A Comprehensive List of the Top Tools in Documentary Filmmaking
by V Renée
Getting started in documentary filmmaking is a lot like getting started in narrative filmmaking — most of the time you’re just picking up gear that is cheap and readily available to you. But, if you’re looking to find out what the pros are using, PBS’s POV, the longest-running showcase of documentary films on TV, asked working documentarians about the tools and equipment they used in their projects. Continue on to check out an infographic — a comprehensive equipment list of the cameras, lenses, microphones, and post-production software (and more) used by the pros.
Buying or renting gear is a major commitment. I know that when I first started out, I wrestled over what equipment to buy, because when you’re using every extra penny to purchase or rent, you don’t have the luxury of “trying stuff out”. So, knowing what other working filmmakers are using takes out much of the vetting process that most of us can’t afford in the beginning.
POV asked 147 filmmakers, including directors, producers, cinematographers, and editors with varying levels of experience about what they used to make their films. Probably one of the most pressing questions any of us had when we first started out was, “Hey, what’d you shoot that on,” and that’s the first question POV answers — what cameras are being used in doc filmmaking?
DSLRs, because of their size and portability, are definitely an industry favorite. However, the Canon C300, which has a similar form factor, is still the camera of choice for most documentarians — narrative filmmakers are also known to use it (the Palme d’Or winning film Blue is the Warmest Color used two of them).
Choosing a microphone is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in terms of gear. Sennheiser mics, namely the MKH 416, make up 54% of what documentarians use in the field, followed by Zoom products (H4n). Being the owner of both a Sennheiser and H4n, the great sound of the Sennheiser makes for great formal interviews, while the H4n performs well in the field.
Check out the infographic to see what kinds of NLEs, color correction software, accessories, and a bunch of other tools documentary filmmakers are using. (Be sure to take a good look at “Other Equipment Filmmakers Love” — a lot of good tools you might’ve not thought to use. Thanks to Matías for sending this our way!)