Slimming Down Your Video Kit

video kit

Sony a7R II

I recently had a conversation with a videographer who was searching for cases for his lighting kit. When I asked what kinds of lights he wanted to bring on his shoots and what kind of shooting he did, he replied that he was looking for just the right case to hold his ARRI 650w, 300w and 150w Fresnels, as well as two Lowel Rifa lights. In case you’ve forgotten, the Lowel Rifa lights are tungsten, open-faced instruments that include an integrated softbox and stand built into the fixture.

video kits
ARRI 650w Fresnel

I also learned that he presently transports this lighting kit along with a Sony PXW-FS7 4K XDCAM Super 35 camcorder in a Tenba carrying case, a Sachtler Video 20 in a tripod tube, as well as a few miscellaneous audio items and other accessories in some other cases on a Magliner cart. Not only does he have a Magliner cart, he’s contemplating buying a top shelf for the cart. He also told me that right now he’s frustrated by having to make two trips to his vehicle to bring in all of the gear when he’s one-man-banding it. I know in many areas I shoot in, it actually could be fairly high risk to leave one load of expensive video gear in a car while transporting the other load into the building you’re shooting in.

video kits
Sony PXW-FS7 4K XDCAM Super 35

This person does mostly corporate shoots, so a lot of interviews mixed with a decent amount of B-roll. He works with crews occasionally, but does a lot of one-man band shoots as well.

I did a little math and came up with the following approximate weights:

  • Sony FS7 with a standard kit lens, battery and cards, etc.: 9.9 lbs.
  • Tenba Roadie II case: 5.8 lbs.
  • Sachtler Video 20 tripod head with CF legs and mid-level spreader: 28.7 lbs.
  • Nalpak Tuffcase Tripod Case for Video 20: 15.5 lbs.
  • ARRI 650w Fresnel with barndoors, scrims, scrim bag: 10.4 lbs.
  • ARRI 300w Fresnel with barndoors, scrims, scrim bag: 7.8 lbs.
  • ARRI 150w Fresnel with barndoors, scrims, scrim bag: 4.1 lbs.
  • Lowel Rifa 500w: 3.2 lbs.
  • Lowel Rifa 1,000w: 3.6 lbs.
  • Magliner cart: 42 lbs.
  • Magliner cart 18” Steel Shelf: 12 lbs.
  • Minimal audio kit (lav, boom, cardioid, headphones, XLR cables, etc.): 6.5 lbs.
  • Stingers, four 25-foot (definitely needed for tungsten), 5 lbs. each x four = 20 lbs.
  • Miscellaneous extra batteries, grip, light stands for all five lights, light modifiers, gels, flags, C47s, etc.: 45 lbs.

If my math is correct, taking some major guesses, I would surmise that this person is easily hauling in excess of 210 pounds of gear, out of their car, onto a cart, up elevators and into stages, meeting rooms, conference rooms, hotels and convention centers.

While I complimented this person on their excellent taste in gear, I also pondered the question, “It’s 2017. Do you really need to be hauling 200 to 300 pounds of gear up streets, ramps, through parking lots and into buildings, especially when shooting alone?”

It’s one thing to bring hundreds or even thousands of pounds of gear to a shoot when you have proper crew and support. To me, though, it feels as if in 2017, we have choices available to make life easier, to allow us to create extremely professional production values and quality while saving considerably on weight and size. Have you ever rolled your equipment cart into a client’s location and had the client exclaim, “Wow, you brought a ton of equipment!”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my equipment strategy for one-man band and small-crew shoots. Of course, the approach must fulfill the parameters and demands of what you need to shoot and how you need to shoot it. With a little outside-of-the-box thinking, you can drastically decrease your gear footprint in almost all areas.

Camera

Assuming you’re mostly shooting single-camera interviews and B-roll shoots or even shooting single-camera narrative projects, there are tough decisions to be made here. The videographer I was discussing all of this with uses the Sony PXW-FS7 4K XDCAM Super 35 camcorder, an excellent all-around camera that yields very professional results. This same person could possibly consider switching to a mirrorless camera like the Sony a7R II, Fujifilm X-T2 or the Panasonic GH5. Not necessarily the best solution for his needs and not as capable as the FS7, but in evaluating the needs for his clients and projects, he may discover that while he loves shooting with the FS7, many of his clients wouldn’t know the difference or care if he switched to a mirrorless, 4K-capable camera.

video kits
Fujifilm X-T2
video kit
Panasonic LUMIX GH5

Not that going mirrorless is the right solution for him, but the size and weight savings make these small, mirrorless solutions appealing if you have a serious interest in reducing size and weight. I’m not saying these cameras are the right solution for myself, or for you, either, just that the images they’re capable of capturing can be pretty impressive, and all three cost less, weigh less and are smaller than a medium-sized pro camera like the Sony FS7, Canon EOS C300 Mark II and the like. Of course, it all depends on what your needs are and if you could even possibly fulfill those project needs and requirements with a smaller, lighter, cheaper camera.

Lighting

The videographer I spoke with used all tungsten lighting. As you can tell from the weights I listed above, in comparison with large, heavy, high-wattage tungsten and HMI instruments, small ARRI Fresnels and two Lowel Rifas don’t weigh that much—I get an aggregate total of around 30 pounds just for his five lights. I love tungsten lighting; objectively, it renders skin tones more accurately than even the best LED instruments on the market. But we then go back to the traditional drawbacks with tungsten lighting. It doesn’t play very nicely or efficiently with daylight color temperatures without heavy gelling and dichroic filters, both of which knock down the instruments’ output considerably.

Generally, tungsten isn’t great with locations that are flooded with daylight ambient light. Tungsten lighting is extremely inefficient, generating more heat than light output. When your shoot wraps, you have to wait for tungsten lights to cool off before you can put them back into their cases. It’s not a good idea to move tungsten instruments while turned on; you can break or damage the filament in the bulb. And, of course, there’s the weight and bulk of most tungsten instruments. Generally, tungsten lights are heavier and overall, bulkier, for the same wattage and actual output as LED lighting.

video kits
Kamerar BrightCast Flexible Bi-Color LED Panel

On the other hand, I’ve replaced one of my ARRI 650 Fresnels with a completely different instrument, a Kamerar BrightCast Flexible Bi-Color LED Panel. For me, one of my main uses for the ARRI 650 was as a key source, running it with a small Chimera light bank. So, for that particular use, I was losing all of the advantages of a Fresnel instrument, the effect of a spot to flood focusing chassis, the focusing ability of the Fresnel lens and the ability to mitigate spill with the light’s barn doors. Sure, the Kamerar doesn’t have the same foot-candle output as the BrightCast, but if you punch the ARRI through a softbox, you’re cutting down the output of the 650 by at least 20% to 30%. The LED runs much cooler, is dimmable, is bi-color (very handy when you’re shooting in a mixed light location), runs off AC or batteries and, best of all, the Kamerar BrightCast LED Panel, including power supply and power cord, weighs a mere 3.3 pounds versus over 10 pounds for the ARRI 650 Fresnel when you include barndoors, scrim and scrim bag. I still use my ARRI Fresnels, but more often now as a background light than as a key source, and when I’m one-man-banding it and weight matters.

The Kamerar BrightCast has features that aren’t as appealing as the ARRI 650 (the BrightCast has less output, the color reproduction isn’t as good, and it’s not a Fresnel instrument), but it has several that are superior to the tungsten Fresnel, and it weighs less than a third of the weight of the ARRI 650.

The Potential Benefits Of Smaller And Lighter

I’m not going to break down and compare every piece of the videographer’s kit that I listed—you get the point. Take a look at your own kit and seriously think about how you use each piece of gear. Are there ways that you could improve the functionality of the tools you’re using while also reducing size, weight or cost? It seems that people in our business often become creatures of habit—when we get something that works and works well, it seems as if we turn off our curiosity about finding better ways to do our jobs. Part of that curiosity is to continually look for ways to increase the efficiency of the tools you use. The less weight, size and bulk you have to haul to each shoot, the more energy you’ll have and the more creative you can be potentially with that newfound energy.

Writer, producer and cinematographer Dan Brockett’s two decades of work in documentary film and behind the scenes for television and feature films have informed his writing about production technology for HDVideoPro Magazine, Digital Photo Pro Magazine and KenStone.net. Visit danbrockett.com

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