Filmmakers are always looking for equipment – especially cameras. But too often we make our decisions based on specifications or hype in the market and neglect to choose a camera that really fits our individual needs.
There has never been a single camera that offers a perfect solution for everyone. If there was such a thing, most camera companies would be out of business.
However, much of the online discussion has led you to believe that there is such a camera. That there is a kind of holy grail when it comes to choosing the camera. However, this was clearly never the case and will not be the case for the foreseeable future.
An Arri Alexa may be everyone's dream camera, but the majority of street productions are best served with a different tool. New mirrorless cameras like that Fuji XT-3 will serve smaller productions really well, but will not work as effectively with full film production. No camera is perfect for every project.
The best thing you can do when choosing a camera is to focus on your needs –
What kind of content do you photograph? Do you work with a team or alone? Is 4K really important? Do you already have a lot of glass in EF version?
These kinds of considerations should be your first thoughts before you even look at the cameras out there. Otherwise, you're in a sea of camera specs and YouTube ratings and can press the wrong camera trigger.
With that in mind, I'd like to break down some of the key categories that most new cinema and video cameras fall into. I'll also highlight some of my favorite cameras in each category so you can narrow down your selection and make the right call.
Let's go …
THE JACK OF ALL TRADES
If you are a freelancer and record everything from music videos to corporate spots to narrative productions, you need a Swiss Army knife from a camera. A tool that is versatile and rolls with the punches, no matter what you throw at them.
As mentioned above, no camera is perfect for ANY shooting situation. However, if you need to buy a single camera to handle a variety of productions, you should definitely consider the following options:
– – Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro G2
– – Canon C100 II / C200
– – Panasonic EVA 1
All three cameras can be incredibly useful for almost any type of production. Especially because they are all ready to use – unlike DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, which require a lot of custom rigging and are less adaptable.
Nevertheless, every camera naturally has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, while the URSA Mini Pro G2 delivers a more cinematic image than the Canon cameras on this list, poor light performance is nowhere near as good. The EVA1 offers amazing usability in the field but, unlike the G2, cannot internally record RAW.
Depending on your exact requirements, you can narrow your selection further. If you love storytelling but really spend most of your time reporting on events, this should determine your camera choice. Be honest about your own needs and always choose the tool that best suits your specific situation. Do not buy a camera based on what you will need in the future. Buy the tool that currently serves you best.
HIGH END TV & FILM
Most filmmakers reading this are probably not on the market for a high-end cinema camera, but I would like to highlight a few here. If nothing else, I hope to show that these cameras are really in their own category.
The vast majority of filmmakers don't need a high-end cinema camera. It will not bring them more work, it will not objectively improve their work (only skill can) and it will definitely not be worth the purchase price unless you use it day after day.
For medium-sized to large production companies (or freelancers who work on high-end appearances), these first-class cameras are still the ones to beat:
– – Arri Alexa
– – RED twins / monstro / helium
– – Sony Venice
All these cameras have their strengths and can deliver absolutely breathtaking pictures.
Personally, I'm a big fan of Arri. I think they have been the gold standard of digital cinematography and since Alexas came on the market. Of all the high-end digital cameras, the Alexa is still the camera to beat after all these years. You only have image quality, usability, workflow and practically everything else to a perfect science … But you will pay for it.
I've never been a big fan of RED cameras (even less now that all legal / ethical issues abound), but they offer a cheaper entry into the high-end market and cannot be ignored. The Sony Venice is an excellent alternative to the Alexa, especially for those who are not only looking for excellent image quality, but also want a sensor with a larger format.
However, none of these cameras is optimal for the vast majority of filmmakers. Of course not because of the quality, but because of the price and ease of use. These cameras require more on-set support, (sometimes) more crew, and a more robust post-production pipeline.
It's a worthwhile trade for larger productions, but for anything more modest, these cameras can be overkill.
NARRATIVE INDIE PRODUCTIONS
If you mainly shoot narrative productions but don't have the budget for the premium cinema cameras listed above, there are countless options.
For this post I will not include mirrorless cameras / DSLR cameras in this category. While they can be an excellent tool for some narrative productions, they're not so great for shooting with so many of the budget-friendly cinema programs that have emerged recently.
Years ago, before Blackmagic and others came up with affordable cinema camera options, we had no choice but to equip our Canon 5Ds or Panasonic GH cameras. These were exciting times and certainly paved the way for where we are now, but for most filmmakers there are simply better options today.
Unlike in the days of DSLR, we no longer have to do without ergonomics or user-friendliness for image quality – we can have the best of both worlds. And while hybrid stills / video cameras are still a viable option for filmmaking filmmakers, cameras like this are often the better choice:
– – Blackmagic Pocket 6K
– – Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro G2
– – Panasonic Varicam LT
Yes, I've added Blackmagic to this list twice because they simply lead the charge in that department. No other manufacturer serves the indie film market like BMD, although companies like Kinefinity or Z Cam have become competitors.
The Pocket 6K in particular is an absolute beast. It's not as ergonomic as the URSA Mini Pro, but it's much easier to upgrade than most DSLRs, and it's ridiculous quality for the price. Although none of us really need 6K, it is pretty incredible to be able to capture so much resolution, dynamic range, and overall picture quality in one case that costs less than many conventional still cameras.
For those on a larger budget, the URSA Mini Pro G2 is obviously the next logical step. In particular, thanks to the manual control of the body, the built-in ND filters and the possibility of being configured for shoulder-mounted recordings without third-party rigs.
I also had to include the Panasonic Varicam LT as it is one of the most exciting cameras today. It delivers absolutely beautiful pictures and offers the stability and reliability you would expect from a brand that has been producing professional video cameras for decades. It is the most expensive tool in the range, but it is worth it – especially for owners who rent their cameras, since it is less common and therefore more in demand as a rental device.
A number of other considerations play a role in the inclusion of documentation content. While the narrative is about the production value and ease of use on the set, the documentary work is about having the maximum ability to grasp everything that is going to turn you upside down.
Variables such as low light sensitivity, portability and camera size play an important role. Every documentary filmmaker will have different needs, so I might not be able to list every viable option. But these three can be a good place to start:
– – Panasonic GH5S
– – Sony A7S II / A7R IV
– – Sony FS5
I sometimes make it difficult for Sony with their color science, but there is no debate that they pack their cameras full of incredible functions. For this reason, of course, two of the three slots on my list are occupied by Sony cameras.
The FS5 would be my personal choice due to its structure and functions (especially built into ND filters), but the A7 cameras have their own advantages – especially full screen functions and a smaller body size. Documentary filmmakers often need smaller cameras to travel, shoot inconspicuously, or shoot interviews without intimidating their motives. The A7 lineup definitely delivers on all fronts and is therefore ideal for documentary filmmakers.
The GH5S does a lot of the same, of course, but with better color science and a smaller sensor. Personally as someone obsessed with colorI would tend to the GH5S, but for those who want a full-screen look and even better ability in low light conditions, the Sony cameras are still hard to beat.
CORPORATE, WEDDING & EVENT COVER
Many filmmakers make most of their livelihood with corporate, event, or wedding projects. This has been the case for ages and still is today.
If you fall into this category, you should definitely consider the following options:
– – Fuji XT-3
– – Canon C100 II
– – Panasonic EVA 1
The Fuji is the only hybrid camera on this list, but all I had to do was take it because of the color science. For projects where color is important – especially wedding videos – there is probably no better option.
Correcting skin tone problems in the mail can be extremely difficult. For projects with high volume and a fast turnaround, it is always best to record the best possible quality in the camera. The Fuji lights up here.
Unfortunately, it's still a mirrorless camera and not as easy to use and shoot as the other cameras on this list. For filmmakers who need a better out-of-the-box solution, the C100 II or EVA1 is the way to go.
Both cameras are characterized by excellent ergonomics and are easy to take even under difficult circumstances where there is little set-up time available. The C100 II has a bad reputation because it has fewer features (and poor specification) on paper, but the images it delivers should speak for themselves. Since I always try to drive home, paper information doesn't tell the whole story … so don't discount Canon yet!
I would like to address one last category, which I would call the starter camera. These cameras offer some of the best entry points for filmmakers who are just getting their feet wet and want to keep their budget in check while still buying a powerful tool.
If that sounds like you, consider the following options:
– – Blackmagic pocket camera 4K
– – Fuji XT-30
– – Sony A6000
These cameras cost between $ 450 and $ 1,300, but offer a quality that was only available to much more expensive cameras a few years ago.
The BM Pocket 4K is best suited for the aspiring DP or author who rotates a lot of narrative and commercial content. For the price, it is absolutely unbeatable and an amazing camera not only for beginners but also for advanced shooters. It has the best image quality of any camera on this list and, thanks to its MFT frame, can be combined with affordable lens options from so many different manufacturers.
The Fuji XT-30 is another great alternative. Priced below $ 1,000, this camera is well above its weight and offers many of the same features and color science as its bigger brother, the X-T3.
And then of course there is the Sony A6000. This camera is a few years old now, but still very popular with aspiring filmmakers. It can suffer from these known Sony color problems, but at under $ 450, it's hard to argue given the impressive specs and versatility.
The cameras listed above are definitely not a complete list. There are so many other options that should also be considered depending on the category you and your work fall into. These are just a few of my personal highlights.
The most important aspect should be the importance of choosing a camera based on what you actually need for your work. Do not listen to what others are saying and do not buy a camera just because it is popular right now.
Take a close look at where you are in your career, what kind of projects you are doing, what logistical requirements you have, and let yourself be focused on them. For most filmmakers, there are probably only two or three options that really fit their needs. So don't waste time worrying about equipment that ultimately won't serve you.
And don't forget the used market. Older cameras such as the original BM Pocket Camera or the Lumix GH2 are still viable options even in these years. If you need to save some money and want more for your money, eBay is your best friend.
If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments below! I would like to hear which camera you prefer to take photos of and which cameras you recommend for each category.
And keep following me Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for further updates!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!