The best cameras for low budget filmmaking

Updated 1 July 2019

What’s the best camera for low budget filmmaking and video in 2019? It depends on your budget and what kind of filmmaker you are. So here are my choices in different price ranges.

Under $2000 | Under $1200Under $500Under $300 | Best value overall

Most of these are 4K mirrorless cameras. They’re good for creative filmmaking because they have interchangeable lenses, and their large sensors make it easy to get creative shallow focus effects. They’re also better in low light than similarly priced camcorders. But if you’re planning to film news or events a prosumer camcorder might be better.

More DSLR and mirrorless cameras

Prosumer camcorders

How to choose a camera for filmmaking

Best value camera overall

Panasonic G85

I think the Panasonic G85 (G80/81 in Europe) is currently 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 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

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Best cameras under $2000

I’ve chosen four cameras in this category.

  • The Panasonic GH5 is the most practical for most users, with excellent image stabilisation and many pro video features.
  • The FujiFilm X-T3 has a larger sensor and better colours and autofocus than the GH5, but it doesn’t have in-body stabilisation.
  • The Canon C100 Mk I (used) has good low light performance and great colours, but doesn’t shoot 4K.
  • The BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has plenty of pro features at an affordable price, but is only really suitable for expert users in controlled conditions.

Panasonic GH5

Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera
The Panasonic GH5  mirrorless camera (around $1500 body only) has a lot of video features in a relatively small package. It has powerful 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 colours and low light performance aren’t as good as their competitors. More about the GH5

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The pricier GH5S (around $2300 body only) has more pro video features and is better in low light. It doesn’t have in-body stabilisation.

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Fujifilm X-T3

Fuji XT-3

Fujifilm’s X-T3 (around $1400 body only) has great colour 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. But unlike the GH5 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. It’s better for still photography than the GH5.

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Canon C100 Mk I (used)

Canon C100

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 under $1600. Cons? They can’t shoot 4K and the eye-level viewfinder isn’t very good.

The improved Mk II (still available new) goes for around $2000-$2500 used (body only). More…

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BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

If you want very good 4K image quality at an affordable price, with pro audio inputs, the BlackMagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (around $1300 body only) 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, battery life is poor, and it won’t be as robust as the C100. More…

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Best video and photography camera under $1200

Both of these cameras are excellent for photography and can also shoot good video. The Canon 80D is weathersealed but can only shoot Full HD;  the smaller Fujifilm X-T30 can shoot 4K.

Canon 80D

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…

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Fujifilm X-T30

Fujifilm X-T30 mirrorless camera

Unlike the 80D, this little mirrorless camera can shoot 4K. It has very good video quality for under $1000 including a 15-45mm kit zoom lens. Fujifilm also make good value fast prime lenses.

The X-T30 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 aspect ratio, and 10-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI. It can also shoot cropped Full HD 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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Best camera under $500

Panasonic G7

Panasonic’s little G7 is exceptionally good value camera for beginner filmmakers, with 4K and Full HD slow motion for under $500. It has a tilt and swivel screen and electronic eye level viewfinder. But it doesn’t have a headphone socket or in-body stabilisation. More…

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Best camera under $300

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. 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 cameras under $300