Essential kit for the one-man documentary maker

So, your mind’s made up – you’re going to go it alone! There’s no reason why not – you know your way around a camera, and frankly, to take a soundman with you would be overkill – and expensive! No, you’re fully focused on the task in hand – you just need to calmly thing through the gear you’ll be needing and you’ll be away! But where should you start? We asked leading reseller CVP for some advice…

High quality fluid head tripod

Most operators start out with a tripod that’s not really up to the job! Budget about 30% of the value of your camcorder for a tripod system and you’ll be about right. Spending over £1,000 on a tripod may sound excessive, so the best approach is to visit CVP for a “hands on” demonstration of a range of systems. We guarantee you’ll be amazed at the difference between a budget tripod and a premium grade professional unit. A tripod such as the new Vinten Vision 3AS or a Sachtler FSB 4 SL MCF is ideal. An ultra lightweight system such as the Miller Solo 1514 is ideal for the trekking shooter.

Quick release tripod plate system

A TLS or Protech v-wedge camera plate plus a Sony VCT-14 tripod plate will allow you to securely mount and remove your camera from a tripod in a fraction of a second, drastically reducing setup time when switching between handheld and tripod based shooting.

Spare high capacity batteries

It’s essential to make sure you have enough batteries so that you can shoot uninterrupted. If you’re shooting in very cold environments don’t forget that battery life will be dramatically reduced if you don’t keep them warm! Top tip: Our PowerLok battery range feature high quality Japanese cells and are a fraction of the price of an original unit.

Plenty of tapes & media cards!

Always take far more media than you’re likely to need. Don’t run the risk of running out mid-shoot! Top Tip: If you’re shooting on solid state media then you should invest in a NEXTO DI backup drive as it’ll save you a fortune in media.

Rain cover

Invest in a high quality raincover from Kata or PortaBrace and it’ll save your shoot and your camcorder when faced with rain, snow, sand and other airborne particles. PortaBrace’s camera armour is ideal as it stays on the camera all the time and has an easily deployed rain cover in-built so you can’t forget it!

Soft camera case

Look after your camera and you’ll get better reliability and a higher residual value. We recommend the PortaBrace range of cases as they are high quality, will carry a whole host of essential accessories, offer good protection for the camera and are smart in appearance too, so when you go to lunch you can take the camera with you without looking silly!

Hard ‘flight’ case

A hard case will protect your camera during shipping or should you need to stow it in an aircraft hold whilst travelling. We recommend Peli cases for a budget solution or we can supply custom built alloy flight cases with CNC milled foam inserts for the ultimate in protection.

Camera top-light

A good quality top-light is essential. We recommend the Litepanels LP Micro or MicroPro camera top LED lights as they run for hours on readily available AA batteries. If money’s no object take a look at PAG or Frezzi’s miniature HMI camera lights, they are superb!

Wide-Angle Lens adaptor

This is one of the most essential items which will enable you to produce dramatic wide angle shots and shoot in cramped vehicle / property interiors. Our top tip is to buy the best quality you can afford and we recommend Century’s 0.7x range as they are superb. Cheap single element adaptors are best avoided.

Telephoto lens adaptor

Often overlooked, a telephoto adaptor will not only enable you to better frame distant objects but also attain a shallower depth of field when shooting at longer focal lengths.

Remote zoom controller

Attach a zoom control to the pan-bar of your tripod to enjoy far easier and usually smoother zooming whilst tripodmounted. We recommend Bebob ‘Zoe’ zoom controllers as they are solidly built with a feel that closest simulates that of broadcast lens controllers.

Portable HD monitor

Wherever possible we’d recommend you verify your shots on a high quality monitor. If you’re working with a director he/she will insist on one. We recommend the Sony LMD-9050 or Panasonic BT-LH80WE. With either you’ll need to add a Portabrace case + PowerLok batteries / charger.

Windshield for the on-camera microphone

This is an inexpensive but 100% essential item to reduce wind noise and deliver acceptable sound quality in outdoor shooting situations. We recommend a Rycote Softie or Mini WindJammer.


It is essential to monitor the quality of sound you are recording with a professional quality headphone. We recommend Sennheiser HD-25 or Sony MDR-7506 headphones.

Highly directional ‘Short-Gun’ microphone

This is an essential an versatile microphone used for capturing tight interview and background audio. You can use this microphone on-camera too if you invest on a CVP microphone offset bracket. We recommend a Sennheiser ME-66/K6/Rycote Softie kit as an entry level system or a Sennheiser MKH-416P48 system if you have a bigger budget. One of the nice features of the ME-66 system is that the K-6 incorporates a bass cut filter which further reduces low frequency rumble from wind, air conditioning systems etc.

CVP microphone offset bracket

If you want to use your gun microphone to gain higher quality atmospheric audio then the CVP offset bracket will keep it safely out of shot and also features a super quick release mechanism so you can switch to handheld use for interviews as required. It also features a radio microphone receiver mount and therefore allows simultaneous mounting of gun mic, radio mic and camera light.

Microphone boom pole

If you want to record high quality sound then you need to get your microphone positioned as close as possible to the sound source and a boom pole will often enable you to do just that. There are loads available but a great budget choice is a Rode Boompole – Choose a carbon fibre K-Tek with internal coiled cable if you can.Top tip: Add a lighting stand, Boom Buddy and 10lb Matthews Boa bag to enable hands free overhead suspension of gun mic in static interview / voice-over situations.

Selection of XLR cables

Don’t forget the cables! A handful of 4-6m XLR-3 leads are essential. Add a 50cm cable if you want to use the gun mic. on-camera too.

Wired tie clip microphones

Most overlook traditional wired microphones and buy radio microphones first, however we recommend you invest in a pair of broadcast quality wired microphones such as the Sony ECM-77B or ECM-88B first as they are more robust, reliable and deliver higher quality audio and immunity from radio interference too.

Wireless radio microphones

Radio microphones allow the camera and talent to be separated by up to ¼ mile and thus provide for wide shots with extensive movement therein. We suggest 2 radio microphone kits with tie clip microphones so that you can at least shoot a distant 1+1 interview / dialogue scene.Budget radio microphones are the Sennheiser EW-112P or Sony UWP-V1/67. Sony’s latest DWT/DWR digital radio microphone system represents the ultimate in quality.

Matte Box & Filters

A matte box will help you to prevent unwanted extraneous light from entering the camera lens and also facilitates the use of creative filters that can greatly enhance your shots. For example an ND Graduated filter can rein in an over-exposed sky without under-exposing the scene below. A Polarising filter will let you remove unwanted reflections when shooting into reflective objects such as ponds or through car windscreens…. the possibilities are virtually endless.

Basic Lighting

The latest camcorders offer excellent light sensitivity, so you can now focus on lighting for effect rather than to attain a suitable general illumination level. This means that the modern operator can invest in a much more compact, portable and creative lighting kit. CVP supply a vast array of lighting products and would really recommend that you call us for no-obligation advice on the ideal kit for you. As a first step into general location lighting we would highly recommend: A set of 3 hard lights such as the CVP 3 head Dedolight 24v/150w basic or advanced lighting kit plus a soft light source such as a Photoflex Starlight or Kino-Flo Diva 400 kit.

Shoulder Support

If you’re shooting off-tripod for long periods than take a look at the Protech ST-7 shoulder support which effectively converts a compact handheld camcorder into a shoulder-mount unit for increased comfort and stability. If you’re on a low budget then try the CVP SM1 bracket.

Track and Dolly System

Add smooth motion and increased interest to your shots by using a track and dolly system. When it comes to choosing a lightweight and portable track and dolly system that’s suitable for a one ‘man’ crew then only one product stands out: The Micro dolly track and dolly system.

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