gear doesn’t matter,” which is in my opinion a bit condescending and ultimately untrue. Gear is a huge part of the process, and it’s important to do your own research so that you can find the right tools for the job at hand. So without further ado, let’s get into the gear we’ve been using!
The cheapest option.
iPhone 6 - http://amzn.to/2Glp9jt
In my opinion, the iPhone 6 is the best all around camera and phone you can get for your money. The camera works great under normal lighting conditions, and the slow-motion footage is good (though only in well lit situations). I used this camera every day for over a year to create the following video compiling 365 days into 10 minutes, and it’s one of my favorite videos we’ve ever made. Once you’ve seen the video, you may have noticed a few things. Under good lighting conditions the camera is incredible: it’s sharp, it’s stable, and the autofocus is accurate. And, under poor lighting conditions the footage starts to look noisy, but it's not awful. You may have also noticed I included a lot of time-lapses, which is where this camera really starts to shine. Creating time-lapses with the iPhone takes hours less work than with a normal DSLR, and the results are almost indistinguishable in terms of quality. On top of that, the Hyperlapse app allows you to stabilize the camera for moving timelapses, like when you’re in a car, or a boat, or on a bike, and want to film a long fast tracking shot.
The reason I recommend this camera as a starting point above all other cameras is because it’s the one camera you can always have with you in your pocket, and you can go from seeing something to capturing it in focus and properly exposed in a few seconds tops. A lot of the footage I captured using this camera would never have been possible to capture using our main camera because it would have taken too long to set up, or the larger camera would have intimidated people in the setting in a way that the iPhone does not. If you have the money and need a new cell phone, the newer iPhone models have truly incredible cameras, but the iPhone 6 is a great starting point for a fraction of the cost. (As this blog post starts to age iPhone prices will change a lot, so you’ll eventually be able to get a much better iPhone than the 6 for way less money!)
The best cheapest option.
Canon G7X - http://amzn.to/2Fy1dMz
The Canon G7X is a great starting point for anyone wanting to start a vlog or YouTube channel. It’s very easy to use, it’s lightweight, it’s stealthy, it has rolling autofocus, the camera microphone works great, and the overall image quality is fantastic considering the size and price. If you’re mainly trying to film vlogs and talking to camera style videos I would highly recommend this camera because I don’t think you’ll need to upgrade for quite a long time. That being said, if you’re trying to film videos with lots of motion, or in low light, the camera has some limitations, and it takes a bit of work getting good colors from the footage in post. Shooting with a neutral picture profile and grading in post with curves will help make the footage look more professional, but I still wouldn’t recommend this camera for commercial work with clients, especially if you need still images as well. If you're starting a YouTube channel, or want to start learning how to make videos, this camera is a great place to begin because even if you upgrade after a few years it's still a great second camera for certain situations--we use our G7X instead of our 5D3 for a number of videos when you just need an easy, stealthy camera.
My favorite camera.
Canon 5D Mark III - http://amzn.to/2FvXAqF
The Canon 5D Mark III is a wonderful camera, and will remain my favorite camera of all time (until of course that day when we can afford a Canon 1DX Mark II). The best part about the 5D3 is that it works, day in and day out. In an age in which other electronic devices are predesigned to self combust after a few years, the 5D3 remains a reliable workhouse that gets the job done. I’ve used this camera pretty much every single day for over three years now and have never had a single issue--it’s been in the Alps, it’s been in a desert in Peru, it’s survived numerous rainy Berlin winters, and it’s been 100 percent reliable in every environment. The batteries last a long time but are also small enough to easily fit in your pocket. The camera takes great RAW photographs that provide a ton of data to edit with in post. The camera body is rugged and won’t mind a bit of rain, dust, or mist, which is super important to us when we’re out hiking, or filming in the rain.
While the price and quality of the new Sony line is truly amazing, we’d never be able to switch because we like to use our camera in tough conditions without it breaking, and unfortunately Sony makes fragile (though beautiful!) cameras that aren’t easily repaired or insured. That being said, there are a few issues with the 5D3 that I’ve had to work past. First of all, the video quality is no longer as good as it should be for a camera of this price--if all you care about is video quality, and plan to take super good care of your camera by shooting in a studio setting or never exposing it to rain or mist, definitely get a Sony instead! For the first year or so of use, I shot the 5D3 using the normal Canon codec with a flat picture profile, and was continually disappointed with the final results. (It took me a long time to realize it was the camera’s fault because I had to teach myself everything about filming and color correcting so at the beginning I made a few of my own mistakes). Then, I discovered the Magic Lantern RAW hack for the 5D3, and everything changed. I won’t get into my full workflow (you can read about that here), but I will say that if you’re willing to put in the work the footage you can get with Magic Lantern running on the 5D3 is absolutely incredible. This way you get a stellar camera for stills and video. Nevertheless, I’d only recommend this camera for video work if you’re willing to hack it and shoot RAW, so be sure to read about my entire RAW workflow first!
My favorite lens.
Canon 24-105mm f/4 - http://amzn.to/2p3WnN4
The Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens has slowly but surely become my favorite lens because it’s so versatile that I rarely end up using anything else as regularly. The range is fantastic for video work because you can zoom in and out for effect, and recompose shots without moving which is super important if the subject you’re trying to capture might move. On top of that, the image stabilization within the lens works so well that I shoot almost all of our videos handheld and the footage never looks shaky. Obviously a prime lens can give you overall better image quality and is probably preferable for narrative work, but I can’t stress enough how important the zoom factor is for capturing and composing shots quickly when there’s a chance you might miss something. While having a lens that goes wider than f/4 would be great for low light, the truth is that for video work it’s nearly impossible to accurately hit manual focus on anything less than f/4 and since the 5D3 doesn’t have rolling autofocus I have very little use for anything wider (and if I do need more light, I just switch lenses). Using manual focus on this lens while filming takes a while to master, but once you do it’s a real pleasure to use and allows for some incredible results. When we first started researching gear to buy I remember reading about how it was all about getting a good prime lens, and while primes are great, if you’re only thinking of buying one lens I’d start with this one which can do 90% of jobs, and save the other 10% for when you’re ready for your next lens.
My favorite microphone.
Sennheiser MKE 600 - http://amzn.to/2FBRNvE
We’ve been using the Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun microphone with our 5D3 since day one and have never had any issues. As long as you’re using a good windshield and camera mount this microphone works incredibly well even in strong winds. Best of all, it does such a nice job isolating the sound in front of the camera that it allows us to shoot dialogue in busy city centers without the background noise ruining the shot. In my opinion, audio is at least twice as important as video, so if you’re going to go to the trouble of filming something make sure to get a good shotgun microphone like this one so that the footage you end up with has nice clean audio to go with it. Obviously in certain situations we want to be stealthy and remove the shotgun microphone from the 5D3 so it looks like a photography DSLR not a video camera, but I always regret this decision in post when I’m left with audio coming from all directions, wind noise, and the sound of the image stabilization motor in our 24-105 f/4 lens. So save yourself the hassle, get this awesome microphone, make sure to use it all the time, and you won’t regret it!
My new favorite microphone.
Shure MOTIV MV88 - http://amzn.to/2FLY3nW
This little microphone (the Shure MOTIV MV88) is absolutely incredible. Dana’s father John got it for me as a Christmas present, and to be honest I didn’t think it would be something I’d use all that much since we had a much larger and more expensive Shure SM7B that we’ve been using for voice-overs for a few years. Fast forward to the week after Christmas, Dana and I are driving our campervan from Paris to southern Spain, and in the evenings I’m editing a sponsored video we’d promised a client, and I decided to give this little microphone a shot. So I download the app for my iPhone, plug in the mic, set it to the dialogue setting, record a little advertisement voice-over, export it, and when I listen to the audio in the edit I literally almost fell out of my chair (I was also pretty exhausted from the driving, but you get the idea!). The next week we shipped our larger, more expensive Shure SM7B home into storage because this new little microphone gets the same job done and is 5 times smaller (which is super important when you’re living in a van!). So here’s my recommendation, if you have the space, and the money, and your primary focus is going to be audio quality (i.e. a podcast) maybe get something more professional like the Shure SM7B. If you want something a little smaller and more portable, that’s easy to use, that has amazing audio quality, and that can plug right into your iPhone, the Shure MOTIV MV88 is hands down the best microphone I’ve ever used. Best of all, it’s so small you can put it in your bag and easily record audio wherever you go--I’m currently building my own audio library of samples from things like rain, wind in trees, the sound of bees, a car passing, and all sorts of other beautiful sounds I’d never had the patience to record with a bigger microphone!
Our luxury lens.
Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS USM Macro Lens - http://amzn.to/2Gm1v6g
I bought the Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS USM Macro Lens once we were consistently landing commercial jobs so that we’d have the capacity to shoot detail shots on products, maps, and for the top down style shots we like to use a lot. It’s a complete luxury lens--not something you want to buy right away--but something that you can add on later to a full kit of lenses to give your work a completely new perspective. There’s a few lenses like the Canon 24-105mm f/4 that I use pretty much every single day without even realizing I’m using them. Then there’s the 100mm Macro which I only pick up every so often to add another layer of depth to a video, and the second I lock it onto the camera I realize two things: 1. This lens is incredible. 2. I need to use this lens more! The detail shots you can get are fantastic, and when you step back and use it for other types of compositions the image stabilization and super shallow depth of field allow you to get some really beautiful shots, especially as golden hour lighting fades into night. I love being able to get detail shots of water droplets falling from trees, of ants racing across the pavement, and of grass blowing in the breeze. It may sound absurd, but every time I use this lens I have a little existential epiphany when I realize how many beautiful details we’re constantly surrounded by, and how few of them we ever really notice.
Our timelapsing lens.
Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 from 1970 - www.keh.com/
The first lens we ever bought was the Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 from 1970, which we found used online for 300 dollars from keh.com, and which we fitted to our Canon 5D3 with a Fotodiox adaptor. For the entire first year of filming we used only this lens, and later on we added the Canon 24-105mm f/4 to our kit when we realized that prime lenses make documentary style filming a little harder than it needs to be. That being said, I still love this lens and use it to shoot all of our timelapses because the fully manual settings mean that you don’t get any flickering, and the f/2 allows tons of light into the photo so I can shoot at night without having to crank the ISO. Electronic lenses like our Canon 24-105mm f/4 are a real pain to use for timelapses because they reset the aperture for each photo which introduces a slight flicker into the video, and while you can use the “lens twist” trick to prevent this, it’s not a great fix because it means your expensive lens is no longer fully attached to your camera and can easily get bumped off--ours did once, so I’ve stopped using that “trick” and only use the Leica for timelapses now. There’s also something really special about using a lens that’s almost 50 years old to produce our content. The lens is fully manual so it doesn’t connect to the camera, and while this means you can’t control the aperture through the camera, controlling it on the lens itself means it’s easy to switch apertures quickly like when Dana walks from inside to outside and I film that transition as a single take. I also love the look that you get from photos and videos coming through the old lens; it’s almost as if the lens itself creates grain in your footage (maybe from dust in the lens) which makes the footage look less digital and sharp, and more like it was shot on a film camera. Obviously that’s also an effect you can add in post, but creating it with the Leica lens is way more fun, and you don’t get footage that looks like a cheap instagram filter was applied to it. So if you’re thinking of getting an old lens be sure to check out Ebay and sites like keh.com, and do lots of research in the photography forums (especially on lens adapters) because there is a whole world of manual lenses out there to explore! And best of all, many of them are much cheaper than modern lenses and much better build quality! I’d bet our Leica lens (which is already 50 years old) is way more likely to be around in 50 years than our new Canon lens, because a well designed fully manual lens has no fancy electronics or motors that can break down!
My favorite backpack.
F-Stop - http://amzn.to/2FL0lUd
The f-stop Anja backpack is probably the piece of gear I use most often (after our camera of course) and one of my favorite purchases of all time. Every single aspect of this backpack is amazing. It’s durable. It’s well designed. It’s 40 liters but still carry on compliant. It’s water resistant enough so you can hike in a downpour for hours without worrying about your gear inside. It’s comfortable. Oh, and it looks awesome! The only bad thing I have to say about f-stop is that they are victims of their own success--I had to wait almost an entire year after ordering this backpack for it to arrive--and while I’m a pretty patient guy and wasn’t really all that bothered by the delay, I can see how other people would be. That being said, this backpack was well worth the wait, for all of the above mentioned reasons, and perhaps most importantly because of how well it’s designed. The camera, lenses, batteries, and anything else you want to carry all go inside an ICU compartment (which you have to buy separately). This means you can have different compartments for different jobs--like a small one for a day hike, and a large one for a 3 week backpacking trip. Additionally, the ICU and gear inside it can only be opened through the back of the backpack (the side touching your back), so all of your gear is completely protected when the backpack is on your back. This feature alone makes the backpack worth its price, because it means when you’re in a busy market, or stuck in crowded subway car, you never have to worry that some thief is opening your backpack from behind and taking your camera out, because all your gear can’t be accessed from the outside. (Even if someone tried to cut open your backpack with a knife they’d never get through the thick ICU without you or someone around you noticing). The fact that this backpack is such a pleasure to use and wear means that I’m almost always carrying our camera around even when I have very little intention of using it, so if I happen to see a beautiful shot I get the camera out (which only takes a couple seconds) and if it’s rainy or I don’t feel like filming I’m still totally happy to carry the backpack just in case. They say that the best camera is the one you always have with you, and now that I’m rocking this fancy backpack that means I’m almost allows lugging our 5D3 around!
Let’s talk tripods.
Really Right Stuff - http://amzn.to/2FBUxcq
When it comes to tripods, there are a ton of options, from the cheap, heavy, and flimsy, to the expensive, light, and sturdy. We originally started out with the Joby GorillaPod because they are inexpensive, very portable, and reasonably sturdy. If you’re building a kit from scratch I would highly recommend this range. That being said, these tripods aren’t the most enjoyable to use and you probably won’t be using it all that much, but since it’s small and fits in a backpack that’s also not a big deal. They also aren’t all that sturdy, and eventually ours broke after about a year of use. (Unlike Casey Neistat, I am very very careful with all of our gear, so when something breaks it’s a huge disappointment!). Even though I can’t vouch for the durability of the GorillaPod’s I’d still recommend them because they are so much cheaper than a good tripod and can do all the same jobs as a mid-range tripod for a lot less.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is the tripod we currently use, and my absolute favorite piece of gear: the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Tripod with BH-40 LR Ballhead. I got this tripod after we’d landed a few bigger commercial projects, and while it still hurts me a little to think about how much it cost, every single time I use this tripod I am grateful that we were able to afford it. I hesitated to include this item in our gear list because of the price and because I’m not sure this tripod would be the right expensive even for those few people who could afford it. I mean you could get a good Sony camera for this price, so why get a tripod? There’s really only two reasons to invest in a piece of gear like this: weight and durability. If you plan on making a career in videography or photography, and you plan on using your gear for decades, then you’ll want to invest in a tripod that won’t break after a few years of use, and that’s made in the U.S. by a company that stands by their products and will repair or replace them in the rare event something breaks. The second reason we upgraded to this tripod was weight. I’ve injured my back countless times lugging around a cheaper and heavier tripod I won’t even mention here, and since I have rheumatoid arthritis this also means that it takes me a lot longer than most people to recover from a back injury (though to be honest it seems like very few people recover well from back injuries!). So, when we finally had the opportunity to upgrade tripods I researched for months on end before finally settling on Really Right Stuff’s TVC-24L. It’s the perfect size to strap onto the side of my backpack and goes through airports like a champion. It’s so light that I bring it with me almost every single time we go hiking, even if we’re going to be climbing thousands of meters through the Alps. On top of that, the tripod is so well designed and such a pleasure to use that at least once a week I’ll look over at Dana and say “I’m so grateful we were able to get this tripod!” I know that sounds cheesy and you’re probably thinking I don’t actually say that, but just ask Dana for proof!
* The gear section includes Amazon affiliate links. Lou and I are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. All this means is that when you click on our links you do not pay any additional fees, but we have the chance of making a small commission on what you purchase.