What Camera Should I Use?

Choosing the right camera is very important, and the one you choose needs to fit what you're going to be using it for.  However, you might not have the luxury of being able to choose the one you want.  Maybe it costs too much, or isn't available.  In this case I say to use whatever camera you can get your hands on, and that's the right camera to use.  That's what indie filmmakers do, they use what's available to them.  Maybe it's a cellphone, or a GoPro, or a miniDV cam.  Whatever the case may be, use what you have available first.



I know what you're thinking....cellphone?  Yes, a cellphone.  Cellphones these days take wonderful pictures and with third party apps you can have great control over the camera.  Other third party apps allow you to edit the picture and it's color, contrast, saturation, and add-on filters.  Cellphones are also very powerful video cameras.  Some of the current cellphones can even shoot in 4k, which is phenomenal.  So, don't discount the cellphone.  Most of us have one in our pocket or in our hand right this very second.

Cellphones have even been used to shoot feature films.  Here's 5 recent films shot on a cellphone.

-1 Tangerine
-2  I Play With The Phrase Each Other
-3  And Uneasy Lies The Mind
-4  Framed
-5  Searching For Sugar Man

The cinematographers on these features most likely also added on extra clip-on lenses to the cellphone, which are cheap and expensive and readily available online.



Action cameras, like the GoPro, have come a long way.  They started out with a low res HD (720P), moved up to 1080P HD and now you can get them to record in 4K.  GoPro really advanced the way for action cams and now there are many on the market to choose from, but it seems that GoPro is still the leader in that market.

You can do a lot with a GoPro actually.  With a good mic added on and a way to stabilize your shots, you can get some very impressive footage.  Take a look at an event video I did for an RC Helicopter Event.

There's been at least one feature film shot almost entirely using a GoPro.

-1  Hardcore Henry

Some action cams are also water proof, if that's of interest to you, and they're very versatile.  You can put them almost anywhere, like the side of a car, a motorcycle, on a plane, etc., and they're fairly cheap as well.



Consumer video cameras can range in price from just a couple hundred dollars all the way up to over $1000, and prosumer cameras pick up after that.  Consumer cameras these days shoot in 1080P and/or UHD (3.8K) or full 4K resolution.  They generally will have a built in lens too.  However they do offer a zoom, manual focus ring, a flip out screen and some built in effects.

You may have an older consumer camera sitting around the house right now.  Perhaps an old Hi-8mm, or miniDV.  If they still work then use it for all you can and learn as much from it as you can without spending money on new gear.  It may come as a surprise, but miniDV has also been used to shoot feature films.  Here are a few films shot with miniDV.

-1  28 Days Later
-2  Open Water
-3  Pieces Of April



Prosumer cameras usually begin just before $1000 and have more features than their consumer level cousins.  Sometimes they will have features to help you focus better, control your exposure better and have much better optics, and possibly image stabilization as well.  The lens is usually built into the camera.  The prosumer level will usually give you the ability to get better depth of field, much better than consumer, where your subject is in focus and the background is out of focus.



At this level you get interchangeable lenses, sometimes built in filters like neutral density, and the resolution can go up to 8k.  Cameras like high end Sony cams, Blackmagic cams, and Red cams are in the pro level.  They range in price from about $2000 and go past $50,000.  Many feature films these days are shot with high end pro video cameras.



DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) comes in a two different flavors.  First there's the cheaper consumer models that generally will have a built in lens, and then the prosumer to pro models that have interchangeable lenses.  DSLR's are really built to take pictures mostly, but today's DSLR's take great video.  Currently I use a Nikon D5500 and it's what I use to record the episodes.  They all have great features, but you'll find more features the higher you go in price.



Mirrorless cameras have become very popular lately.  They look and are shaped just like a DSLR, but the difference is there's no mirror bouncing the image up to the eyepiece.  In DSLR cameras there's a mirror blocking the sensor so that the image that the lens sees is bounced up to the eyepiece that you're looking through.  Most also have the ability to flip the mirror up so that the image is hitting the sensor, and that image can then be displayed on your LCD screen on the back.  So every time you take a picture the mirror flips up to let the light hit the sensor for the exposure that you've set and then flips back down blocking the sensor.  The same thing happens when you shoot video.  The mirror will stay up during the entire shooting process.  When you're finished recording the mirror will flip back down.

With mirrorless cameras the image hits the sensor and that image is displayed either in the eyepiece or the LCD screen in the back.  I also use a Panasonic Lumix GH5.  It has the ability to shoot 4k and slow motion.



Ultimately, the best camera for you to use is the one you can use without spending any money.  Maybe it's your cellphone, or maybe it's an older cameras you have in your house.  If you're looking to buy a camera, consider what you're going to be using the camera for, the environment it will be in, etc.  For instance, you wouldn't want to get a huge video camera if you're going to be going scuba diving with it.  You might be better off with a water proof Go Pro instead.

If you have the money I would suggest getting a camera that has lens interchangeability.  DSLR and mirrorless cameras that start in the $400 - $500 range start having lens interchangeability.

Also, don't be afraid to buy used.  There's lots of great used gear on online auction sites.

I hope this has helped you decide what type of camera you should be using.  No matter what you get, try to use it to it's full potential.  Get everything out of it you can.  Learn how to push it's limits and see what you can capture, and never be afraid to experiment with settings.  You learn so much from doing that, and it's experience that you will carry with you throughout your filmmaking career.

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