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RED Dragon X Camera + Zeiss CP.3 Lens
photo by Nicole Tocco

What kind of camera is that? Does it shoot in 4k? 

When you post a video online or just walking around with a camera the gear topic usually comes up. People are naturally curious. No one is more curious than fellow videographers. The positive here is it has always come from a good place (at least in my experience).  Most people love movies. So there’s a bit of a nostalgic feeling built in when you see someone with a camera.  

The truth about gear is it does matter and it doesn’t matter (confusing right). Some shoots can’t happen without great gear. Shooting indoors for example usually requires some type of supplemental lighting. While you don’t necessarily need a $20,000 dollar ARRI SkyPanel you will need a light system to ensure your subject is exposed properly.

Before we jump into the Top Video Equipment for Commercial projects let’s clarify what type of project we’re talking about. Commercial for the sake of this article means shooting for a brand to highlight a product or service. We’re also going to drop some $$ figures. These numbers are bound to change but we want you to have at least a basic idea of the cost. Last but not least. The 2018 movie “Unsane” was shot using an Iphone 7 Plus and it isn’t the first movie to use small budget gear.

Top 4 (or so) Cameras for Commercial Projects (according to us)

Blackmagic Pocket Cam 4K 

Retail: $1,295 ( Body Only) LensRentals.com: $92 for 7 days

  • Pros: Affordable for Quality, 4K Shooting, RAW shooting, Dual Native ISO, Lots of Lens Options for Micro 4/3 Mount, Uses common memory cards.
  • Cons: Battery Life, No built in Image Stabilization, Bugs, Dead Pixels ( frequently reported ).
    Because of its affordability to quality ratio the Blackmagic pocket camera has received a lot of hype. If you are wanting a camera that you can fully customize and rig out this is a great option. If you prefer a camera you can slap a lens on and go shoot with you may want to skip this one.

Canon EOS C100 Mark II
Retail: $2,999 ( Body Only) LensRentals.com: $198 for 7 days

  • Pros: Shoots in 4k Cinema Raw, 120 FPS @ 1080, Built in ND Filters, Dual Pixel AutoFocus, Large ISO Range, Adjustable Viewfinder, Ergonomics, Lens Options. 
  • Cons: Down Scales image to 1080 (does not produce 4k images), viewfinder isn’t great, Lens Cost.
    The Canon EOS C100 Mark II is still a really solid camera. It’s considered an entry level commercial production camera in 2020. It’s been out for a while at this point so it’s become an affordable commercial production camera. 

Canon 1DX Mark II 
Retail: $5,499 ( Body Only) LensRentals.com: $297 for 7 days

  • Pros: 4K Shooting, Dual Auto Focus, Crisp Video, Enhanced ISO, Full Frame Sensor, Lenses.
  • Cons: Cost, Expensive Memory Cards, Inefficient MJPEG video format, you’ll need a lot of memory cards for longer shoots.
    The Canon 1dx Mark II is a DSLR but it’s a solid dual purpose (photo & video) camera. It feels almost indestructible in your hands. The video quality for this DSLR is top notch with 60FPS ability in 4K. The biggest con is the memory system. You’ll need a bunch of memory cards if you plan on shooting for more than a couple of hours. The camera is also super picky on what type of memory cards you use. It’s best to follow manufacturer’s guidelines and pick name brand vs cheaper memory solutions. 

Red Camera Line
Retail Cost: $15k-$55k+ (Brain Only) LensRentals.com: $600-5k for 7 days

  • Pros: Fully Customizable, Quality up to 8K, High Speed Recording, Durable, Limitless Lens Options, High Performance, RAW Shooting, Fast Write Times, Large Dynamic Range, No Cables . 
  • Cons: Cost, Crop on Dragon Sensor, Not great for low lighting, Expensive Accessories. 
  • The Red camera line is second to none. The customization options are insane for this camera. The quality of the video that comes out is smooth and by far the best looking out of this line up. The obvious downside is the cost.  You could buy complete camera kits for less than what it costs to rent a Red. There’s also a bit of a learning curve if you’ve never shot with a RED before. But if you ever get the chance to own this camera or even rent it you won’t regret it.

AUDIO

In addition to a camera commercial shoots will require some type of audio recording. Audio could include the talent speaking, environmental and ambient noise recordings. Most commercial productions rely on dedicated audio recording devices. While amateurs may use the on-board microphone on their camera this is not your best bet. On-board microphones do not record sound very well and you would need to be very close to your talent. If you use an on-board microphone you will also be tethered to whatever you are shooting. 

Most commercial productions will have a person dedicated to recording sound. They will typically have a boom pole with a microphone that’s plugged into a dedicated audio recording device /or wirelessly stream the audio directly to the camera. The sound mixer will also manually adjust levels throughout the shoot. 

Sometimes a lavalier microphone is used in place or in addition to a boom operator. Lavalier microphones attach directly onto an item of clothing on your talent and are a great option for smaller teams or videographers working solo. A small device that can fit in the talents pocket like the Zoom H1n with a lavalier mic is a great option and will only set you back a couple hundred dollars. The Zoom H5 with boom pole and a decent shotgun microphone on the other hand will run closer to $350-500 dollars depending on the setup.
Video and audio are done. Let’s look at stabilization options. If you’ve ever seen The Blair Witch project you’ll have an immediate appreciation for stable shots. Vloggers tend to walk around holding a camera, however, this is a commercial shoot so we’ll want some stabilization. 
We can always add simulated camera shake in post production if we prefer that look or style. 
The most common pieces of stabilization gear used on a commercial shoot are: 
Tripods, Gimbals, Handheld Stabilizers and Shoulder Rigs

STABILIZATION

Tripods are typically the most affordable option ranging from $50 (lightweight) to $350 (more durable) . The main difference is what is placed on top of the tripod. If you have an extremely heavy camera rig / setup you’ll want a more stable base that can easily handle the load. 
You wouldn’t want to put a heavy $20k camera on a $50 tripod. 
There are also a lot of different head options. Fluid heads will provide the smoothest tilts and pans. 

A tripod does have some drawbacks though. It’s an anchored stabilization device. Meaning you may be able to get stable shots standing still, but if you need to move with your talent or track an object a tripod wouldn’t be the best bet.

Gimbals and Handheld Stabilizers are the ultimate pieces of gear when it comes to stabilization. Gimbals and Stabilizers use electric motors to balance a camera. Being able to walk, even run during a production while still maintaining a stable shot is a huge advantage over a tripod. These devices are not created equal though. 

Because gimbals rely on electric motors you will need to check the weight restrictions before purchasing to ensure you don’t break these devices. You also need to pack extra batteries to ensure you don’t run out of juice if you’re on a longer shoot. This can add up quickly depending on the battery life of the device. 

Some of the most used Gimbals and Stabilizers in commercial production include the:  Zhiyun Tech Crane v2 Handheld Stabilizer approx. $400-, DJI Ronin-M Gimbal approx. $900- and SteadiCam  approx. $700-5k (depending on the system). 

Shoulder Rigs are exactly what they sound like. You simply mount your camera on a rig that sits directly on your shoulder. The advantage of this setup is it follows human motion more naturally since the operators movements dictate the camera movements. 

There are endless ways to build shoulder rigs. Most operators customize their shoulder rig for comfort, size and depending on production requirements. I’ve seen shoulder rigs made out of PVC pipe for under $50- and shoulder rigs as high as a thousand dollars. The most important thing is that it’s comfortable. The camera is resting directly on your shoulder. Sometimes all day.

Lighting

Lighting is one of the most overlooked pieces of gear. If you’re new to video production and are on a limited budget put the majority of your money towards lighting. 

Composition, artistic style and experience will make up for a low budget camera. Incorrect lighting on the other hand is nearly impossible to fix in post production. 

A simple 3 point lighting setup is used in the majority of commercial productions. This would consist of a Key Light, a Fill Light and a Hair or Rim Light. The Keylight faces directly at your subject while the Fill Light fills in shadows cast by the keylight. The rim or hair light is placed behind the subject to create a RIM of light around them. This gives the subject dimension. 
Not all lighting is equal. A commercial production lighting crew will typically have adjustable lights. Meaning they can adjust the strength and color (coolness / warmth) of the lights. This can help replicate day and night looks helping the production crew really sell the scene to the intended audience. 

A solid 3 point lighting system like the GVM 560AS Bi-Color LED 3-Panel Kit available at B&H photo for $300- is a solid option for someone starting out.
Drones are probably one of the funnest pieces of gear to operate. While there are a ton of different drone systems DJI is the most respected name in the game. They offer a full line of different models for amateurs to seasoned professionals. 

Much like cameras, getting great aerial video with a drone has more to do with experience and composition than the price tag. If you can’t drive a $200 manual car for example a lamborghini wouldn’t be the best option to learn how to drive a stick. 

DRONES / AERIAL VIDEOGRAPHY

The DJI Mavic and Phantom series would be a great place to start for a new production team without a seasoned pro behind the remote. While the DJI Inspire is more likely to grace the stage in a large commercial production. 

The price difference is fairly large. A DJI Mavic Pro 2.0 for example will run you around $2,100 while the DJI Inspire 2 Premium is a bit closer to $15k. The main differences aren’t in the aviation ability rather the camera itself. 

There’s a million pieces of gear we forgot to include but these are typically the main pieces of gear used in a commercial shoot.

The more money you spend may equal better specs, however, high dollar pieces of gear are usually only purchased by professionals therefore they aren’t as simple to operate. 

Start small and work your way up. 

You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll catch on if you’re dedicated and passionate about helping others share their stories through video