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Best Camera for Filmmaking on a Budget

There used to be a day where filmmaking on a budget required a gorilla approach and genuine innovation. But, those days are over. Today there are many cost-effective options for budding filmmakers looking to get creative. And unlike years previous, you don’t have to compromise needlessly to find something affordable, trading off all the basic features in the process. Instead, you can find a range of competitive devices from smartphones to mid-range mirrorless or DSLR cameras ready to tackle your next production.

But, the problem is that many devices offer the right mix of features to be a possible consideration. And it’s also easy to get distracted with all the marketing these days targeted towards the latest camera technology. So, how exactly do you choose the best option for your needs with so many smartphones, compacts, camcorders, and interchangeable lens cameras available? Well, to help in that quest, we’ve compiled a list of the best cameras for filmmaking on a budget. And we’ve organized this list by focusing on the top options in their respective classes, given their general features and price point.

canon-eos-rp-camera-specs
Canon EOS RP

    Sensor Size:
    Full-frame

    Resolution & Frame Rate:
    4K 24 FPS

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Fujifilm-X-T30-camera-back-and-frontFujifilm X-T30

    Sensor Size:
    APS-C

    Resolution & Frame Rate:
    4K 30 FPS

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Blackmagic-Design-Pocket-Cinema-Camera-4KBlackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

    Sensor Size:
    APS-C

    Resolution & Frame Rate:
    4K 60 FPS

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Panasonic-GX85-G80-camera-specsPanasonic G80/G85

    Sensor Size:
    Micro-Four-Thirds

    Resolution & Frame Rate:
    4K 30 FPS

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Apple-iPhone-12Apple iPhone 12

    Sensor Size:
    1.4µm

    Resolution & Frame Rate:
    4K 60 FPS

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5 – Apple iPhone 12

Apple-iPhone-12

Released in the fall of 2020, the iPhone 12 is the base model of the family, but it’s a surprisingly powerful tool nonetheless. It features a dual-lens configuration, sporting both a 13mm ultra-wide and a 26mm wide-angle lens with optical stabilization.

With this update, Apple brought along a brand new design. But they’ve also upped the performance. Now, the primary camera offers an f/1.6 aperture, the fastest yet, giving it superior low light performance. But, it also sports Smart HDR, Deep Fusion, and the Night Mode to further enhance details and contrast in low light scenes. Yet, the updated Super Retina display brings HDR10 support and Dolby Vision certification, letting you see true blacks and color depth that closely matches the source material. And that’s quite a rarity amongst the smartphone market.

Overall, while this base model lacks some of the wow-factors from the Pro model, like the Telephoto lens and LiDAR scanner, it’s an excellent tool for filmmaking. Many filmmakers have already proven you create something equally compelling with older generation iPhones. And this model merely brings innovations that make the process even more competitive.

 

 

4 – Panasonic G80/G85

Panasonic-GX85-G80-camera-specs

Released in 2016, Panasonic’s G85 is the successor to the G7 and a camera that sits just below the flagship GH4. It features a 16MP Micro-Four-Thirds sized sensor capturing 4K 30 FPS and 1080p 60 FPS videos. It also has a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, weather sealing, 5-axis stabilization, zebras, and a microphone input.

But, crucially, the G85 includes complete weather sealing, letting you capture videos in even the riskiest situations. And it also offers in-body stabilization in the form of Panasonic’s Dual IS II to stabilize any attached lens for smooth footage. In-body stabilization is quite a rarity at this price point, with only a small margin of cameras offering the feature. But, it’s a key separator that simplifies the workflow when shooting and reduces the need for a dedicated gimbal or handicam.

Overall, Panasonic’s G85 is an excellent budget-friendly option that offers much of the power of the GH4 without its price. And it delivers notable upgrades that make it a better all-rounder than the older G7, with many of the core features of the newer G95.

 

 

3 – Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

Blackmagic-Design-Pocket-Cinema-Camera-4K

Released in 2018, Blackmagic’s Pocket 4K brings traditional camcorder functionality into a DSLR-inspired form factor. It features a 21.2MP Micro-Four-Thirds sized sensor that captures 4K DCI 60 FPS and 1080p 120 FPS videos. It also has a 5-inch touchscreen, a mini XLR input, a full-sized HDMI, dual card slots, and headphone and microphone ports.

The Pocket 4K is a camera Blackmagic Design specifically created for video and filmmaking. And it offers several noteworthy features most cameras at the price lack. Firstly, it offers 3D LUT support, letting you both record them into the file and monitor them during recording. Secondly, it shoots Blackmagic RAW video, delivering an impressive 13-stops of dynamic range along with a color science that matches the high-end URSA Mini Pro. Together, you get stunning latitude for post-processing and more faithful skin tones to boot. Yet, the Pocket 4K also shoots the wider DCI 17:9 ratio, records externally to SSD drives, and has a built-in timecode generator for multiple-camera setups.

Overall, Blackmagic’s Pocket 4K offers several high-end features typical of expensive cinema cameras costing nearly ten thousand dollars. Yet, it remains affordable and directly in line with most entry-level full-frame cameras. As such, it’s an excellent choice for filmmakers wanting more power and general functionality than normal.

 

 

2 – Fujifilm X-T30

Fujifilm-X-T30-camera-back-and-front

Released in 2019, Fujifilm’s X-T30 is Fuji’s classic mid-range camera. It features a 26.1MP APS-C sized sensor that captures 4K UHD 30 FPS and 1080p 120 FPS videos. It also has a 3-inch tilting touchscreen, a tally lamp, zebras, log profiles, and a microphone input.

The X-T30 is a miniature X-T3 in many ways, capturing many of its high-end features. Yet, it offers a more classically styled design without the added price tag of the X-T3. Some of its highlights include oversampled DCI 4K video with quality that best most entries in the APS-C segment and, instead, rivals full-frame cameras like the Sony a7 III. It also outputs 10-bit 4:2:2 video to an external recorder, a rarity amongst cameras at this price. Yet, it acquires Fuji’s new Eterna film simulation, a cinematic profile that delivers a film-like aesthetic straight out of the camera. And it’s also an excellent profile for quick turn-arounds.

Overall, Fujifilm’s X-T30 is an excellent means to acquire most of the class-leading features of the pricier X-T3. And you’ll do so with a far more approachable starting price.

 

 

1 – Canon EOS RP

canon-eos-rp-camera-specs

Released in 2019,  Canon’s EOS RP is their entry-level full-frame camera that sits alongside the EOS R. It features a 26.2MP full-frame sensor that captures 4K 24 FPS and 1080p 60 FPS video. It also has a 3-inch fully articulating touchscreen, weather sealing, and headphone and microphone ports.

At 440g body alone, the EOS RP is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera Canon offers. But, despite that, it obtains many of the same features as the higher-end EOS R. Namely, it captures its outstanding color science, intuitive user interface, and excellent design.  The only downside is the heavy 1.7x crop in 4K, converting its sensor into an APS-C equivalent and altering its autofocusing. But, thankfully, you can work around this limitation by using a speed booster, which will remove the effect of the crop.

Overall though, Canon’s EOS RP is an excellent option if your production only requires 1080p and you’re willing to forgo 4K. But, by doing so you’ll acquire many of the core strengths of the EOS R and also grab the most affordable new full-frame mirrorless camera around.

 

 

Buyers Guide:

Sensor Size

When looking at a budget filmmaking camera, the most crucial consideration is the sensor size, as the sensor ultimately determines the camera’s image quality. And if everything is equal, a larger sensor consistently outperforms a smaller one. So if you want something both affordable and high-quality, your best bet is to opt for a device with a full-frame sensor like the Canon EOS RP. You can find plenty of other full-frame devices on the used market, like the Sony A7 II, Nikon D810, or the Canon 5D III.

With any of these, you’ll get the best low light performance available at base ISO’s, a more shallow depth of field, and better signal-to-noise. Granted, not all of these devices offer 4K resolution, so there’s the trade-off there. Some models are also still relatively expensive. So if they’re too expensive, your next best option is a device with an APS-C sensor. APS-C is also the standard amongst the cinema industry and a great option as a middle ground between image quality and signal-to-noise.

Resolution & Frame Rate

While most users don’t watch videos at 4K resolution, it’s still an important feature for filmmaking, given the freedom it offers for cropping. Most devices offer 4K UHD 30 FPS video as their standard maximum. But you can find some budget options with the wider 17:9 aspect C4K resolution or those recording 4K 60 FPS. But, for most situations, 4K UHD 30 FPS is sufficient. And you can skip most devices offering 4K 60 FPS to save money, that is unless you specifically want higher quality slow-motion video.

Bit Rate

The bit rate is how much data the device encodes or writes per second. And generally, a higher bit rate yields a better final video if all else remains equal. Most devices record 4K video at 100 Mb/s as standard, but you can find some budget models offering 150 Mb/s or 200 Mb/s. Though, it’s quite rare. Even so, 100 Mb/s provides a good balance between video quality and file size. And it’s perfect for most situations.

Bit Depth

Bit depth is the amount of colors possible in an image. This specification ranges from 8-bit to 14-bit, generally. And the higher the bit depth, the more colors are available to make the final video nuanced in colors. But, when it comes to budget devices, most offer 8-bit 4:2:0 color. And this is the standard. You should find it sufficient for most situations. But, if not, getting an older generation 10-bit device is best if you want to color grade heavily.

Crop Factor

Like the Canon EOS RP, some of these devices have a crop factor when recording 4K video. And it does cause a magnification into the frame at this resolution, which affects framing. So it’s important to research and know this beforehand so you can plan accordingly. You can easily bypass this limitation by using a wider focal length or attaching a speed booster. But, it’s still something to bear in mind.

Recording Format / Codec

Most devices shoot with web-friendly formats that eliminate the need for encoding or converting the file to another format. The most popular formats are MOV and MP4, supported by most online platforms and video editing suites. But, you can find some devices, like the XC range from Canon, for instance, that use the MXF codec or others. And some of these codecs are easier to work with than others. In many cases, you’ll probably have to convert them to another format. And doing so can slow your workflow. So it’s important to investigate whether the device you’re considering records with a traditional codec or something obscure.

Autofocus

Not every camera offers effective autofocusing when recording video, especially at 4K resolution. Some will hunt sporadically during the video, which often ruins the final video. So it’s wise to research how the particular devices perform in this regard beforehand. Otherwise, you may find yourself using manual focus in most situations.

Slow Motion

Many devices can shoot video at 50 FPS or above, letting you capture slow-motion videos at half speed. But not all of these devices offer this frame rate at 4K resolution—instead, most record at 1080p. Granted, you can find many devices recording at 4K 60 FPS, but this is a relatively expensive feature to get. So keep that in mind as you’re researching.

Flat Picture Profile

Flat picture profiles or log profiles are color profiles that reduce the contrast  and saturation of an image, thereby effectively improving dynamic range. Doing so lets the camera capture more data and also preserves the video’s color fidelity. And it’s a great option to look for if you’re looking to edit the footage heavily or apply color grades in post-processing, as you’ll have more freedom to do so.

Microphone Input

Audio creates much of the emotional component in a film. So it’s important to find a device that offers an external microphone input to capture high-quality audio alongside the video. Otherwise, you’ll want to look into an external recorder and syncing the audio in post-processing.

Screen Articulation

Depending on your shooting style, you may also want to consider the camera’s screen articulation. Some videographers prefer a fully articulating side-hinged screen, while others prefer a tilting or flip screen. Both are helpful when recording, especially when working in tight spaces. But, this isn’t a deal-breaker. Instead, it’s something to consider if you want the extra versatility they offer.

Battery Life

If you plan on recording handheld, you’ll want to factor in the device’s battery life. Most devices can record 1080p Full HD video for 90 minutes and 4K for 60 minutes. But, battery life is highly dependent on the shooting conditions, especially temperature fluctuations. So consider looking into the manufacturer’s rating on battery beforehand to verify that a single battery is sufficient for your needs. Otherwise, consider getting at least a spare battery or bringing a USB bank to charge the device on the go.

In-body Stabilization 

You can find some devices with built-in stabilization units, which help remove any shake when filming handheld. It’s a helpful feature if you plan on filming in a run-and-gun fashion rather than setting up a shot on a video tripod. You can also find many compact cameras with optically stabilized lenses, which often work equally as well. Either way though, be on the lookout for stabilization if you plan on mainly filming handheld.

FAQ

What camera should a beginner filmmaker get?

The best value option is a 4K equipped mirrorless camera. These cameras are both affordable, easy to use, and many are packed with a well-rounded feature set. They also have a larger sensor than most traditional camcorders and handy-cams, making them superior for low-light scenes. And you can also capture videos with a more shallow depth of field.

How many cameras do you need to shoot a film?

Traditionally single-camera setups were the norm. But these days, with larger productions and more complex recordings, many filmmakers use multi-camera setups of two or three cameras to film a scene. Doing it this way offers more versatility in the composition and adds to the storytelling. But, it’s not a deal-breaker for many films.