Creating a Documentary: Equipment Checklist

Documentary films may seem simple on-screen, but they require a lot of effort and specialized equipment behind the scenes. These non-fictional motion pictures intend to capture factual material for the purpose of entertainment, instruction, or education. They’ve been a significant contributor to developing more realism in movies and films.

Every good documentary needs proper equipment to look professional and well-done. Here’s a comprehensive checklist:

Video camera for filmmaking

You can’t have a documentary film without something to film it with. Documentary filmmakers generally tend to go for either of the following two cameras: a professional video camera including audio inputs and full-sized manual controls, or a DSLR—a still camera that’s also used for shooting beautiful videos, with a much more cinematic result than traditional video cameras. Both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages, so consider each option carefully and be mindful about your choice.

Professional video cameras

These fully-equipped cameras are made for a singular purpose—to capture beautiful videos. They have multiple settings that are easy enough to figure out, opening up a whole new world of opportunity to take some amazing shots. However, they can be rather expensive.


DSLRs are rather light and easy to carry around for long hours during a documentary shoot. Their media cards are also small and cheap, producing a pleasing video quality. It’s easy to blend in with the crowd with a DSLR around your neck. However, since DSLRs are primarily for taking still images, they have fewer moviemaking controls.

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Audio adapters

Good audio is just as important as good visuals, perhaps even more so. Professional documentary filmmakers usually don’t rely on their camera’s built-in microphone since they’re unable to pick up a lot of sounds due to their lack of power.

Professional video cameras usually come with XLR audio inputs that allow videographers to attach professional audio accessories such as lavalier microphones to clip onto a person’s shirt or boom microphones to capture audio near any source that you want. Camcorders and DSLRs usually don’t have XLR audio inputs, so you’re either going to have to get a DSLR XLR audio adapter or special lavalier or shotgun microphones that can work with a DSLR.

We’d recommend Comica’s BoomX-D D2 2.4G Wireless Microphone 2x Transmitter & Receiver for your mirrorless or DSLR camera. It can even work with smartphones! It’s perfect for videographers who need a compact solution for their audio recordings. You can also listen to the real-time audio recording to ensure clear audio with no interruptions or signal problems. You can record from a range of up to 164ft or 50m, perfect for sit-down interviews while getting crystal clear audio.

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Tripods are a lifesaver for documentary filmmakers where there are long hours of continuous shooting. Even “run and gun” footages with limited shooting time rely strongly on tripods when shooting stable shots outside of some buildings or recording sit-down interviews. Small and cheap tripods aren’t the best for movement, so get a good fluid head to capture smooth tilt and pan shots with no interference from jerky reframing such as Pixapro’s 65mm Bowl Fluid Head for Video Tripods.

It’s important to get a tripod that can be easily stored due to the shoots taking place in various locations in documentary films. We recommend the Twin Tube Video Tripod from Kenro—featuring tremendous versatility that’s couple with durability and a load capacity of around 6kg. It has Fluid Drag Action for the perfect panning during your filming and can be set up quickly and easily due to its twist-lock legs.

Extra batteries and memory cards

Having backup memory cards and fully charged batteries is essential for a professional documentary filmmaker. Documentaries are meant to capture life, and you never know how long it might last. Perhaps a shoot can run extra-long, and you need some extra SDHC memory cards, camcorder batteries, or some AA’s for your mic to continue. Nothing’s worse than having to wrap up before the scene you wanted to capture is over because you can out of memory space or batteries.


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Lighting kit

Depending on the topic, documentary films can have one too many sit-down interviews. Lighting is an important factor in capturing quality videos—bad lighting can wash your subject out or make the film look like it’s low budget. Get some portable constant lights like Pixapro’s EzyLite Softbox Twin-Head Continuous Lighting Kit with two 85W CFL bulbs. These units are energy-efficient and are great with a compact camera. This budget-friendly option caters to shooting medium-sized projects and doesn’t produce as much heat as traditional tungsten lights, making it perfect for keeping your subjects comfortable.

If you are looking for ready to got kit, The LED200B MKIII Headshot Documentary kit will allow you to start your documentary interview right away.

It’s not always possible to bring your large lighting equipment when shooting a simple documentary. Invest in a reflector to make use of the natural light and bounce it off your subject’s face to even out any shadows. For mobile situations, you can get a small, mounted light for your camera to salvage and otherwise unusable situation for shooting.


850W EzyLite Softbox Twin-Head Continuous Lighting Kit and LED200B MKIII Commercial Headshot Interview Documentary Lighting Kit

Hard drives and editing software

After shooting your film, back up all of the data onto multiple hard drives so you don’t lose your precious footage even if your computer crashes. Don’t be afraid to invest in a pricier hard drive—it’s worth a couple extra bucks since it’s backing up your entire film.

High-quality filmmaking equipment

Are you wondering where you can get the best equipment for recording your documentary? EssentialPhoto has got you covered! We’re a single-source solution to all of your photography and videography needs. Our UK-based company offers a wide range of quality video accessories, along with other tools and equipment. 

Get in touch with us today for more details!