You may be tempted to believe the video function of your DSLR is secondary to taking still pictures, but getting to know the video mode can be an exciting opportunity for new creative projects.
Ask yourself, when looking to buy a digital camera you will want one that not only has great video capture capability in addition to high quality still images, you will want something that matches your style. You may travel a lot and need something compact and lightweight. For that a compact, the lightweight mirrorless camera would be easiest. Mirrorless cameras are lighter, small, less complicated, and faster, so usually better for video. The tradeoff is fewer accessories and lenses from which to choose. If you want to go all out with a large number of available lenses and accessories, then go for the larger DSLR. Despite the advantage of the mirrors in the ease-of-use for shooting video, videographers mostly use DSLRs to shoot video because of their amazing image quality and affordability. This article highlights some of the best choices for those who want video to be their primary focus (pun intended).
The main difference between mirrorless and the mirror of DSLR cameras is size. Capturing and presenting anything that occurs over time is more suitable for video, so size has other implications for use. Either type can be mounted to a tripod. However, without image stabilization, a DSLR’s weight and size can make it easier to hold steady. Also, a competent DSLR can, in addition to taking high quality still pictures, take high-quality video and operates best in deficient light situations. They also usually accept outside microphones. While many contemporary DSLRs have video capabilities, some truly rise above with specific functions that videographers need.
Because the ability to shoot high quality still images is always an important consideration, it’s good to keep in mind that the largest selection of lenses is for DSLRs. That is true whether you are looking for full manual cinema lenses, macro lenses, or the super-telephoto type. For the most part, where there is a will, there is a lens to fit your needs. Mirrorless lenses have a more limited selection of lenses, which are usually smaller and less weighty than DSLR lenses. Still, it is possible to locate adapters for fitting DSLR lenses on a mirrorless camera. Such adapters vary a lot in quality, and functions of the lens like autofocus and aperture control may not work well.
Lens compatibility is important buying an interchangeable-lens camera, and the lens mount type is also essential, especially if you already have a collection of lenses in your kit. The bigger the sensor, the larger the lens needs to be. Otherwise, it will not cover the entire sensor with light when releasing the shutter. So if you have an extensive collection of lenses, take a good look at lens-mount compatibility before you’re forced to sell your old ones on some site like eBay.
Also, mirrorless cameras generally lack viewfinders, instead of relying on rear display panels, so you must rely on electronic viewfinders (EVFs). A DSLR functions more like a mirrorless camera in video mode because it disables the optical viewfinder, the video viewable only on the LCD screen. A DSLR camera’s mirror in front of the image sensor allows the use of an optional viewfinder. The mirror drops out of the way when taking a picture, exposing the image sensor whenever releasing the shutter. The whole sensor must be exposed to light, so a larger sensor needs a larger lens. This is why full-frame lenses are generally compatible with a smaller sensor for this reason. Still, it doesn’t work the other way around. With video, it is different; the mirror remains down, so the user will only use the LCD screen. That is why video enthusiasts should think about an electronic viewfinder with focus assist capability.
HD and 4K Video:
Video is recorded at a speedy frame rate, different than that used for still images, so fast that our brains see the result as a cohesive moving image. Motion pictures are usually filmed at 24 frames per second, but the frame rates of television vary by country. In the US, video is shot in NTSC format at 30 fps, while in Europe, the standard is 25 fps PAL format.
It is recommended that you shoot at 1/ double the frame rate, which is more comfortable to the human eye. Otherwise, the motion will appear static and abnormal. A videographer should choose a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second when recording at 25 frames per second. Also, you will find most DSLR cameras use curtain shutters (researching the various types of shutters, whether Leaf Shutter or the Focal Plane Shutter is another topic).
No doubt, you will see there are many options in gear for video productions. Still, none is more important than the camera itself. You should always zero in on the features most important to you when on a budget, taking into consideration the environment and conditions under which you will be shooting.
What makes one camera better than another?
Some of you may be asking, why not use a camcorder? In low light, a DSLR or mirrorless camera will often produce a better-quality video than a camcorder because they tend to have much larger sensors. You will learn that a large sensor is essential for capturing low light video and stills.
It is rare to find a camcorder in retail stores these days. Most consumers have little need for that kind of redundancy in features because camcorder functions are built into not only every high-end DSLR and mirrorless camera but also smartphones.
Good cameras are designed by people who understand photography. They know what is important and when certain features and adjustments are used, making them easy to access.
A larger aperture is always better for low-light performance, as with a larger sensor. Having a larger aperture allows you to either use faster shutter speeds to control blur or lower ISO settings to control noise. When shooting in low light, higher shutter speed is always valuable, as it can help prevent blur caused by camera shake. Video has longer shutter speed than still shots, usually 1/60-second for 30fps capture.
A Brief Glossary
Image Processor: The image processor is a very important component of the camera, controlling everything at a deep level, like the central brain of the device. Everything from how it records images to its software is driven by this part of the camera, tweaked for each model according to the needs of the intended consumer segment. https://snapshot.canon-asia.com/article/en/5-things-made-possible-with-digic-image-processor
CFast cards: CFast, an overhaul of the higher-end memory card format, formerly only available in industrial equipment, not cameras.
Articulating screen: An articulating screen is known by many names; flip-screen, adjustable, articulated, or hinged. It means that the screen is not fixed in place and unmovable but is instead repositionable, designed with a hinge, or on a pivot. If it is not articulating, then it can be hard to see the screen while securing the steadiest shooting position.
Phase-Detection Dual Pixel AF: “Dual Pixel CMOS AF is a sensor-based, phase detection Auto Focus (AF) technology designed to provide smooth, high-performance focus tracking in movies and fast autofocus acquisition when shooting still photos in Live View mode.” https://www.canonwatch.com/dual-pixel-af-has-become-a-canon-standard-heres-how-it-works/
NFC connectivity: Near Field Communication (NFC) is a short-range wireless connectivity standard (Ecma-340, ISO/IEC 18092) that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices when they’re touched together or brought within a few centimeters of each other.
4K crop factor: The crop factors are calculated simply by dividing the total horizontal resolution of the sensor by 4096 for DCI 4K and 3840 for Ultra HD 4K.
Dual Pixel CMOS AF: The Dual Pixel CMOS AF system is a phase detection Autio Focus (AF) featured in the high-end cameras for a film. Its fast autofocus acquisition is used for still photos in what is sometimes called Live View mode.
Frames Per Second: Frame rate (or fps) is the frequency (rate) at which consecutive images called frames to appear on display. The term applies equally to film and video cameras, computer graphics, and motion capture systems.
Hybrid camera: Hybrid cameras, also called mirrorless or compact system cameras, are compact like a run of the mill point-and-shoot camera. However, hybrids offer a larger image sensor and acquire better-quality shots. Plus, like more expensive DSLRs, you can change lenses to fit the scene you’re shooting. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2013/11/15/buying-camera-guide/3507559/
10-Bit 4:2:2 DCI 4K: Source: 4k.com. 10-bit color can represent between 0000000000 to 1111111111 in each of the red, blue, and yellow colors, meaning that one could represent 64x the colors of 8-bit. This can reproduce 1024x1024x1024 = 1,073,741,824 colors, which is an absolutely huge amount more colors than 8 bit. https://dgit.com/4k-hdr-guide-51429/
Micro Four Thirds sensor: The Micro Four Thirds system (MFT or M4/3) is a standard released by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008, for the design and development of mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras, camcorders, and lenses.
Best Cameras for Videography
Award-Winning Photojournalists use cameras like the Nikon D5, D6, Nikon D800E, and D810. Other popular models include the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Listed below are some other excellent choices in 2020.
Panasonic LUMIX TZ80 $300
Perfect for travel and will fit well even in tight pants. 18.1 MP, 30x Zoom, 4K, FHD, 3-inch LCD Compact Digital Camera travel zoom from Panasonic. This camera uses a dial for choosing the exposure mode and is very customizable between its five function buttons and touchscreen, with a video record button next to the shutter release. You can choose between 30fps or 4K photo modes and can shoot in RAW format. It has a viewfinder with eye sensor and has both semi-automatic and manual exposure modes.
Canon 70D $450
Although this camera is over seven years old, it is still relevant and can be found used for a reasonable price. It doesn’t have 4K recording, but its 1080p at 30 fps is sharp, with great colors and contrast. It has a 20.2-megapixel APS-C sensor, built-in Wi-Fi, an articulating screen, a touch screen, built-in optical viewfinder, face detection focusing, long battery life, and weather sealing. Although its sturdy body is substantial and it lacks image stabilization, its integrated flash unit, and HDMI-out are useful features. It is known for focusing speed while shooting in live view mode, using Dual Pixel AF. It was one of the first wave of cameras to offer a touchscreen. Another nice touch is the dual dials for easy control of exposure. While it does lack a headphone jack, the user can still monitor and record high-quality audio with the built-in 3.5mm mic jack.
Sony DSC-RX100 Mark IV $450
This 20.1MP camera has a CMOS sensor, Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens, bit rates up to 100Mbps, Picture Profile modes including S-Log2 gamma setting; Dual recording captures 17MP stills while recording up to 1080/30p video, Tilting 3″ LCD with 1.3m dots, Pop-up 2.36m dot OLED electronic viewfinder, Built-in ND filter (with Auto mode), Wi-Fi with NFC., 4K (UHD) video recording with full sensor readout, slow motion video recording up to 1000 fps (960fps in NTSC mode), 16 fps continuous shooting, 1/32000 sec max shutter speed (1/2000 using mechanical shutter) and optical image stabilization.
Canon Rebel T7i $600
On the high-end of entry-level, the Canon Rebel T7i has a 24.2 MP and an excellent APS-C CMOS lens, with a Canon EF-S lens mount, a 3-inch articulating touchscreen, and a max video resolution of 1080P recording at up to 60 fps. The great touchscreen and redesign menu is robust, yet still great for beginners. Its autofocus with the 45-point viewfinder is accurate and fast and has no trouble capturing fast-moving objects when taking stills. This is one of the better cameras for taking video with autofocus, compared to other cameras that suffer a slower autofocus performance in that mode. One drawback is that this camera lacks 4K, but for most 1080 video quality at 60p is sufficient.
Canon M50 $650
The Canon M50 has a 24.1-megapixel APS-C sensor, good image quality, a long battery life, Wi-FI, and both Bluetooth and NFC connectivity. It captures 4K video at 24fps, 1080 at 60fps, and 720p at 120fps. The 4K recording is cropped, in addition to the 1.6X APS-C crop factor, which is a weakness. Canon introduced a new eye detection AF locking in on a subject’s eyes, but it cannot be used with Dual Pixel AF in the 4K mode.
Nikon Coolpix P1000
This camera combines a 16MP sensor with an impressively large 125x zoom lens. It is front-heavy, and its controls are inaccessible while processing images. It has autofocus; image quality suffers in low light, Tilting 3″ LCD with 1.3m dots, Pop-up 2.36m dot OLED electronic viewfinder, Built-in ND filter (with Auto mode), Wi-Fi with NFC., Large, Decent build quality, On-lens zoom controls, Solid image quality in good light, Excellent optical stabilization and Crazy telescopic zoom. It’s not the most weatherproofed camera, without dush or splash protection. Eighty minutes of video capture. 4K resolution at 25fps or 30fps. Stabilization is difficult, even with the image stabilization system, a tripod is recommended. Its autofocus is not the best when trying to make changes to focus when recording.
Sony a6400 $900
The lightweight Sony a6400 has many features and uses a 24.2 MP APS C sized image sensor with an upgraded BIONZ X processor. It is Sony’s first APS C mirrorless camera to include the Hybrid Log-Gamma picture profile. Shooting in 120fps HD or 4K, it has no video no record limit time, Sony’s claim is that the camera has the fastest autofocus in the world, with an acquisition time of 0.02 seconds. Other features include “Real-time Tracking,” “Real-time Eye AF,” and a 180 degree tiltable LCD touch screen. Other tools include Zebra functionality, Gamma Display assists, and proxy recording (very fast). Both S Log3 and S Log2. The downside is that the camera lacks in-body image stabilization.
Nikon Z6 $2000
The Z6 has Great picture quality, flexible recording options, and a large and growing collection of Z Mount lenses. It uses a full-frame sensor with an effective pixel count of 24.5MP, and records in full-frame 4K UHD at 30p with the added benefit of vibration reduction. The camera’s 10-bit external capture supports an impressive ISO range from 100 to 51200. The camera allows you to crop your image at will, allowing you to capture in either the DX or FX-format. It shoots Full HD video at up to 120p. Its affordability and quality make the Nikon Z6 a camera of fantastic quality. It has only one media card slot.
Panasonic GH5 $2000
This digital camera has a 21.77-megapixel Micro 4 Thirds sensor. It offers picture assist tools like focus assist, histogram, focus peaking. The LUMIX GH5 can record as much as 180 frames per second in HD, and it’s capable of 4K with no additional cropping. Its video mode is capable of DCI 4K 10 bit 4:2:2, 150 megabits per second at twelve stops of dynamic range. The fully articulating rear display is excellent for vloggers who need to see themselves while filming. Its weaknesses include a menu that is not well organized.
Panasonic GH5s $2000
The GH5 is a 21.77-megapixel camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. It has outstanding video capabilities, recording up to 180 frames per second in HD, and features a fully-articulating rear display. It is also great for shooting in 4K because there’s no additional crop to the footage, and it features 10-Bit 4:2:2 DCI 4K. The 5-axis sensor stabilization is helpful, especially when not using a tripod.
Panasonic LUMIX S1 $2500
This mirrorless camera has a full framed 24.2 mp MOS sensor. It has a wide dynamic range and performs well in low light conditions. Limitless record time when shooting 4K, at 24 or 30 fps. It is a reasonably large camera, but the increase in size means it performs incredible battery life. There is also a firmware update enabling 10-bit internal V-log. The downside for filmmaking is what can be excessive auto exposure.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. $3300
The Mark II is a weather-sealed 16MP camera with a Live MOS sensor and a 40MP High-Resolution Shot Mode. The Lens mount uses a Micro 4 Thirds Mount, and it can shoot video at full HD at up to 60p. This is a great camera to use for shooting video without a tripod, thanks to its 5-axis VCM (voice coil motor) system for image stabilization.
Sony a7R IV $3,500
With this camera, you get a lot more for less compared to other cameras. The 61 Megapixel resolution image sensor is impressive, and 6K oversampled video capturing UHD 4K has no recording time limit. It also has dual card slots for extra storage space. Nonetheless, it is not a bad choice for the beginner videographer; this camera lacks 4K 60p, has no 10-Bit video, and so considering its price and the poor menu system is likely best suited to those with a greater interest in taking still pictures.
Best Cameras for Filmmakers
What is the best camera for beginner filmmakers? One segment of cameras are sometimes referred to as “cinema video cameras,” with the digital camera created for shooting movies as a significant feature, but without the still photos being an afterthought. These cameras integrate features that make the videography hobby more accessible to anyone, and the cameras made more with the video maker in mind offer a lot more in the way of editing options. This particular segment of cameras was once prohibitively costly. Still, there are more cameras emerging on the market capable of recording films that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
The Canon 5D Mark III is the most popular DSLR used for filmmakers today, with the Canon 70D, Sony a7S, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 also in the running. Other popular cameras include the Canon C100 Mark II, Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, and Blackmagic Design Ursa.
Attempting to create a film with the built-in microphone is usually subpar, so you may want to find a higher quality microphone to attach the ⅛ inch auxiliary jack. To go genuinely pro with the sound means external means with portable recorders, with pro audio equipment using XLR microphones. With today’s technology, you don’t have to have an entire film crew to put together an impressive film. Film students should also become familiar with third party lenses, like those produced by Sigma and Tokina.
The video capabilities of smartphones, even though with the best cameras, are still not as good as these cameras, especially when it comes to audio. Consider that interchangeable lens cameras, both DSLRs and Mirrorless, have had productions featured in such high-profile awards like the Sundance Festival and the Oscars. The latest iPhones shoot 1080p up to 60 fps with an f/2.2 lens or 240 fps at 720p, both modes with video stabilization. Still, full-fledged cameras have more flexibility with different lenses and provide a shallower depth of field.
Canon 5D Mark III $1700
This popular camera, beautiful for video and stills alike, has a full-frame sensor with a great selection of older lenses and even vintage manual focus lenses. It has a 16 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor, a tilting LCD monitor touchscreen, and a TruePic VIII Image Processor. It can shoot 4K 30P video plus HD 120 fps in the high-speed video. You will find lots of great lenses to use with this version. It’s an upgrade from the Mark II described above, now including a headphone jack and better low light capabilities. It is a great option for both stills and video and will remain a great choice of camera for many years.
Sony a7S $2000
The Sony a7s has an APS C sensor that provides a 1.6X crop factor, full-frame picture, and options for wide-angle lenses. There’s a flip-out, touch screen LCD with an easy to use interface, making this camera a joy to use. It is also reasonably priced and offers many interchangeable lenses. Their full-frame sensors use the very best glass. You will find several lenses made because of this sensor, but the very best glass is largely created for full-frame sensors.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 $1700
The mirrorless digital camera is 16 Megapixels, with a 3 Inch, flip-out Touch OLED flip-out screen, can take from ninety-six frames a second at 1080p. The Lumix can capture incredibly clear 4K video at 100mb/s internally with high compression so that you won’t need as much storage space. Where this particular digital camera cannot be competitive with the Sony a7S is with overall performance in lower light, but it does have phenomenal battery life.
GoPros are designed to be super portable – which is really useful for vlogging. While other cameras demand a whole bulky camera bag, you can always fit the GoPro in your pocket. This is especially useful if you use the camera outside your house a lot, or if you’re a frequent traveler. https://whyvideoisgreat.com/gopro-vlogging
Canon C100 Mark II $500 (used)
The C100 Mark II shoots gorgeous pictures and is a reliable camera. Its two XLR inputs attached to a top handle, which allows you to get higher quality sound in addition to having better ergonomics for handholding right out of the box. It has built-in ND filters, and the Canon Log gamma as well as Canon LUT assistance through the HDMI port. Because this particular digital camera was created with a strong emphasis on filmmaking, you do not have to worry about buying a lot of extra accessories.
Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera
The Blackmagic camera is nearly a filmmaker’s dream, with a Micro Four Thirds sensor and a 5-inch touch screen (1920 x 1080) at a competitive price. Combi-polycarbonate/fiberglass body has a solid, ribbed grip and is well-weighted. It has external SSD recording capabilities and shoots 4K raw footage (compatible with SD cards, but the raw 4K requires the use of a CFast card). This camera was even used as part of blockbuster productions like Avengers. Although it has no articulating, flip-out screen, the user can still reliably check focus while framing up the picture without annoying black borders. Its removable battery door allows for the utilization of third-party battery grips. It has a full-sized HDMI port and also a USB-C port for data transfer and the option of charging, albeit that method is slower than the regular power adapter. It has two 3.5mm jacks to monitor sound levels, and the mini XLR to XLR adaptor allows for audio capabilities available only on pro-grade shooters. The downsides are that the battery life is weak, no articulating screen, and it has a steep learning curve.
GoPro Hero 7
The GoPro Hero7 features video stabilization, 4K video at 60 fps, wide field of view, time-lapse video and photos, touch zoom, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity, with GPS. It also has stereo audio and a 3.5mm Audio Mic Input. The proprietary Hypersmooth brand of Electronic Image Stabilization is effective, and Hyperfocus (autofocus) functions are also useful if conventional features renamed for the sake of branding.
GoPro HERO5 Black
The GoPro Hero5 can only take 12MP still pictures. Still, it is a camera dedicated mostly to video, so that is no surprise. It has excellent video and image quality, 4K video capture at 30fps, with a 2.0-inch touchscreen. The voice-activated camera controls and easy-to-use editing apps make it a great action camera. Waterproof to 10m/33ft (with no case).
In a Nutshell
What are the cheapest videography cameras? There is a lot to consider in each model; sometimes, the megapixels go up. Otherwise, AF points get added to the sensors, and sometimes the cameras have the same sensors but different processors, ergonomics, and more. Here is a list of some additional less expensive “cinema” video cameras you may use as a good start: Canon EOS 70D, Panasonic Lumix ZS100, Sony DSC-RX100 Mark IV, Nikon COOLPIX P1000, Panasonic Lumix TZ80.
How long do cameras last?
Years and years ago, the lifespan of a camera could easily be around ten years. First of all, the camera manufacturers publicize the shutter rating of the camera. Most entry-level DSLR cameras are only rated at 100,000 shutter actuations. Mid and high-end cameras have more durable shutters that are rated up to between 150,000 and 300,000 actuations. Most of the time, a camera’s body will fail long before its lens does, assuming the lens is cared for properly. It is not uncommon to find Canon FD lenses in excellent shape decades down the line. A typical lens should be right for at least 10 thousand exposures.
Pretty much any DSLR on the market today will last at least 3 to 5 years under regular use and could even go much longer than that. Either way, just keep shooting and don’t worry too much about it. A camera is a tool that needs to be used to be appreciated.
Links and resources
Mar7, 2019 https://www.digitaltrends.com/buying-guides/camcorder-buying-guide/