Essential Cameras for Aspiring Filmmakers to Start With (2024)

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As a beginner filmmaker, choosing the right camera can be a daunting task. There is so much technical jargon that it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

Low-budget filmmaking is one of my specialties, and I have much experience working with all types of cameras. 

In this article, I will list five cameras that I think are the best for beginner filmmakers that won’t break the bank.

So, if you’re looking for the best camera for filmmaking on a budget in 2024, keep reading.

1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

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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 used a Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K in 2013.

The camera delivered incredible quality for such an affordable price.

Years later, Blackmagic came out with my dream low-budget camera, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.

This camera looks like your standard DSLR but can 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 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 come with many benefits.

Lots of lens choices

The camera uses micro-four-thirds lenses natively, and there are many great options from manufacturers such as Panasonic-Leica, Olympus, or Meike.

You can also adapt many vintage lenses and lenses from bigger sensor cameras. In short, the smaller sensor size and mount give you many options in terms of lenses.

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The BMPCC 6K Pro on Amazon.

The BMPCC4K’s bigger brother, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K or 6K Pro (links to Amazon), can use Canon EF mount lenses but isn’t as versatile in terms of lens choices due to the bigger sensor.

Great audio capabilities – often overlooked!

Another benefit I don’t see mentioned frequently is its audio recording capabilities. The audio quality of this camera is quite impressive.

There was a period when 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

Despite all of its features, the BMPCC 4K is not the most run-and-gun friendly on the market. I have a rig built for mine to make it more functional for film or video shoots. You can avoid using the body, lens, and battery for smaller shots.

The cost of this camera could outweigh the drawback of having to rig. However, I would highly recommend considering this before purchasing.

Factor in the cost of media

The camera can record a few 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 it’s a more cost-friendly solution).

I use SSD drives for recording; 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.

Another 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 want 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 had 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 must purchase a ton of batteries, battery grip, or V-mount battery.

No IBIS

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K doesn’t have internal image stabilization (IBIS) because it’s more a cinema than a hybrid camera.

This is neither a pro nor 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 the BMPCC 4K is the best budget cinema camera you can get if you’re looking for a lot of bang.

ProsCons
4K Raw recording up to 60 FPS
Great audio quality
Compact
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 IBIS
No pop out screen

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 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, giving you a much more dynamic range when color grading in post-production. 

The camera uses MFT mount lenses like the previous Blackmagic Pocket 4K. The file sizes for that 10-bit 4K recording can also get quite large. Luckily, other codec options are available, but it is something to keep in mind.

New processor

The original GH5 is such a popular camera in 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 improving this camera with firmware updates.

You’ll still want several batteries.

The battery life is better than the previous GH5 and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, but you’ll still need several batteries whenever you shoot.

However, a nice added feature to this model is the ability to charge the camera via USB-C. This allows a compatible power bank to power/charge the camera when you’re in a pinch.

Wi-Fi live streaming

A unique feature of this camera is its ability to live stream over a wifi network. This can be done through Panasonic’s LUMIX app or even generate a key that can be used directly 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.

IBIS system

This camera has a Dual 2 OIS system that creates nice stabilization. This is a great feature if you need to hold the camera with your hands instead of a tripod, rig, or gimbal.

ProsCons
Great 4K recording
Pop out touchscreen
Mic, headphone, and HDMI ports
IBIS system
Battery life is okay
Confusing interface
Large 4K files

3. Canon C100 Mark II

To this day, the Canon C100 Mark II 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 it comes with a side handle for easy handheld recording and a top handle with a mic mount, a built-in scratch mic, and dual XLR inputs.

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 significant advantage because it will require you to have fewer accessories.

This camera also has built-in ND filters, which will reduce your aperture by 2-6 stops. Again, having these built-in ND filters will require you to buy fewer 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 that the file sizes will be extremely manageable. A 64 GB card should last over 300 minutes on a 35 MBPS recording in MP4.

However, these codecs are not as high quality as newer cameras in a similar price range.

Canon makes up for this by offering a Cinema picture profile that should offer some reasonable dynamic range.

It’s old

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 highly future-proof. 

I still believe this camera is a great option if you are looking for something a little higher-end that is functional straight out of the box.

ProsCons
Compact
Functional out of the box
Battery life
Long record times
Comes with useful accessories
Built-in ND filters
No 4K recording
Dated model
Lack of codecs

4. 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 full-frame mirrorless camera shoots in 4K 10-bit up to 60 FPS. However, that higher frame rate recording does come with some cropping. You’ll benefit from that full frame if you’re shooting in 24 or 30 FPS. 

This camera comes loaded with buttons both on the body and in the camera. You can customize these menus and buttons to your liking. It also has full VLog instead of VlogL, like in the GH5 II.

This will offer a much better dynamic range for color grading. The larger battery provides a much better life than the GH5 II.

Fantastic stabilization

This camera has many different options when it comes to stabilization. It offers a nice IBIS combined with lens stabilization for flawless handheld footage.

If that wasn’t enough, Panasonic also included an I.S. boost feature. 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. 

Camera design

The ergonomic design of this camera is great. Depending on your shooting preference, it’s larger and heavier than some of its siblings, which can be a pro or con.

The added weight helps with stabilization and, overall, feels very durable. This should add much comfort if you shoot 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. Again, this may or may not be a con, 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, so I’d recommend looking at cameras with good continuous autofocus capabilities instead.

Lens choices are scarce.

This camera uses an L-mount instead of an MFT-mount like the GH5 II. Companies like Sigma have done an excellent job offering more lenses today, but be prepared to buy adapters if you prefer another mount. 

ProsCons
Compact
Full VLog
Ergonomic
Amazing stabilization

Autofocus isn’t great.
Can get heavy
Not as many lens choices at GH5 II

5. Canon EOS R6

My first DSLR camera was a Canon Rebel T3i. It offered everything I needed to learn regarding how to use interchangeable lenses, exposure settings, and other functions of this type of camera.

The camera was straightforward to use, making 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. Canon focuses on two picture styles: 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 camera’s body and all of the functions on the settings menu are simplistic.

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 eight 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 instead of the more popular EF mount in other Canon cameras. Canon claims the RF lenses work very well to stabilize 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 remember. 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.

ProsCons
Compact
Easy to use
IBIS
Canon Log
RF lens mount
Better options in general price range

Conclusion

I still want to stress the importance of learning 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.


Author

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  • Alex Srednoselac

    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.

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