DISCLOSURE: AS AN AMAZON ASSOCIATE I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS, MEANING, AT NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU, I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES. AFFILIATE LINKS ARE MARKED WITH #ad. "I" IN THIS CASE MEANS THE OWNER OF FILMDAFT.COM. PLEASE READ THE FULL DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
As a beginner filmmaker, choosing the right camera can be a daunting task. There is so much technical lingo that it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.
Low budget filmmaking is one of my specialties, and I have a lot of experience working with all types of cameras.
The camera is one of the tools to help you achieve your vision, and should be treated as such.
In this article, I will list 5 cameras that I think are the best cameras for beginner filmmakers that won’t break the bank.
So if you’re looking for the best camera for filmmaking on a budget in 2023 just keep reading.
1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
This is the camera I currently use for all of my film and video projects.
I fell in love with Blackmagic Design products after a colleague of mine used a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K back in 2013.
The camera delivered incredible quality for such an affordable price.
Fast forward years later, Blackmagic came out with my dream low budget camera, which is the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.
This camera has the look of your standard DSLR, but is able to pack much more of an incredible punch. It records up to 4K DCI 60FPS, has a 5” touchscreen display, and has other abilities such as importing 3D LUTs directly into the camera.
The BMPCC 4K uses a micro-four thirds sensor. This means that it has a crop factor of two (a 25mm lens has the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera) and it won’t be as good in low-light as a full-frame camera.
However, you can compensate for this by using a focal reducer like the Metabones Speedbooster, which will give you an extra stop of light and change the field-of-view to be more similar to that of a 35mm sensor size.
However, the mft-sensor and mount also comes with a lot of benefits.
Lots of lens choices
The camera uses micro-four thirds lenses natively, and there are a lot of great options from manufacturers such as Panasonic-Leica, Olympus, or Meike.
You can also adapt a lot of vintage lenses and lenses from bigger sensor cameras. In short, the smaller sensor size and mount gives you a lot of options in terms of lenses.
The BMPCC4K’s bigger brother, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K or 6K Pro (links to Amazon), has the option of using Canon EF mount lenses but isn’t as versatile in terms of lens choices due to the bigger sensor.
Great audio capabilities – often overlooked!
One other benefit that I don’t see mentioned frequently is its audio recording capabilities. The audio quality in this camera are quite impressive.
There was a period where I was recording podcast audio straight into the camera because the audio sounded much cleaner than my normal recorder.
However, you should note that the camera uses a mini-XLR input for external microphones.
Factor in the cost of rigging the camera
The BMPCC 4K is not the most run-and-gun friendly on the market despite all of its features. I personally have a rig built for mine to make it more functional for film or video shoots. You can get away with using the body, lens, and battery for smaller shoots.
The cost of this camera could outweigh that drawback of having to rig. However, I would highly recommend taking this into consideration before purchasing.
Factor in the cost of media
The camera can record to a few different media outputs, such as an SSD hard drive, SD card, and CFast cards.
This leaves you with a wide range of options when it comes to recording (SSD drives will always be my go-to as its a most more cost-friendly solution).
I personally use SSD drives for recording, and this camera does not record to SSD internally like the SD or CFast cards.
You will have to mount the SSD drive to the camera. Companies such as Small Rig have solutions for mounting SSD drives like the Samsung T5 drive.
If you found the Samsung T5 too expensive here’s a guide to alternative that also work.
One other thing to mention is that you will need larger cards for this camera. The file sizes tend to be huge since it records in Blackmagic Raw and ProRes.
This may not be a great option if you are looking to use cheaper storage solutions, both for the camera and your computer.
The battery life sucks
The battery life on this camera is atrocious. I wish Blackmagic used a better battery system for this camera, but it was necessary to keep the compact design.
You will only see about 30-45 minutes of record time with the batteries, so you will need to purchase a ton of batteries, battery grip, or V-mount battery.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K doesn’t have internal image stabilization (IBIS) because it’s more a cinema camera than a hybrid camera.
This is neither a pro or a con, because it depends on what you shoot and how you shoot.
If you need image stabilization, you can always use one of the many means of stabilization available on the market such as a gimbal, a steadicam or a stabilized lens with optical image stabilization (OIS).
Despite these minor cons, I still think that the BMPCC 4K is the best budget cinema camera you can get if you’re looking for a lot of bang for your buck.
|4K Raw recording up to 60 FPS|
Great audio quality
Easy to use
Multiple recording outputs
|Battery life is subpar|
Can need extra gadgets to make functional
Massive files for Raw or ProRes recording
No pop out screen
Check the price for the BMPCC4K on Amazon.
2. Panasonic LUMIX GH5 II
The Panasonic GH5 is notorious for being on lists such as this article, and it’s for good reason. This is one of those cameras that is so versatile that you’ll likely keep it around even if you upgrade in the future.
Today, the GH5 II still holds many of the impressive features as the original model with some great upgrades.
The GH5 II is a 20.2 megapixel mirrorless camera that can record 4K UHD video at up to 60 FPS. It can record 4:2:0 10-bit files and offers great images without compression artifacts.
It can also shoot in a V-logL (V-Log lite) and Cinelike D2 picture style that will give you a lot more dynamic range when color grading in post-production.
The camera uses MFT mount lenses like the previous Blackmagic Pocket 4K. The file sizes can also get quite large when it comes to that 10-bit 4K recording. Luckily there are other codec options available, but it is something to keep in mind.
The original GH5 is such a popular camera in the world of indie filmmaking. However, the dated processor doesn’t allow for firmware upgrades similar to newer cameras like the GH5s and G9.
Here’s an in-depth comparison of the GH5 and GH5S.
Panasonic has upgraded the processor in the GH5 II so it can continue making improvements to this camera with firmware updates.
You’ll still want several batteries
The battery life is better than that of the previous GH5 and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, but you’ll still need a handful of batteries whenever you shoot.
However, a nice added feature to this model is the ability to charge the camera via USB-C. This can allow for a compatible power bank to power/charge the camera when you’re in a pinch.
Wi-Fi live streaming
A unique feature to this camera is its ability to live stream over a wifi network. This can be done through Panasonic’s LUMIX app, or it can even generate a key that can directly be used with platforms like YouTube or Twitch.
This isn’t a super useful feature if you do not stream, but it’s a nice touch if needed in the future.
This camera have a Dual 2 OIS system that creates really nice stabilization. This is a great feature if you need to hold the camera a lot with your hands as opposed to a tripod, rig, or gimbal.
|Great 4K recording|
Pop out touchscreen
Mic, headphone, and HDMI ports
|Battery life is okay|
Large 4K files
Check the current price for the GH5 mk II here on Amazon.
3. Canon C100 Mark II
The Canon C100 Mark II to this day is still one of the best run-and-gun cameras on the market.
This camera has a super 35mm CMOS sensor and records up to 35 MBPS 1080p HD files at 60 FPS.
Not having 4K is certainly a drawback, but I have still been impressed with the quality of the footage on this camera. Another significant pro is its ISO range between 320 and 80,000.
The camera has a dual SD card slot for continuous recording, larger batteries, and EF/EF-S lens mount.
This camera also has separate attachments for plugging XLR microphones directly into the camera. This is one of the best use out-of-the-box cameras on the market.
You won’t need a ton of extra accessories
One of the features that I love about this camera is that is comes with both a side handle for easy handheld recording as well as a top handle with mic mount, built-in scratch mic, and dual XLR inputs.
Both of these items can also easily detach from the camera if you need to strip it down to its bare bones. I find this to be a major advantage because it will require you to need less accessories.
This camera also has built-in ND filters, which will reduces your aperture by 2-6 stops. Again, having these built in ND filters will require you to buy less accessories.
Great Battery life
This camera uses a BP-955 battery back that has a nifty function of revealing the battery life directly on the battery. One or two of these batteries should last you on an all day shoot, which is a huge benefit.
Lack of codecs
This camera records in either 8-bit AVCHD or MP4, so the file sizes will be extremely manageable. A 64 gb card should last you over 300 minutes on a 35 MBPS recording in MP4.
However, these codecs are obviously not as high quality as newer cameras in a similar price range.
Canon makes up for this a little bit by offering a Cinema picture profile that should offer some reasonable dynamic range.
The main drawback of this camera is that it’s dated. There are newer and better versions in Canon’s lineup, such as the C200 and C300.
However, both come with a heftier price tag. As I mentioned, the camera also doesn’t have 4K capabilities, so it’s not extremely future proof.
I still believe this camera is a great option if you are looking for something a little higher end that is very functional straight out of the box.
Functional out of the box
Long record times
Comes with useful accessories
Built-in ND filters
|No 4K recording|
Lack of codecs
Check the current price for the Canon EOS C100 Mark II on Amazon.
Panasonic LUMIX S1
If you want something a little higher end than my recommendation of the GH5 II, then look no further than the LUMIX S1 from Panasonic.
This is a full frame mirrorless camera that shoots in 4K 10-bit up to 60 FPS. However, that higher frame rate recording does come with some cropping. If you’re shooting in 24 or 30 FPS you’ll have the benefits of that full frame.
This camera comes loaded with buttons both on the body and in camera. You can customize these menus and buttons to your liking. It also has full VLog as opposed to VlogL like in the GH5 II.
This will offer much better dynamic range for color grading. The battery is also larger, which will offer much better battery life than the GH5 II.
This camera has many different options when it comes to stabilization. It offers really nice IBIS that can be combined with lens stabilization for nearly flawless handheld footage.
If that wasn’t enough, Panasonic also included a feature called I.S. boost. This essentially will turn your hands into a tripod. If you are a Premiere user, you can almost think of it like an in camera Warp Stabilizer.
The ergonomic design of this camera is great. It’s larger and heavier than some of its siblings, which can be a pro or con depending on your preference of shooting.
The added weight helps with stabilization, and overall feels very durable. This should add a lot of comfort if you are shooting a lot of handheld footage, but the extra weight could fatigue your arms on longer shoots.
Autofocus is lacking
This camera uses contrast based autofocus rather than dual axis based. This may or may not be a con, again depending on your shooting style.
It won’t be a big deal if you prefer to do all of your focusing manually, but this may not be a great choice if you do a lot of vlogging.
Lens choices are scarce
This camera uses an L-mount as opposed to an mft-mount like the GH5 II. Companies like Sigma have done a good job offering more lenses today, but be prepared to buy adapters if you prefer another mount.
|Auto focus isn’t great|
Can get heavy
Not as many lens choices at GH5 II
Check the current price for the LUMIX S1 on Amazon.
Canon EOS R6
My first DSLR camera was a Canon Rebel T3i. It offered everything I needed to learn in terms of how to use interchangeable lenses, exposure settings, and other functions of this type of camera.
The camera was incredibly easy to use, so it made me a fan of Canon products. Today, we have the higher end Canon EOS R6.
This camera shoots 4K footage up to 60 FPS in 10-bit 4:2:2. It can also shoot 1080p up to 120 FPS. There are two picture styles Canon puts focus on: Canon Log and HDR PQ.
The Canon Log will be somewhat comparable to the standard Vlog. These picture styles can also be recorded to an external device, such as an ATOMOS Ninja, up to 60 FPS.
Ease of use
Canon is a very popular brand for these types of cameras, and I think the ease of use of their cameras is a huge factor. The button layout on the body of the camera is simplistic as well as all of the functions on the settings menu.
The LCD screen is vari-angle and touch screen. This will be a bit less intimidating than higher end cameras.
5 axis in-body stabilization
One of the features that Canon highlights with this camera is the in-body stabilization. This camera can provide 8 stops of Shake Correction when equipped with RF lenses.
This may make for a good vlogging camera with the combination of the vari-angle touchscreen display and Shake Correction.
RF lens mount
This camera uses an RF lens mount instead of the more popular EF mount found in other Canon cameras. Canon claims that the RF lenses work very well for stabilization with this camera, so I’m sure that was one of their main concerns.
EF lenses can be used with an adapter, but this is still something to keep in mind. There currently isn’t a huge selection of RF lenses.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly beginner Canon camera for video this is a great choice.
Easy to use
|RF lens mount|
Better options in general price range
Check the current price for the Canon EOS R6 on Amazon.
Bonus Camera: Your cell phone
I often recommend a cell phone if a new filmmaker doesn’t have the funds to purchase something better.
The camera quality on phones such as the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy is more than enough to get you started. And you can get a lot of cool lenses and cages to take your smartphone filmmaking to the next level.
Your cell phone shouldn’t be the only camera you use, but it’s a great first step. Filmmakers such as Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh have used these cameras on Hollywood features.
Your cell phone would be a great first step in learning how to light, frame, etc. You can then upgrade to one of the listed cameras once you learn your needs in a camera.
I still want to stress how important it is to learn how to use these types of cameras before buying something higher end.
All of these cameras are great for beginners to learn how to shoot and use the functions of a manual camera.
What do you think of my list? Have you used better beginner cameras? Let us know in the comments.
Alex is a certified Adobe Premiere Pro video editor and independent filmmaker in the US. He is most known for writing, directing, and editing his debut feature film, Cashing Out, which has won multiple awards at film festivals across the US. Currently, Alex is the owner of AWS FILMS and works as a freelance video editor for several large companies and content creators.