One of the questions that I get asked pretty often by people as a filmmaker and educator is what is the best camera for filmmakers, for somebody who doesn't have a lot of money, but still, wants to start getting their feet wet with cinematography. Actually, there are a lot of ways you could answer that question and I guess my first answer is whatever camera you can find. However, the main idea is that nobody can really tell you what camera to buy because everybody has different objectives so I'm hoping this article will help you find the perfect camera for your needs.
do you really want to become a filmmaker?
The Ultimate Guide to Buying Professional Video Camera
Considering the fact that choosing the camera for filmmaking is actually really difficult and it involves many aspects that have to be taken into consideration. Such as the audio, lighting, camera lens and etc. I decided to create a separate article which will help filmmakers to choose their first camera gear wisely.
So go check out my article and find some awesome cameras and lens combinations that I think would really benefit a beginner and would be a perfect start for your filmmaking career.
Note: If you feel that you don't have much money it's always a good idea to buy just only the body of the camera and then invest separately in quality gear. But in case if you don't have enough money to buy a new camera, you still have your smartphone. Today everybody has a phone and I believe that our smartphones are the best cameras that we have.
So in this article, I will review the best possible camera choices for all the independent filmmakers for different budget ranges and for various shooting needs. Please note that this post is aimed mainly towards the filmmakers or anyone who are mostly concerned about the video feature of a camera. If you are more interested in photography then this post may not be for you, so keeping that in mind.
Since we are talking about Filmmaking let's start with the camera body itself. Balancing between price and quality can be a little hectic. But according to my research, I found out the perfect combination of a camera.
best camera for filmmaking on a budget
Canon EOS 700D / EOS Rebel T5i
Considering the fact that everyone is looking for a budget camera my only recommendation is the Canon 700D, which is also known as EOS Rebel T5i. First of all, you can get this camera for around $500. Sure there are new models available, but those small upgrades don't justify that big price jump. In my opinion, you should get this camera and spend extra cash on audio equipment and lenses rather than on body itself.
The Canon 700D has an 18-megapixel sensor, decent auto focusing capability and also an articulating touchscreen which is the most important thing for a YouTuber because it really speeds up the workflow. Actually, it looks like a very small thing but it's really handy especially if you are looking for a vlogging camera. Plus the T5i comes in a compact body so It's really lightweight and durable.
This camera can do 1080p at 30fps and also 24 FPS for all of the cinematographers out there, but as you start exploring you will quickly realize that Canon doesn't provide a lot of tools and features compared to Sony or Panasonic. But then there is something called Magic Lantern and if you install the software on your Canon you will get features which are available on much more expensive cameras. The menu system on the T5i is also one of the strong points of the Rebel series. It's easy to navigate and is perfect for beginners, as you can easily change your settings on the fly just by using your touch screen.
Although it's not 4k the T5i does produce a very film-like footage and paired up with the Canon lens you can get almost perfect full HD video. So overall for the budget filmmakers I would recommend Canon Rebel series cameras preferably T5i or T6i, which is also really nice if you have some extra money.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
The biggest appeal of this camera is its price tag, you get a 4k camera that records on Micro Four Thirds sensor for less than $600. Plus it has a very similar sensor and processor to the GH4 so the image quality is basically the same and actually better in some ways such as ISO performance.
Good audio quality is just as important or even more important than having good video quality. Having said that this camera has a microphone input and a hot shoe adapter where you can slide in a shotgun mic. In addition, you have the ability to manually control the audio levels in camera. Moreover, G7 features pop-out articulating LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder so you can see exactly what you are recording without any interference.
The Panasonic G7 offers 4K video at 24 and 30 frames per second, so if you are familiar with its older brother the Panasonic GH4 surprisingly you will notice that this camera has similar video quality at half the price. One area where the G7 actually shines over the Panasonic GH4 is at high ISOs such as 3,200 and 6,400. This camera has both automatic and manual exposure and focus, so you can take full control over the settings like most filmmakers do.
So who's this camera for? Well, this is for someone looking to get that next level grade video and to step up the game a little bit, have 4k and really nice image quality.
Overall the Panasonic G7 is by no means best budget 4K camera that has has a lot of features which will satisfy beginner filmmakers and in addition consumers who want 4k content.
DJI Osmo & GoPro Karma
- DJI Osmo Mobile
- DJi osmo+
- Karma + HERO5
The following setup is really popular nowadays and It's an iPhone or any other smartphone with DJI Osmo mobile or the DJI Osmo itself. This is probably the best option to get awesome looking cinematic 4K footage inexpensively. Chances are you already own an iPhone, Samsung or any similar smartphone which shoots decent 4k footage natively. The 4k footage from the iPhone 7 plus looks really awesome and cinematic so you can attach it with a DJI Osmo mobile and use the whole rig as a Steadicam to get the fluid moving shot.
Plus you can download the Filmic Pro Mobile App from the App Store to get manual control over the video camera of the iPhone to set exposure and focus manually. Otherwise, you can go for the standalone DJI Osmo which is also a motorized gimbal stabilizer with an awesome inbuilt 4K camera.
The DJI Osmo+ is a handheld 4k camera that uses a 3-axis stabilized gimbal to deliver smooth video. This is essentially a Zenmuse x3 camera incorporated with a powered three axis detachable handle. The camera features a 1/2.3 CMOS sensor that records 4K video at 24 frames per second.
With the help of DJI Go App you can communicate with your camera and adjust the settings on the fly, but if you prefer there are physical controls on the handle as well. Osmo is also compatible with the X5 and X5R cameras, so you can take advantage of all the benefits of a larger sensor on a highly stable platform. In addition, Osmo has an audio port on the front of the device so you can attach more premium audio recorder.
Overall it's one of the more premium offerings available in a relatively new category of stabilized cameras and Osmo+ is currently the best option for smooth 4K video recording.
Today most of the filmmakers have the GoPro in their arsenal in order to shoot nice aerial videos with their drone or some other action shots by attaching the camera to different things.
However, the problem is that running with a GoPro camera will get you some pretty unwatchable video. So, in this case, the GoPro karma grip is the best solution. With a motorized 3-axis gimbal you can get perfectly stable video. The built-in battery gives you up to 1 hour and 45 minutes of stabilization and you can charge both the grip and the camera and transfer footage through the USB-C port.
At this price point, it's probably not an impulse purchase considering the fact that so many people already have a GoPro at home.
best DSLR for filmmaking
Canon EOS 80D
The Canon ESO 80D is a direct successor to the EOS 70D which was released not too long ago, but Canon has put a new sensor in the 80D which is now a 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS sensor that's a big upgrade coming from the Canon 70D which had a 20-megapixel sensor. So you have four megapixels extra to work with, that's actually four million pixels extra.
The 80D is welcomed with a new and redesigned user interface similar to what you get on the 5D Mark IV. So with this new user interface, you get smoother animations and the menu design is much more organized. Plus now you can actually scroll through the image metadata in the playback menu to view a whole lot more info. The picture style has also been upgraded. Now you can set detailed parameters for the sharpness setting, so apart from just a strength setting you can adjust the level of fineness as well as the threshold for the sharpening, so that way you have more control over the sharpening filter.
Now if we look at the 80D in terms of the external build it's going to be a very familiar layout compared to the previous models, not much has been moved around but there are some minor tweaks. For example, the speaker has been moved just above the viewfinder so it actually faces you, compared to being on the side of the camera on the previous models.
The 80D does not have GPS, but it does have Wi-Fi and it's moved from the old EOS remote app to the new canon camera connect App. Personally, I really like the move because it is working much better than the EOS remote App and finally you can actually use it in video mode. Plus camera connect App enables you to remotely start and stop your video recording when you pair to the camera by Wi-Fi which is a really nice feature. Plus now you can do 60fps in 1080p which previously you could only do so in 720p and instead of saving the video files into an MOV file it now saves them into mp4 files.
All in all the 80D is a pretty good camera considering all the features which you get at the price point. It's definitely a very pleasant upgrade from the previous model and has a lot more features than the other camera in the category which makes it perfect multi-purpose camera. So If you have some extra money to spend or if you are a bit more serious about your investment or you are simply looking for an upgrade than this can be a great option.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
The Canon 5D Mark IV is probably the most favorite camera for indie filmmakers. Considering the fact that the previous generation of this beast the Canon 5D Mark III was the go-to camera for all independent filmmakers around the world. The fourth-generation model is Canon's latest entry and while it is undeniably the best 5D camera yet it also has a particularly challenging job. Arriving four and a half years after the introduction of the mark III expectations are understandably high. The good news here is that for filmmakers the mark IV delivers on everything we've come to expect from the 5D name.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is the company's latest full-frame DSLR aimed at enthusiasts and even professionals looking for a second Canon DSLR body. The Mark IV gets Canon's incredible dual-pixel autofocus technology along with 30.4 MP sensor, which delivers some of the fastest and smoothest video autofocus we've ever seen. Plus it features 61-point AF system, ISO range of 100 to 32000 and 7.0 frames per second continuous shooting speed.
The mark IV finally gets a 4K recording at 30p or 24p, a fully articulating touchscreen, built-in Wi-Fi, and GPS capability along with to make this camera an ultimate tool for filmmakers.
Overall the EOS 5D Mark IV follows its predecessor's footsteps and offers some unique design and exciting features which you are going to love especially if you like the Canon's picture profile. In today's highly competitive market we often think it isn't good enough for a camera to excel at just one thing, but what Canon has shown with a 5D Mark IV is that it's a multipurpose DSLR which can handle everything with same quality.
best mirrorless camera for filmmaking
Sony a7S Mark II
The Sony a7S Mark II is the best camera for all the independent filmmakers to look for. It has a 12.2-megapixel lens which shoots stunning 4K footage internally with this full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor, even in extremely low light condition. You also got a ton of video features such as zebras, focus peaking and most importantly Sony's V-Log picture profile.
Now when it comes to hardware the Sony a7S has a really good feel to it, so the overall build quality is very nice. The grip is adequate and each button is customisable which is one of the things that I love most about it. Plus it's got a 12 option function menu to really keep every button that you could ever want at your disposal, that can be activated anytime even during shooting which is a really handy feature. Moreover, the a7S has the microphone, headphone, and HDMI inputs in order to have full control of the audio. The electronic viewfinder is also very helpful for seeing exposure in direct sunlight. The camera has built-in Wi-Fi which is a great addition and NFC for easy pairing. The only complaint that I had is that photographers get full control manually of all of the camera settings, however, videographers only get a start and stop record on the App.
Now when it comes to low-light this is where the a7S shines. In the megapixel war, Sony has chosen to keep things a little bit different and put in a 12-megapixel sensor which allows to bring in much larger light-absorbing pixels and the results were clearly amazing. Sony a7S is actually a really good still camera as well, for all those looking for some monster pixels soaking up a tremendous amount of dynamic range.
Overall the a7S is a great camera, especially for video. Sony has challenged the industry in so many ways that the a7S feels like a no-compromise camera, unlike some of my Canon models. It really feels like all of the limitations are technology related and not that Sony was holding back on this camera at all.
Panasonic LUMIX GH5
The GH5 has been the source of a lot of talks lately and for good reason. It's a very interesting and well-priced camera with a micro 4/3 sensor, which shoots 4K footage internally with Panasonic V-Log picture profile. The camera feels Solid with better buttons, joystick and the dial which I think is a big improvement over the GH4. Actually, all the buttons and dials are laid out nicely so that everything that you need to change is easily accessible and feels very intuitive as well.
The new version also features a full-size HDMI port, USB-C port, mic, and headphone jacks. Plus the flip-screen with a really solid LCD which is also a touchscreen and a very responsive. The menu is really intuitive, definitely one of the easier to navigate and understand compared to other systems. The nice thing is that right up front on the display before even going into the menu we have quick access to the essential functions like white balance, ISO, shutter speed, picture profile and record settings.
One of my absolute favorite things on this camera is the slow-motion capabilities. It feels really smooth and I probably say that it's my favorite camera under $10k that I've shot slow-mo with. Just super easy to use and really solid results, rolling shutter is actually pretty minimal for this type of camera and definitely a lot better than on a7S.
Either way, the GH5 is cheaper and completely holds up and in some cases passes the a7S. Overall I would say that the GH5 is an intuitive and easy to use camera with solid image quality, great slow motion features and it is absolutely geared towards filmmakers. Panasonic has definitely been listening to what their users actually want, so in the end, I think this is an excellent upgrade to the GH4.
So should you buy a GH5? In my opinion, if the micro 4/3 doesn't bother you and the price is "ok" and you don't need something that's crazy good in low light, this would be a perfect camera for you.
Professional digital film camera
Canon C100 Mark II
Canon has produced a number of dedicated camcorders in their cinema EOS lineup since 2012 and this C100 Mark II is the beginning of the second generation within the range. It comes exclusively with Canon's EF lens mount allowing access to the full range of Canon EF and EF-S lenses. The camera uses an 8.3MP Super 35mm CMOS sensor, which can shoot in an ISO range from 320 right up to 102,400 ISO and this is paired with the new Digic DV 4 image processor. The end result from this promises greater fine detail, better color reproduction than that seen in the video produced by the previous model or Canon's DSLR's.
The camera can record full HD 1080p files at up to 59.94 frames per second in both AVCHD and MPEG formats, with a maximum bit rate of 35 megabits per second in mp4 or 28 megabits per second in AVCHD. But if you need both codecs it can be recorded simultaneously, one to each of the two SD card slots in the camera. If you need greater bit rates then the C100 Mark II also allows for clean uncompressed HDMI output for recording up much higher bit rates, when recording to external field recorders. The C100 Mark II also includes Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology for automatically pulling and holding focus anywhere in the center portion of the frame. The auto focus capabilities include face detection for holding accurate focus on human faces ideally for tracking your subjects and a dynamic shot, which is perfect in documentary shooting scenarios.
For audio, the camera has built-in stereo microphones and also features XLR mic inputs with phantom power in the removable top handle. Audio files are recorded at 16-bit linear PCM or Dolby digital files.
Building on the ergonomics of the previous model the camera is better laid out and more comfortable to use. Plus the new LED screen is completely redesigned to give brighter, more accurate images and nearly a hundred percent coverage of the frame. It also has a wider range of motion than its predecessor, allowing it to be used both by the camera operator or a director. Other subtle improvements in ergonomics include stronger indentations on the buttons to find them by feel, changing the color-coded on record button to meet the industry standard. The camera also features wireless FTP transfer and accepts both canons GPE - GPS receiver to get accurate location and time information. And there is a remote control for adjusting the camera settings remotely when used out of reach for example on a drone.
All these features make Canon C100 Mark II perfect camera for professional filmmakers.
Blackmagic Design URSA Mini
The Blackmagic Ursa Mini is basically a professional-grade Cinema Camera designed for small-time production companies, as well as independent filmmakers and it comes at a super aggressive price point. Essentially the Ursa mini is a compact version of the full-size Blackmagic Ursa Cinema Camera that came out a couple of years ago, but in terms of the design and form factor, it's quite compact. There's a couple of different versions available, so you can choose to get either the 4K version or the 4.6K version. Both are Super-35mm CMOS sensors and obviously, you can select from EF Canon mount or PL mount if you want to use cinema-grade lenses.
By all means, this is pretty much a professional-grade camera designed for actual field use. Plus all the parts are made of magnesium so it's very lightweight and durable. The whole camera is really optimized for professional workflow environment, so you have things like 12G-SDI in and out port as well as dual XLR inputs with phantom power. It also features physical audio gain controls for your microphone levels, and a headphone jack to monitor the audio parameters.
In terms of the controls and operations, this camera is actually fairly easy to use. A big 5-inch articulating touchscreen is a very responsive and easy to use and most of your camera settings and parameters are going to be done through the menu. In terms of controlling other aspects of your picture such as the white balance, the ASA as well as the shutter angle they are controlled in the menu and it's very hard to change them on the fly when you're shooting. So it would be nice to have some physical buttons to control some of these important settings.
One of the great things about this camera is certainly the amount of different recording formats. Firstly in terms of the resolution, you can either shoot in two different 4k standards and in all those different compression rates. When you shoot RAW you're pretty much shooting the native resolution of the sensor which is 40000 x 2160, but you also have a QHD and of course Full HD. In terms of frame rates, you can shoot all the way from a 23.98 to 60 frames per second or 120 frames per second in Full HD. The video quality coming out of this thing is absolutely sensational, especially in well-lit conditions. When you shoot at ProRes 444 the dynamic range is absolutely excellent and raw it's going to be even better. Plus you also get a free copy of DaVinci Resolve which is always awesome with these Blackmagic cameras.
To summarize it's an excellent camera in terms of form factor and ergonomics and the build quality is impeccable. You have excellent audio monitoring options, so it's perfect for video and the audio recording. The last thing I like about the camera is the overall competitive price point. Obviously, you're going to need a couple of essential accessories but even with the baseline configuration it's very competitively priced and it's hard to find any other camera in this category.
RED Weapon 8K
Red cameras are inherently difficult to review because their modularity which gives almost unlimited configurations plus they are extremely expensive. So I will focus mainly on the body and what to expect from this beast. The most obvious reason you want to buy this camera is the sensor. In the Weapon body or brain as RED likes to call is their HELIUM sensor which shoots 8192 x 4320 video at up to 60 frames per second, but the benefit of this is not immediately obvious to the average person. It's not about publishing at 8k, it's about flexibility in post. Being able to edit the footage with a very minimal loss in image quality.
The great thing about the 8K is that it enables filmmakers to do zoom into the footage, reframe it, crop it without any noticeable loss of sharpness up to a certain point. For example, filmmakers use this advantage to get the perfect symmetrical composition in post-production. Another thing you can do with the extra resolution is getting better motion tracking, because more resolution means more detail to track. Finally, there is also an option to downsample video footage. For instance, if you're shooting at 8k and you're delivering to a 4K television you can downsample that to 4K without any problem. It means that you take 4 pixels and average them to 1 pixel for delivery, so it makes your image cleaner.
Resolution is actually just a small part of the story, much more important is the actual sensor. But like any piece of professional equipment, a RED Weapon does not make you the next Steven Spielberg. Sure you can crank the ISO to 2,000 in an effort to mask your lighting errors with a high-quality camera and a lot of people would never notice, but to truly get the most out of it you have to be aware that a camera has a native ISO where its dynamic range capabilities are ideal and everything needs to be balanced to get the right amount of light on the sensor.
So to sum up this is the dream camera that everyone loves and for me, it's definitely the future of the cinematography.
So those are my basic kind of starting recommendations for somebody interested in filmmaking. You can probably get one of those camera bodies for just $100-$300 and I would certainly think you could put together some sort of kit for under $1000 even with some pretty good lens. So that isn't really a lot of money considering that these cameras will give you an image quality that a few years ago you couldn't have for four or five thousand dollars. So if you're looking for a starter camera that's my best advice at this point.
If you have any recommendations, feel free to leave your comments, suggestions or corrections.