Down & Dirty DV’s Video Camera Buyer’s Guide
Choosing a video camera to buy or rent is a serious investment and there are now more choices and features to consider than ever before. No worries, Down and Dirty DV has your back.
The most daunting part of the process is researching… What new and established cameras are out there? What do they cost? How do they stack up to one another? You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. Here is a select list of some of the most popular pro, semi-pro, and starter cameras on the market from DSLR’s to Super 35mm video cameras on sale at our affiliate partner’s B&H Photo and Video. This camera store is still a work in progress and will be growing and morphing into an even more helpful resource in the coming months, so stay tuned.
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w/ 18-135mm Lens Kit
There were other DSLR cameras that came first, but the Canon 7D is the one that really put DSLR cameras on the indie film map. For a long time this was arguably the most popular and beloved DSLR camera and often the first video camera for of thousands of film students and self-taught amateurs the world over. With a cheap price, big imaging chip and interchangeable lenses it’s still a favorite for broke filmmakers and those that wish to straddle the gap between still photography and video.
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- Lens 35mm Equivalent of 29-216mm
- 18.0 Megapixels
- 3.0″ LCD
Black Magic Ursa 4K Cinema Camera
This is perhaps the single most intriguing camera to be announced at NAB 2014 – the all-new Black Magic Ursa. What’s the big deal? Where to start… 4K Global Shutter CMOS Sensor – meaning no more rolling shutter jello frames when you pan, a 1080p HD 10.1″ flip out LCD Screen (yes you read that right 10.1 INCHES) – so you can put the $ you were gonna spend on an external monitor back on the screen, XLR audio with phantom power – an important feature that’s sorely missing from Black Magic Cinema’s other game-changing cameras- the The BMC 4K, The BMC 2K and the cute little BMC Pocket Camera. All of this in a camera body for only $6K with a Canon EF lens mount is insane. (For $1500K more you can get the model with a PL mount to work use with top of the line cinema lenses.)
- 4K (3840 x 2160p) Global Shutter CMOS Sensor
- 12 Stops of Dynamic Range
- 10.1″, 1080p Flip-Out LCD Screen
- Dual 5″ Touchscreens for Menu Access
- Records CinemaDNG RAW and Pro Res 422 HQ
- 12G-SDI Output for 10-Bit 4:2:2 4K
- Dual CFast 2.0 Card Slots
- 2x XLR Audio Inputs with Phantom Power
4K Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4
The newest entry in Panasonic’s popular Lumix GH DSLR series is the 4K-capable Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4. With a price tag under $2000.00, the GH4 has an adjustable LCD Screen – a nice plus in DSLR crowd. It internally records 4:2:0 8-bit AVC-HD video to SD cards, but the real value comes via it’s HDMI port that allows you to record 4:2:2 8-bit or 4:2:2 10-bit video via an external video recorder like the popular Atomos Ninja 2 or Atomos Ninja Blade recorders, which I personally use to record 4:2:2 10-bit video from my own trusty Canon C-100. (However, it’s worth noting that unlike the Canon C-100, the GH4 can’t record to SD cards while outputting a 4:2:2 10-bit signal over HDMI, but then again the GH4 also costs $3000.00 less than the C-100.)
- 16.05 MP Digital Live MOS Sensor
- DCI 4K 4096 x 2160 at 24p
- UHD 4K 3840 x 2160 at 30p/24p
- Full HD up to 60p
- 3.0″ 1,036k-Dot OLED 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
- High-Speed 49-Point Autofocus
- Magnesium Alloy, Weather-Sealed Body
The Panasonic HVX-200 was the first tapeless HD prosumer camera that really caught on with the indie crowd and signaled the death of tape. If you know what you’re doing behind the lens, you can really work the hell out of this camera. My man, Benjamin Ahr Harrison (who wrote the music video chapter of my latest book) used this camera for most of his dope music videos including F.O.E.’s “Mic Check” and Jake Lefco’s “Teeth Chatterer”.
Canon’s T2i and 7D cameras are both fine entry-level DSLR cameras to get you in the game, but if you’re ready to take your DSLR game to the next level with an even bigger full-frame chip, the Canon 5D is a serious DSLR camera for serious professionals that want the most image-quality bang for the buck. If you’re cool with the various adjustments you have to make to shoot DSLR video, this is an excellent choice for commercials, music videos, corporate and narrative work.
This is Panasonic’s entry into the fast-growing DSLR camera field. While I don’t know much about this camera, the filmmaker’s I’ve met that own it swear by it. It has a micro 4/3” chip and records in edit-, podcast- and viewing-friendly H.264 format. Notably, over some of it’s main rivals, it has continuous auto-focus capability and HDMI outputs. Not too shabby.
This camera appears to be an affordable answer to a lot of DSLR woes – it has a big Super 35mm chip in a user-friendly video camera body. Apart from a much bigger chip than other pro video cameras, it also takes interchangeable Sony E-mount lenses, but the real kicker is that it has focus peaking, XLR audio inputs and video camera styled body. Any one of which makes it considerably more user-friendly than the average video-capable DSLR with a still camera body and menu. See some sample video and a review on my blog post here.
This is Panasonic’s foray into the exciting new category of affordable big-chip prosumer cameras. Shooting on a 4/3″ chip this big boy camera has all the requisite features and then some – focus peaking, interchangeable lenses – still or cinema, waveform, HDMI output, etc. Another convenience for many is that this camera records to SDXC, SDHC, and SD memory cards (as opposed to Panasonic’s much more expensive P2 cards).
Not content to let the popular line of RED cameras rule the high-end of the big-chip prosumer camera field (or perhaps the low-end of the professional camera field, depending how you want to classify it), Sony is has dropped the F3. This camera has a phat Super 35mm imaging chip and can be purchased with a set of 3 different prime lenses for a little under $20K, which might sound like a lot until you consider that every camera that’s come before it with anything that resembled these specs and features, costs a whole hell of a lot more.
This is the first video-capable DSLR camera to make a splash in the filmmaking world. Alas it does not have an audio input, so requires a separate audio recording device if you want to record dialogue or use professional mics. Nevertheless, it creates big beautiful HD images and is particularly practical for those that already have a set of Nikon lenses.
Canon’s T2i is an entry-level DSLR camera with many of the same features as the Canon 7D, albeit in a package that’s a little less sturdy. This is an ideal DSLR for anyone that wants to get into filmmaking with a minimal investment, but still get maximum 1080p HD image quality. Shoots on affordable SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.
This is an inexpensive HD camera that accepts Sony NEX E-mount lenses. At about $2000.00 it’s a bargain for the ability to interchange lenses, but it has some curious limitations that you’d want to consider before investing. Specifically, it has no XLR audio inputs and no variable frame-rates, so I’m not sure who the target filmmaker would be. However, if you those things don’t matter for your type of work- maybe you’re the target filmmaker.
This is a decent entry-level bargain camera for film students, amateurs and small businesses and organizations that just want to get into the filmmaking game and will mostly be screening on the web. Note that pro audio XLR input is only possible with the optional purchase of an XLR Adapter, but for about $1500.00 more it’s big brother, the HMC-150 offers XLR inputs, better image quality and more pro features.
Haven’t played with this compact camera myself beyond a few showroom floors, but based on specs and price, it seems like a viable and option for students, non-profit organizations and churches with simple exercises and online-based video needs.
Most notably this camera is billed as being “water and dust-resistant”. (How resistant, you ask? When I saw the unveiling at the NAB tradeshow, they had it operating in a fishtank under a continuously running stream of water. No joke.) A solid entry-level choice for high-school and entry-level video programs, action sports and extreme shooting situations, such as third-world environments and notoriously rainy places. Also offers GPS location meta-tagging, infrared nightshot, and a 3.5” touch screen LCD.
This camera seems like an updated HD version of Canon’s very popular entry-level mini-DV camera the GL-2. Priced at about $3000.00 with all the requisite features for serious amateurs and aspiring film students, this is a good entry-level option for those ready to try their hand at basic video production, without spending an arm and a leg. It has a respectable 1/3” CMOS imaging sensor, XLR audio inputs, 24p recording, and HDMI, Component, and Composite Outputs. This is essentially a smaller single-chip version of Canon’s XF-300.
The Canon XF105 is a small form factor camera that has all the same features as it’s sister camera the XF-100, but with three big professional add-ons: HD/SD-SDI, SMPTE Time Code, and Genlock. The ability to genlock timecode is extremely practical for multi-camera XF105 shooting, making this a viable option for event videographers, shooting sports and live music performances. This is the single-chip version of Canon’s 305.
This is another moderately-priced prosumer camera that packs a lot of bang for the buck for budget-minded filmmakers. It’s kinda like a low-budget version of the HVX-200…it has many of the same features and interface, but only has a single 1/3” chip, records AVCHD instead of DVC PRO HD and shoots on affordable SD cards instead of P2 cards. This is a solid and affordable first camera for film students, event video videographers and documentary filmmakers. When you’re ready to graduate, it’s a very easy slide up to Panasonic’s workhorse HVX-200.
Sony has so many models in this prosumer field now that I’m not sure exactly where this one fits in the line-up, but it has all the right features and specs of a practical mid-level prosumer HD camera: 3x 1/3” CMOS sensors, XLR audio inputs, 24p recording, manual zoom, focus and iris, etc. With convenient component, HDMI, and S-Video outputs this is a versatile choice that can grow with new filmmakers as they take on more demanding projects.
The Z5U is the offspring of Sony’s earlier model, the Z1U. It shares many of the primary features of Sony’s AX-2000 camera including an almost identical body and button placement. However, this is one of the few prosumer cameras out there that still records to mini-DV tape instead of memory cards. As such, I think it has a limited shelf life, but may be a viable option for filmmakers in countries where tapeless digital workflow has yet to take off.
Holding down Sony’s popular NX-Cam line of cameras is the NX-5U featuring 3x 1/3” CMOS sensors, must-have XLR audio inputs, 60 fps slo mo recording, 1080/24p recording and HD-SDI output. Impressed yet? No? How about GPS location tagging and SMPTE Time Code In/Out for synching cameras for multi-camera shoots? Still want more? How about the ability to make a simultaneous back-up HD recording via an an optional flash memory unit?…Yeah, I thought that would do it for you.
Featuring 3x 1/3” CCD chips, this Panasonic model is like the HD big brother to Panasonic’s wildly popular DVX-100 standard definition camera. However, the HPX-170 has many upgrades from the DVX-100, besides just shooting in DVCPRO HD. For starters it records to Panasonic’s solid state P2 memory cards. Beyond that it has a 75mm lens, vectorscope, waveform monitor and HD-SDI output and at only 5lbs. (with battery), it won’t break your back over a long day of shooting.
Rocking 3x CMOS sensors, the Sony Z7U has a rare combination of practical characteristics for cameras in this mid-price range that make it a versatile choice for filmmakers that need a camera that offers maximum flexibility for various recording situations. First off it can record 1080/24p HD images to mini-DV tape or to compact flash cards via an attachable recording unit (Yes it’s the attachable recording unit is included.) It also has component, composite and HDMI outputs. Oh and there’s one more thing…it has an interchangeable lens. (Dude, wipe the drool off your lip.)
Not to be outdone by Panasonic’s HVX-200 and Sony’s EX-1, Canon throws down it’s gauntlet into the upper-level of the prosumer camera field with the handheld, but feature-packed XF-300. Sporting 3x 1/3” CMOS sensors, 4:2:2 color sampling, 50MB/sec. MPEG-2 recording, slow and fast motion recording, plus all the standard features that come with cameras in this upper-class, this camera is a serious contender for anyone doing professional level work.
This is Nikon’s answer to Canon’s 5D MkII. At present it is the only other full-frame video-capable DSLR camera out there. It has an insane 36.3Mp of resolution, full HD HDMI out and takes Nikon F Lens Mounts. Most notably over the current DSLR crop, it can record a full 30 mins. instead of the usual 12 minute cut off, which makes it more practical for docs and events. If you wanna see it in action, check out my blog post on the D800 it for some test footage and behind-the scenes video of the shoot.
The hot new compact Canon C300 packs a real image punch and some very useful pro features. It represents the first round of what I’ve been hoping for for a long time now – DSLR image-quality in a video camera form factor with pro video features. It’s got a sweet Super 35mm CMOS Image Sensor which rivals most DSLR’s and a Canon EF lens mount.. However, what I really like about it are all the pro features that you don’t get with most DSLR’s – 2 XLR inputs, HD-SDI Output, Dual CF Card Slots, and timecode in/out, plus genlock in & sync out for multi-camera shooting. Check it out in action HERE.
Another nice affordable starter HD camera, this little sweety has all the basics that a budding amateur or film student on a budget needs. With a respectable 1/3″ CMOS imaging chip it shoots Native 1920 x 1080 video. It has dual slots to shoot on 2 SD cards which are more affordable than media such as Sony’s SxS cards or Panasonic’s P2 cards. There’s also the requisite dual XLR ports and – surprise – this little compact cutie is even sporting a waveform monitor and peaking to help you focus. (And you know how strongly I feel about peaking on HD cameras!) All-in-all I think it’s very solid bargain for under $2000.
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