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The best camera for low budget filmmaking?

Updated 16 February 2017

 

  • The Canon 80D is weather-sealed, with very good controls and color rendition
  • Autofocus is excellent, and it can shoot timelapse and 1080p slow motion
  • It can’t shoot 4K and its video isn’t as sharp as its main competitors
  • Panasonic’s G80/G85 is a 4K-capable alternative
  • The new Panasonic GH5 is more advanced, but twice the price

What’s the best camera for low budget filmmaking? It depends what you mean by ‘low budget’ and what kind of filmmaking you want to do. But for new filmmakers with a limited budget (around $1100/£950) who don’t need 4K ‘Ultra High Definition’,  the Canon 80D is a versatile choice. Here’s my summary of what it offers, and some alternative cameras you could consider.

What is it?

It’s a DSLR: a stills camera which can shoot video. Its video looks much more ‘film-like’ than shots from camcorders. That’s because of its big APS-C sensor, which is about the same size as the frame in a 35mm movie camera. Big sensors have less depth of field than smaller sensors, so it’s easy to get creative with shallow focus.

The 80D is an interchangeable lens camera, and Canon have a great range of high-quality lenses. You can also use an adapter to fit old manual focus lenses by makers like Nikon or Olympus, which is a cheap way to get really good glass.

Why the 80D?

Canon cameras are known for their good colours, and they’re easy to use; the higher-end Canons are the most-used DSLRs in the pro TV and film industry. The combination of Canon’s fast ‘dual-pixel’ autofocus and good colours, plus a fold-out touchscreen, made the previous 70D model very popular with vloggers. The 80D has even better autofocus than the 70D, and it also has a headphone socket and full HD slow motion (1080/60, or 1080/50 in Europe).

Drawbacks?

Like all DSLRs, it’s mainly designed for stills, so handling for video shooting isn’t that great. You’ll need accessories to get the best out of it. It’s bigger and more awkward to use than mirrorless alternatives like Panasonic’s. Although Canon colours are great, their video is less sharp than the competition.

No 4K

Unlike many of its competitors, the 80D can’t shoot 4K Ultra High Definition. But 4K takes up a lot more space and needs a faster computer for editing. If you’re shooting for the web, you almost certainly don’t need it.

Alternative cameras

4K at a similar price: Panasonic G85/G80

The smaller mirrorless Panasonic G85 (US)/G80 (Europe) is less expensive than the 80D. Like the 80D, it’s weather sealed. Unlike the 80D, it can shoot 4K, it has in-body image stabilisation, and its electronic viewfinder is more convenient for video.  But the Canon has better battery life, better autofocus, better colours and a headphone socket.

Pro features for twice the price

The new mirrorless Panasonic GH5 costs about twice as much as the 80D, but offers more professional video features. I’d consider this camera for documentary, news and events, but Canon’s larger sensor and better colours may make for more ‘cinematic’ images.

Cheaper alternatives

The 80D isn’t cheap. The previous 70D is almost as good, if you can live without a headphone socket. You could also look at the Canon EOS M5, a mirrorless camera with similar features,  or the 4K-capable Panasonic G7. If you’re on a tight budget and you want Canon colours, you could get the cheaper T5i/700D. If you don’t mind buying used, you can get HD filmmaking cameras for under $300/£250.

Other kinds of camera

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras aren’t for everyone. Here’s my guide to the different kinds of camera you can use for filmmaking. If you can afford it, the Canon C100 – a pro video camera with interchangeable lenses –has better image quality, handling and audio for filmmaking, but it can’t shoot stills.

What else you need

I’ve put together a basic filmmaking kit list based on the 80D.

Pros

  • Large sensor for ‘film-like’ shallow focus
  • Wide range of lens choices
  • Easy to use with full manual control
  • Very good autofocus
  • Good colour rendition
  • Weather sealed

Cons

  • Fairly large and bulky
  • Only 1080p HD, not 4K UHD
  • Not that sharp, with some moiré and aliasing