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The best cheap camera for filmmaking?

Updated 2 June 2017

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The Panasonic G7 is the best value beginner camera for low budget filmmaking. It offers sharp video and and reasonable low light performance in a compact, convenient body.

The G7 isn’t really a video camera: it’s an interchangeable lens ‘mirrorless’ camera, mainly designed for shooting stills. But the relatively large sensor and interchangeable lenses offer more creative possibilities than camcorders costing two or three times the price. And Panasonic have squeezed a lot of great video features into this little camera.

The G7 can shoot sharp 1080p Full HD video at up to 60fps (2x slow motion). It can also record 4k ‘Ultra HD’ (see below). It has a tilt-and-swivel touchscreen, and its eye-level electronic viewfinder makes it more convenient than an SLR. It’s better in low light than Panasonic’s more expensive – but older – GH4. You can buy it with a 14-42 kit lens (equivalent to about 30-90 wide to medium telephoto on a ‘full frame’ SLR), or a sharper 14-140 which is much longer at the telephoto end.

You can get simple, inexpensive adapters to fit other maker’s manual focus lenses to the G7. These cheap old lenses are great for creative filmmaking. An inexpensive 50mm manual focus ‘prime’ (non-zooming) lens is ideal for closeups of people. You can move far enough back to avoid distortion, and its wide aperture lets you create attractive out-of-focus backgrounds.

Downsides? It has a plastic body and lacks a headphone socket. Its MFT sensor is small compared with other makers’ APS-C, so it’s not going to be quite as good for creative shallow focus (unless you fit APS-C or full-frame lenses using a Metabones Speedbooster optical adapter). It’s not as good in low light as the Canon and Sony competition, and its colours aren’t as good. But for most beginners, its value and ease of use give it the edge.

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The best lenses for filmmaking with Panasonic cameras

Alternative: the Canon T5i/700D

If stills photography is important to you, you might prefer the Canon T5i (700D in Europe). It has a bigger APS-C sensor – better for shallow depth of field – and better colours. On the downside, it’s bulkier than the G7 as it’s a traditional SLR (what does this mean?), its video isn’t as sharp, it can’t shoot 4K, and you’ll need to buy a magnifying ‘loupe’ to use it at eye level. This is the entry-level camera I used to recommend (I like the Canon colours and sensor size), but the G7 is more convenient for most people.

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Cheaper options

On a really tight budget? Check out cameras for filmmaking under $300 (£250).

Better options

If you’re serious about filmmaking it’s worth paying more.

The Panasonic G85 (USA) / G80 (Europe) has a weathersealed magnesium alloy body and the kit lens is a more useful 12-60mm. Its main advantage over the G7 is its excellent in-body image stabilisation. This makes it much easier to use without a tripod.

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The Canon 80D is popular with vloggers as it has Canon’s excellent video autofocus, plus a headphone socket for monitoring sound as you shoot. It has better video quality than the T5i and other older Canons (but still no 4K, and unlike the G85 it doesn’t have in-body stabilisation).

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Other DSLRs and mirrorless cameras to consider

Other kinds of camera

Mirrorless cameras like the G7 are good starting points for creative filmmaking. But for news, events, or education use, other kinds of camera can be better. Check out the other options here.

What is 4K and do you need it?

4K, or ‘Ultra HD’, is a high definition video format that has twice the resolution of ‘standard’ 1080p HD. But it needs more computing power to edit, and not many people have 4K-capable TVs.

You probably don’t need to make your finished film in 4K. But filming in 4K has some advantages: it looks sharper even when you downscale it to ordinary HD, and it lets you ‘reframe’ when you edit, while still keeping HD video quality. So you could crop part of a mid shot to make a closeup.

When you’re filming 4K on the G7 or the G85/G80, it doesn’t record from the full sensor, so the crop factor is 2.2 – the 14-42 kit lens will be equivalent to 31-93 mm, not 28-85.