Updated 30 October 2019
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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 large sensors, which makes them better than camcorders 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.
Best value camera overall
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 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 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 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
Best cameras under $2000
I’ve chosen three cameras in this category.
- The FujiFilm X-T3 has very good colors and pro video features, but doesn’t have in-body stabilisation.
- The Panasonic GH5 has very good image stabilisation, but the sensor is smaller.
- 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.
Fujifilm’s X-T3 (around $1300 body only) has a relatively large APS-C sensor, 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.
The Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera (around $1400 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 colors and low light performance aren’t as good as their competitors. More about the GH5
The pricier GH5S (around $2000 body only) has more pro video features and is better in low light. But it doesn’t have in-body stabilisation. More about the GH5S
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 and battery life is poor. More about the Pocket Cinema Camera
Best video and photography camera under $1000
This little 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.
Best camera under $500
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 about the G7
Best camera under $300
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 the mirrorless EOS-M or a camcorder. Other options under $300 on this page.
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 Editshots.