TOP 3 CAMERAS ON A BUDGET FOR VIDEO PRODUCTION
See which cameras Daniel Alexander recommends
I’m often asked by people, which camera should they buy to start their career in cinematography and with so many options out there it can get somewhat confusing when balancing quality vs features vs practicality vs price. Because I know we are all working on a tight budget, I’ve compiled my top 3 choices for cameras between £1290-3600. This is a very quick and brief write up on the cameras mentioned, and each has been chosen from the many models out there from personal experience. Remember this is just a quick overlook of the models I recommend and further research should be done on the camera, which is the most practical for you.
CANON 5D MARK III
The legendary 5D series from Canon soon became an essential in every Indy filmmakers toolkit after it was released. This was mainly down to its beautiful full framed image and cinematic shallow depth of field. The 5D Mark III builds on the success of the former Mark II by adding some much requested features including the ability to film in slow motion and a headphone port to monitor audio being recorded to the device.
The Canon’s are known for being very easy to use and with so many people owning them, there has been a concentrated effort and sharing of knowledge on how to get the best image out of them. This has resulted in endless high quality films, music videos and creative projects being constantly produced by this camera.
The low light abilities from this camera are amazing and the quality of the captured video is beautiful especially when lit carefully and the in camera settings are set to produce a flatter image which allows the best dynamic range from the camera. Another popular trend with this camera is the infamous ‘Magic Lantern’ hack, which is basically a way for the camera to operate further than it was originally designed to do. The latest hack allows the camera to record in ‘RAW’, which is an uncompressed format that will deliver even better images than before (but at the cost of buying some expensive media cards to handle it).
With the flood of new cameras coming to the market, some videographers have complained about the codec the Canon 5D uses, and says it has an almost ‘mushy’ feel to the shadows in the images it captures. This is down to the bitrate the camera records meaning it may not hold up as well when it is being converted to other formats to be displayed on particular platforms such as television broadcast etc.
The Canon 5D Mark III is still a very powerful camera and capable of producing images that could fit into to almost any production respectively. There’s a reason it has been used on countless projects and the quality you will get from this camera rarely disappoints. This is a great tool for many situations, commonly used on indy film projects, music videos and even documentaries. With so many units available it’s not hard to find a good bargain.
PANASONIC LUMIX GH4
This new to the market DSLR is one of the very few models that shoot 4K resolution, not to mention internally without the need for any additional recording hardware. Now 4k resolution may seem a little over-kill at the moment due to the fact not many of us have clients or projects which demand such a large picture, however the real beauty of this which I have found is when you downscale that 4K image back down to the usual 1920×1080 (HD). This method produces a crisper, more detailed image than you would get from a native shooting 1080p camera.
The other amazing thing about this camera is that it is one of the only DSLR’s that I have seen anywhere near this price range that can produce slow motion images of up to 96 frames per second at 1080 resolution. Most cameras can only produce slow motion by reducing the image size significantly (usually 720), and then only achieve 50 frames per second.
The actual image from this camera is very pleasing but different to what you may be used to if coming from lets say a Canon 5D. This is because the image from a Canon 5D is being produced by a full frame sensor (GH4 is cropped), this means the image from the Canon will have a shallower depth of field, a look that many of us have become accustom to as one of the attributes of achieving the ‘film look’. Also because the GH4 has a cropped sensor, it means it will magnify your lenses (x2) making everything look more ‘zoomed in’ meaning you will have to either get wider lenses or simply film from further away to get the images you may be expecting. An example would be that your beloved 50mm lens would now look like a 100mm lens once placed on the GH4. There are workarounds and adapters you can buy to address this (see metabones speedbooster).
Things to watch out for are that it’s not the best camera to film at night with. It doesn’t produce results as good as the Canon range in the dark/low light which many users have become accustom to, so bare this in mind if you have a lot of situations that force you to shoot this way.
All in all this is a great camera, it shoots beautiful images and is a lot sharper than it’s rivals. The high quality slow motion opens a lot of doors for a camera in this price range and the super detailed clear image can create some stunning results you simply can’t match from a lot of other DSLR’s. Some people who primarily shoot short films, narrative work have said at times the camera is a little bit too sharp and getting good colour reproduction on skin tones can sometimes be tricky. You may also want to look at getting a speedbooster adapter so that your lenses aren’t cropped as much. For the price, for the 4K and for the sheer image quality, this camera may possible be a new favourite for a lot of DSLR shooters.
This is the little brother to the Canon C300, a camera that has become a popular fixture in the broadcast community. The C100 is not a DSLR, it is a proper video camera, meaning it was designed with the sole purpose of recording video as opposed to taking still images like a DSLR. This camera shoots at 1080p and produces a beautiful image, which looks very cinematic and has excellent colour reproduction. The image is also a lot sharper than a Canon 5D. As expected from Canon, this camera has truly amazing low light capabilities making it useable in a lot more circumstances.
One of the plus factors for this camera is the ability to record high quality sound straight into the camera with real XLR inputs, where as the DSLR range of cameras tend to have subpar recording components that wouldn’t really be advised for a professional shoot. Also because this has been designed to film professional video from the ground up, it has a lot of tools built into the camera to help capture a better image (zebra patterns, peaking, scopes etc).
One of my favourite features on this camera is it’s built in neutral density filters (ND filters). What ND filters do is basically reduce the amount of light coming into the camera without having to reduce your F-stop and add any additional filters which usually introduce a colour shift. Having ND filters means you can still achieve your shallow depth of field out in the bright sun without having to shoot at a crazy F-stop and adjusting other camera settings.
This camera lacks the ability to shoot slow motion. This is a massive negative for many shooters as slow motion is a common need for many videographers. However because this camera can shoot in 50 frames, there is still a way to achieve a slow motion image and many have been producing some stunning results. It just means a little more tinkering inside your editing software.
The canon C100 is a great camera, mainly because it doesn’t need any additional components for me to get a pleasing cinematic image from it. With built in ND filters, good sound inputs (for external mics, internal mics on any camera will never be ideal for everything) it just works as it should straight away so I can always get the job done quickly and efficiently and most importantly it’s reliable. The lack of real slow motion is a pain and it is considerably more expensive than the rest, but at the end of the day, for a £3,600 camera this competes well with its rivalries and will surely earn it’s value back in no time.
I hope you enjoyed this write up and it brought some clarity to the many camera options out there. For more information or to keep the discussion going find me on Twitter www.twitter.com/dafilms
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