The ultimate question, “What camera should I get?” I think there are 3 very important factors when choosing a camera:
- Price – Be sure to factor in what else you need to get the camera up and running!
- Content – Do you NEED higher frame rates? Low Light? Image Quality? Stills?
- Rent? – Do you need this particular camera for one shoot or will it be your work horse?
Remind yourself, there is no best camera! Let’s take a look at the cameras I would recommend, listing them by price:
2K-5K$ : Sony a7S | BMD Production 4K Camera | Canon 5D Mark III | Canon C100
5K$+ : Sony FS700 | Canon 1DC
- 18MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
- DIGIC 4 Imaging Processor
- 3.0″ Clear View Vari-Angle LCD
- Full HD 1080p Video With Manual Exposure
- Compatible with Canon EF and EF-S Lenses
- 3.7 fps Burst Shooting & 100-6400 ISO
Strengths: The best part about this camera is the price. This is one of the best starting points you can make into any film work. You don’t need anything but a lens, battery, and memory card to start shooting. It offers 50/60p at 720p which isn’t HD, but having the option when you need it is key. It also shoots stills, which many people getting into video can learn a lot a great deal from. The articulating screen is incredibly useful as well. You also get access to Magic Lantern, which in my opinion is one of the best things about Canon Cameras. It’s also a huge reason why you shouldn’t purchase the more expensive versions and it should also be noted that the T4i and T5i don’t really have any benefit over this camera for video. This was shot on a t2i (Same sensor), and it’s incredible.
Weaknesses: No peaking or focus assist (without magic lantern). Mostly plastic, not much weather sealing. The image quality and codec are quite dated at this point. Has some aliasing, rolling shutter and moire. Monitoring is almost pointless because the output drops to 480p when recording. No usable audio, but it does have a small mic for syncing purposes.
- Super 16mm Sized Image Sensor
- Active Micro Four Thirds Lens Mount
- 13 Stops of Dynamic Range
- Records Full HD 1920×1080 CinemaDNG RAW
- Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) at 220 Mbps
Strengths: The Image quality you can achieve with this camera is incredible for the price. Absolutely the best part about this camera is the image quality. The dynamic range, ability to record RAW and ProRes. If you really want to dive head into the filmmaking world for a relatively inexpensive cost, this is the camera for you.
Weaknesses: To make this into a reliable filming camera you have to put a decent amount of money into the system. The battery life is terrible, so expect to have to purchase many of them or an alternative battery solution. To combat the Micro Four Thirds, you’ll need to purchase a speedbooster which costs almost as much as the camera itself. No usable audio. Very limited white balance settings.
- 16.05 MP Digital Live MOS Sensor
- DCI 4K 4096×2160 at 24p
- UHD 4K 3840×2160 at 30p/24p
- Full HD up to 60p
- 3.0″ 1,036k-Dot OLED Touchscreen Monitor
- 2,359K-Dot OLED Live View Finder
- Support for 59.94p, 23.98p, 50p, & 24p
- 4:2:2 8-Bit or 10-Bit HDMI Output
- Magnesium Alloy, Weather-Sealed Body
Strengths: Where do I begin, this camera is incredible for the money. First of all, it can shoot Internal 4k. INTERNAL 4K for under 2,000$! It records at a higher color depth than any Canon’s in the price range (4:2:2 8-bit). It shoots up to 96fps at 1080p, which is very very useful. It has great battery life. Moire is not really noticeable, specifically at 4K. The camera is very versatile, you get an incredibly detailed image at 4K, the ability to shoot high frame rates if needed, and it’s all within a very small package. You don’t need much to get up and running with this system and it’s certainly a fantastic investment. Oh, and it shoots stills!
Weaknesses: It’s low light performance isn’t as strong as the a7S or 5Dm3 because of it’s M43 sensor size. Still falls victim to rolling shutter. Without a speedbooster, getting a shallow depth of field and focusing can be difficult at times. Some claim that the picture it produces looks “digital,” which is caused by how sharp the image looks out of the camera; this is certainly something you will have to decide for yourself.
Bonus: This camera also has an addon device that lets you do even more. Check it out here. Adding the ability to record 4k 10bit with an external recorder while also adding 2 XLR inputs as it’s main features. This allows you to purchase the camera in stages, getting the camera first and if you need these added features you can purchase this later.
- 2.5K Image Sensor
- 12-bit RAW, ProRes and DNxHD Formats
- 13 Stops of Dynamic Range
- 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30p Frame Rates
- EF and ZE Lens Mount
- LCD Touchscreen with Metadata Entry
- SDI Video Output and Thunderbolt Port
- Mic/Line Audio Inputs
- Records to Removable SSD Drives
- Includes DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope
Strengths: Being able to shoot Raw for under 2,000$ is a huge deal. Shoots at 2432×1366 creating the ability to crop or downscale to 1080p. The image quality is amazing with 13 stops of dynamic range. SDI out makes securing external recording easier. Has focus peaks and Zebras.
Weaknesses: Very bad in low light. No high frame rate. It’s very hard to deal with the small sensor size on the EF mount, the M43 mount makes adapting lenses much easier. Be warned though, the M43 mount is passive meaning you don’t have iris control. The camera is slightly dated when compared to their 4k and Pocket Cinema Camera. Just like the pocket camera you have to invest in more equipment to get this camera up and running: batteries, audio, storage, and adapters.
- 12.2MP Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
- BIONZ X Image Processor
- 3.0″ 921.6k-Dot Tilting LCD Monitor
- XGA 2.36M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
- Full HD Recording in XAVC S
- 4:2:2 UHD 4K Output via HDMI
- Full Pixel Read-Out, S-Log2 Gamma
- Expandable Sensitivity: ISO 50-409600
- Fast Intelligent 25-Point AF System
Strengths: The most talked about thing regarding this camera is it’s low light performance. It can quite literally see in the dark. It’s full frame which creates great cinematic looking images with it’s depth of field. The ability to go into psudeo APS-C, which essentially uses a smaller portion of the sensor to create it’s image, increasing the focal distance of the lens you are using. No problems with aliasing or moire. Has the ability to shoot in S-log2, which gives more control to someone looking to color grade their work. Shoots to a decently robust XAVC codec. Can shoot 60fps at 1080p.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness to this camera is rolling shutter, which is somewhat better in it’s APS-C mode. The record button is in a terrible location. Can only record 4k with an external recorder. Can only record 8bit (internal or external). Poor histogram readout. Sony’s lenses are not very good for video(no mechanical focus), and their choices are slim (5 Full frame lenses)
- 4K Super 35mm Sensor with Global Shutter
- Canon EF Compatible Lens Mount
- Records 4K (3840×2160) & HD (1920×1080)
- Apple ProRes 422 (HQ)
- Future Compressed CinemaDNG RAW Support
- 12 Stops of Dynamic Range
- 6G-SDI Output for Ultra HD via One Cable
- 5″ Touchscreen LCD (800×480 Resolution)
- Includes DaVinci Resolve and UltraScope
Strengths: This is the first camera in the list that shoots 4K (Actually UHD) and has Global shutter (no rolling shutter). It records to ProRes, and soon will be able to record to CinemaDNG Raw. Creates a beautiful image, 12 stops of dynamic range (Notice that is less than their earlier cameras), and is Full Frame to give that filmic look. Outputs SDI for monitoring and recording. Has a decently large screen to monitor shots. Free of aliasing and moire.
Weaknesses: Poor low light performance. Little white balance choices. Little ISO choices (200-800). Just like many of Black Magic’s cameras, you’ll need to invest in extra equipment to use the camera. Speaking of extra equipment, the battery is built in. Thus if you want extra battery life you’ll have to invest in an external battery. Ergonomics and controls are not usable without some type of support.
- 22.3MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
- DIGIC 5+ Image Processor
- 61-Point High Density AF
- Full HD 1080/30p and 720/60p Formats
- Built-In HDR and Multiple Exposure Modes
- Extended ISO Range (50-102400)
- Up to 6.0 FPS Continuous Mode
- Dual CF and SD Memory Card Slots
- Durable Magnesium-Alloy Construction
Strengths: Full frame that creates a very cinematic look. Has great low light capability. No moire or aliasing issues. Very ergonomic to use meaning you can change settings on the fly with relative ease. Shoots fantastic stills. Has the ability to shoot Raw with Magic Lantern. Extensive lens support.
Weaknesses: Lacks the image quality of it’s competitors. .h264 Codec is quite compressed. Only shoots 1080p. Can’t shoot high frame rate at 1080p. Still has rolling shutter.
- Super 35mm 8.3MP CMOS Sensor
- 1920×1080 60/50i, 24/25p, PF30, PF24
- Dual Pixel CMOS AF Hardware Upgrade
- EF Lens Mount
- ISO 320 to 80,000
- Uncompressed HDMI Output with Timecode
- Canon Log and Wide DR Gamma
- Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card Slots
- Two XLR Audio Connectors
- Built-In ND Filters with Manual Controls
Strengths: Creates a beautiful image with a Super 35mm sensor, wide dynamic range, and uses a 4K sensor. Light and ergonomic for documentary style work. Uses the same sensor as the C300, thus if you combine this with an external recorder you get the same exact image you would from a C300. Amazing Low light performance. Built in ND filters. 2 phantom powerXLR Audio inputs makes solo work manageable. Built in stereo mic works well. Has great peaking and histogram features along with a great LCD screen. C-log which has great skin tone rendition.
Weaknesses: Unusable viewfinder. No high frame rate for slow motion. AVCHD is a dated codec and leaves little room for grading.
- 4K Exmor Super 35mm CMOS Sensor
- Capture 1920 x 1080/60p AVCHD Video
- 4K/2K 12-Bit RAW
- Up to 960 fps Super Slow Motion
- CineGamma Curves Including S-Log2
- ISO 320 to 64,000
- 3.5″ LCD Screen with VF Attachment
- Dual XLR, HDMI & 3G/HD-SDI Connectivity
- SD/SDHC/SDXC and Memory Stick Duo Slots
Strengths: If you are looking for a camera that shoots high frame rates, this is it. It can shoot 240 FPS at 1080p! Has a 4K sensor and the ability the shoot 4K with an external recorder. Creates a gorgeous image. Built in ND Filters. Great battery life. Decent low light performance. No aliasing or Moire issues unless you are shooting at very high frame rates.
Weaknesses: The LCD Screen is awkwardly placed. Peaking is hard to use. Low bit rate AVCHD. Ergonomics are very awkward.
- 18.1Mp CMOS Sensor
- 4K Cinematic Quality Video
- 1920 x 1080 Full HD Video
- Dual DIGIC 5+ Image Processors
- Eye-Level Pentaprism Viewfinder
- Dual CF Card Recording Media
- Canon EF Lens Mount
- Magnesium Alloy Body
- 61-Point High Density Auto Focus
Strengths: Creates a full frame look with it’s Super 35mm sensor. Shoots 4k internally. Shoots incredible stills. Uses clog. Doesn’t have moire or aliasing problems. Works in extreme weather conditions.
Weaknesses: Overpriced. Shoots to compact flash which can be expensive for 4K recording. Doesn’t have XLR ports.
Reviews: Philip Bloom