If you’re just starting out on YouTube, you may be wondering – how do I choose a good, versatile camera among hundreds of models, widely available on the market? The answer is simple: first, determine your budget, your needs for additional accessories, and your video format. For example, if you’re making a video blog, you don’t need that $3k full-frame camera – you’ll be much better off with a decent smartphone. But again, if you aim at professional production, involving interviews and such, you may wanna consider something more serious than an iPhone.
So, in this article we’ll take a look at several cameras, grouped by budget and functionality, to choose the best one for you.
Low budget (under $250) – Smartphones
Some people may think that smartphones are no more than toys, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t make a stunning video with your Android or iPhone. Modern phones use pretty powerful 1/3” sensors, and while they aren’t exactly very large, they are just as good as, if not better than the sensors on most consumer camcorders. Even if you can only afford a budget phone like the Samsung J5, for example, the results may impress you, especially if you use third-party applications like Cinema FV-5 or Camera API that allow you to expand functionality or even disable nasty noise reduction algorithms. Samsung doesn’t pay me to say this, but I’ve got to admit that many of their budget phones produce much better video than anything else on the Android market.
Pros of smartphones:
- Affordable and compact
- Allow you to hook up an external mic using a third-party adapter
- Usually produce much more pleasing results than similarly priced camcorders (which usually come with a 1/5” or 1/4” sensor)
- Versatile and always on you
- Fixed lens and field of view
- Limited exposure and focus controls – usually just exposure compensation and AE/AF lock
- Limited dynamic range
- Mediocre audio pre-amps that can add noise to sound tracks
- Require a special bracket to be mounted on a tripod
Medium budget ($400-700) – Midrange DSLRs and Mirrorless
Canon DSLRs started a whole new era in filmmaking by offering cinematic quality at an affordable price, and they are still a good option today. For just about $400 you can pick up a Canon 700D that has everything you need for a semi-pro film production. It’s got a big APS-C sensor, interchangeable lenses and a bunch of manual controls, which you can expand even further using a third-party firmware called Magic Lantern. It’s also got a 3.5mm mic jack, continuous autofocus and a fancy touch screen which can come in handy on occasions.
If you add a couple hundred bucks, you can then pick up a Panasonic G7 which offers the newly-added 4K video functionality. However, you should keep in mind that Panasonic lenses are generally more expensive and harder to find on the second-hand market, so think twice before you decide whether that 4K is really necessary.
- Interchangeable glass lets you change the field of view and shape a unique look for your show
- Great selection of manual controls – from shutter speed and aperture to variable frame rates.
- Wide dynamic range, so that highlights aren’t overblown and shadows aren’t underexposed
- No need for adapters – you can easily mount your camera on a tripod or connect a microphone directly into the 3.5 mm socket
- Good audio pre-amps (for Panasonic) / Mediocre to decent preamps (for Canon)
- Require investment in accessories, such as lenses, spare batteries, bags etc.
- Generally heavy and less compact than a smartphone or a consumer camcorder
- Shallow depth of field makes focusing considerably harder (but lets you blur the background)
High budget ($1000 and more) – High-end DSLRs, mirrorless and camcorders
If you have a big budget, you can look into more professional solutions (given that you really need them for your purposes). Cameras like Canon 80D, Sony A6300 or Panasonic GH4 offer a whole different level of controls and functionality.
For instance, Canon 80D offers unique continuous phase detection autofocus that works perfectly well for vlogs. Panasonic GH4, on the other hand, offers stunning 4K, variable frame rates and a headphone jack, which all makes it pretty universal for feature films. Sony A6300 is similar to GH4, but there have been reports of overheating which makes it virtually useless in the field.
If your budget is really high or unlimited, you can check out full frame cameras such as Sony A7s or Canon 5D Mark III. The former offers great quality right out of the box, while the latter lets you shoot RAW videos using third-party firmware, which makes it pretty unique for short films.
Pros are the same as in midrange DSLRs, with full-frame cameras offering an even wider dynamic range and better color reproduction. As for cons, well, they are pretty obvious – these cameras are even heavier and their accessories are even more expensive, so before you buy one, make sure that you absolutely need it for your project.
Hope this helps and thanks for reading! If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section below.