Moonshine Moonshot Blog

How to Film Your Doc: What Camera Do YOU Need

Mar 28, 2023

Welcome back fellow film-buffs, and if you’re new to Moonshine Communications Academy, welcome! 


Whether you’re dedicating your life to a career in filmmaking or you’ve got a curious itch you can’t scratch, we’re here to support you on your journey. So, as always, have a pass through our old blogs and once you’re ready - let’s launch into all things cameras!


As a filmmaker, the number one question I am always asked is ‘What stuff do you have?’


Of course, when they say ‘stuff,’ they are referring to the film gear and cameras that we take on our shoots. 


In pre-production, we briefly spoke about getting to know your gear, but in this blog, we’re going to really deep dive into cameras, specs and any other vital tech gear you’ll need for your shoot. 


Let’s roll camera


Once upon a time, 1080p was the HD of HD. But those days have long since passed… Now, the standard is 4K definition. And a lot of broadcasters and distributors are preferring films shot in 4K.


We now use 4K cameras and our kit has two Canon C200’s. At a bare minimum, I would suggest having at least two 4K cameras for your production. If you’re doing a two-camera shoot with different cameras, it’s not a big deal.  We did this for years until we could upgrade. But it creates more work in post-production to match them up. 


Having identical cameras means that the shots will look the same and you can use the same settings when shooting. It’s a much simpler workflow on set and also in post. However, if you use two different cameras it will generate more work in post to try and adjust them to better match. All our cameras are Cannons so achieving a consistent look in post isn’t overly problematic. But when possible we match the cameras.  


You should do some testing on your cameras if you’re going to use different types of cameras (i.e A Sony and a Canon) ahead of your shoot day to make sure the shots will come together in post. If the look of the wide and mid shots of your interview are too different on screen then it could be distracting to your audience. 


The other part of this equation is the lens! Depending on whether you’re attempting to capture the life of ants or the speed of formula fords, your choice of lens may vary. However, if you’re curious as to what we use, we lean toward Canon L-Series Prime lenses

 -Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS USM (x2)

 -Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM II

 -Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM III

 -Canon 2x Extender


K.I.S (Keep it simple)


We didn’t always have matching cameras and to be frank, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. However, as mentioned above having different cameras can create unnecessary complications, especially in post-production. 


The last thing you need on shoot day is to have to muck around trying to align all the various settings between your cameras. And once you're in post, your colour grading and mixing is going to be a far less streamlined process, as the raw footage produced may not be the same colour or quality (But post-production is for another blog!).


Another thing to keep in mind is the SIZE of your equipment. Being a documentary, it may not be practical to have bulky cameras with numerous attachments and rigs. So keeping your gear simple, light and efficient is going to give you far more flexibility on your shoot. 




Three-legged best friend


Another production veteran is the tri-pod! The amount of tri-pods that are on the market these day is astounding and it can almost be overwhelming if you don’t already know exactly what you’re looking for. 


But when I’m looking for a tri-pod, I want it to be light, strong and dynamic (If you want specific specs: carbon-fiber with telescopic legs!).


Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s sturdy enough to support your heaviest camera with the lens on. And one small thing that can be easily overlooked: how does the camera attach to the tripod. If it’s a base plate that requires a nut to be screwed in (often with a coin because you don’t have a screwdriver handy) then you need to be organised if you’re switching which camera is on the tripod mid-shoot and you have to switch the base plates as well.


Specialty Cameras


Finally, I get to talk about Moonshine’s favourite new toy. The Ronan 4D. Not only is it phenomenal with stabilisation when filming on the go, but It shoots in 6K! (My vision isn’t even in 6K).


On top of that, we have plenty of little action cams that can come in handy when having to mount to a bike or car. And last but by no means least is our drone camera! Another of Moonshine’s fav toys, the drone camera gets an incredible amount of use in our films and is fantastic for setting up the tone of our films with establishing shots of the landscape. 


MB, GB, TB and Godzilla Bites


When you’re shooting in high-res, you’re going to need a lot of storage to download and back-up the footage. 


After every shoot, check your footage, and then copy everything off your memory card onto a hard drive (and then do it again for a back-up!). Then be sure to reformat the card so you’re ready for another big day of shooting. 


One other helpful hint! Don’t keep your hard drive and back-up drive in the same place. If the luggage with your drives goes missing from your flight, you’re back-up won’t do you much good!


Accessories for when you’re out and about


The list of accessories you could use for your equipment would go on, and on, and on. But I do have a couple of must-haves. 


Firstly, if you’re hitting the dirt track in your 4x4, chances are your lenses might get some dust on them. So I cannot stress enough how important it is to bring some sort of lens cleaner. 


Secondly, a super useful tool is a sun guard for your monitor. Out in the elements, it can be difficult to see your monitor properly and It’s unlikely you’ll be wanting to put your eye up to the camera with every shot. So having a guard will really help!





That’s enough me, me, me for today


There is a lot to consider when you purchase a new camera.  So I hope sharing a bit about what we use helps you understand some of those considerations. 


My parting advice is that no matter what camera you purchase, hire or borrow.  Make sure you are familiar with how to use it, have tested the footage and discussed the workflow with your post-production producer or the editor. And if you’re shooting with multiple cameras, test, test, test to make sure the footage will marry together in post and give you an amazing looking film.


Next week, we’ll move over from the cameras to the equally important microphones! Unsurprisingly, capturing sound will be 50% of your documentary, so knowing this gear is vital. 


Till then, check out all other resources and helpful hints over on our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. 


If you can’t find what you’re looking for, send us a message and we’ll get in touch!

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