Best Camera For Filmmaking On A Budget (Top 10 For 2020
High quality filmmaking has become more and more obtainable to the masses. Prices of cameras have become more affordable. Requirements of heavy, expensive, production level equipment are a thing of the past. There isn’t a better time than now to start filming.
This article is going to discuss the best camera for filmmaking on a budget. I’ll also discuss aspects of a camera you should be looking for when purchasing your budget film camera. This includes:
- Frame Rates
- Continuous Auto Focus
By the end of this article, you’ll know why these three aspects matter so much. You’ll also be more confident in which camera would be the best for you. This article will start with the most affordable and the price of each camera will increase from there. It will cover a wide range of budgets (from low to high).
Before we hop right into the cameras, let's discuss why resolution is so important.
Why resolution is so important in film making
The media and product development companies (such as Canon) put resolution at the fore-front. You’ll see the megapixel of the photos and resolution of the video. Most people assume that the higher the resolution, the better their image will look. Well, they aren’t talking about other important aspects that resolution brings to the table…
The power of cropping your image
Yes, cropping or re-framing while editing is a common practice. I do this myself on nearly every shoot that I film. I also do it to practically every image that I process through photoshop or light room. Some believe that they purchased a full frame camera they feel like they have to use the entire sensor read-out. Well, they’re wrong.
Cropping is a process of re-framing your video so the composition of the final product is exactly the way you want it. There are many reasons why your composition was incorrect while shooting - but higher resolution can give you the ability to do this.
Rarely when I shoot in 4k do I use the entire frame. 4k gives you the power to digitally zoom into the video and reframe the way you would like. There is little to no loss in the quality (especially when viewed on a mobile device)
I have also cropped 1080p footage as well. You’ll lose a little quality, but it’s hardly noticeable if your story is good enough.
Digital zoom is also an option…
This is an aspect that some seem to pass over about as much as cropping. Digital zoom is the process of zooming into your image digitally instead of optically (through a lens).
This is very common practice if you want to give your video movement but the camera was sitting on a tripod. You would do this in post-processing by adding key-frames at your starting point and at the final depth and location (in the video) of zoom . Once played back, your video would gradually zoom into that point in the video.
This practice isn’t as common as cropping seeing as most would like to achieve this in camera so they don’t lose image quality. Yes, depending on your resolution and depth of zoom, you will lose image quality.
Keep those in mind or write them down. We’re going to move onto the importance of frame rates in film making.
Frame rates: why it matters in filmmaking
If you’ve seen the specs of a camera, and noticed they mention something like, 30p 60p 120p… that represents frame rates. Do not mistake this for 720p or 1080p - those are resolutions.
Usually, anything over 120p or 120 frames per second - are represented by the statement “frames per second”. Remember 720p, 1080p, and 1440p are resolutions, not frame rates. I will be representing frames per second as “fps” in this article, from this point forward. Just to alleviate any confusion it may cause.
But, frame rate can directly affect the overall outcome and feel of your video. Do you want dreamy slow motion? Maybe you want to freeze the action. Or, maybe you just want to catch animals in nature (like a butterfly or hummingbird wings)... all this is achieved with high frame rates.
I always recommend a camera with at least 60 fps. When you export your film in 24 fps - when shot in 60fps, this will give you the ability to slow down the video to 40% of it’s original frame-rate. You'll still maintain a buttery smooth image. There is nothing worse than attempting to use slow motion and you don’t have the frame rates to back it up. That’s when you get the choppy/laggy footage that’s practically unusable.
You can get a camera with frame rates as high (and higher) than 120fps. But keep in mind, you will pay quite a bit more money for the extra frames per second (along with other perks).
Not that you have a little better understanding of frame-rates… let’s move onto autofocus
I recommend continuous autofocus… but not everyone needs it…
This is something you’ll have to determine if you need or not. If you find yourself filming fast moving subjects or you don’t want to be bothered with manually focusing your lens - you should consider getting a camera with continuous autofocus.
You may find yourself not needing it if you plan to shoot on a tripod or are comfortable manually focusing your lens. There are many creative ways to use manual focus as well. A good example is locking your focus at a specific focal length and having your subject walk into focus. It’s a revealing shot, without having to move the camera. Another is pulling away from your subject while your focus is locked… a great way to end a dramatic scene…. There really are countless creative ways to use manual/locked focus.
Getting a camera that doesn’t support continuous autofocus will do one thing for you - save you money. You’ll be able to purchase slightly dated camera with a much lower price-tag.
This is something you’ll have to weigh when determining which camera is best for you. There are great cameras still on the market that don’t support continuous autofocus. If you decide to go with a camera that does support it, you can always turn it off to get those creative focus-locked shots.
Let's move onto the cameras
Now that you better understand what I’ll be discussing and why it’s important, let’s dive right into the cameras - starting with the most affordable.
This is the most affordable camera that I can recommend. Are there better cameras out there? Of course! Can you obtain great results with this camera? Most certainly.
What you’ll get with this camera (I am recommending the kit, seeing as it’s the same price as the body and kit lens only) - is the camera body and the 18-55mm kit lens.
I recommend Canon to people that are just getting into filmmaking because of the colors that come straight out of the camera. They’re spot on, vibrant and accurate. You won’t have to do too much color correcting when you bring your video into post.
This is a great beginners camera - or someone who wants to get a good quality image at a great price.
With all of that being said - you are trading quite a bit of functionality for price. Here are some features you won’t get - but could have if you spent a few hundred more dollars:
As stated previously - if you are just getting into filmmaking this camera is a wonderful start. You’ll be trading a lot of functionality for cost but that could be a good thing. Getting used to not having all of the bells and whistles will make you appreciate them more when you do. It will also make you think outside of the box and be more creative.
For an extra $100 more than the SL2 - you could consider the SL3. This camera offers a lot for the cost. The kit includes the body and the same 18-55mm kit lens.
With this body you’ll be able to achieve a bit more over the SL2. You’ll have the same great color science that comes out of Canon cameras. You’ll also have the same auto focus - but with an addition. Eye detection autofocus.
From this camera forward, every camera will offer some type of continuous autofocus system. This camera specifically, has Canon’s dual pixel autofocus. It’s one of the most reliable autofocus’ on the market.
This in my opinion could be the most affordable bang-per-buck camera. It offers so much, with quite a low price tag. The flip out screen really is a nice touch for various reasons (along with other perks). If it wasn’t for the next camera - I would say it’s the best.
The Canon 80D could be considered by some to be the best all around camera to date. It’s rugged as hell, offers great perks, and is affordable. The camera was released over three years ago, and people still use it to this day (including myself up until a couple weeks ago).
For an extra few hundred dollars over the SL3, you could have these features:
- 1080p 60fps
- 45-point continuous autofocus system(SL3 only has 9)
- Microphone input
- Battery grip compatible
- Flip out screen (better quality over the SL3)
- Much better kit lens - 18-135mm
There are a few things that stood out to me when I purchased the 80D myself (I was using the Rebel T6). The first was the 45 points of autofocus. I knew that was going to be a game-changer for me (and it was). The other was the battery grip.
The battery grip holds two batteries, essentially doubling your runtime. You don’t need to switch batteries as often. For me it wasn’t about that at all. I wanted the battery grip for a better grip. I have larger hands and anything as small of the 80D by itself was just uncomfortable in my hands. The battery grip was the first thing I purchased along with this camera.
The kit lens is also pretty amazing. The speed of the autofocus is immediately apparent versus my T6. Nearly instant focus. I was amazed - and am still amazed by the quality of that kit lens. It don’t think there’s another kit lens that has matched it since.
Again, this is the camera that I started taking filming seriously with. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. You won’t get 4k out of it - but you’ll get amazing results with it, regardless.
When you look at the price of this mirrorless camera - you’ll notice that it’s actually cheaper than the 80D kit. There is a reason for this - let me explain.
I am not a fan of the kit lens. The 55-250mm starts entirely too wide and covers a focal range that isn’t ideal for many people. I’m also not a fan of the quality that’s produced with it. The reason I have included this kit is because it comes with the lens (you can use it if you’d like). As well as two batteries, a Sandisk Extreme memory card (great cards) and a camera bag.
The lens that I actually recommend getting for this body (and all other Sony bodies) is the Tamron 28-75mm.
Let’s discuss what the a6500 will give you in terms of features.
- 4k recording (30fps)
- 1080p recording (up to 120fps)
- 425 phase detection autofocus points
- Continuous Autofocus
- 100MB/s recording (better recording quality)
- Decent low light performance
As you can tell - this is the camera that steps it up on this list. You really won’t find a better camera that has these features at this price point. The 100MB/s recording in 4k results in a great a great quality image that you’re able to crop and reframe. It also allows you to color correct and color grade much easier than you would be able to out of other cameras.
There are a few things that you’ll need to know before purchasing this camera.
- The continuous autofocus isn’t the best.
- Battery life isn’t the best either (recommend purchasing more immediately)
- Kit lens isn’t great (purchase the Tamron, you’ll thank yourself later)
- The body doesn’t feel great in your hands (recommend purchasing a battery grip)
There are a few things that aren’t that great. The main things are the autofocus and the feel of the camera in your hand. As far as the CAF (continuous auto focus) - you will notice that it can take the camera a couple seconds to notice that the subject is out of focus before actually focusing. This is something very apparent when in low light situations.
As far as the feel of the camera - I have larger hands. Sony cameras have never felt great in my hands. I own the A7III currently - and purchased a battery grip along with the camera when I purchased it. One of the best investments (and not that expensive).
The Tamron lens is highly recommended among photographers and videographers. It’s focal range is more ideal than the on in this kit - and the sharpness and AF out of it is spot on.
A lot of people that I’ve talked to over the years discard Fujifilm in terms of video. They don’t consider them to be in the same ballpark as Canon or Sony. Honestly, I thought the same thing too - for years… That’s until I got my hands on the XT-3.
You are going to get a boatload of features as this price point. Fair warning - I am not recommending a lens for this camera. I do not know enough about Fuji’s lenses to recommend anything - but I am recommending the body after using it a couple dozen times over the last 6 months. As far as focal lengths I enjoy shooting with a 24-70mm (or equivalent). That’s just me though.
First things first, this camera has a mirrorless cropped sensor (all the cameras so far have been cropped). The technical term for it is APS-C sensor format. This means, when you attach a lens - lets go with a 50mm - seeing as it has a crop factor of 1.5x. You take your focal length (50mm) - multiply that by 1.50 (50*1.5). The 1.5x crop turned that 50mm lens into a 75mm. It essentially zooms in on your image. This can be bad in some instances (tight places) - and good in others (getting more reach out of a zoom with no loss in image quality). I have recently switched to a full frame camera for the wider field of view with my lenses.
...and the list really goes on. The colors out of camera are great. The fact you can get 4k at 60fps is incredible as well. All of this at a price point of less than $1300 at the time of writing this (the price will drop over time). You also have audio inputs.
Aside from the few cons. This really is a great camera to consider for filming on a budget.
Just to let you know - this is the camera that I currently own. I have owned it for the past month or more. I’vein hours of research comparing other camera brands to come to the conclusion that this camera would work best for me. This in no way makes this recommendation unbiased in anyway. I am just recommending this camera because it is that great.
If you would like to see the photos that I’ve been able to capture from this so far - you can take a look at my blog.
The Sony A7III is the first camera on the list that offers full frame capabilities. Not only that - it offers full frame capabilities across all resolutions. There is only a small 1.18x crop factor in 4k at 30fps. It uses the entire frame at 4k at 24fps. It also uses the full frame in 1080p at 120 fps. This in itself was the determining factor for me. I really enjoy slow motion, full frame, and 4k. A no brainer for me.
The perks you’ll get with this camera include:
- Full frame sensor
- 4k 24fps full frame
- 120fps full frame
- 692 points of autofocus
- In body image stabilization
- Excellent electronic viewfinder (not as detailed as the X-T3 though)
- Log picture profiles
- Dual card slots
- Excellent low light performance
The list goes on here as well. The in body image stabilization is a great feature as well. It’s not as good as Panasonic’s technology (we will get to that shortly) - but it is very good. If you decide to buy a sony lens that has image stabilization built into it - both of those will work together to where you’ll be able to shoot handheld without a problem at all.
While the cons are significant - this camera works wonders for me. I have recently approached photography in a different way with the fact this camera is full frame. I plan to do the same when I settle down in San Diego in the next couple weeks (you can read about my adventures here).
If you are leaning towards purchasing this camera - understand what you are getting yourself into. This is an amazing camera if you understand the cons to it as well. Nothing on this planet is perfect.
There are a couple things I want to get out of the way before we dive deeper into this camera.
The first is, this camera is actually less expensive than the A7III. Why have I put it here on the list? Because there are various accessories you will want to consider purchasing if you decide to go with this camera. This is a mirrorless micro 4/3 camera. There is a crop on this that worse than an APS-C crop. You can get around this by purchasing a speedbooster. This will increase your field of view. A decent one of those (along with the body) will put you around the price of the A7III. This doesn’t count the other accessories that I would recommend either.
You may also be asking yourself why I don’t recommend the GH5S over the original GH5. Well the answer to that is simple - in body image stabilization (IBIS).
The IBIS within this camera is the best on the market within a mirrorless body. Period. It’s nearly as good as the stabilization with a Gopro Hero 7 Black. You can literally walk around and you hardly notice any shake (other than an up and down movement). You’ll notice a sway here and there - but it’s almost like it’s on a gimbal. This is great when filming on a shoulder rig or handheld.
This should be a camera you consider when choosing your film camera. The autofocus on it is great.
It is known, the GH5 and more particularly the GH5S are made for video. They aren’t made for photography. I would have been all over this camera if it wasn’t for the sensor. They will be (or have while you read this), releasing a full frame version of this camera in the future. That is something I’m looking forward to.
We are stepping into the “big boy” territory now. We are going to talk a little about a cinema camera - and how they differ from their DSLR and mirrorless counterparts.
The “C” line of Canon cameras are their cinema versions. They are made for video - that’s it. The C100 Mark II sports a 8.3 MP sensor - you wouldn’t want to take a photo with that. You wouldn’t be able to crop any of it before it started to break down.
You see, the sensor size of camera made for video, doesn’t need to be that high. The maximum output of a 4k video at full resolution is between 6 and 8 mbps. That’s it. You don’t need a sensor with that many megapixels. What remains the same though is the sensor size.
If the size of the sensor remains the same (as a DSLR) - and the MP are less - that means the pixels themselves are larger. Which is exactly correct. You see, this makes for better quality video, in the long-run. You’ll have a much easier and accurate time color grading and editing a clip that was captured with this 8MP sensor vs a sensor that’s 24 MP. Each pixel is larger and filled with more valuable data.
This is essentially Canon’s entry level cinema camera. Think of it as the cinema version of the SL2. But don’t let the C100’s age or lack of higher frame rates or resolution fool you - this is a workhorse of a camera. As you continue to read - you’ll see that Canon’s cinema line of cameras is the industry’s standard for documentary work (for television).
If you find yourself a regular Canon user and want to advance into their Cinema line of Cameras. You may want to checkout the C100 Mk II. Especially if your budget allows it.
Canon C200 Mark II
The C200 Mark II is quite a significant bump up from the C100 - both in functionality and price. If your budget allows for a higher end camera such as this - I would highly recommend it. Here are the improvements over the C100.
- Cinema Raw (Raw footage that allows you to adjust nearly every aspect of the image in post. Much like a raw photograph).
- Cfast 2.0 card support
- 4k at 60fps
- 15 stops of dynamic range (captures more detail in the highlights and shadows)
- XLR inputs for the best audio quality
- Continuous AF
This camera really is the middle-ground of cinema cameras when it comes to Canon. You get a lot for what you pay for. The fact that the camera comes with a raw format changes everything. You can adjust nearly everything about the image without much loss in quality. It’s nearly exactly like editing a raw photo - but you can do this over many frames of a video.
The only con for me is:
That should be expected with a camera that shoots raw and 4k at 60fps. I wouldn’t say this camera is in line with something like a RED (although I’ve never been a fan of the overpriced RED). This is a workhorse of a camera that’s made for run and gun documentaries. Keep your eye on this one if you ever see yourself having the budget for it.
The C300 is the standard for television documentary broadcast. Most TV shows use this camera - for a very good reason. Its recording and editing capabilities. Here are the aspects of the C300 that are better than the C200.
- 4k 10bit 4:2:2 recording internally (versus externally)
- 2k 10 bit 4:4:4 up to 60fps
- HD (1080p) 12 bit 4:4:4 up to 60fps (much better color correction, accuracy, and grading capabilities)
- 15 stops of Dynamic Range
- Can record 4K RAW externally and internally at the same time
- Continuous Autofocus
The ability to edit in raw this color spaces (4:4:4) is something that very few cameras can do - and none at this price-point. Again, the only con to this camera is:
If you find yourself in a position where this camera is in your budget - give it a serious look. Rent the camera (or any camera you aren’t sure of) before you purchase it. Take it for a test drive, if you will. This one in particular, won’t disappoint.
There ya have it!
That’s about it folks. Those are the camera that I would recommend for those on a budget. The article covered many different budgets. From those who are just starting to those with thousands of dollars in their budget.
I hope this article answered you questions. I also hope you are much more comfortable in making a decision on which camera to purchase. I know the feeling of purchasing the best camera for filmmaking on a budget. I was there years ago, just like you.
If you have a chance - be sure to check out my blog - to understand more about what goes on in my head.
As always, thank you so much for reading. Until next time, keep shooting!