Travel mindfully.
Pursue creatively.
Live life with intention.

Travel mindfully.
Pursue creatively.
Live life with intention.

Ultimate Guide: 10 Best Cameras for Filmmaking on a Budget

by Tom Shu

If you are in a hurry and just want to find out what the best camera for filmmaking on a budget is, then I’d recommend the Panasonic G85 as the best one!

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:

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.

sillhouette of person at sunset taking a photo

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.

infographic showing what you should look for in a budget filmmaking camera

Video Recording Modes

illustration of a camera with a thought bubble for 4k and another thought bubble for 1080p resolution

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?

Sensor Performance

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.

illustration of different camera sensor sizes
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

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.

ISO Range/Performance

illustration showing a photographer taking photos of a night scene with monsters on the buildings

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.

Battery Life

illustration showing cartoon batteries with different expressions. Goes from happy to sad, left to right.

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.

Additional Features

illustration depicting the different features you should look for in a filmmaking camera

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

illustration of two different cameras. one camera has a speech bubble which says "i'm high resolution". other camera with speech bubble saying "well, my screen flips"

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

illustration showing a camera with a thought bubble with a light bulb in the thought bubble

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

illustration showing 4 different lenses of 4 different sizes

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

illustration of a piggy bank

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

image of many cameras on the groud

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 Sony RX100 VII because of its wide focal length range in combination with its incredible video specs, 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.

1. Sony a5100

photo of a black camera on a table

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 a6500, 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 a6500. 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.

Lastly, similar to the Sony a6500, this camera also has a record limit of 29 minutes and 59 seconds.

If you have the budget, the Sony a6500 is the obvious choice, but if you don’t, the a5100 is not so bad either.

PROS:

  • Low price—the cheapest Sony on our list.
  • You get the same APS-C sensor size that’s on the more expensive Sony a6500.
  • 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.

CONS:

  • 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 a6500
  • 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 a6500.
  • No picture profiles available, which can be expected at the price.


illustration of box which links to amazon



2. Sony a6500

sony-a6500-with-zeiss-16-70-f4

You’ve got to be impressed at the features packed into the Sony a6500. The mirrorless body is small and compact, but the 120 FPS frame rate, 4K UHD video, great ISO range, excellent autofocus, superb low light capability, and addition Slow/Quick Motion ability are real ‘wow’ factors.

It’s actually the first semi-pro camera I purchased and is the camera I used to film most of my short film Spirit of Matsu.

When shooting, the five-stop image stabilization mode helps kill any camera shake when you’re shooting handheld and at longer focal lengths. The stabilization is not as good as the Panasonic G85, but it’s still one of the best available.

For a camera at this price range, it gives remarkable results. The 425-point phase-detection autofocus points cover most of the frame and is spot on most of the time.

The 24.2 MP sensor doesn’t break any records, but the ‘shootability’ of this camera is fantastic.

The WiFi connection makes off-camera control a breeze with the Sony Imaging Edge Mobile app, and the options available on the camera coupled with a robust, weather-resistant body had us wondering if the camera had fallen into the wrong price bracket.

There are of course downsides to this camera too. The battery life is notoriously bad, the LCD screen is almost unusable outside during the daytime, and it does have overheating problems.

With that said, it’s hard to beat this one at this price range.

PROS:

  • 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.
  • Solid-body ergonomics and weather resistance on the camera.
  • Excellent autofocus with the 425 phase-detection autofocus points that cover most of the frame.
  • Access to Sony’s Cine and S-Log picture profiles.
  • In-camera image stabilization, which is always good to have.
  • UHD 4K at 24 and 30 FPS.

CONS:

  • This camera will overheat if you shoot with it for a longer duration of time (a Sony Issue for older models).
  • This camera’s battery life is notoriously bad so you will have to carry multiple batteries with you at all times.
  • The screen is not very good, especially in daylight. Also, the screen will dim when you shoot video making it even harder to see.


illustration of box which links to amazon



3. Panasonic G85

photo of black camera on a black background

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.

PROS:

  • 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 a6500.
  • 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.

CONS:

  • 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 a6500, and Nikon D3500.
  • Autofocus and low light performance are still not as good as the Sony a6500.


illustration of box which links to amazon



4. Sony ZV-1

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 and Sony a6500 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 30 minutes on the Sony a6500 and 5 minutes on the Sony RX100 VII (note: you can turn it off in the menu, though).
  • 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 which is only available through the download of an app on the Sony a6500 and Sony RX100 VII

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.

PROS

  • 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 like you have with the Sony a6500 and Sony RX100 VII.
  • 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.

CONS

  • 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.


illustration of box which links to amazon



5. Sony RX100 VII

With the release of the Sony ZV-1, the Sony RX100 VII is now the older RX Series model. Overall, at the ZV-1’s current price point, it is a much better value. However, the Sony RX100 VII is still worth considering if you want more flexibility in the focal range of your lens, which is the biggest difference between the two cameras.

The Sony RX100 VII includes a super zoom lens with a full-frame equivalent focal range of 24-200mm compared to the 24-70mm on the Sony ZV-1. This could be important to you if the Sony RX100 VII or the Sony ZV-1 is your only filmmaking camera as both cameras do not have interchangeable lenses.

Most importantly, the sensor of the RX100 VII is pretty much the same as the Sony ZV-1. You get the same advanced video autofocus features like real-time eye autofocus and object tracking as you do with the Sony ZV-1. The autofocus capabilities are especially important with point and shoot cameras like this because you can’t easily manual focus.

With that said, other then the more expensive price point there are a few big downsides of this camera when compared to the Sony ZV-1 to keep in mind:

  • It does not have a built-in neutral density filter, which will make shooting at wide apertures in bright light difficult.
  • The lens is not as fast with the lowest aperture at f/2.8 compared to f/1.8 on the ZV-1, so it won’t be as good in low light shooting.
  • It does not have a fully articulating flip-out screen.
  • It does not have Sony’s newest color science.

So, what it really comes down to is the lens and budget. If you think you’ll need the extra reach of the Sony RX100 VII and you have the extra budget, then the Sony RX100 VII is the choice.

However, if you don’t really need the extra reach and want to save money, the Sony ZV-1 is better in all other aspects.

PROS:

  • An incredible zoom lens that is a full-frame equivalent of 24-200mm.
  • The same improved sensor as the Sony ZV-1, which means advanced video autofocus features like real-time object tracking and face and eye-tracking.
  • Has the High Frame Rate (HFR) mode which allows you to shoot at extremely high frame rates like 240 FPS, 480 FPS, and 960 FPS.

CONS:

  • The overall price is expensive especially compared to the newer Sony ZV-1.
  • It is not an interchangeable lens camera so you will have to stick with this lens which has a full-frame equivalence of about 24-200mm.
  • At most focal lengths, your aperture will be higher than f/2.8 so you will not get the best depth of field.
  • The battery life is not as good since it is a smaller camera.
  • The small size makes stability an issue especially when you’re using longer focal lengths.
  • There is no built-in neutral density filter like the Sony ZV-1, which will make it harder to film at wide apertures in bright light.


illustration of box which links to amazon



6. DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal

picture of a pocket sized camera

The DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal is definitely not a conventional camera, but you can’t deny the fun you can have with this little guy. Weighing in at 4 ounces, less than 5 inches high, and packing up to 256 GB of storage AND 4K at 60 FPS—a lot is going on in such a small package.

The camera itself has a 1/2.3” sensor, which is slightly smaller than the Sony RX cameras in this article and is about the same size as the sensor in the iPhone XS that we will cover later.

The craziest thing about this camera is obviously its size. Just a few years ago, in order to capture 4k footage this smooth, you would have to rig a 4k capable camera up to a gimbal.

That set up is way more expensive and bulky than the all-in-one package you get in the DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal.

Another cool thing about this camera is that you don’t necessarily have to use your smartphone with it.

The camera itself has a little built-in touch screen that you can use to choose different shooting modes like slow motion and timelapse and even preview what you have shot so far.

One of the biggest complaints with all of DJI’s products is that on the initial set-up you have register your new device through your phone.

In the case of the DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal, this means downloading the Mimo app to your smartphone, connecting your phone to the device, and then registering it.

It doesn’t take very long, but if you forget to do this before taking the camera out on a shoot for the first time, setting it up on location can be a real hassle.

When it comes down to the overall price value, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want something that is a tiny powerhouse and a camera that you can easily fit in your pocket and take with you, this might be a good fit for you.

However, for just a little more money, you can get one of the Panasonic cameras or Sony a5100 which are more flexible.

PROS:

  • The compact size is a lot of fun to use and easy to carry around.
  • Surprisingly good footage for such a small package.
  • Good quality 4K video up to 60 FPS.
  • Three-axis stabilization for amazingly smooth footage.
  • Cool intelligent modes such as active FaceTrack, Timelapse, and Panorama.

CONS:

  • You have to connect your mobile phone and go through the DJI registration process in order to use the camera.
  • Extra accessories are recommended to get the most functionality out of the camera.
  • Even though it looks and feels like it should be weatherproof, it’s not.
  • At the price point, you could get the Panasonic GH4 or G85, which offers more flexible filmmaking options.


illustration of box which links to amazon



7. Panasonic GH4

photo of black camera in front of white background

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.

PROS:

  • 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.

CONS:

  • 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 a6500, and Nikon D3500.
  • Poor low light performance. The footage is noticeably grainier than the Sony a6500 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 a6500 and 960 FPS on the Sony RX series.
  • You will have a heavy crop since the sensor is Micro Four Thirds.


illustration of box which links to amazon



8. Nikon D3500

image of black camera in an office setting

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.

PROS:

  • 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.

CONS:

  • No 4K video like the Sony a5100.
  • 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.


illustration of box which links to amazon



9. Canon EOS M50

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.

PROS:

  • Huge variety of native Canon lenses available for this camera.
  • 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.

CONS:

  • The ergonomics are not as good as the Panasonic cameras in this article and it has a plasticy build.
  • 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.


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10. iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max 256 GB

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Yes, the iPhone XS really is capable of being your main filmmaking camera, and 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 cameras also got an impressive upgrade to its high dynamic range (HDR) when compared to the previous version, the iPhone X.

Now when you’re shooting a sunset, the iPhone XS/iPhone XS Max does a pretty great job of exposing for both the shadows and highlights.

When you are shooting in situations like this with the iPhone X, you tend to only be able to expose for either the shadows or highlights, not both.

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.

PROS:

  • 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.

CONS:

  • 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.


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The Results

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At the end of the day, a more expensive feature-packed camera is not going to determine the quality of the film. It’s you, the filmmaker that determines the quality of the final film. What’s important is to pick the right tool for your shooting style so you can make your creative vision a reality.

Every one of these cameras that we covered is definitely capable of shooting cinematic footage and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

With that said, some are clearly better than others, especially considering the value for your money.

Overall Winner – Panasonic G85

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It was a super hard decision to choose an overall winner and obviously there’s no perfect answer here. After much deliberation, I gave a slight edge to the Panasonic G85.

For me, it came down to the Sony a6500 and the Panasonic G85. Honestly, I wanted to recommend the Sony a6500 as it was my first professional-quality camera and is what I used to film my first short film.

However, after really sitting down to compare the Panasonic G85 to the Sony a6500, it was obvious that the Panasonic G85 was the clear winner. Especially when you consider the value for your money.

The Panasonic G85 is cheaper, the button/dial layout and internal menu are easier to use. Its screen is better and it fully flips out. There is a greater variety of cheap quality lenses available, and most importantly the 4k and 1080p video quality is good enough. The list really goes on and on.

What I will say is that if you want the best video quality possible and know you will be shooting in a variety of low light situations, go for the Sony a6500. Both the 4K and 1080p video quality is crisper on the a6500 and it performs much better in low light situations.

I just don’t think the a6500 can overcome its negatives when compared to the Panasonic G85 as a budget filmmaking camera.


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Cheapest 4k Camera for Filmmaking – DJI Osmo Mobile Gimbal

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I think the DJI Osmo Mobile Gimbal 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 and to get the most functionality out of the camera. However, negatives such as these are small considering the value you get for your money.


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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 is going to be 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.

 

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