So, What Camera Should I Get?

confusionThis is a common question asked to me many times.  So why not make it a blog post, right?

First of all, there’s really no reason nowadays not to get a high definition camera.  If you need standard-def for any reason, you can always down-convert it.


There’s really 4 levels of video cameras, including a new breed that are sort of in a league of their own:

  1. NEW BREED: HDSLR Cameras (Still cameras with amazing video capability), $1000-5000

    Canon HV20

    Canon HV20

  2. Consumer cameras you buy at Walmart and Bestbuy, $300-2000
  3. Prosumer cameras you buy at pro shops like B&H and Adorama, $2500-8500
  4. Professional cameras you buy from B&H (sometimes) or from special dealers (like RED), $15,000-$250,000

#1: DSLRs require a lot of knowledge in photography and need many workarounds to use properly for video production.  They have an amazing picture for the cost, but are truly in a league of their own.  The knowledge base needed to use a DSLR is different than using a video camera or film camera.  I don’t recommend it for a starter camera UNLESS you’re already a photographer who understands the basics of these cameras like ISO, Depth of Field, Exposure, etc.

There’s no doubt that at this time Canon DSLRs are the way to go.  So which Canon DSLR?  Here’s Shane Hurlbut’s (ASC) recommendations:

How do you chose which of the Canon cameras to buy? Honestly, to make a movie, you need all three.

The Canon 5D Mark II is analogous to a Panavision Platinum or an Arricam. It is the best sensor to deliver filmic imagery with Vista Vision depth of field.
The pros:

  • large sensor with the best megapixel size to deliver the closest look to film
  • shoots PAL
  • it has the most latitude of all the cameras
  • compact and just the KING OF THE HILL

The cons:

  • no high speed
  • shallow depth of field (more difficult to focus)
  • vignettes on all cinema style 35mm motion picture camera zooms and up to a 35mm cinema prime lens.

However, I still believe the 5D to be the best in HDSLR capture hands down. Why drive a Yugo when you can drive a Porsche for $800 more?

The Canon 7D is equivalent to a 435 for slow-mo and a wide lens camera for use on a crane if you are using PL or PV mounted lenses.
The pros:

  • high speed at 60fps at 720
  • shoots PAL
  • smaller sensor for better depth of field (easier to focus with)
  • Can use all Cinema style PL or PV mounted glass; does not vignette

The cons:

  • more inherent aliasing and moire problems
  • a sensor with more contrast and less latitude.

The Canon 1D is the low light, shooting available, turn night photography on its head camera and knowing how to work with less camera.
The pros:

  • a very sensitive sensor for low light
  • anamorphic sensor that delivers a beautiful depth of field
  • uses less light
  • more robust body
  • heavier
  • longer battery life
  • high speed with less rolling shutter issues

The cons:

  • skin tones tend to be very magenta, not good
  • sensor contrast is not as filmic
  • it looks like video
  • more expensive
  • bigger body
  • not as compact
  • cannot get as low to the ground with the battery cache at the bottom of the body.

#2 is fine for alot of stuff but will usually do not look very professional in the final video or on the set.  Quality depends on the operator. I’ve seen stuff shot on a Canon HV20 that looks like Hollywood (and HAS been in Hollywood films), and I’ve seen stuff shot on a Sony F23 ($250k) that looks like total crap because the guys using it had no idea how to use it.  It’s all about the lighting, the proper manual settings on the camera, the editing, and the color grading. That’s 1/2 the process…don’t forget about audio: Microphones and proper usage and sound design/editing in post production.

You will be taken more seriously on a set with #3 and #4.  If you plan on being hired to be a videographer/DP…you will need to give clients the perception of professionalism and value.  These require a knowledge and training to use and is not recommended for a starter camera to learn on.

Sony F23 CineAlta
Sony F23 CineAlta

If you don’t have alot of experience…then start with consumer. Start reading the forums like DVXuser and DVinfo. Learn how to use the manual settings in the camera. Let me say this again.  TURN OFF THE AUTO GAIN, AUTO IRIS, AUTO WHITE BALANCE, and AUTO FOCUS.  If you don’t know why…you need to learn and it would fill up a gigabyte of space to write it in this post.  You can find the reasons in those forums.  Get to where your knowledge beats the camera you have…then upgrade to prosumer. Rinse and repeat.

Remember that in this industry, cameras are outdated and replaced with better/cheaper versions within about 3 or 4 years.  Plan on upgrading in that amount of time.

That’s the best advice I can give when people ask me “which camera should I get.”  In my opinion, it’s all about what you’re planning on using the camera for and the level of camera that fits your level of knowledge.



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