Buying camera kit can be daunting. And advice is hard to keep up to date.
For schools and small groups who wish to do filming in the future, use your budget to invest in equipment for longer term use, rather than using up precious money on hiring.
The problem with cheaper cameras is they are always small and it is difficult to get in and out menus quickly. Buy the best you can afford, not just for quality but also because it will probably be bigger and easier to teach with. Unfortunately there seems to be a reluctance amongst manufacturers to produce anything that bridges the gap so you are looking at tiny domestic cameras at less than £300 or leaping up to around £1000 to get something easy to handle.
When possible, purchase identical models to other cameras in the school (assuming the last one was any good) Many things become easier if you are dealing with the same camera.
Remember to keep money in your budget for sound kit.
An average bag is often included by a dealer. Get them to throw in good one, it protects your kit properly. If you can stretch to it, get a flightcase: you can cut out foam sections and know exactly what kit has not been put away from the case.
Battery & separate charger
Buy at least one high quality spare battery (all batteries are useless if not charged). Some cameras only charge the battery on the camera, get a separate charger.
There are a number of good makes, including manfrotto, vinten etc. Allow £200 for a solid basic one. Having a fluid head helps, not just because its easy to pan & tilt, but they also spring back to a safe position if unlocked.
Tripods and sound kit are good investments, because they don't go out of date.
Lights & stands can be very heavy - get boxes with handles at both ends so two kids can carry them together.
Other good bits
Reflector: a Lastolite collapsible style reflector is very useful on location, and is a cheap lightweight alternative to more lights (A holder arm to lock it to a stand is also useful)
Gaffa tape: buy above average quality - as this stuff can be a lifesaver - also known as duck tape
Neutral lens protection filter: (skylight or similar) This is a nearly clear filter that goes on the front of the lens with the intention of doing nothing except protecting your lens; it can be smudged, cleaned, scratched and replaced without damaging the actual lens - essential with very young participants working on expensive cameras.
Equipment often presents even the most knowledgeable filmmakers with difficulties, it is brilliant if you can find some technical support. Maybe your school has a technician who can help out, or a fellow filmmaker's advice, or a supplier's support number can be very useful.
Who to buy from?
If you are investing in equipment, it is sensible to go to suppliers who understand your needs. It may cost you 15% more than if you buy off the internet, but a supplier will be able to tell you what things work with what, make honest recommendations and will hopefully offer follow up support.
- If you find a helpful company buy from them as often as possible (don't use up their goodwill with lots of phone calls and keep buying everything off from Amazon)
- Write down the name of any one you speak to who knows their stuff, and ask for them when you phone.
- Be nice to them - they just might be able to get you out of a tight spot one day.