I’m guessing that you’re relatively new in the video space and you’re looking to make your first bigger purchase into a decent camera…
I get it, with all of the cameras on the market, it can be overwhelming to figure out exactly which camera is best for your needs.
Especially with all the different camera lingo out there, I’m sure you’ve come across some unfamiliar words in the camera specs, and you have no idea if you need to pay attention to that, or if it’s something you can maybe ignore when purchasing a camera.
Lucky for you, as a working indie filmmaker, I know a thing or two about cameras and other tools for filmmakers! Read this article so I can help you get familiar with the language of cameras, and we can figure out together which camera will suit you best.
- Lens and Zoom: If you want to have more flexibility with getting a far shot or a closer shot, get a camera with a lens that has a wide zoom range. A lens with a bigger number like 28mm-75mm zooms in more than a smaller number like 10mm-18mm.
- Sensor Size: Choose a larger sensor if you want to film in low light or create cool background effects.
- Resolution: High resolution means a sharper image, but think about what you’re filming. Sometimes, you don’t need the highest resolution!
- Frame Rate: Look for a camera that can do different speeds. Faster frame rates like 60fps or 120fps are great for slow motion.
- Video Formats: It’s best to have a camera that can save videos in many formats like MP4 or AVI.
- Audio Input: Good audio is key. If you can, pick a camera with XLR inputs for the best sound.
- Battery Life: More expensive cameras last longer, but you can also use extra batteries or a power bank.
- Budget: Don’t spend more than you need. Expensive doesn’t always mean better.
We’re going to look at the many aspects you need to consider in order to choose the best camera for you and your situation! My goal is that by the end of this video camera buyers guide, you’ll have all the information you need to choose the right digital camera for you.
Key Features to Consider When Buying a Video Camera
The features you need to consider when choosing a dedicated video camera include:
1. Lens Quality
Lenses are important components of video cameras because you can’t use the camera without them!
Most high-quality video cameras have interchangeable lenses, so choose one that comes with a quality kit lens. You can do this by paying attention to the included lens’s focal length.
Lens focal length refers to the distance between the camera’s lens and its sensor, measured in millimeters. Longer focal lengths produce zoomed-in images and vice versa. For example, a lens with a 13mm focal length will capture a wider view than a 50mm one.
(*Pro Tip: 50mm is roughly the same distance that we see with our naked eye, so that gives you an idea of if you want to go farther or closer than that in terms of your lens focal length)
When choosing a camera for its lens quality, think about the type of content you plan to shoot with it. As your projects become more ambitious and your budget increases, you can explore other lens sizes and types.
2. Sensor Size
A video camera sensor is one of the most prominent parts you’ll see on a camera. This hardware is responsible for capturing light and transforming it into images. The larger the sensor’s size, the more light it can capture. Thus, a larger sensor can capture higher-quality recordings and will help you shoot in low-light conditions.
Due to their size, large sensors can also capture more information on the screen and create interesting effects (for example, a shallow depth of field). If you need a camera that can do the above tasks and more, you’ll need to choose a camera with a larger sensor.
All digital devices (computers, televisions, mobile devices, etc.) display images using pixels. A video camera’s resolution refers to how many pixels it displays on each frame. The higher the pixel count, the better the image quality, and vice versa.
The amount of resolution you’ll need will depend on the video type you’re shooting. For example, using a 4K video camera to shoot home memories may be overkill. Instead, you can get by with a camera that still offers a good, but lower picture quality, like an HD video camera.
4. Frame Rate
A video camera’s frame rate refers to how many frames it can capture in one second of filming. You’ll usually hear the term frames per second (FPS) thrown around during filming-related discussions. For example, the cinematic standard is 24fps.
Camera fps starts from 24 and goes up to 120 fps. Choose a camera with a good fps range because it lets you shoot more video types. The reason is the way the frames-per-second concept works. As you’re able to capture more frames per second, the video is able to be played in slow motion, like with 60fps and 120fps (twice as slow as 60fps).
5. Video Formats
Video files tend to be large, even with shorter video clips. In answer to this issue, software developers created codecs. These software programs encode, compress, decode, and decompress video data so the files can be stored and shared more easily.
While encoding helps make video files more manageable, there’s a side effect: the video file format the raw recording gets encoded into loses data during the compression process, resulting in a lower video quality.
Thus, choose a camera that supports the widest range of recording formats possible. Typical formats include MP4, WMV, AVI, FLV, MOV, and MKV. Having more choices allows you to be strategic when encoding to a recording format.
7. Audio Input Options
Most cameras have audio jacks you can use to plug in an external microphone. While budget cameras have jacks that typically accept one audio source, pricey models come with XLR audio inputs.
This feature is important to consider when choosing a camera because it can affect the audio quality the device outputs. XLR audio inputs produce balanced audio, which makes them more desirable.
But that’s not all; they can give some microphones phantom power. This capability means you use them with microphones that don’t have batteries since the XLR cable provides the power they need.
8. Battery Life
The battery life on your chosen digital camera will determine how long your recording sessions last, making it a crucial consideration.
Higher-end digital cameras typically have batteries that offer more longevity than the ones in their budget film camera counterparts. The batteries on these higher-priced models can give you an extra hour or two of filming.
With that said, there are workarounds for people who can’t afford higher-priced camcorders. One way is to get extra batteries and rotate them in and out. Another is to use a power bank to charge the camera.
9. Budget Considerations
You can’t choose a camera without considering your budget. That’s going to effect which cameras you’ll be able to buy.
With that said, expensiveness doesn’t always equate to a device that’s right for your project. For example, you may not need a high-end camera to create YouTube videos. However, if your project is more ambitious and requires a quality device, you might need to save up until it falls within your budget.
Learn about the best budget video cameras here!
Video Camera Buyer’s Guide
What are the different camera types? Where are the best places to buy new and used cameras? What are the most essential accessories to buy for your video camera? This section answers the above questions and more.
Types of Cameras
There are several camera types available for purchase. The most common types include:
1. DSLRs & Mirrorless – Versatile and Compact
DSLR cameras are the most versatile and well-known camera type. The “DSLR” stands for digital single-lens reflex camera, and this name reflects how the camera captures its images. To summarize, the light that passes through a DSLR camera’s lens bounces off an internal mirror, deflecting back to its physical or electronic viewfinder and sensor.
There are also DSLR cameras that lack internal mirrors. These lighter and more compact alternatives to models with mirrors are called mirrorless cameras.
Unlike the process described above, the light that passes through a mirrorless camera hits the camera’s sensor directly. They work great when you shoot video in low-light situations and produce exceptional image quality.
2. Camcorders – Reliable and User-Friendly
Camcorders are probably the most user-friendly and reliable video cameras. This camera type used to be ubiquitous among amateur videographers and news outlets due to its portability and ease of use. When you think of home movies, wedding recordings, and other footage shot by everyday people, it’s likely that a camcorder will come to mind.
Even though some consider camcorders to be a relic of the past, the latest models have modern features like 4K support and built-in stabilization.
And while their build pales in comparison to mirrored and mirrorless DSLR cameras and some point-and-shoot options, these cameras make up for what they lack through affordability.
3. Cinema Cameras – For the Professional Touch
Cinema cameras (sometimes called film cameras) are meant for film industry professionals. These cameras are massive and come with an even more immense price tag. They’re not the beginner-friendly option and aren’t as accessible as camcorders or DSLR cameras.
Compared to other camera types, cinema cameras provide incredible image quality; hence their priciness and exclusivity to the Hollywood film set. If you’re a content creator, you’ll be better off using a less expensive option.
And if you’re an amateur filmmaker, you can aspire to use these cameras after mastering a cheaper alternative.
4. Action Cameras – When On the Move
Action cameras are designed for outdoor filming. These camera types typically feature a lightweight body, protected sensors, and rugged and waterproof housing – think GoPro. They’re typically used to shoot outdoor footage like skydiving, pro-biking, and even underwater snorkeling.
The quality that distinguishes these cameras from their counterparts is their portability. They’re small enough to be handheld or strapped to a user’s helmet for first-person POV shots.
Also, since the camera user will move around while shooting, action cameras typically have decent image stabilization.
Accessories and Extras
Whether you’re working with a cinema camera or a mirrorless one, the following accessories will be essential to your shoots:
While I’ve spoken extensively about image quality, it’s also important to strive for video recordings with decent audio quality. Good audio is important because it helps the viewer contextualize what they’re seeing on their screen. If your recordings look great but your audio is poor, it’ll scream amateur.
Wireless microphones are an essential accessory worth buying. Not only do they let you capture high-quality audio, but you can do so without worrying about whether your camera has a compatible microphone jack. The fact that you won’t deal with tangled wires is the icing on the cake.
Lighting is essential when shooting videos because it affects the final look. Not enough lighting will make it difficult for viewers to see what’s going on and follow the action. Yet, there’s another reason you should take lighting seriously: it helps aspiring filmmakers set a scene’s mood.
Some accessories you can purchase to improve your video’s lighting include LED panels and reflectors. They can help you light up a video’s subject and scenes. In addition, they’re portable, inexpensive, and don’t require too much time to set up. Meanwhile, using them will pay dividends in the long run.
If you’re a self content creator, a cheap ring light is all the rage right now!
Stabilization tools are important because they prevent your videos from being shaky and blurred. These tools keep your camera steady, as even holding the camera in your hands while you stand still comes out shaky. Without stabilization, you’ll end up with an unusable recording at best and, at worst, give your viewers motion sickness.
The most essential stabilization tool you’ll need in your camera bag is a tripod. Tripods will keep your camera secure, ensuring you have smooth-looking pans, tracking shots, and so on.
Depending on what type of footage you’ll be recording, if you plan to have any action shots like running alongside your subject, something like a motorized gimbal would really benefit you.
Remember, a good camera is just the start. With the right accessories, you elevate your visual story!
Where to Buy: New vs. Used
The following online stores and marketplaces are excellent sites for purchasing new and pre-owned cameras:
Adorama sells new and used camera gear at reasonable prices. The company stocks major brands like Canon, Sony, and Panasonic and offers daily deals.
If you subscribe to its VIP360 program, you’ll enjoy members-only perks like free 2-day shipping and a 60-day return period (extended from the usual 30 days).
eBay needs no introduction, being a company that’s synonymous with online auctions and pre-loved item sales.
You can find almost anything on eBay, including used cameras and camera accessories. Thanks to the site’s escrow service, you don’t have to worry about scammers. It’s an excellent site to buy used camera gear.
B&H Photo Video
This company has been around since 1973 and has decades of experience selling video recording gear. If there’s a particular brand you’re looking for, the chances are that you’ll find it on the company’s website. Its prices are reasonable and it has a modest selection of pre-used cameras.
Atlanta-based KEH Camera is one of the largest pre-owned camera gear suppliers in the US. The company has many unique selling points, including its excellent customer service and huge catalog of brands. Whether you’d like to purchase a DSLR, camcorder, or cinema camera, you’ll find what you’re looking for on the company’s website.
MPB is a marketplace where you can “buy, sell, or trade used photo and video gear.” It has a five-star rating on Trustpilot and has a huge selection of brands and gear. This site is the place to shop for good deals on used cameras and accessories.
Tips to Keep in Mind
Even though the above websites stock authentic cameras, they’re not immune to unsavory sellers listing fake goods. This begs the question: How do you tell if the item you purchased is authentic?
Here are a couple of tips:
Check for Misspellings: Misspellings are the clearest telltale sign that the camera is fake. The original manufacturers are usually careful about spelling, punctuation, and grammar, especially regarding their logo. If the camera has a misspelled brand name (e.g., “Nikkone” instead of “Nikon”), it’s likely a knock-off.
Seek Out Warranty Information: This tip is more relevant to new cameras. Manufacturers always include warranty information in the packaging. If you don’t find this item with your purchase, there’s a good chance that you bought a fake product.
On a related note, many manufacturers have online applications you can use to check a product’s warranty. For example, you can use Sony’s warranty checker when looking for warranty information for the company’s goods.
Look for a Serial Number: If you look closely enough, you’ll find a serial number imprinted somewhere on the camera’s exterior. Manufacturers use this number to identify manufacturer-made copies of an original product. In some cases, it’s what you’ll use to check the item’s warranty online. Items that don’t have a serial number are probably fake.
Too Good to be True Deals: During your hunt for a good deal, don’t forget to be clear-eyed in your assessment. Many scammers bank on a buyer’s excitement at finding what they believe to be an authentic product going for a rock-bottom price. If the offer seems too good to be true, assume the product is a fake and move on.
Faded Printing: Manufacturers typically provide as much information about their products as possible. To that end, they make sure what’s printed on the exterior is legible and clear. Faded printing on a new product can be a dead giveaway to its inauthenticity.
The above tips should help you spot fake products quickly. Considering that marketplaces usually have set return periods, the sooner you discover a fake, the better.
Final Thoughts on Video Cameras
There are several different camera types to choose from. Your project-specific needs will determine the perfect camera for you.
Whatever your decision, make sure to consider factors like the camera’s frame rate, video resolution, sensor size, lens quality, and more.
Common Questions on Video Cameras
How do I choose a video camera?
You can choose a camera by considering factors like the size of its sensor, its resolution, frame-rate, and its zoom type. Other factors worth considering include the camera’s audio inputs and its battery. Once you consider the above-mentioned factors, you can make an informed purchasing decision.
What video camera should I buy as a beginner?
The Panasonic LUMIX GH5 4K digital camera is one of the best beginner-friendly cameras. This mirrorless video camera is water-resistant and freeze-proof and has built-in stabilization to keep your lens secure while shooting. It also has an internal microphone and can record at up to 180 fps. Check out this round-up of the best video cameras for beginners for similar options.
What features should I look for when buying a camcorder?
The features to look for when buying a camcorder include its image stabilization capabilities, audio, frame rate, video resolution, and lux rating. You might also want to consider the camcorder’s ergonomics, aesthetics, and whether it has accessories that are widely available in the camcorder market. These are also great to consider if you are looking for a gift for a filmmaker!
Looking for more tools for filmmakers and digital content creators? Check out these helpful articles!