Run ’n Gun and vlogging-style filmmaking is becoming increasingly popular but what are the elements required for a good and usable kit? We asked CVP to share their expert advice.
Not so long ago any serious filmmaking outfit you might consider working with would be guaranteed to be cumbersome and heavy, and it would require a small team of specialists to handle aspects such as audio, focus pulling and camera operation. Technology has evolved to change all of that, of course, and one-person operation is now at the point where it’s relatively straightforward to do it all yourself, delivering ultimate flexibility and opening all kinds of exciting new doors.
But what do you need to have in terms of gear if you’re looking to piece together a reliable outfit that will be easy to work with while still capable of delivering a professional quality end result? There’s a huge range of options out there and you need to be very clear about what you’re looking to achieve and who your clients are likely to be. When it comes down to the serious business of investing then it makes sense to head over and have a chat with a reliable equipment agnostic supplier such as CVP, who will walk you through the choices and make sure that you’re not sold anything that isn’t necessary for your business at the present time.
Right at the heart of your kit will be your camera and, to give some idea of the enormous range of choices you’ll be faced with today, this could be anything from a high-quality smartphone through to state-of-the-art but still relatively compact cinema cameras that can deliver broadcast-quality results. You need to think carefully, not just about what kind of production you’re looking to achieve, but also what a particular kit choice will enable you to do. Those looking to vlog will potentially be into minimalism, for example, where everything is highly self-contained, while if you’re working on something like a travel documentary your requirements are likely to be very different to what you might need if you’re looking to shoot a commercial production for a high-profile advertising campaign.
“These days pretty much any of the higher-end cameras could be used within a Run ‘n Gun set-up,” says CVP expert Jake Ratcliffe. “However, the features each can offer will have an important part to play and should be taken into consideration.
“This could, for example, be how well a certain camera might perform in a low light situation, how fast and reliable its autofocus might be, whether it features internal neutral density filters, how fast its boot time is, the length of battery life, whether it has a weather resistant body and even whether it comes with a dual memory card slot. You need to sit down and work out exactly what your priorities are, and there will be particular models that stand out as offering those facilities.”
Size and weight will also be something to think about, particularly if you’re planning to be walking around with your outfit for long periods of time, or you want to make sure everything can fit into a single carry-on case for taking overseas. In terms of full frame mirrorless models, cameras such as the Sony a7S III, the Panasonic Lumix S1, the Nikon Z6 II and the Canon EOS R6 would all be models to consider, while manufacturers such as Fujifilm and Olympus offer APS-C and MFT-sensored models such as the X-S10 or the OM-D EM5 Mark III that are likewise set up to deliver high-quality 4K footage and are even more compact in size.
If you’re needing to piece together a Run ’n Gun style outfit that heads even further up the food chain then CVP recommendations would include models such as the Sony FX3 or FX6 and Canon’s EOS C300 Mark III or C70, and all come with a formidable line-up of specifications and yet are still portable enough to be suitable for those working as a single-shooter.
In terms of which lenses to work with then, again, there are choices to make and good and valid arguments to put forward for both prime and zoom optics. “You really need to be weighing up the pros and cons of each approach, because each will involve different compromises,” says Jake. “I’ve seen filmmakers work with both types, but zooms are arguably going to increase the speed that you’ll be able to work at and will give you more variety in terms of the focal length you’re using. However, primes are great for lower light scenarios and for super light and compact setups. Lenses that feature built-in stabilisation are also going to be really handy, as shaky video never looks great and a stabilised lens is a super easy way to smooth out your footage without the need to invest in extra stabilisation.”
Building the Kit
Once the camera choice is out of the way then it’s time to start considering the constituents of the kit you’ll be piecing together, and what you might be looking to base it around. At the most pared-down level this could be a simple gimbal, for example, that’s designed to accept a smartphone or maybe a compact-style mirrorless camera, and these work brilliantly if you’re looking to follow the action and want the ultimate in fuss-free operation, totally flexible but still with a high degree of stability that’s built in.
Once again there are gimbal choices available from a wide range of suppliers such as DJI, Benro, Zhiyun and FeiyuTech, and they come in at all price levels, from sub-£100 for a model such as the brand new Zhiyun Smooth-Q3 that’s designed for Smartphone use, through to sophisticated pieces of kit such as the highly-rated Ronin RS 2 (CVP price £699), which is light and strong and comes with a full colour LCD Touch Screen control panel.
“Gimbals are great,” says Jake, “but can be challenging for fast paced Run ’n Gun productions due to the initial set-up time that’s involved. Other common solutions you could also look at would include well-balanced shoulder rigs, a simple lightweight handheld rig based around a cage or even a solid monopod.”
The advantage of a piece of kit such as a cage is that it comes full of threaded holes and has been designed to offer ultimate scope for attaching a wide range of accessories. This enables the filmmaker to fix all of the things they need, from monitors through to external lights and microphones and top-plate handles for low level shots, with just a couple of bolts and a hex key. Everything can be pieced together to entirely suit the requirements of the individual within a minute or so, and you can even add handy ‘Magic Arms’ from the likes of Manfrotto and SmallRig to hold add-ons further away from the rig for added convenience.
All methods will have their own pros and cons, and it might make sense to look around to see the solutions that others working in your preferred area have come up with to decide whether that approach could work for you as well. Once again, a retailer such as CVP that deals on an everyday basis with filmmakers at every level would be well-placed to pass on the benefit of their expertise and to suggest the right route to go down.
“When it comes to kit that supplements your camera this will really depend on the production requirements,” confirms Jake, “but kit that is simple, reliable and compact is usually what people are looking for in Run ’n Gun scenarios. You could maybe be looking to add a supplementary bright 5in monitor so that it could be easily viewed no matter what the lighting conditions might be, or you could be needing an audio solution that’s straightforward for the single-person operator to work with.
“With regard to the latter, capturing audio on the go can be quite a challenge, so you want kit that makes your life easier. If your budget allows it then a good mix of different audio solutions would be good to have in your outfit. An on-camera shotgun mic works great for capturing general audio that’s close to the camera’s position, while lavaliere mics are good to work with if you’re looking to capture dialogue, especially from a distance.”
New solutions for the rapidly emerging Run ’n Gun and vlogging market are being introduced all the time, with Sennheiser, for example, just launching its newly updated MKE 400 on-camera shotgun mic, which features a built-in windscreen and shock mount to help reduce handling noise. Also new from the audio specialist are a series of mobile kits that are directly targeting the single-person videographer, and these feature a microphone along with a Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod and Smartphone Clamp. There’s a kit for the Sony FX3 (CVP price £199) and MKE 200 (CVP price £109) and also for two Lavaliere units, the XS Lav USB-C and the wireless XSW-D Portable Lav (CVP prices £99 and £289 respectively).
If you’re looking to include audio as part of your outfit then it’s also important that you add in a high-quality noise cancelling pair of headphones, since it’s crucial to be monitoring sound levels while you’re filming. If the sound is too low or it’s distorting you could be faced with unusable footage, and being in control of everything is all part of the joy of embarking on a journey as a single filmmaker. It’s a question of learning to multitasks and most people eventually pick it up with experience!
Finally, don’t forget about supplementary lights, with LED versions being highly portable and versatile, and which can brighten up all kinds of situations if used for fill. “I would say that this accessory is pretty much an essential,” reflects Jake, “as you never know what lighting conditions you might encounter. You can use one on your rig or even go for a version that just sits in a camera’s hot shoe, and there are a few different solutions from brands such as Aputure, Rotolight, Aladdin and Litepanels. These small lights can be really handy to have as part of your outfit in case you need to quickly set up some on-the-go lighting without having to carry around a full travel lighting kit.”
Ultimately Run ’n Gun filmmaking is all about light weight, flexibility and working with a system that genuinely can be operated by an individual, while being transportable in a single bag or case. Every filmmaker is bound to have their own preferences of course, but the value of being able to talk to someone who can offer a good overview regarding how everything fits together can’t be overstated.
“Ideally you’ll be looking for a reliable camera that you can pull out of your kit bag with minimal accessories and just start shooting,” says Jake. “We ask all kinds of probing questions when we talk to customers, and ultimately our aim is to recommend what’s going to be the best solution for them.”
If you’re moving into motion then you need to know the basics of how to set up and execute a well structured corporate video, and CVP experts will be providing the full lowdown on how to get started.
One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
Gimbals such as the DJI Ronin RS 2 have been designed to facilitate shooting on the move, and they’re just one of the solutions available to single person operators.
The freshly revamped Sennheiser MKE 400 mic is designed to sit neatly on-camera and to greatly improve audio quality.
A model such as Canon’s C70 Cinema camera would make an excellent choice to use in Run ‘n Gun filmmaking.
If you’re working with a larger cinema camera then a shoulder rig would be a great way to add stability to the set-up.
The Zhiyun Crane 2S with follow focus control is a good all-in-one option.
If you’re working as a one-person filmmaker and are looking to include audio then it’s crucial to invest in a set of headphones.
On the audio front it’s good to have options, such as this Lavaliere mic from Sennheiser.