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 for around $500.
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.
If you’re serious about filmmaking it’s worth paying more.
The Panasonic G85 (USA) / G80 (Europe) costs around $700. It 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. Like the G7, it doesn’t have a headphone socket, but it is possible to connect headphones with an adapter. My main camera is a G80.
On a really tight budget? Check out cameras for filmmaking under $300 (£250).
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.
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.