The best cameras for low budget filmmaking

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Updated 3 June 2020

4k mirrorless cameras are the best option for creative filmmaking on a budget. They’re affordable and they give you plenty of creative control. They have interchangeable lenses. And they have larger sensors than camcorders, which makes them better for low light shooting and creative shallow focus shots. (If you’re planning to mainly film news or events, a prosumer camcorder could be a better choice.)

The camera on this page cost from $500 to $2000. There’s also a used option for under $300.

Panasonic G85/G80

The Panasonic G85 (G80/81 in Europe) is the best-value camera you can buy for filmmaking, at under $700 with lens. I use one. It has a solidly built magnesium body with a tilt and swivel touchscreen, and the body and lens are weathersealed. The sharp 12-60 kit lens covers a useful wide to telephoto zoom range. The camera can shoot 4K, and HD at up to 60p slow motion. And it has very good image stabilisation, which makes for easy handheld shooting.

Cons? The smallish Micro Four Thirds sensor means it’s not as good in low light as some rivals, 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, slow motion and image stabilisation make it a great choice. More about the G85

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Panasonic G7

If you can’t afford the G85/G80, the Panasonic G7 is exceptionally good value for beginner filmmakers. It has 4K and Full HD slow motion for under $500. It has a tilt and swivel screen and electronic eye level viewfinder. But there’s no headphone socket (unlike the G85/G80 you can’t rig one up) and it lacks in-body stabilisation and weathersealing. More about the G7

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Fujifilm X-T3

Fuji XT-3

Fujifilm’s X-T3 (around $1300 body only) has a relatively large APS-C sensor, so it’s better than the Panasonics for creative shallow focus. It has great color rendition, good dynamic range and pro video features at a relatively affordable price. Its impressive features include very good low light performance, ultra-fast autofocus, 10bit recording at 400Mb/s, 4K slow motion and log recording. It’s also a very good camera for still photography.

It doesn’t have in-body image stabilisation, and the screen tilts rather than swivelling fully. Battery life isn’t great, but you can power it over USB-C using an external power pack.

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Fujifilm X-T4

Fujifilm X-T4

The newer X-T4 costs more: it’s around $1650 body only. That gets you excellent 5-axis image stabilisation, a fully swivelling screen, a bigger battery, better autofocus and 10x slow motion in HD. You also gain ‘F-log assist’, which allows you to preview what the finished image will look like when you’re shooting in log mode. They’ve removed the headphone socket, but the camera comes with a USB-C to headphone adapter.

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Canon EOS M50

Canon’s M-series cameras and lenses are very compact but have fairly large APS-C sensors, excellent colors and very good dual pixel autofocus. You can fit standard Canon EF lenses with an adapter. The affordable EOS M50 (around $500 with kit lens) has an easy-to-use interface. Its portability makes it a good option for vloggers and journalists. It’s really designed for shooting HD: it can shoot 4K but with an extra crop and no dual pixel AF. It doesn’t have in-body image stabilisation, and there’s no headphone socket.

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Panasonic GH5

Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera
The Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera (around $1400 body only) has a lot of video features in a relatively small package. It has excellent in-body image stabilisation, good battery life for a mirrorless camera, 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 colors and low light performance aren’t as good as their competitors. More about the GH5

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The pricier GH5S (around $2000 body only) is designed specifically for filmmaking. It has more pro video features and is better in low light. But it doesn’t have any in-body stabilisation. More about the GH5S

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BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

The BlackMagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has plenty of pro features and excellent image quality at an affordable price. It costs around $1300 body only. It can shoot RAW and ProRes files at up to 60fps and has pro audio inputs. Like the Panasonic cameras it has a Micro Four Thirds sensor.

Downsides are that the RAW and ProRes files are very large, it doesn’t have in-body stabilisation or an eye-level viewfinder, and battery life is poor. It’s very good value for creative filmmakers looking for very high image quality in controlled conditions, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.

More about the Pocket Cinema Camera

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Fujifilm X-T30

Fujifilm X-T30 mirrorless camera

This little APS-C camera has very good video quality for under $1200 including a 15-45mm kit zoom lens. (Fujifilm also make good value fast prime lenses.)

It can shoot Full HD at up to 60fps, though 4K is limited to 30fps and 10 minutes continuous recording. Unusual features at this price are log mode, the option of shooting in 17:9 DCI (digital cinema widescreen) aspect ratio, and 10-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI. It can also shoot cropped Full HD video at up to 120fps.

There’s no headphone socket, but you can connect headphones via the USB-C adapter. It also has focus peaking, zebras, and Film Simulation modes which emulate Fuji film stocks. But there’s no in-body image stabilisation or weathersealing, and the screen tilts rather than swivelling fully.

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Used Canon T4i

Canon T3i

On a tight budget, used older models of Canon’s video SLRs such as the T4i are the best choice. Unlike the other cameras here, it’s not mirrorless and it doesn’t shoot 4K. But it has good colors, a relatively large APS-C sensor, and a good range of lenses.

Alternatively, you could opt for one of the mirrorless EOS-M series, or a camcorder. Other options under $300 on this page. 

More DSLR and mirrorless cameras

Tom Barrance

Tom Barrance I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and EditClass