With the goal of being discreet while also capturing cinematic imagery, run-and-gun filmmaking needs a kit that won’t destroy your budget.
Cover image via Thanes.Op.
The term “run-and-gun” gets thrown around quite often. There are a lot of different contexts in which you can use the term; it can be a nice way of saying “We have no money,” “We don’t have permission to shoot here,” or “We don’t have a bunch of time for a bunch of different setups and crew.” In most cases, it’s all of the above.
As video content continues to grow as a marketing and storytelling medium, the demand for run-and-gun video will grow with it. However, the budgets and resources (or filming permits) available to filmmakers haven’t really kept up with this growth. At the same time, cameras are becoming lighter, cheaper, and better at capturing great images in even the harshest circumstances. Over just a few short years, the conversation changed from “Does that camera shoot in HD?” to “That shoots 4k, right?” And now we’re more concerned about slo-mo and light sensitivity among consumer-grade cameras.
If you do any type of video work, sooner or later you’ll need to shoot in the run-and-gun style. What does that mean exactly? Put simply, it means that you need a small filmmaking setup that you can handle yourself and shove into a backpack, so you can go anywhere — anytime — and not worry about location security or low-light recording.
Well, you’re in luck. Like I said, this gear is widely available and very affordable. Here are my recommendations for the ultimate run-and-gun filmmaking kit for under $5,000.
The Best Run-and-Gun Camera
In my opinion, the Sony a6500 is the best run-and-gun camera on the market right now. If you’re looking for impressive features and cinematic image quality (in a small and manageable package), this is the camera for you. (It’s also a fantastic stills camera.)
When Sony first announced this camera, it was a bit of a surprise to me. For the price, its footage is incredibly filmic. It has nearly all of the same features as the popular a7s and a7sII cameras (aside from shooting full-frame, and some of the low-light capabilities) at nearly half the cost (especially at the time of release).
This camera can shoot up to 120fps for some beautiful slo-mo using the S&Q (slow-and-quick) motion settings. It features the same great LOG color options like S-log2 and S-log3 (a popular color setting for better color correction options in post-production).
Sony cameras have also become synonymous with capturing great imagery in very low-light situations. While the a6500 may not be quite as capable in these situations as its more expensive bigger brothers (the a7s and a7sII), the low-light capability of this camera is still nothing to take for granted.
The above video is a great example of this camera’s slow-mo and low-light capabilities (via Brandon Li).
Another remarkable selling point is the amazing 425-point phase detection auto-focus. With this camera, and the right lens (it has to be a powered Sony e-mount lens with autofocus capabilities, like the one in the package above), you can generally stop worrying about focusing your camera in most situations. This is widely considered to be the best auto-focus on the market today — and when you see it in action, it’s quite impressive. It tracks faces and objects, and it also lets you use the touch-capable LCD screen on the back of the camera for touch-focus on the fly (which actually works very well). This feature is particularly incredible if you’re using your camera on any sort of gimbal support system.
As if that wasn’t enough, the camera also has a built in 5-axis stabilizer system. So, with the right lenses (again, Sony e-mount necessary) that have OSS capabilities, you can get nearly gimbal-smooth shots just holding the camera in your hand. In my opinion, there is no other camera on the market right now that offers this set of features anywhere near this price point.
Why it’s great for run-and-gun:
- Low-Light capabilities.
- Small, light form-factor.
- Slow-Motion mode.
- 5-axis stabilizer.
- Incredible auto-focus.
Price (for the full package) — $2,400
The Best Run-And-Gun Audio
Audio becomes even more important than normal when you’re filming run-and-gun. When you’re out in the field, audio is the best way to make sure that your content comes across as professional. I’ve always thought that good video is 60% good audio and 40% great visuals. The fact that you’re running around and don’t have a lot of time to set up can never be a good excuse for bad audio. So, it’s important not to skimp here. There are a lot of really cheap aftermarket options for filmmaking audio in the DSLR realm, but in my experience, none of them are really worth it. I think audio is and should always be a “buy it once” piece of gear.
There’s a reason that just about everyone owns this little guy. If you don’t already have one, it’s likely that you’ve seen it out in the wild. These are (and always have been) the most widely used hot-shoe microphones for DSLR filmmaking. The audio that this thing yields is perfectly fine for a scratch track or even as the main audio track (especially if you get a cable extender so you can use it as a boom-mic or place it much closer to your subject). It’s the perfect microphone for capturing the audio of the location and surroundings (also called nat-sound) to play with in your edit. These mics screw right on top of your camera and run off of battery power (that lasts quite a while). If you don’t already own one of these, you should.
Price — $229
The G3 wireless pack is another industry staple, and again, while there are many other options on the market, this is the most consistent and intuitive that I’ve used. I’ve just always gotten consistently good audio with these packages. With this particular set, it’s possible to run the audio directly from the receiver into the microphone jack of the a6500 — although that usually won’t be the best option (see the recorder option below). Whether you’re mic-ing up your interview subject, or hiding the microphone to capture discreetly, this mic is a good tool to have in your back pocket (literally). Even though this item may seem a bit expensive, it’s worth every penny, and it will last you your whole career if you take care of it.
Price — $630
Generally speaking, you should usually record your audio separately. Most on-camera microphones aren’t going to capture phenomenal audio sitting on the camera. You need to get close to your subject, and you need options. This inexpensive, handheld recorder is a great way to add versatility to your setup. It features a 1/8″ microphone jack that accommodates both of my microphone recommendations — as well as a very good built-in microphone.
You can hide a microphone-recorder combo like this anywhere — whether that’s on your person or somewhere on location. On many occasion, I’ve shoved one of these in my front pocket with a Sennheiser G3 receiver on my belt to record audio for an interview while I captured the nat-sound (or room audio) with the VideoMic pro on the camera itself. That’s a great combo.
Price — $110
The Best Run-and-Gun Support Gear
Just because you’re trying to be nimble and discreet doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to just one style of shooting. There are plenty of small pieces of camera support gear that you can shove into a bag and take with you.
Zhiyun tech has just released a new version of their popular Zhiyun Crane gimbal system. The first one was one of my all-time favorite pieces of run-and-gun gear. It’s a small, lightweight, single-handed gimbal perfect for small mirrorless DSLR cameras. The battery lasts a ridiculously long time for one charge, and it can hold a decent amount of weight. Paired with a camera like the a6500, this affordable gimbal can create some truly stunning dream-like sequences in S&Q (slow and quick) motion, and it yields very cinematic tracking shots.
Price — $550
Whether you like it or not, you’re eventually going to need a tripod. Even in a run-and-gun situation, you need to make sure that, if all else fails, you can still capture a beautiful establishing shot with proper framing, or a nice still interview setup in a controlled location. If you’re going to bring a tripod with you, and you don’t have a heavy camera rig requiring a bigger set of sticks, you should get one that can pack down very small.
This Benro tripod is my favorite. In many cases, I’ve had two of these with me in a carry-on case and have traveled and captured two-camera interview sequences shot off of a tripod. With any other tripod system, this would be very difficult. If you’ve ever traveled with a large tripod before, you know that it’s a big hassle.
Price — $199
The Best Run-and-Gun Lighting
In the field, you always want to have the option to light a scene. Even if your camera doesn’t necessarily need the light to capture the images because of its low-light ability, it doesn’t hurt to have the option to make your subject look more beautiful or draw your viewer’s attention to particular areas. The trick to lighting on the go is always going to be the size of most lighting equipment. However, this is aspect of filmmaking that has become much smaller, more affordable, and just plain better.
This light is a thing of beauty. For me, it hits all the marks: it’s extremely cheap, extremely bright, and extremely travel friendly. One of the best features of this light is that the LEDs are all on a flexible piece of durable plastic and cloth that weighs practically nothing. This essentially means that you can use it in many different ways — you can roll it up, fold it up, stick it on a light-stand, etc. One of my favorite ways to use this light is to roll it up or bounce it off of a car’s interior ceiling (with a power inverter for the car) to bring up the ambient lighting in a car scene. They are so light, you can even use gaff tape to tape them to a wall instead of getting out a stand.
This light also includes a wireless remote for making lighting adjustments remotely. You can easily fit 2-3 of these into a travel case — I suggest that you buy two of them so that you can create a nice 3-point lighting setup (key/fill/backlight).
Price x2 — $220 ($110/each)
Another great light is any sort of on-camera light. This is handy if you might be in very dark areas or doing any live-event shooting where the location doesn’t have much available light. As cheap and as tiny as this little light is, it really packs a punch. In most cases, you can get a proper exposure with this little light a few feet away from your subject. The battery charge will last a good long while, and they are extremely durable. At this price-point you can never own too many of these.
Price — $45
These light stands are perfect for the filmmaker on the go. This is especially true when it comes to travel. These stands offer an impressive maximum height of about 75 inches, but when folded up, they are small enough to fit in a piece of carry-on luggage. At this price-point it doesn’t hurt to buy a few.
Price — $58
Image via Shutterstock.
Cost for everything — approx. $4,500
Just because you’re shooting run-and-gun it doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality, especially today now that filmmaking gear has become so affordable. If you find yourself in the need for run-and-gun style shoots, these recommendations are the best load-out it in my opinion — and at well under $5,000 (leaving some room for more batteries, SD cards, and taxes).