So.....if you are like most beginning filmmakers, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of equipment that you need to purchase and….the cost. No lies, video equipment is expensive. Why? Because you get what you pay for. Do you want your camera to have control over exposure, saturation, audio levels, frame rate, aspect ratio, white balance, and focusing? Do you want better control of your lighting? Do you want sturdy tripods and rigs? Do you want audio equipment that is dependable? Do you want editing software that will produce the kind of content you wish to create? Then as sure as heck, you will have to spend money to get them.
I suggest doing extensive research online looking at reviews and reading forums about the equipment you plan to purchase. Learn the pro and cons and be prepared to deal with the cons if you purchase the product. This is especially critical when looking at video editing software. Most high-end software (like Adobe CC or AVID) requires a beefy computer to handle all the processing and graphics. Software is covered in a different post.
The first thing you need to look at is a camera. There are several types of video cameras available and they all have different functions. Again, this is where you need to stop and ask yourself: “What kind of filmmaker do I want to be?” Knowing what you want to do will determine what kind of camera you will most likely need.
Digital Video Cameras are grouped into the following categories. (Some sources argue that there are more than just these, but whatever.)
Amateur: Smart phones, tablets, webcams. Not suitable for serious/professional filmmaking.
Consumer: These include your normal run of the mill camcorders like the Sony Handycam, Canon Vixia, Panasonic V550, and etc. These types of cameras generally do not give you much control (if any) over exposure, focusing, audio, frame rate, aspect ratio, and saturation. They generally cost between $300-$600. More money means you can buy more controllable features. Are these recommended for filmmakers? Ummm…….no.
Prosumer: These are hybrid cameras that are more-or-less an affordable crossover between professional-grade equipment and consumer-grade equipment. These include cameras such as Sony NEX-VG30, Canon XA20, JVC GY-HM150, Blackmagic Cinema, and etc. These cameras will give you control over most everything. Most models allow for interchangeable lenses and XLR audio inputs. They generally cost between $1000-$2000. These cameras are recommended for beginning filmmakers. These cameras are nice enough that you could film actual movie footage with them. They offer great image quality, full HD, and can do pretty much everything that you will need them to.
Professional: If you are absolutely serious and have the financial fortitude to afford these beasts, then go for it. These cameras give you complete control over everything and will give you the utmost in picture quality. These are cameras used in broadcast studios, movie sets, sports events, and etc. Be prepared to spend anywhere from $20,000 to over $100,000 for these monsters. Some will obviously require additional equipment to make them functional. But there are models you can get that have everything you need packed into the camera itself. Again, if you have the budget, go ahead and get one or a few. You won’t be disappointed with the images!!
Full-Sensor and RAW: These cameras are actually considered Prosumer devices, but have special capabilities that their counterparts don’t have -principally a full 35mm sensor. What does that mean? Well…(cough)…size does matter. The bigger the sensor your camera has, the better images it can produce. Cameras with a full 35mm sensor will give you images equivalent to 35mm film. RAW cameras give you absolute, unlimited control over picture quality. Yeah….that’s awesome. They range from $4000-$20,000, but make a worthwhile investment if you want to be a serious filmmaker. These cameras include the Sony FS100 and FS700, Blackmagic Cinema 4K, RED, and etc.
DSLR: Now this is where great filmmaking gets cheap! DSLR stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex”. You can Google that phrase to learn more about what it means. The explanation is too long to post here. These cameras are principally designed for photography first and foremost, but have the capability to record incredible HD video. DSLR filmmaking has revolutionized the filmmaking industry. There are many models available from Canon, Sony, Nikon, and Panasonic that have this capability. All have interchangeable lenses which provide for unlimited flexibility in creating depth-of-field. However, they have major limitations –like virtually no control over audio levels (some don’t even have audio inputs), and they are all limited to a 12-15 minute record time. This isn’t ideal if you need to film long continuous shots like an interview, concert, and etc. These cameras typically cost around $600-$800 for good entry-level models and can go as high as $6000. However, be aware that most models do not come with lenses. If they do come with a lens, it generally isn’t a very good one. You typically have to purchase lenses separately….and they’re not cheap. You will also need to purchase an external audio recorder and microphone to capture high-fidelity sound. Lenses and audio are covered in another post.
Obviously purchasing a camera with lots of control, flexibility, and features will give you the better image, but consider what you will be filming. If you are just filming commercials for local television or websites, then you probably don’t need Professional-grade or Full-Sensor cameras. A Prosumer or DSLR device would be exceptional in that area. If you want to produce documentaries and features films, then you need to look above those.
So, ask yourself: “What will I be filming and what camera will give me the functionality that I need for that purpose?” Having said that, don’t purchase a camera that is going to create limitations either immediately or down the road. Remember to keep your business plan in mind and think of future needs.
Copyright 2018 Steven Vest. All rights reserved.
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