Getting into “the biz” is a tough path, but every path starts somewhere with a first step. As students or beginners, we look for tools that offer enough value for the price we pay, also if we have to accept some compromise.
It may be that the camera we pick does not have the best dynamic range or the top pixel count, it may lack in ergonomics or inputs and outputs, but what matters is that it can be an instrument to build your experience letting you learn how to be a better filmmaker. That being said, let’s take a look at Caleb Pike‘s top ten video cameras for beginners.
So, the cameras that Caleb picked up were chosen with the following criteria. They had to cost 300$ or less, no special coupon, offers or rebate, just the regular store price.
They had to offer a cinematic setting, meaning they could shoot 24p in FullHD. This may seem like a basic feature, but in this price range, you can’t take anything for granted. So let’s get with the first bunch of cameras, they all come from Sony.
This camera is tiny. It is a very basic model, lacking inputs for mics, but at the same time it has a nice APS-C sensor, shoots a 28Mb/s AVCHD and has a (partially) flipping screen. Quite unexpectedly it offers a focus peaking feature. That was a great novelty back in the days when the camera first came out, at least on a consumer camera like that.
It is a lot similar to the previous one in size, but it sports a full flip screen, rendering it a more suitable choice for vlogging. The list of features is more or less the same, arranged in a revised interface more similar to the one of the A6300.
Third Sony in the pack. As the numbers may easily give away this is a revision of the previous one, it has some improvements beginning from the file you record. This camera, in fact, offers a XAVC-S option in file format menu. Added to the nice focus peaking we’ve already seen there is a zebra function, quite handy to avoid clipping in highlights if you’re not too familiar with scopes and histograms.
Although it is a little bit older than the previous A5100 it has some nice features. First of all the body had a nice makeover, so it overheats less being a little bit beefier. The screen is a flip one, though it has that Sony style, the flip-but-not-all-the-way. In specs terms it’s quite similar to the previous ones, we go up to 50mbs XAVC-S keeping zebras and peaking. Not bad for its $190 price point.
We’ve got a couple of Canon option here too. The first one being the small mirrorless Canon M. You’ve already heard of this one for sure. It is absurd cheap these days, going as low as 140$, it sports an APS-C sensor. Trough an adapter it can accept EOS lenses, and, one of the few on the list, it has a microphone jack input.
It goes a little backward as framerates go, topping at 30fps in a 40-50Mbps H.264 codec. One of the most notable aspects though is the ability to install Magic Lantern, the software hack that allows unlocking many useful tools you would not have, like meters, false color, zebras and whatnot. Unfortunately, the screen is fixed with no flipping capabilities.
This name will ring more than one bell in the minds of the more experienced ones. One of the most renowned DSLRs for beginners out there, and the only one on this list, it gives you a 1080p 30fps in H.264. It is with no doubt a workhorse.
Obviously, it is quite bulkier than the rest of the items on this list, being the only camera having a mirror inside. At the moment the video was shot it was the cheapest DSLR out there, but you should keep an eye for the improved T4i, it gives you some nice feature and you may be able to find it in the same price range.
This is another classic. Micro four-thirds mount, but a whopping 120Mbps AVCHD file. Has a mic input, a headphone jack for monitoring, overall a very nice camera, although it seems to suffer the time passed by more than other cameras. The interface and the menus feel quite old compared to the others, but considering it’s under $260, the GH2 is still a very good choice.
Another Panasonic, this time it is one of the more expensive ones on the list. It goes up to 60fps in FullHD in an AVCHD file but lacks the mic input or the HDMI feed when shooting. We must say that this camera looks very cool, even if it is missing a full flip screen, but has an incredible viewfinder that rotates 90° up, allowing to shoot some very low angles trough it.
The NX2000 is a camera most people would throw in the trash right away, but just like the last one on the list, it’s here as a “fun item”. The video quality is really not good, the files go by 12Mbps, and the body is very small. The pros are with no doubt the huge monitor and the experience. In fact, it is so lightweight that it’s a breeze to hold.
Where is the fun you may ask? Once you start recording you can choose a nice crop of 1920 x 810, a widescreen aspect ratio very nice to shoot with. That is if you can manage to get along with the absence of HDMI feed and the micro-SD card slot.
This camera is minuscule. It is one of the smaller cameras out there, and the sensor is on a scale too! With an absurd 5.6x crop it seems to be unreal, and this pairs with an 11Mbps AVCHD file, not a nice match image quality-wise. So why should you choose a camera like that you are probably asking yourself?
Well, this small sensor allows for some particular lenses choices. In fact, this is one of the few cameras that can accommodate an 8mm film lens, giving you the chance to shoot some real vintage footage and get the 8mm feeling. Moreover, if you combine it with the VGA mode in the camera, the vintage film look is perfectly nailed.
So, there you have it, ten cameras you can get dirt cheap, some more than others and each one with its own quirks, but they can all be a powerful tool to let you begin your journey in the world of filmmaking.