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When it comes to filmmaking cameras, newbies often think that more expensive = better quality. But that’s not always the case. In fact, sometimes the simplest cameras can give your films that Hollywood-style quality everyone is aiming for.
Experienced filmmakers know that, while the tools to shoot amazing scenes are very important, mastering the basics of style and cinematography, as well as relying on amazing videographers and editors, are the keys to a film’s success.
So if you’re a budding Scorsese or Tarantino, don’t worry: you don’t need studio backing to shoot an Oscar-worthy film; in fact, this roundup of the best cameras for filmmaking on a budget might just be what you need:
Budget Camera for Newbie Filmmakers: Sony a5100
One of the most budget-friendly cameras on the list, the Sony a5100 offers incredible performance of any camera on the list given its price range. It has the same APS-C sensor size that could be found on its more expensive big brother the a6500, but at a third of the price.
The Sony a5100 has continuous autofocus that allows filmmakers to keep subjects in frame throughout a shot, and its ISO range is impressive given its considerably lower price range. It shoots 1080p videos at 60 framers per second, which is pretty standard for other cameras of this price, but it makes up for it with a 180-degree tilting screen, a feature not found in more expensive cameras.
But being a budget camera, it does lack some features that higher-end cameras have: the Sony a5100 doesn’t shoot at 4k, and it doesn’t have an audio jack nor a hot shoe, which means you’ll have to record your audio separately. But considering that it’s a $500 camera, it’s not unreasonable.
While the a5100 uses the same battery as the a6500, it doesn’t have the same battery longevity. The camera itself doesn’t have a lot of buttons on it, which is great for newbie filmmakers who don’t want to get overwhelmed with operating the camera, but might be lacking for more intermediate directors.
The a5100 does have a tendency to overheat when you shoot for extended periods of time, a common flaw with older Sony cameras. It doesn’t shoot well in low-light conditions, and while it does have a tilting view screen, it’s hard to see in daylight.
Overall, the Sony a5100 is a great camera for filmmakers on a budget or for newbie filmmakers who are trying to wet their feet in shooting. Beyond a certain experience level, however, you might want to consider something else.
Budget HD Camera: Panasonic GH4
Although the Panasonic GH4 is a mirrorless camera, it looks and feels like the more expensive, ‘classic’ looking DSLR’s, with its solid, weather-sealed magnesium body. The weight of it in your hands feels nice. It also has a great ergonomic shape that makes it easier to hold for extended periods of time, something that isn’t possible with smaller cameras.
For a mirrorless camera, it has impressive battery life, much better than higher-end models. It has a fully articulating screen that looks and works better than the Sony a5100, and even better than the a6500, allowing you to comfortably look at the screen even in broad daylight. It can shoot at 4K UHD and it doesn’t overheat like its Sony counterparts.
It has an easy-to-access memory card slot located on the body’s side which makes it more convenient to change memory cards if you have the camera connected to a tripod or a gimbal. The GH4 also offers a wide range of shooting formats, and it allows for HDMI outputs where you can directly record onto an external recorder at professional standards sampling (4:2:2).
But here’s the bad news: for a camera at this price range, the autofocus system is pretty bad, even worse than the a5100 (which is 3 times cheaper). It also has a much smaller sensor compared to both the a5100 and the Nikon D3500, which is a camera at its price range. For a camera that costs 3 times more than the a5100, it performs in low lights just as poorly.
Overall, though, the Panasonic G4 is a decent camera for filmmakers who might have a little more budget and are looking to enter the HD fray; just, try not to shoot any night scenes with it.
Mobile Filmmaking Camera: iPhone XS Max 256 GB
You’d be surprised, but the iPhone XS Max 256 GB is actually a very decent filmmaking camera, making it easily one of the most accessible cameras for any filmmaker. It can shoot 4K videos at 60 frames per second with an improved HDR (high dynamic range) compared to other smartphones in the market, which can help you shoot in dynamic light situations.
For a smartphone, it also has great optical image stabilization, and what’s even better is that you can shoot and edit in the same smartphone.
But remember: it’s still just a smartphone: the iPhone XS Max, for all of its impressive shooting capabilities, still won’t have the full functionality and/or range of a DSLR or a mirrorless camera. It’s also an Apple product, which means it notoriously difficult to transfer files from the camera to non-Apple products. And while it’s well under $1000, it lacks in performance when compared to the a5100, which is a hundred dollars cheaper. It also doesn’t have great memory, even the 256GB version, and while you could upload to your cloud storage directly, picture quality might be compromised.
Overall, the iPhone XS Max is the most versatile, most accessible, and easiest to use filmmaking camera on the list. It’s still primarily a smartphone, so don’t expect HD outputs or gimbal mounting (although you could shell out for a good tripod). Still, the iPhone XS Max is a surprisingly effective filmmaking tool given its constraints.