There’s long been an saying that goes along the lines of ‘you get what you pay for’, or another similar saying being ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. Such sayings (like most sayings) generally come from practical experience and of course many others abound. But the gist of such sayings has generally held true over the years; however, is that always the case? I think much depends on the products concerned, who makes them and where they are made, especially in today’s world where it’s possible to manufacture and buy from just about anywhere. Product quality has also changed dramatically with new technology, materials and manufacturing processes, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. So the quality of a product often belies the past conventions of where they are made. Recently I had an interesting discussion, though not for the first time, about this subject and it made me look a bit deeper into how much this applies in today’s world where it’s not always fair to assume that ‘you get what you pay for’.
What prompted me to think more about this are my experiences equipping my cinema camera with a range of accessories to make it more functional and useful. This includes ancillary gear not directly related to the camera but often essential for production, such as lighting. I’ve always been one to seek out the most cost effective accessories for my stills cameras, rather than just buying well known brand names, as often buying brand name photography gear means that you’ll very quickly end up with a very light wallet. Though in saying that, lenses and filters are two things I haven’t skimped on. But compare that to cinema gear where you’ll rapidly end up very poor if you happen to do likewise. When it comes to well known brands in cinema gear, another old saying often holds true, ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’. Yet on forums where such things are frequently discussed, old hands always seem to recommend the most expensive gear when a newcomer asks what should they buy, even if it’s the simplest of gear.
I get a fair bit of push back at times when I suggest alternative, affordable, gear that’s just as good as the unaffordable gear that so often gets promoted. And when I point out affordable gear, it’s always something that I actually own and use, so I’m not just guessing as to its quality and functionality, or using third party opinions. I’m not sure why the expensive gear is promoted to such a degree, unless it’s to do with brand snobbery or trying to promote home grown products no matter how expensive. I’m all for supporting home grown products, but not to the extent that it makes me poor or reduces the ability to buy products that I need or would simply like to own. My Blackmagic camera is a perfect example of an Australian designed yet Chinese made product that is affordable (in cinema camera terms) and of extremely good quality. I, like many others, was more than happy to pre-order this camera when it was first announced. So when it came to accessorising the camera, I wanted similar affordable and good quality gear.
I’ve noted many of these products in earlier stories, so I thought I’d compile a list and discuss all of them in one place and make it easier to understand and find what I’ve got. I’ll be discussing the gear that comprises my camera rig and the bits and pieces that make up the camera system as a whole. Then I’ll go through the gear that provides the support system for the rig and finally, the ancillary gear such as lighting etc that may or may not be considered essential depending on how and where you film. This is not an endless list of gear, but what I’ve purchased to make life a bit easier when filming and to provide a degree of versatility in filming situations. Of course not everyone needs all the things that I now own, as some will work with minimal gear, but if you’re a BMPCC4K owner, then some of the gear I own should be on your list, in one form or another. No long ago I roughly worked out what it would have cost if I’d bought at the lower end of the brand name products so often recommended, and rather than costing approx $3000 as my complete rig cost, I would have had to spend in the order of $13,000+ for a similar setup.
Knowing from the outset that I wanted to use my BMPCC4K as a rig mounted camera, the first things that I needed were a cage, mounting supports, focus controller and lens hood (matte box), as well as a battery system. As I’ve pointed out in earlier stories, some of these items can be bought starting at around $25 and go all the way up to $5000+, all of which do the same job. So after much searching, reading and watching YouTube reviews, I settled on SmallRig and Camvate gear for the cage and support systems (instead of 8Sinn or Tilta), Fotga for the focus control and matte box (instead of Chrosziel, Redrock or Zacuto), Feelworld for the monitor (instead of Atomos or SmallHD), Saramonic and Rode for the microphones (instead of higher end Rode or Sennheiser), Samsung for the SSDs (instead of Angelbird, Wise or CFast cards) and Rolux for the battery (instead of Core SWX, SWIT) and a no-name audio recorder (instead of Sound Devices, Tascam or Zoom), plus a few bits and bobs. To date, I haven’t had a single issue with any of the gear. Would more expensive brand names work better? Maybe. Would they last longer? Some possibly, others doubtful. Would they have improved my ability to produce video? Not one bit.
Now when it comes to ancillary gear such as lighting, there’s a myriad of options available and nowadays most videographers are moving toward LED lighting. This is another area where prices can go through the roof. I started with some small and very inexpensive LED light panels that work quite well, but the output isn’t the highest, so you need to be fairly close if using them. Though I’ve used them for a couple of my YouTube vlogs and they worked OK. So I started looking at better LED light panels used for film making etc and put in an offer for a 30cm x 120cm flexible panel, but the offer was rejected and I’m so thankful for that, as I realised that there are far less expensive and better panels available. In fact we use one of these in our kitchen that mimics a skylight and it provides brilliant lighting, and at 56W is far more brighter than the flexible panel I was considering and only cost $25 delivered (1/10th of the other panel). After an inexpensive modification (approx $6 for parts), I was able to attach it to one of my existing light stands and it works a treat. If you don’t have a light stand, they are available on eBay for around $15, Even more powerful LED lights are available at very reasonable prices.
And my final accessories are my fluid head, slider and Easyrig harness which I’ve discussed recently. The fluid head is a Benro S8 that is smooth in use, sturdy and more than capable of holding my rig, and certainly while not the cheapest, is way cheaper than any of the so-called professional heads. The slider is a surprisingly inexpensive 120cm carbon fibre model where the quality totally belies the price. It was a manual slider, but with some inexpensive modifications, is now fully motorised, if and when I don’t want to use it manually. And even though it isn’t rated to carry the weight of my cine rig at 8kg+, it does so easily, including the extra weight of the heavy ball head. The other accessory is the Chinese version of the Swedish Easyrig, something that again is difficult to think of as being any good given its price, but it’s more than good, it’s excellent.
Now all of what I’ve described has been generally quite affordable if not downright inexpensive in most cases. I haven’t detailed the prices or the sources as when I started checking prices and availability, things had changed too much to be of great use to anyone so I left out the links. You’ll just have to seek out the products described and see what the current availability and prices are today. Some of the products have dropped significantly in price (especially the SSDs) and with others there are now even better products at an equivalent price. And while I’ve discussed video gear specifically, I think my views apply to pretty much most things nowadays. We live in times where quality goods are available at very affordable prices, such that you often wonder how products can be made and sold at such low prices. With a little bit of research, you can easily get very good quality products and very affordable prices.
And a very happy Easter to all.