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Camera Equipment for Filming “Into The Empty Quarter”

Filming Into The Empty Quarter posed several equipment challenges. I hope that outlining our kit will be helpful for anyone planning to film an expedition of their own.

Most expeditions filmed for television take a different approach. They have big budgets, support crews and cameramen. (Ed Stafford and Benedict Allen are two notable exceptions to this). Expeditions with massive sponsorship backing are different too, being able to buy whatever kit they like.

But for normal people wanting to film their own story, you will have to juggle these factors:

  • Budget
  • Weight
  • User skill

Let me say, straight away, that kit is not the most important aspect of making a decent expedition film. If you head off into the wild armed only with a tripod, an external microphone and an entry level DSLR or a decent compact camera then you have all the gear needed to make an award-winning classic. The story and user skill are far more important. So do not be put off if you can’t afford some of the kit below. Get out there and make your film anyway! Some of Searching for Sugarman was filmed on a phone…

On the other hand, if you are fortunate enough to be armed with a lovely camera and a 3kg, £4000 lens then you will certainly get some pretty shots (like these). Even then though, the story and user skill are still far more important.

Here is what we took to the desert.

  • Canon XF100: a light, quality, versatile camcorder. Decent range of focal lengths. Autofocus and rotating screen both very helpful. This was the go-to camera when something happened quickly, such as meeting people.
  • Canon 5d Mkii: stills camera and HD video recorder. Great for still images and for pretty-looking shots. More of a faff and hassle to use than the XF100.
  • 24-105 f4 lens: a versatile lens that is ‘good enough’ for virtually every circumstance. Can get a shallow depth-of-field at the long end of the focal length.
  • 50mm f1.8 lens: a very cheap lens for low light shots. Useful as a back-up too.
  • Rode Videomic microphones plus dead kitten windshields. We ordered a lav mic too but it arrived too late for us to take. I regret this massively! Do not underestimate the importance of sound in your film.
  • Batteries: we calculated how far it would be between charging opportunities and took sufficient batteries for this interval, if used sparingly.
  • Battery chargers.
  • Loads of CF cards. We had to be sparing with our battery use, but we did not want to be limited with how much footage we could shoot.
  • Tripods: Sony handicam tripod and Velbon CX Mini tripod. The bigger and heavier and more expensive a tripod is, the better. It also though becomes bigger, heavier and more expensive…
  • Lens Cleaning Kit.
  • Headphones to check audio levels.
  • Small compact camera (with AA batteries).

Watch The Film Now

Into The Empty Quarter is available as a DVD, an HD Download, or a DVD and Download bundle. Running Length: 52 minutes.

  • HD Download

    Introductory Offer – £5.99 [RRP £10]

  • DVD and HD Download bundle

    BEST DEAL Introductory Offer – £9.99 [RRP £20]

  • Get the DVD plus a FREE HD digital download. Region free ‘” plays in all territories.
    PLEASE NOTE: you will receive the download code shortly, but not immediately.

    Price: £9.99. Choose Total + Postage option below:

  • DVD

    Introductory Offer – £9.99 [RRP £14]

  • Get the DVD to keep and share with friends and family. Region free ‘” plays in all territories.

    Price: £9.99. Choose Total + Postage option below:

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    1. Great post once again! I really appreciate you sharing your experience and tips. 🙂

      As you’ve been to cold places too, any special issues worth noticing if filming in environment like Greenland if going with similar resources (budget, weight, skills) than you had on the desert? Would something not work there or would some other equipment be better?

      • Alastair Posted

        Greenland is nice as there is no evil camera-killing sand.

        Instead you just need to keep your batteries warm and beware condensation (taking cold camera into warm tent…)

        Other than that they are pretty similar.
        You need to talk to Martin Hartley for true polar photography expertise.

    2. Beautiful trailer and very impressive tour!
      Just one thing (I know the expedition is over and most likely you will not do such a trip again): Have you considered fat bike wheels and tires for your cart?
      Whenever I see a photo of your cart I can’t stop thinking fat bike tires could have been a great alternative to the twin-wheel set-up.
      Example of a bicycle equipped with those tires:

      Best regards

      • Alastair Posted

        The trouble with our trip was the variety of terrains – roads, gravel plains, sand…
        Our cart was good for everything except the sand (when it was terrible!)

      • Alastair Posted

        The trouble with our trip was the variety of terrains – roads, gravel plains, sand…
        Our cart was good for everything except the sand (when it was terrible!)

    3. William Latham Posted

      It is funny, I am reading the book How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck (ISBN978-0-7611-6323-7) and the first thing they say is that it is all about the story, not the equipment.

      And I agree, high flotation tires would be much better.

    4. David fowler Posted

      A stunning film, made even more stunning considering the amount of kit you shot it on. I shall look at my canon 700 d in a completely different light now. Cheers

    5. Beautifully shot film and just goes to show it is all about the skill of the cameraman rather then the gear used (although nice gear even if it is Canon, Nikon guy myself) well worth buying this film

    6. Dominic Schneiders Posted

      I am trekking in Tajikistan later this summer and taking a SonyA37 camera that uses similar batteries to your Canon. Do you have any experience of using a solar charged power bank to recharge the camera battery as opposed to taking a hatful of spare charged batteries?

      • Alastair Posted

        I took a solar panel to Spain. In theory they are good, but I generally find them a pain. I’d buy a big battery bank and as many batteries as you can afford…



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