If you’re ready to take the leap to having your own camera but not ready for a professional set up, there are a lot of options and there’s a lot to take into consideration.
Here are some resources and tips to consider when buying a camera to shoot primarily video. There are a few different types of cameras you might want to look at, with a reasonable budget in mind we’ll stick to camcorders, micro 4/3 and DSLRs.
Two of the important basic principles to understand when choosing between a mirrorless or micro 4/3 and a full frame DSLR are sensor size and crop factor. Basically, larger sensors take in more light to generate a digital image, resulting in higher quality. But full frame is not necessarily the best just for this reason. The video below does a great job of laying out the basics of sensor size, but in case you don’t have time, here are the cliffs notes:
- Full Frame DSLR cameras’ sensors are roughly the same size as a 35 mm film negative.
- Mirrorless cameras may have a full frame or APS-C (the next size down) sensor.
- Micro 4/3 cameras get their name from the size of their sensor (the next size down from APS-C).
Next let’s talk crop factor. Again, B&H has a great video with just enough information about how sensor size and crop factor interact. Here are the cliffs notes for this one:
- A full frame sensor has a crop factor of 1 (or, no crop factor).
- Certain APS-C sensors have either a 1.5 or 1.6 crop factor. Multiply the crop factor by the focal length of the lens. Meaning that a 50 mm lens on an APS-C camera would be equivalent to using a 75 mm lens (for 1.5 factor) or an 80 mm lens (for a 1.6 factor) if you were using it on a full frame camera.
- This adjusted focal length of the lens is called the “35 mm equivalent”.
- Micro 4/3 sensors have a 2x crop factor. Easy!
Camcorders do have different sensor sizes, just like mirrorless and DSLR cameras. But because most don’t have interchangeable lenses, 35 mm equivalent is only a consideration if you’re choosing being a mirrorless camera and a DSLR. So, unless it’s a full frame camera, be sure to consider the 35 mm equivalent when buying a lens.
While most filmmakers prefer being able to manipulate the focal length and depth of field with interchangeable lenses (allowing for more creative control). Camcorders can be good for someone who needs high quality footage but also an easily portable, easy to run camera (such as journalists covering news events).
Here are a few cameras to start your search with, for a range of budgets. The camera that is best for you depends entirely on how you’re looking to use it. If the prices here are daunting, do research into which features will support the kind of filmmaking you’re going for and search out secondhand models. There’s always a lot of hype around new releases, but thanks to the rapid evolution of technology, if you know what you need and you’re willing to get creative, you can shoot great-quality video on a very tight budget. These starting points should help you determine just what kind of camera you’re looking for.
Full frame DSLR
The Canon 5D mark IV is the latest in Canon’s 5D series. The 5D was preferred by many serious, mostly independent filmmakers until the rise of mirrorless and micro 4/3 cameras caught up and surpassed full frame DSLRs in terms of video quality. It’s the only 5D that shoots 4k video but if you’re doing equal parts online video content and still photos, a previous version of the 5D bought used is a good investment. Get all the specs here and read a pro review here. It goes for $3500 for the body only right now.
Mirrorless and Micro 4/3
The Sony A7s is a full frame mirrorless camera with 4k capabilities that has gotten a lot of buzz for its capabilities in low light situations. It currently runs for $2200 for just the body. See all the specs here and read a pro review here.
The Lumix GH4 is the less-expensive but almost just-as-mighty alternative, with a Micro 4/3 sensor and noted impressive performance in low light. It currently runs for $1200 for just the body. But the GH5 is coming out at the end of March 2017, so if you can wait, do! Here are all the specs and a pro review.
Both of these cameras also take great stills.
Not technically a camcorder, but it has a Micro 4/3 sensor, is lightweight, small, 4K-capable and less expensive than the GH4. And you can change the lenses! Blackmagic Design is best known for their prosumer Super 35 mm sensor size camera, but for someone looking for mobility and ease of use, this smaller version is a great option. It runs for $1000 for the body. See all the specs here and read a pro review here.
For around $900, with no need to buy lenses, this 4K-capable Panasonic camcorder offers a lot of possibilities, including built in wifi and 20x optical zoom. It weighs in at under half a kilo. See all the specs here and read a pro review here.