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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
- Budget HD Camera: Panasonic GH4
- Mobile Filmmaking Camera: iPhone XS Max 256 GB
- Things To Consider While Buying Cameras For Filmmaking
- Filmmaking Cameras - FAQs
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.
Things To Consider While Buying Cameras For Filmmaking
Today more than ever, filmmaking is no longer associated with professional filmmakers. With the right camera in your hand, no one can stop you from shooting a masterpiece! Plus, the choices presented before us make it easy to choose a camera that checks most of our boxes: the quality of the picture, price, storage options, and so on.
Before finding the best camera for yourself, you should know which type of camera you need — Do you need superior video quality? Will you shoot high-quality videos only? Are you looking for professional features? Will you appreciate good battery life? All of these questions can help you pinpoint the camera in no time.
If you aren’t a professional filmmaker, a mirrorless or DSLR camera would be the perfect choice for low-budget filming. To find one of the sorts (and others), there are several factors to consider — read on to learn more.
While the price might be the ultimate dealbreaker for you when camera shopping, there are also a few considerations to mind. Unlike shooting videos with your phone (check out the winner in the Android vs. iPhone cameras for videos, using a full-on camera offers a whole new experience. From frame rates to sensor sizes to digital stabilization, it can help you make an educated choice.
Videos are generally shot at 24 or 30 frames per second, but many commercial cameras deliver faster frame rates. Faster frame rates are essential for HD video; some cameras won’t offer fast frames even at the highest resolution. Considering the make and model of cameras today, the majority deliver a 25fpm video.
For comparison purposes, 60p footage will do nicely with showcasing motion, which makes it a suitable option for capturing sudden bursts of action. The faster the frame rates, the more vivid and true-to-form the video.
The resolution of a video camera, or a regular camera, conditions the clafootage’s rity and image quality. In general, 1080p/Full HD is the standard resolution in most cameras today, with some of the more cutting-edge models coming in at 8K. If you tend to shoot videos in low-light conditions, you should find one with optimal HD resolution.
In that context, the optimal video resolution is 4K — the standard video output most TVs offer today. Some of the best filmmaking cameras deliver super realistic 4K resolution. (Canon cameras are usually the go-to filmmaking camera used today).
Regarding modern-day cameras, you can distinguish by their auto-focus modes. For instance, the smartphone camera lens on your iPhone or Android phone makes a perfect vlogging camera with slick auto-focus mode, so you don’t have to manually adjust the image stabilization. The image quality of a photograph taken with the newest iPhone camera closely resembles that of beginner cameras.
Moreover, when it comes to video quality, image stabilization is key. The auto-focus feature in video mode differs from one camera to the next, and it mostly depends on the lens in use and the camera itself.
Image Stabilization Feature
To shoot video, the camera you’re using has to have strong image stabilization options. Speaking of stabilizing the image while shooting videos, many think of tripods designed to hold the camera body (especially while shooting slow-motion shots for the best subject tracking performance.
Cameras with in-body image stabilization allow for more creative liberties while shooting moving objects. Today, most cameras come with image-stabilizing modes to minimize camera shake. Lastly, external stabilization is made possible by a gimbal device — it allows for smooth footage when the camera isn’t equipped with such an option.
The design of video cameras today tends to be more boxy and bulky, making using the camera rather inconvenient. The ergonomic design of a video camera allows you to hold the device in the most convenient way to shoot high-quality videos or stills.
Today, most full-frame cameras are hard to handle without additional gear, but you can still find one with a nice grip for shooting handheld. Even though many will argue that the resolution is the single-most important feature of a camera, the form factor, video codecs, and recording formats are a few features that are vital for a great camera.
A camera’s imaging sensor conditions the depth of the field you’re shooting. For instance, most full HD video cameras come with a CMOS sensor. A large sensor translates to a full-frame camera you can use to capture a more shallow, cinematic-looking depth of the field, whereas a smaller sensor will deliver a deeper field depth. In the latter case of a smaller sensor, more objects are in focus.
Today, you can find cine cameras with a full-frame sensor, making them an awesome choice for aspiring filmmakers already good photographers. For instance, one of the best hybrid cameras, the Panasonic LUMIX GH5 II, appeals most to videographers. It packs a micro four-thirds sensor for superior video quality in obscure-light conditions.
Depth Of Field
The greater the field depth, the more colors your video will have. High-quality images translate to various brightness levels and greater dynamic range. You might be surprised that a pocket cinema camera (hint, the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera) can offer quite a dynamic range and excellent image quality.
Compared to trending smartphone cameras for photography, some renowned manufacturers like Apple and Samsung boast superb megapixel quality images that still look like they lack something (hint, depth).
Inarguably, the quality of the image is at the top of the must-have features of a camera. The best cameras will deliver superior-quality pictures, whether it’s a cinematic aesthetic or a film-like vibe.
In essence, the picture quality can be tweaked by the camera’s settings. For instance, grain, vibrancy, shadows, and highlights can influence the overall look and quality of the picture. When looking for the best cameras, look for dual native ISO features — it reduces the noise and gives you a much clearer picture.
In today’s digital world, you want a camera that can easily connect to an external monitor. Many mirrorless cameras come with a USB port or a flash sync. Moreover, you’d want a camera with multiple connectivity ports like a mic, AV out, and HDMI. When it comes to HDMI ports, make sure to go for a full-sized one that’ll allow you to connect an external recorder for better video quality and more professional-looking results.
You’ll find USB ports as the standard connectivity port in compact cameras and DSLRs, with the distinction that DSLRs boast mini USB types. The standard connectivity port is USB 2.0, but it isn’t uncommon to find more and more video recording cameras with USB 3.0 ports.
On average, internal storage isn’t enough to hold your video material for both audio and video recording cameras. You can use memory cards of different storage limits to hold your snaps and videos.
For instance, an hour of 4K video will take up around 45GB of storage space, so remember to use a memory card around that range.
A well-rounded camera doesn’t have to cost a fortune unless you’re Steven Spielberg and want to have the best of the best full-frame lenses for different film simulation modes. A decent filmmaking camera can cost anywhere from $100 to $300, but you can probably find a second-hand gem that you can use.
In the upper price range, a professional cinema camera (like a mirrorless camera) can cost up to $9,000 or more, but those are really for pros.
When purchasing a brand-new camera, the dealership will include a warranty leaflet you can use to get reimbursed if the gadget malfunctions to no fault of yours. When you get the warranty leaflet, ensure you understand the terms and conditions that apply if you wish to return the item.
Remember that not every retailer will include warranties, so you might want to consider purchasing a camera from a retail shop that offers warranties.
It goes without saying that no-name brands will often fall short in delivering the expected results, as opposed to household names. The brand reputation is highly important regarding the durability and overall quality of the product.
Sure, you can try your luck with an indie brand offering a promising video camera and see how you like it; but remember not to splurge too much in case you hit and miss.
For instance, you have Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and other industry giants that rarely disappoint. To that extent, it’s only logical that the price tag will correlate to the quality offered.
Online Reviews and Ratings
Choosing the right camera can be easy if you filter out the bad apples first. Review user reviews and ratings to see what others think after using a particular camera model. In all fairness, there might be some false reviews out there, so be sure to check relevant rating sites.
If you know what you’re looking for (perhaps a camera with great low-light performance) or a model with solid video editing options, you can neglect the poor design ratings, for example, and focus on the traits you’re looking for.
Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker or a seasoned photographer, you probably understand the importance of a well-rounded camera in the end product. From price ranges to feature options, there are many considerations to consider before splurging on a camera.
If you’ve set your mind on a hybrid camera, you probably appreciate a good dynamic range, among other attributes like raw recording and low-light quality images. Moreover, you probably want a camera with interchangeable lenses to experiment with different raw slow-motion videos, for example.
From full frame sensors to HD videos to high image quality in obscure weather conditions, you must consider several aspects to find the right camera for your needs. Whenever you feel like using some pointers, you can circle back to this article and see exactly what to look for in a camera.
Filmmaking Cameras – FAQs
1) Which is the best camera for making movies?
Film students usually use the Canon EOS R7 camera to shoot movies. Other commercial cameras include Sony FX6, Panasonic Lumix BS1H, and others.
2) How much do I need to invest in cinema cameras?
A brand new 35mm film camera packed with a standard lens is priced around $300 to $500. An SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) digital camera costs around $1,000 (lens not included).
3) Which is good for films: DSLR or mirrorless cameras?
Both DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) and mirrorless cameras are a good fit for filmmaking. A DSLR delivers premium cinematic-quality images, while a mirrorless one is perfect for shallow focus and low-light performance.
4) How to clean a cinema-making camera effortlessly?
Use an air-blower and a soft-bristled brush to gently wipe off the dirt. Soft-bristled goat hair brushes are soft and won’t scratch the sensitive lens. Use a microfiber cloth and a lens-cleaning solution to clear away the smudges.