Updated 24 April 2018
What’s the best camera for low budget filmmaking in 2018? It depends on your budget and what kind of filmmaker you are. So here’s my choice in different price ranges.
Best value camera overall
I think the Panasonic G85 (G80/G81 in Europe) is currently the best-value camera you can buy for filmmaking, at under $900/£750 with lens. It has a solidly built magnesium body with a tilt and swivel touchscreen, and the body and lens are weathersealed. The sharp 12-60 lens covers a useful wide to telephoto zoom range, and the electronic viewfinder makes eye-level shooting much easier than an SLR. The camera can shoot 4K, and HD at up to 60p slow motion. And it has the same excellent image stabilisation as Panasonic’s much more expensive GH5, which makes for easy handheld shooting.
Cons? The smallish Micro Four Thirds sensor means it’s not as good in low light as Canon’s 80D, and it doesn’t have a headphone socket (though there are ways to rig up an audio output from the HDMI socket). Battery life is OK but not great – you can add a battery grip – and autofocus is slow when shooting 4K. But its solid build, EVF, slow motion and image stabilisation make it a great choice. More about the G85/G80
Best camera under $2000/£1700 (body only): Panasonic GH5 or used Canon C100
The Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera has a lot of video features in a relatively small package. It has powerful in-body image stabilisation and can record a range of broadcast-quality 4K and HD formats. You can add a pro audio module. Cons? The MFT sensor is relatively small and Panasonic’s colours and low light performance aren’t as good as their competitors.
The pricier GH5S (around $2500/£2100 body only) has more pro video features but lacks in-body stabilisation.
For serious filmmaking and documentary, Canon’s Cinema EOS cameras are hard to beat. They have great image quality and very good low light performance, and the Super 35 sensor is ideal for filmmaking. They have built-in ND filters and the option of fast Dual Pixel autofocus. You can now pick up used Mark 1 C100s for well under $2000/£1700. Cons? They can’t shoot 4K and the eye-level viewfinder isn’t very good. More…
Alternative: the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
If you want very good 4K image quality at an affordable price, the BlackMagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (out September 2018 at around $1295/£1100) can shoot RAW and ProRes files at up to 60fps. But the files are very large, the camera doesn’t have in-body stabilisation or an eye-level viewfinder, and it won’t be as robust as the C100.
Best video and photography camera under $1200/£1000
The Canon 80D DSLR is popular with vloggers. It has Canon’s excellent colours, fast video autofocus, and a headphone socket. The APS-C sensor is better for photography and low light than its Panasonic rivals, and Canon have a wide range of great lenses. But it can’t shoot ultra high definition 4K, there’s no in-body image stabilisation and SLRs are less convenient for filmmaking than mirrorless cameras. More…
Best camera under $600/£500:
Panasonic’s little G7 is a very affordable camera for beginner filmmakers, with 4K and slow motion in a small package. Its MFT sensor isn’t as good for creative shallow focus as cameras with larger sensors, and it doesn’t have a headphone socket or in-body stabilisation. More…
Best under $300/£250:
Used Canon T3i
On a tight budget, used older models of Canon’s video SLRs such as the T3i are the best choice. They have good colours, a relatively large APS-C sensor, and a good range of lenses. You could also opt for the mirrorless EOS-M, or a camcorder. More…