Last Updated on November 22, 2020 by Tom Shu
If you’re in a hurry and just want to find out what the best camera for filmmaking on a budget is, then I’d recommend the following!
- Best Camera for the Filmmaker: Panasonic G85
- Best Camera for the Hybrid Shooter (photography and video): Sony a6400 or Fujifilm X-T200
- Cheapest 4k Camera for Filmmaking: DJI Pocket 2
Update October 22, 2020: After hearing from many of you, I made changes to the conclusion of this article and added a “Best Camera for the Filmmaker” and “Best Camera for the Hybrid Shooter” selection. I made these changes to better reflect the variety of different filmmakers as I now know some of you are strictly looking for a filmmaking camera, while others are looking for a camera for both photography and videography. Most importantly, if you have any questions or suggestions just drop a comment below! The only reason why I’ve been able to create a resource like this is because of all of the feedback I’ve received from you so far.
As a filmmaker and videographer buying a new camera on a budget, it can be easy to get distracted by all the glossy advertisements out there showing off the latest and greatest in camera technology.
The good news is that because of these innovations across the camera market, there is a huge selection of great budget cameras for every type of filmmaker now.
After many hours of research, I have narrowed it down to 10 of my favorite budget-friendly cameras that have the capability to create very cinematic 4k and slow-motion footage for your films.
Here are the cameras we will be reviewing:
If you’re thinking about getting one of these cameras, many of them are on sale for the holiday season. Here are the cameras on sale that are applicable to this article:
• Sony a5100: $100 off
• Sony ZV-1: $100 off
• Fujifilm X-T200 with 15-45mm Lens (Adorama): $300 Off
• Panasonic GH4 (body only): $302 off
What are the Key Features on a Filmmaking Camera and Why?
There are a ton of options for filmmakers these days. Many cameras and systems offer video capture for home use, especially those on a budget. But these days, even those are good enough for quality filmmaking.
To make sure that you have the best affordable camera for filmmaking, I looked at the basics first.
For our reviews, I set a few arbitrary benchmarks for build quality, image quality, and ease of use. Using these, I picked a shortlist of the best cheap filmmaking cameras that can do the job at the lowest price.
To give you an idea of what cameras these days are capable of, a handheld Canon 5D II was used to shoot the whole of the last season of the TV show House. While this camera is beyond the budget of this article, as I focused on cameras under $1,300, it certainly shows what’s possible.
In the end, great results are because of the filmmaker and not necessarily the most expensive equipment.
I was careful to look at the practical applications of the camera and how it would perform when shooting in different locations. Plus, which features were crucial and which extras would make your life easier.
One thing that we cannot escape is the Big Four: Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and Nikon. The debate will rage on well into the night regarding which is better.
In the end, each ‘camp’ is unshakable in devotion to their brand. I decided to cast my net in the hope that I can show the options out there without you looking too hard.
I rated each camera on sensor performance, ISO/low light performance, frame rate, features, battery life, ease of use, availability of glass (lenses), and finally, overall value for money.
These camera attributes are what you should look out for when choosing the best camera for low budget filmmaking:
- Good quality video: makes it much easier to edit your video in post-production and you don’t have to worry about re-shooting footage.
- Ease of use: it’s always important to be in the moment instead of fighting with the camera.
- Good low light performance: Not all shooting environments are equal and you will likely find yourself shooting in a low light situation at one point or another.
- Good/cheap range of lenses: Different focal lengths can make a huge difference and budget are key in any project.
- Intuitive use: Some menu systems and custom camera button layouts are easier to set up and navigate than others.
- Battery life: You will definitely have those long, long shooting days and you don’t want to worry about running out of battery.
Video Recording Modes
The key point. If you want high quality, you need to look at a basic minimum of 1080p HD video. Lots of cameras now offer 4K UHD, so I looked at both. Extras to look out for include 4K 60 frames per second (FPS) and greater, as well as different picture profiles.
How does the frame rate (FPS or frames per second) compare with other systems? Does any one camera stand out? Is image stabilization effective?
The sensor is the driving force of the camera. Making an educated choice about what’s under the hood of your camera is key. In this case, size really does matter.
The area of the sensor is important for the sheer amount of light captured (image quality, by and large), but you also need to be aware that all sensors of the same size are not equal. I will tell you which I believe are the winners and which leave a lot to be desired.
Equivalent to the ‘film speed’ when using SLR cameras (source). Pixel size is analogous to the grain size in the film. The quality and clarity of an image reflect this.
When shooting in lower light conditions, indoors or in the evening, for instance, you need the higher ISO settings. This comes at a price, however, and you will be sacrificing clarity and quality of footage for the shots you want.
Having a long shooting day means relying on the battery. I looked at which cameras have good battery life and which cameras continually eat up your battery life.
Using the screen to review footage continually, shooting in 4K, using WiFi, etc. will all eat into shoot time you have available.
One issue that is important to me is the other ‘things’ a camera can do that make my life easier when shooting. Here are just some of the additional features you should look for in a filmmaking camera.
- High-Quality Flat Picture Profiles: having this will make the color grading process much easier in post-production.
- In-Body Image Stabilization: makes it much easier to capture smooth footage especially when not shooting in a slow-motion frame rate.
- Good Autofocus Performance: there will be some scenarios in which you will not be able to set the focus manually and good autofocus will make these situations much easier to handle.
- Side Memory Card Slot: having a side memory card slot makes it much easier to switch out the memory card especially if you have your camera connected to a gimbal.
Screen Resolution and Flexibility
As you will be shooting via the screen in most cases, the viewing experience is key. When shooting in confined spaces, a screen that tilts is a definite plus too.
Screen resolution is essential for assessing the focus of footage and the overall screen brightness is critical when shooting in brightly lit scenarios like shooting in the day time.
Ease of Use
You want the device to be intuitive and easy to navigate through the menus to find what you need when shooting. What potential problems are there when using the camera on shoots and are there other solutions?
Some of the mirrorless cameras and Four-Thirds have smaller bodies and using a larger lens can unbalance the feel of the camera and make it awkward to use. If you have larger hands, a small body may not be the easiest on long shoots and cold days.
Range of Lenses
Is there a vast range of glass available for the camera, both new and secondhand? How expensive are the native lenses for the camera, and what else is available on the market that will save a little for your budget?
I know we all put our own stamp on everything we shoot, but we need the tools to realize our ideas.
Can your system offer a beautifully shallow depth of field or give you the range of panoramic establishing shots you need?
You will probably need a range of lenses in your collection of gear and vintage glass can offer an affordable way in. Not to mention it can add a unique characteristic to your footage that modern lenses just don’t have.
You can buy off-brand glass too; there are very credible alternatives to the manufacturer’s own glass. Before you invest in a body/lens kit, make sure there is an affordable way to have the lenses you need in your collection.
Value for Money
Taking everything into account, you need to work out how much bang for your buck you get basically. Can you do better for less, or is that extra step up in price really going to matter when shooting?
The $1,300 question is, overall, who has the best body and lens kit, and what is the best low budget camera for filming?
Reviews of the Best Cameras for Filmmaking on a Budget
I understand that the total budget is relative to each person and what their goals are. In order to take this into account, I set a realistic budget for all the cameras in this review at a maximum of $1,300 for the camera body and at minimum its kit lens.
Most of the camera body + lens combinations in this review are under $1,000.
However, I wanted to include the Panasonic GH4 because of its wide range of flexible video recording options, so it bumped up the price range.
I reviewed mirrorless cameras, smaller point-and-shoot cameras, as well as one DSLR camera. Here are my 10 favorite budget filmmaking cameras that I found.
Coming in at the lower end of our budget, the Sony a5100 offers credible performance for its price range.
The high ISO range is super impressive for the price, and the 179 phase-detection autofocus points, give the camera a pretty decent autofocus closer to the center of the frame. This is expected as the Sony a5100 uses the same sensor size as the more expensive Sony a6400, which is next up in this review.
In low light conditions, however, the camera is not the best, especially when you compare it to the newer Sony a6400. This is likely because the APS-C sensor in the a5100 is an older version.
You may also find that the small body offers less balance with larger lenses, and sometimes the touch screen is a little awkward with larger fingers.
Unfortunately, there is no quick function menu in this camera, which does impact functionality, and this is quite a downside for ease of shooting and quick access. However, the touchscreen LCD and touch-to-focus control ensure accuracy when recording for those of us blessed with smaller hands.
If you have the budget, the Sony a6400 is the obvious choice, but if you don’t, the a5100 is not so bad either.
- Low price—the cheapest Sony on our list.
- You get the same APS-C sensor size that’s on the more expensive Sony a6400.
- The continuous autofocus is great on this camera.
- High ISO range for the price.
- 60 frames per second (FPS) at 1080p, which is reasonable for the price.
- 180-degree tilting screen, which many more expensive cameras don’t have.
- The lack of customization buttons on the camera can also make this camera less overwhelming to use.
- You can’t shoot 4k with this camera.
- No audio jack and hot shoe, which is a bummer but understandable considering the price.
- The battery life is not great on this camera and uses the same battery as the a6400
- No quick function menu.
- This camera will overheat if you shoot with it for a longer duration of time (a Sony Issue for older models).
- The screen is not very good and is hard to see in daylight like the Sony a6400.
- No picture profiles available, which can be expected at the price.
Normally, I would’ve had the Sony a6500 is this spot on the list, but it recently got discontinued. With that said, the Sony a6400 is just as good of a camera with nearly identical features. Plus, it’s a newer Sony camera so you get some of Sony’s most updated technology. The main difference is that it doesn’t have the 5-axis image stabilization found in the Sony a6500.
Notes From The Field: To give you an idea of what this camera is capable of, the Sony a6500 is the camera I used to film most of my award-winning short film Spirit of Matsu. Although the Sony a6400 is slightly different from the Sony a6500, the video frame rates and the sensor are the same, so you’ll still be able to get a good idea of what the quality of the video looks like.
Like the Sony a5100 from above, the Sony a6400 is small and compact and is packed with video features. With that said, you do get an upgraded weather-sealed body that’s much more durable than the Sony a5100 or Sony a6100. For its video specs, the Sony a6400 can shoot in 4K up to 30 FPS and in 1080p up to 120 FPS. At its price point, the Sony a6400 is still one of the only APS-C sensor cameras with the ability to shoot in 120 FPS.
Yes, the Sony ZV-1 has the High Frame Rate (HFR) mode which gives you the ability to shoot in extremely high frame rates such as 240 FPS and even 960 FPS, but the sensor size is much smaller.
As with all Sony cameras, one of its biggest advantages is its autofocus speed and accuracy. What’s nice is that since the a6400 is a newer model of Sony cameras, it comes with the latest autofocus technology. The Sony a6400 uses the classic Sony combination of 425 phase-detection and 425 contrast-detection points and improves on it with the addition of real-time autofocus tracking in video mode.
Another nice addition to this camera which separates it from the Sony a6100 is the inclusion of Sony’s full catalogue of picture profiles. This includes HLG (HDR), S-Log2, and S-Log3 picture profiles which will give you more dynamic range and make it easier for you to color grade your footage in post if you choose to do so.
There are of course downsides to this camera too. It’s a bummer that this camera still uses the notoriously bad Sony NP-FW50 battery so the battery life isn’t the best. It’s LCD screen is also hard to see in bright light, and it doesn’t have built-in image stabilization like the now discontinued Sony a6500 or the Panasonic cameras in this article.
With that said, this is still a budget filmmaking powerhouse.
Notes From The Field: If you like what you see with the Sony a6400 and want to save a little extra money, the Sony a6100 could be a good choice. It has a less durable build and no flat picture profile options. However, it uses the same sensor as the Sony a6400 and more expensive Sony a6600, so picture/video quality will be pretty much the same.
- Up to 120 FPS shooting speed at 1080p, which is one of the best in this article.
- Great ISO range. One of the best low light cameras you can find in this price range.
- Excellent autofocus with the 425 phase-detection and contrast-detection autofocus points that cover most of the frame. Plus, it’s a newer Sony camera so you get the latest autofocus technology including real-time autofocus tracking.
- Built-in intervalometer so you’re able to shoot time-lapses without downloading additional apps or using an external intervalometer.
- Full selection of picture profiles including HLG (HDR), S-Log2, and S-Log3, which will give you greater dynamic range.
- No 4k recording limit.
- Crispy UHD 4K at 24 and 30 FPS.
- No built-in image stabilization versus the 5-axis image stabilization in the Panasonic cameras.
- There is an additional crop when shooting in 4K (~1.05x in 24 FPS and ~1.2x in 30 FPS)
- Still uses the Sony NP-FW50 battery which isn’t the best.
- It’s hard to use the LCD screen under a bright sun and it only flips up.
Next up is another great inexpensive video camera for filmmaking from Panasonic, the Panasonic G85. It’s very similar to the Panasonic GH4, so if you like what you read about the GH4, then this is another camera to consider.
The G85 is a newer camera in the Panasonic Lumix product line so the good thing is that they have improved on some of the negatives of the GH4.
With that said, there are still some pros and cons of both cameras so let’s get into the details.
The first thing you’ll notice about the G85 is how similar it looks and feels to the GH4. You get the same nice heavy-duty weather sealed body and similar ergonomics that made the GH4 so popular.
The biggest upgrade for the Panasonic G85 is that the autofocus system is much better than the GH4 and it has unreal in-body image stabilization.
It’s not the best autofocus system on this list as the Sony phase-detect autofocus system is clearly better, but at least you can trust it in most situations.
The in-body image stabilization is pretty incredible. I have seen many clips from other filmmakers of handheld footage looking like footage shot on a gimbal.
As I said, it’s not all positives with this camera.
The biggest downside is that there is no variable frame rate with this camera. With the GH4, you can pick different variable frame rates up to 96 FPS. However, with the G85 you can only choose to shoot in 24 FPS, 30 FPS, and 60 FPS.
This is not a big deal if you don’t plan on shooting in slow motion, but it’s nice to have the flexibility with the frame rates.
There’s also no headphone jack and the battery life isn’t as good as the Panasonic GH4. The battery is still much better than the Sony cameras, though.
- Better autofocus than the Panasonic GH4, but still not even close to the Sony phase-detect autofocus system.
- Amazing in-body image stabilization. Image stabilization is up to 5-stops if you use a native lens with image stabilization.
- The memory card slot is on the side of the camera which makes it a lot easier to change if you have the camera on a gimbal or tripod.
- Better in low light and at higher ISO levels than the GH4, but still not as good as the low light performance of the Sony a6400.
- 4K UHD video and up to 60 FPS at 1080p.
- Since it is a Micro Four Thirds, there is a wide variety of lenses available from Panasonic, Olympus, Sigma, Tamron, and many more.
- No variable frame rate option like the GH4, so you don’t have as much flexibility with different frame rates to shoot in.
- The sensor is Micro Four Thirds, so it is much smaller compared to the Sony a5100, Sony a6400, Fujifilm X-T200, and Nikon D3500.
- Autofocus and low light performance are still not as good as the Sony a6400.
The Sony ZV-1 is Sony’s newest 1″ sensor point-and-shoot camera and it improves on many of the downsides of the previous Sony RX Series cameras and the older Sony APS-C cameras like the Sony a5100 which we just went over.
Here are just some of the big improvements they made. It feels like Sony really listened to the feedback from their community when making this camera and tried to fit in as many upgrades as possible.
- Side flip-out screen which is a first for a Sony camera.
- Built-in ND filter which they removed from the RX100 VII that we will go over next.
- No 4k recording limit vs the 15 minutes on the Fujifilm X-T200 or the 30 mins on the Panasonic G85.
- A built-in hot shoe so you can connect an external microphone. The Sony RX100 VII does not have a hot-shoe.
- Improves on the rolling shutter issue of the Sony APS-C cameras.
- A built-in timelapse mode.
With these improvements, the Sony ZV-1 is one of the most powerful budget-friendly filmmaking cameras from Sony and comes with everything you need to get started filming straight out of the box.
On the technical specs side, the camera is nearly identical to Sony’s newest and much more expensive APS-C sensor camera, the Sony a6600. It has the same menu system, same powerful video autofocus with real-time eye autofocus tracking, and object tracking capabilities. It also has the newest Sony color science giving your videos a better overall look.
I think one of the best parts of this camera is that it includes the popular High Frame Rate (HFR) mode found in the Sony RX series cameras. This will allow you to record at extremely high slow motion frame rates such as 240 FPS, 480 FPS, and even 960 FPS in 1080p.
The most important thing is that Sony actually priced this camera at under $1,000, which is pretty incredible!
You would think that with all of these new features and improvements, Sony would have priced it at minimum around ~$1,000 which is what other Sony RX series cameras have historically been listed at.
- Same autofocus features as Sony’s best APS-C and full-frame cameras which include real-time video eye autofocus tracking and object tracking.
- Side flip-out screen and better ergonomics such as a bigger record button and built-in thumb and front grip.
- Built-in ND filter which will make filming in bright conditions with a wide aperture much easier.
- No 4K recording limit.
- A built-in timelapse mode which will allow you to easily capture timelapses for your film.
- Better internal audio with Sony’s newest 3 capsule mic design. It also includes a dead cat that you can attach via the hot shoe.
- Sony’s newest color science for a better overall look.
- The High Frame Rate (HFR) mode from previous Sony RX Series cameras is included.
- Very good price point value especially when compared to older Sony RX Series cameras.
- It is still a 1” sensor camera so you will not have the best low light performance.
- It is not an interchangeable lens camera so you will have to stick with this lens which has a full-frame equivalence of about 24-70mm.
- The battery life is not as good since it is a smaller camera.
I actually didn’t know about the Fujifilm X-T200 until one of you suggested I check out this camera and after taking a look, I got to say, this really is an awesome budget filmmaking camera.
It’s pretty crazy how much Fujifilm was able to squeeze into this little camera especially considering it’s usually at a lower price point than the Panasonic GH4, Panasonic G85, and Sony a6400 which are pretty cheap cameras already. They’re also the X-T200’s biggest competitors.
First off, let’s talk about the positives of this camera and see how it stacks up with the two Panasonic cameras and the Sony a6400. The most obvious difference between the Panasonic cameras and the Fujifilm X-T200 is the sensor size difference as the X-T200 sports an APS-C size sensor vs the Micro Four Thirds size sensor in the Panasonic G85 and Panasonic GH4.
Like the Sony a6400, this difference in sensor size will give you better performance in low light conditions and you’ll be able to shoot at higher ISOs without worrying about introducing too much grain into your video footage.
On the video side, the Fujifilm X-T200 isn’t bad either. Yes, it’s not as powerful as the Panasonic cameras or Sony a6400, but it still gives you a flexible set of video options to create a beautiful film. For video frame rates, it can record in UHD 4K at up to 30 FPS and the best part is that there’s no additional 4K crop in either 24 FPS or 30 FPS as you see with the Sony a6400 (1.2x 4k crop in 30 FPS).
For slow-motion frame rates, the X-T200 can also record in 1080p at up to 120 FPS, which is better than the 96 FPS found in the Panasonic GH4 or the 60 FPS found in the Panasonic G85.
Additionally, as with all other Fujifilm cameras, you get access to its popular film simulation modes. This is a great cinematic feature to have as it will give you the ability to simulate 11 different classic film looks from Fujifilm film stock such as Provia, Velvia, and Classic Chrome without the need to apply LUTs to your footage.
As with all cameras, there are some downsides to the Fujifilm X-T200. The 2 biggest negatives with this camera are that it only has electronic image stabilization versus the 5 axis image stabilization in the Panasonic cameras, and there is a 15-minute recording limit when shooting in 4K (versus 30 min recording limit the Panasonic G85)
Notes From The Field: If you like what you see with the Fujifilm X-T200 and would benefit from a flat F-Log profile, an even higher DCI 4k resolution and the ability to externally record 10-bit 4:2:2 video then the Fujifilm X-T30 might be worth considering. With that said, at its current price point, the Sony a6400 is slightly more attractive as it has a better screen design, no 4k recording limit, and slightly better video autofocus performance.
- Very good value for the price with a variety of different recording modes and an APS-C size sensor.
- 4K UHD Video and up to 120 FPS in 1080p.
- Access to Fujifilm’s popular film simulation mode which gives you the ability to simulate 11 classic film looks based on Fujifilm film stock.
- Autofocus performance is very good
- No additional crop when shooting in 4k 24 FPS or 30 FPS versus the additional 1.2x crop on the Sony a6400 when shooting in 4k 30 FPS.
- A fully articulating flip screen makes it a lot easier to see what you’re shooting from all different angles.
- A lack of built-in 5 axis image stabilization like the Panasonic cameras, however, it does have electronic image stabilization.
- There is a 15-minute recording limit when shooting in 4k.
- No option to shoot in a flat picture profile which will make coloring your video harder in post-production.
The DJI Pocket 2 is DJI’s newest pocket gimbal and it improves on many of the popular and unpopular features of the original model. The newest additions make this one of the cheapest and best 4k video cameras available.
Here are just some of the improvements that were made:
- Ability to shoot in 1080p at up to 240 FPS. This is double the slow-motion frame rate of the previous generation.
- A wider 20mm equivalent lens vs the 26mm lens of the original camera.
- Larger 1./1.7-inch sensor vs the original 1/2.3 inch sensor.
- 64-megapixel photos vs 12-megapixels.
- Improved autofocus with Hybrid AF 2.0.
- Attachable mini control stick which gives more precise control.
- And many more…
Since the price of the base model of the DJI Pocket 2 and the original DJI Pocket Gimbal are so similar, it’s a no brainer to get the new version.
If you already have this camera, it might be worth considering the upgrade too considering the Osmo Pocket 2 doubles your slow-motion frame rate, has a larger sensor, and uses an improved autofocus system.
Now let’s dive a little more into what you get with the DJI Pocket 2.
For video frame rates you’re able to shoot in 4k or 2k at up to 60 FPS, which is pretty incredible and is the only camera in this article other than the iPhone that is able to do this.
On the slow-motion side, there is a dedicated slow-motion mode that will allow you to shoot up to 240 FPS in 1080p. The only other camera with high frame rate options such as 240 FPS is the Sony ZV-1 and it’s double the price.
The best part about this camera is that DJI took the feedback seriously and improved on all the negative aspects of the previous model. I think two of the most notable improvements are the wider lens and the improved audio quality.
The camera now comes standard with a 20mm equivalent lens. This is an important change as many vloggers found the previous 26mm lens a little too tight for vlogging. Now with a 20mm lens + 2 different zoom options (4x and 8x), you have a much more flexible lens when it comes to focal lengths.
For audio, the Pocket Gimbal now has what DJI calls DJI Matrix Stereo. This is a set of four different microphones on the handle which will dynamically record sound based on the direction you’re shooting in or if you’re zooming in or out. It’s an innovative solution to audio and one to take a second look into especially since audio is so important in filmmaking.
Lastly and most importantly, what makes this camera so special is that it’s also a 3-axis gimbal. This means you’ll be able to capture buttery smooth cinematic footage with no effort at all.
When it comes down to the overall value of a set up like this, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want something that is a tiny filmmaking powerhouse that you can easily fit in your pocket, this might be a good fit for you.
However, you obviously can’t change lenses with this camera and it’s not as easy to use for photography if you plan to take photos too.
- A powerful filmmaking camera that can easily fit in your pocket.
- Larger 1./1.7-inch sensor vs the original model which will give you better low light performance and quality.
- Very good 4k, 2k, and slow-motion video frame rates especially given its small size.
- Able to shoot in 4k up to 60 FPS, which most cameras in this budget are not able to do.
- Three-axis stabilization for amazingly smooth footage.
- Cool intelligent modes such as active FaceTrack, Timelapse, and Panorama.
- 20mm lens that will be wide enough for vloggers and for capturing more in a shot.
- You can also buy additional accessories such as the wireless microphone transmitter and Do-It-All Handle to customize your set up even further.
- You have to connect your mobile phone and go through the DJI registration process in order to use the camera.
- Even though it looks and feels like it should be weatherproof, it’s not.
- Not meant to record for long periods of time in a single shot.
- No ability to change lenses.
- The 1/1.7 inch sensor is smaller than the Micro Four Thirds and APS-C size sensors in the other cameras.
When you open the box of the Panasonic GH4, you’ll be immediately impressed by how well it is made. Although it’s another mirrorless camera, it has the look and feel of a much more expensive ‘classic DSLR.’ It has a solid weather-sealed magnesium body, which feels great in your hand.
For filmmaking, the extra bulk helps make it easier to handle when shooting especially compared to the smaller cameras we have covered.
One of the best parts about the build of the camera is that the screen fully articulates, so you can easily maneuver it in a variety of different positions.
This is a Micro Four Thirds camera, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it doesn’t have the professional filmmaking capabilities.
The camera is a great all-around filmmaking tool that is capable of recording in Ultra HD 4K at 30/24 FPS and Cinema 4k at 24 FPS.
If you want to throw in some slow-motion action into what you’re shooting, you also have the ability to film in slow motion frame rates up to 96 FPS at 1080p, which is pretty good.
When compared to the Sony cameras that we have gone over, the Panasonic GH4 has none of the overheating issues the Sony cameras have. The battery life is also much better.
The big downside with the GH4 is the autofocus system. The camera uses a contrast-based autofocus system, which performs significantly slower than the phase-detect autofocus system the Sony cameras have.
If you rely on autofocus for your filmmaking, this will be the main deal-breaker with this camera.
- Solid-body, camera feel, and overall ergonomics.
- Battery life is incredibly good for a mirrorless camera.
- The screen fully articulates and is much better than the Sony cameras. This makes it a lot easier to see what you’re shooting in bright lighting conditions.
- The memory card slot is on the side of the camera which makes it a lot easier to change if you have the camera on a gimbal or tripod.
- It offers a wide range of formats for shooting.
- HDMI output. It allows you to record directly to an external recorder at 4:2:2 sampling rate (professional standard), which is a nice option to have. (source).
- 4K UHD video.
- There are no overheating issues like the Sony cameras.
- The autofocus system on this camera is much worse than Sony’s.
- The sensor is Micro Four Thirds, so it is much smaller compared to the Sony a5100, Sony a6400, Fujifilm X-T200 Nikon D3500.
- Poor low light performance. The footage is noticeably grainier than the Sony a6400 and Panasonic G85 at higher ISO values in low light situations.
- The slow-motion frame rate only goes to 96 FPS compared to 120 FPS on the Sony a6400 and 960 FPS on the Sony ZV-1.
- You will have a heavy crop since the sensor is Micro Four Thirds.
This is the only Nikon on this list, but it’s a good one for filmmaking on a budget.
Many people agree the Nikon D3500 is one of the best body and kit lens combos for its price range. You can usually find the combo for under $500 before tax, which is hard to beat, so let’s see how it stacks up.
The first thing to point out is that the camera comes with a 24.2MP APS-C sensor, which is great for this price range.
It’s a very compact size for a DSLR camera. I also really like how many different buttons and dials are on the camera. This makes navigating the menu system and changing settings much easier than the Sony a5100.
Similar to the Sony a5100, the biggest downside is the Nikon D3500 does not shoot in 4k. It does go up to 60 FPS at 1080p, but nowadays the ability shoot in 4k is more of the norm; even at this price range.
The negatives for filmmaking don’t end there. The next big bummer is the screen on this camera. The screen does not flip out in any way and there are no touch capabilities, which will make it more difficult to film from different angles.
It’s a bummer Nikon did not include at least a flip-out screen because the rest of the cameras have a screen with some movement.
One of the stand-out features is the Nikon range of glass that’s available to this camera. There are lenses to fit every budget and possible needs any filmmaker might have. It might not seem important at the start, but the sheer range of glass available new and secondhand is a plus to any videographer.
- Good value for the price especially with the APS-C sensor.
- Since it is a Nikon, you have a great range of lenses available.
- Good ergonomics with a variety of different buttons and dials, which makes navigating the menu easier.
- The autofocus is pretty good, but it’s nothing compared to the Sony cameras.
- The video quality is pretty decent.
- No 4K video like the Sony a5100.
- Video recording limit of 30 minutes.
- Lack of flip-out screen and touch capabilities on the screen which will make it more difficult to film in different positions.
- Made more for photography. There is no dedicated video mode or button, so you have to go into a sub-menu to find the different video modes available.
- No mic jack so it will be more difficult to record sound if audio is important in your film.
- Lightweight and cheaper plastic feel to the camera.
Notes From The Field: Canon has announced the Canon EOS M50 Mark II will be released in late November. Brand new, it will be about $50 more than the current model. The big difference between the Mark II and this camera is a slightly improved user interface and the addition of a clean HDMI feed straight from the camera. The clean HDMI feed will make it much easier to live stream with the camera. Other than these two changes, nothing else has changed. So if you might also live stream or could see yourself using the camera for video calls it would make sense to wait for the Canon EOS M50 Mark II. However, don’t see any benefit from this, and like what you see already, then there isn’t any reason to wait for the new model as they’re the exact same camera.
This is the only Canon on our list and is a decent budget filmmaking choice if you want to get into the Canon ecosystem. Of course, Canon offers one of the best selections of native lenses in the market for filmmakers, so you’ll easily be able to find lenses for how you work.
Add that to the famous Canon colors and you have a great starting point to capture some cinematic footage.
The main question at this price range is how does it compare with the Panasonic GH4, Panasonic G85, and Sony a5100.
The first thing you’ll notice with the camera is its plasticy build. The ergonomics are ok, but there is a noticeable lack of buttons and dials on the camera, which makes it a little difficult to switch settings quickly.
What I like about the Panasonic cameras is that there are two separate dials for exposure. So, with one dial, you can change your shutter speed and with the other dial, you can change your aperture.
The Canon EOS M50 only has one exposure dial, so you’ll have to go through the menu system in order to change between aperture and shutter speed. It does slightly beat out the Sony a5100 menu system, though.
What’s bad about this camera is its video capabilities compared to the Panasonic cameras and even to the Sony a5100 to some extent. Although the M50 has the ability to shoot 4k, it’s pretty hard to use and the camera does not have in-body image stabilization.
In 4k video mode, the dual pixel autofocus is disabled, so you’re only able to use its mediocre contrast autofocus system. When you’re shooting 4k, the autofocus clearly hunts around to try to find the focus point, which I think is pretty unusable.
I’m still not sure why Canon had to do this.
At slow motion frame rates, the M50 doesn’t really compete with the Panasonic cameras or the Sony a5100. With the M50, you can shoot up to 60 FPS, but it drops the resolution to 720p.
The one positive is that in 1080p, the dual pixel autofocus of the M50 is actually pretty good and performs better than the autofocus in the Panasonic cameras. The video quality is usable too.
Even so, I think it’s pretty clear that the Panasonic cameras are a better choice at this price range.
Notes From The Field: The Canon M6 Mark II could be a good fit if you like what you see with the Canon EOS M50, but would like a usable 4k video mode. The Canon M6 Mark II is considerably more expensive than the Canon M50, but you get 4k with no crop and dual pixel autofocus plus 1080p at up to 120 FPS. With that said, it’s at a higher price point and the 4k quality is not as good as the cheaper Sony a6400.
- Very easy to use camera that gives you great looking 1080p footage.
- Since it is the Canon camera, you know you are getting a camera that can capture great colors.
- The dual-pixel autofocus in 1080p video mode is pretty good.
- The ergonomics are not as good as the Panasonic cameras in this article and it has a plasticky build.
- Recording limit of 30 minutes.
- Dual-pixel autofocus does not work when shooting in 4k.
- The 120 FPS frame rate is only available in 720p.
- At this price range, the Panasonic cameras are a much better choice.
With the release of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11, the iPhone XS is now an, even more, budget-friendly option for your main filmmaking camera.
Yes, the iPhone XS isn’t as good of a camera when you’re looking at it from a camera technology standpoint. However, I still think the iPhone XS can hold its own and it’s definitely still more than capable of capturing cinematic footage for your films.
As you know, the best thing about using an iPhone as your main filmmaking camera is that it’s so much more than just a camera.
With all the different apps and functionality of the phone, it can be your sound recorder, sound mixer, video editor, and even location scout. You could literally take out the iPhone, download a cinematic video app like Filmic Pro, and be ready to go.
Then after you’re done shooting, you can use another app like iMovie or Adobe Premiere Rush to edit your film together.
There are two 12 megapixel front-facing cameras, one wide-angle with f/1.2 aperture and a 2x telephoto lens at f/2.4. They can both shoot 4K video up to 60 FPS and you can even shoot slow motion in 1080p at 120 FPS and 240 FPS, which is better than most of the cameras on this list.
For video, there is optical image stabilization, which is surprisingly good, so you are able to get decently smooth footage even without a gimbal.
The downside is that it’s still a phone camera. So, compared to the other cameras in this review, you won’t get as good of dynamic range, it won’t be as good in low light situations, and you won’t really be able to change lenses.
Another thing to think about is if you’re a Windows user and plan to edit your video on your computer. Since Apple products have their own ecosystem, file transfer between the iPhone and your Windows computer can be frustrating.
- Great 4K footage that goes up to 60 FPS.
- So much more than just a camera since it’s one of the best mobile phones on the market.
- Improved high dynamic range (HDR) compared to the iPhone X, so you can better expose in dynamic light situations.
- You can shoot and edit all on one device.
- The optical image stabilization is surprisingly good.
- First and foremost, it’s still a mobile phone, so you don’t get the full flexibility of a camera.
- For the most part, the memory is internal to the phone. You can add external memory, but it is bulky.
- Apple products don’t work as well with other products outside its ecosystem which can make file transfer a hassle.
- For the price range, it’s at you could get most of the other cameras in the article.
After hearing from many of you, I realized that I needed to update this section to better reflect the variety of different filmmakers out there. Many of you will be strictly focused on filmmaking, while some of you might also be hybrid shooters who will be taking photos just as much as they shoot video.
This is an important distinction to make as a few of these cameras have features that make them better for video than photography and vice versa. At the same time, even though all these cameras can take both video and photos, some are better as a hybrid camera than others.
Here’s what I think.
Best Camera for the Filmmaker – Panasonic G85
Even though the Panasonic G85 isn’t as new as the Fujifilm X-T200 or Sony a6400, I still think it has essential video-specific features that make it the winner if you’re primary focus is on videography. Most importantly, the Panasonic G85 has one of the best in-body image stabilization (IBIS) systems available.
The only other camera that we cover which has in-body image stabilization is the Sony ZV-1. Although the ZV-1 is a powerful video-specific camera, I still give the edge to the Panasonic G85 when it comes to filmmaking as it has interchangeable lenses and a slightly bigger sensor.
Other than the image stabilization, this camera also has a flexible variety of different picture profiles which you can customize. Unfortunately, the Panasonic G85 doesn’t have V-Log picture profile, but it does have Cine-Like D. This is a flat picture profile that will allow you to capture better dynamic range and will make it easier to color grade your footage in post.
The only thing I wish is that this camera had more slow-motion frame rate options (only has 60 FPS in 1080p). However, I think it’s a reasonable tradeoff especially considering its price point in combination with its video features.
Best Camera for the Hybrid Shooter – Sony a6400 or Fujifilm X-T200
I was also considering the Sony a6400 and Fujifilm X-T200 as the best “filmmaking” camera, but after much consideration, I actually think that both these cameras make a much better hybrid camera for those of you who are planning on making films and also capturing photographs.
The main reason why I think this is because they don’t have built-in image stabilization. Yes, it’s true that you don’t necessarily need image stabilization to capture cinematic-looking video footage, but it definitely helps especially if you’re going to be shooting mostly video and will be hand-holding.
With the Sony a6400 and Fujifilm X-T200, you get the best of both worlds. They have crazy good video specs with the 4k quality you expect and slow-motion frame rates that you don’t find on the Panasonic G85 (120 FPS in 1080p). Plus, they both have an APS-C sensor which will give you better low-light performance and resolution for both video and photography work.
So to close it out the debate over the Panasonic G85, Sony a6400, and Fujifilm X-T200, here’s what I think:
- The Panasonic G85 would be a good fit if you’re main focus is on video work, you would benefit from image stabilization, and you want to stay in this price range.
- The Sony a6400 would be a good fit if you don’t need image stabilization, want the fastest and most accurate autofocus system, and are looking for a good hybrid camera for both photography and videography.
- The Fujifilm X-T200 would be a good fit if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly hybrid camera system for both photography and videography and don’t necessarily need image stabilization.
Cheapest 4k Camera for Filmmaking – DJI Pocket 2
I think the DJI Pocket 2 was one of the most surprising cameras in this review and makes a great choice if you’re looking for the cheapest 4k camera to create films with.
For its price point, it gives you everything you need to create beautiful cinematic films. The tiny little device packs an incredibly powerful camera that shoots 4k up to 60 FPS, which only the iPhone XS can do in this article.
On top of that, you have the built-in three-axis gimbal, which allows you to get unbelievably smooth footage.
Yes, you will have to use the DJI Mimo app to register the device to get started. However, negatives such as these are small considering the value you get for your money.
Bumped Out of Top 10
Think of this section as a sort of archive for this Ultimate Guide. These cameras were at some point on my top 10 list but were removed as I found better value filmmaking cameras for the price point.
That’s not to say these aren’t good cameras. It’s just that camera technology keeps advancing so it’s only natural to find more feature-rich cameras for a cheaper price as time goes on.
- Sony RX100 VA (Removed on June 2, 2020): Reason it was removed – the Sony ZV-1 released on June 11, 2020. The Sony ZV-1 has many new improvements including better video autofocus, fully articulating flip-out screen, built-in hot-shoe, and Sony’s newest color science, at the same price point.
- Sony RX100 VII (Removed on October 16, 2020): Reason it was removed – it doesn’t make much sense at its current price point and lack of interchangeable lens given what other cameras are available.
- Sony a6500 (Removed on October 16, 2020): Reason it was removed – Sony announced the Sony a6500 will be discontinued making it difficult to find a brand new camera. With that said, this is still a great camera if you can find a used version in good condition.
- DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal (Removed on October 23, 2020): Reason it was removed – DJI announced the release of the DJI Pocket 2 on Nov. 1, 2020. The DJI Pocket 2 has many new improvements including a wider lens, better autofocus and a bigger sensor at a similar price point.