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The best cheap camera for filmmaking?

Canon EOS 700D

 

The Canon Rebel T5i (USA) /700D (Europe) is a great starting point for low budget filmmaking.

It’s not really a video camera: it’s an SLR, mainly designed for still photography. But it offers more creative possibilities than camcorders costing two or three times the price.

If you want a camera specifically for video, you should also consider the mirrorless Panasonic G7 (see below) which has some advantages over the T5i.

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

Why it’s a good choice

SLRs like the 700D have a bigger light-capturing sensor than most camcorders. That makes them better in low light. It also gives them shallower depth of field, for creative out-of-focus backgrounds. Canon cameras have good colours (the higher-end Canons are widely used in the industry) and they’re reliable and relatively easy to use.

It’s an interchangeable lens camera. You can fit really high quality lenses. As well as Canon lenses, you can use adaptors to fit old manual focus lenses by makers like Nikon or Olympus. You can get more video features by installing the free Magic Lantern firmware.

But like all SLRs and mirrorless cameras, it’s a bit slow and awkward for video and you’ll need accessories to get the best out of it. Sound is fiddly (there’s no headphone socket),  you can’t shoot really long clips, and images can suffer from problems like rolling shutter and moiré/aliasing.  But for most beginner filmmakers, I think it’s worth working around these issues.

Pros

  • Large sensor for ‘film-like’ shallow focus
  • Affordable
  • Wide range of lens choices
  • Good controls
  • Good colour rendition

Cons

  • Slow to use
  • Only 1080p HD, not 4K UHD
  • Not that sharp, moiré/aliasing issues
  • No headphone socket

Best for

  • Film students
  • Beginner low budget filmmakers

Panasonic G7: the mirrorless alternative

The little mirrorless Panasonic G7 is a similar price to the 700D (in the USA, it’s cheaper than the T5i). It can shoot 4K (though it’s consumer, not pro, 4k), though like the T5i it lacks a headphone socket.

Panasonic video is sharper than Canon’s and has less moiré, but the colour isn’t as good and the sensor is smaller. But mirrorless cameras like the G7 are more convenient than SLRs for video.

I like Canon colours and the APS-C sensor size, but if you’re not too concerned about those the G7 is a better deal for video. (The Canon is better for stills).

Other options

If you can afford it, I’d get the Canon 80D. It’s more solidly built, with better controls, excellent autofocus and a headphone socket. The previous model, the 70D, is now a good deal: video is almost as good as the 80D but it lacks the headphone socket.

If you can wait until April, the T5i will be updated with the new T7i/800D. It includes the newer sensor and advanced autofocus from the 80D, in-body image stabilisation and a new touchscreen interface with beginner-friendly explanations of key features.

Canon’s EOS M3 mirrorless camera doesn’t cost much more than a T5i. It’s a lot more compact and discreet than an SLR, though a bit slower to use. You can get small lenses designed specifically for the EOS-M range, or you can fit full-size Canon lenses with an adaptor.  You may still be able to find the original EOS-M new: it’s a very affordable way to get into large-sensor filmmaking.

Buying used

Older models of the Canon SLRs also shoot great video: look for the 550D, 600D or 650D (T2i, T3i or T4i).

The 60D is more solidly built and has better controls; the 7D is a professional camera, and the big 5D MkII has a larger full-frame sensor so it’s better in low light. You could also consider the Panasonic GH3.

More on choosing which type of camera to buy for filmmaking

More about choosing lenses for filmmaking

More about choosing SLRs and mirrorless cameras