Finding the Best Camera For Video For You
January 17, 2016 UPDATE: Updates made are in red.
Finding the best camera for video can be difficult. Camera reviews are so geared to stills that it can be really hard to sift through these when you are looking for a camera you want principally for video. Many cameras are highly rated, but when analyzed for video, often there is another camera better equipped for video.
That’s where we come in! With obsessive research skills put to use, always looking for the best deal as budget travelers, we show the best cameras for video for the common man.
All these are great options for Indie filmmaking and high quality YouTube or Vimeo videos. You should be able to pick one according to your needs as there are noticeable differences between each.
Most of these are mirrorless cameras, which is a new technology, giving the quality of a DSLR and interchangeable lenses in a smaller package. In keeping with the times, we are focusing on these over DSLRs as they are more practical for travel video.
Some things to keep in mind:
Some of these cameras are around $1000 for the body only, meaning you will have to invest a few more hundred for one or two good lenses. We prefer working with prime lenses as they have better quality end products than zoom lenses. As well, more detail is typically given to shot composition than with a zoom lens where you can get lazy with your composition. Keep in mind too that a good lens can last you longer than a good camera, so do your research on your lenses.
Lenses, a bag, filters, memory cards, a stabilizer, tripod, and editing software will probably add another $1000 on your bill, but these things can be purchased slowly, over time. You will need at least one memory card and one lens though…
A word on video autofocus. A real pro will tell you that video autofocus is for wimps. But we’re not real professionals… And depending on your budget, the manual focus on your lenses may not be that smooth and autofocus may be therefore helpful. You need to have a good viewfinder or bright crisp screen to be able to confirm that your shooting is in focus when doing it manually. Otherwise you may end up with dozens of clips that are totally useless. But it’s true, autofocus is not really necessary and learning to manual focus will improve your art form and allow you to do effects that you couldn’t do otherwise. Inexpensive lenses with butter smooth manual focus rings do exist too. Think of autofocus as training wheels that shouldn’t be used forever, even though these cameras offer autofocus.
A smaller camera means a smaller battery and that means less battery life. So you may have to carry an extra battery with you anyways.
A major consideration you have to decide is whether you really need 4K video shooting, and an external microphone jack. Making a decision on this will make it easier to hone in on the best camera for video that fits your needs.
4K video takes up a massive amount of space, so you will need the equipment that can handle it besides the camera, such as your memory cards and computer. Be careful that your codecs is not too much of a high compression codecs. This will null a lot of the point of shooting in 4K. Some of these cameras allow lots of codecs options.
Even if you are publishing in 1080, editing in 4K and then exporting into 1080 allows you to have more detail and clarity in your color corrections, and the final outcome in 1080p will look better.
You can shoot a wider shot for an interview with one camera in 4K and then you can crop shots for close ups and medium shots without losing quality when exporting to 1080p. In that way, you nullify the need for a three camera shoot.
Another awesome benefit to shooting in 4K and exporting in 1080p, is you can record a still, wide shot video from a tripod…of a landscape as an example. Then while editing you can zoom in and make a perfectly smooth pan using things like the Ken Burns pan. Adapting to this style of shooting can really simplify your shooting techniques and improve your quality.
We shoot for YouTube. In the past that basically meant that you don’t have to worry about that high of quality for your videos. That is no longer the case as you can now upload to YouTube in 4K which is something creators like Devin Supertramp has exploited. And now many use Smart TVs to watch YouTube on high resolution flat screens. Having said that, most YouTube hits are done from mobile devices where 480p is plenty on a smartphone.
If you are also shooting for YouTube, you will have to consider whether your focus is a combination of quality content and beautiful visuals, or simply just informative, tutorials, etc. If the latter is your niche, then your time and resources will probably be better spent in increasing the informational benefit of your content rather than getting a better camera. A little point and shoot, smartphone with a tripod adaptor, webcam, or Nexus 7 might do you well. As we are geared to travel and visuals of exotic lands, we are concerned about getting high quality equipment, along with compactability. We are working from the ground up ourselves.
Some of these camera’s internal mics are better than others, but honestly, internal mics will always be pretty crumby. An external mic will allow you to eliminate wind noise and especially shotgun mics will help you to focus the sound on your subject and filter out background noise that is invariably picked up by an internal mic. To utilize this, your camera needs to have an external microphone jack/input.
We have the fantastic Rode Videomic Pro for our external mic that sits on top camera mount and plugs into the external audio jack. It is a shotgun mic, so it picks up the sound from in front of the camera, great for interviews and for speech. A dead cat cover over the mic acts as a windscreen.
If you never do voice in your videos, always do voiceovers in post, or just record B-roll and then have music playing, then maybe you don’t need an external mic. That will probably cut your budget in half, even more. It means the Samsung NX500 is a great option for you, right off the bat. Check it out in the list.
A hack for this audio issue would be recording from a lavalier mic while connected to your smartphone and then syncing it with the video later. You can even record with the mic in your iPhone earbuds, which we have done before. Make sure you clap after both devices start recording. The spike in audio will make it easy to sync. If your need for good audio is for only once and awhile, using a lav mic can save you hundreds of dollars as opposed to buying a bigger camera and shotgun microphone.
Top 10 Best Cameras For Video From $500-$1300
These are in ascending order, from the most limited, to the most versatile. But they are all excellent! You can hover over the picture of the camera to get the current going price on Amazon.
The summary on the bottom gives the best camera in different categories, which you can scroll down to for a quick synopsis.
You will notice that there are great camera brands missing from the list like Nikon and Olympus. Remember, we are focusing on video use, and they don’t have as much to offer in this respect compared to what’s on the list.
#10. Panasonic LX100
Ext. Mic Jack: No
The LX100 may not have a mic jack, and it is the only camera on the list with no interchangeable lenses, but it does have 4K shooting capabilities. Basically a compact/point and shoot camera, the LX100 does have a decent lens at least. It is a Four Thirds 24-75mm equivalent, F/1.7-2.8. It is the most compact of the bunch of course, and that may be a huge factor for you. If you’re not interested in getting too technical with videography, but just want something that meets your basic video needs, this is a great option. The video quality we have seen is impressively dynamic, with ability to adjust exposure during shooting.
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
The Micro Four Thirds LUMIX GX8 has image stabilization which most other cameras here don’t have. It is more compact and light than others. The GX8 sports a classy swivel viewfinder with rubber eye rest and a full tilt and swivel touchscreen as well. Others have noticeably better image/video quality and better low light capabilities, although it is still very solid. All these cameras are exceptional remember.
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
A satisfactory all-arounder with everything you would need for video. So if it’s as far as your budget goes, it even has an ext. mic jack which the NX500 and a6000 are lacking. Nowadays, you can get a decent lens on it all for less than $600, which is awesome!
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
The claim of the BMPCC being a Cinema camera is true to its word. However, this is a new company and so the technology is unfortunately glitchy. But it is made for video. Sharp video quality with Pro-res codecs and incredible color quality, the BMPCC makes beautiful video, easily the best on the list. But there are several factors to consider before getting one. No touchscreen. A small image sensor means no way for wide angle shots. It’s totally different from a typical DSLR or mirrorless camera, so you’ll have to get used to its idiosyncrasies. Autofocus is too slow. You’ll have to use manual focus. Because the codecs are great, you will need heavy duty memory cards and editing software and a computer that can handle it. Catch 22. Some memory cards don’t work properly with it, so do your research first. The battery lasts only about an hour. Besides that, there’s just some weird impairments like the inability to delete video in camera. Plus all formatting has to be done on your computer so you may need an additional compression program which makes this a pretty needy baby. But that’s the price to pay if you want strikingly beautiful 1080p video. If you are only getting a 4K camera to export into 1080p, the BMPCC has no limiting factor for you because of the detail it records.
#6. Canon 70D
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
As this is a DSLR and not a mirrorless camera, it will be a lot bulkier and heavier to lug around. Its fast video autofocus and superior Canon capabilities and lenses is a great mix. The Canon 70D is a great camera used by very popular YouTubers such as Mark Wiens. My worry with DSLRs is this: As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. But the bulkiness of a DSLR can mean leaving it at home more often, and then missing filming opportunities when you need a camera. In that case your smartphone camera in your pocket is more helpful to you than your DSLR at home. But if you’re using a pancake lens and have a comfortable carry bag or holster, maybe the size doesn’t matter so much. And we are only talking about half a pound or a full pound difference, and a few inches of extra bulk. However, it is possible to forget you’re carrying a mirrorless camera, but it is not so likely with a DSLR. Anyways, the Canon 70D is our one and only pick from the DSLR world for Indie filmmaking cameras around $1000. If you want a beautiful camera bag, check out the BLACKHAWK Diversion Wax Satchel with Accessory Pouches that can be used for lenses, filters, etc. This is a great camera bag (military grade) for any camera if you don’t want a camera holster.
#5. Sony a6000
Ext. Mic Jack: No
If external audio isn’t important to you, Sony’s a6000 is an awesome, tried and tested camera for a great price. Plus, it is nice and small. The a6000 is a favorite of many. So beloved, we couldn’t leave it off the list.
#4. Samsung NX500
Ext. Mic Jack: No
The NX500 has no continuous focus for video, so you get no training wheels with this one. Like the a6000, it is really small, smaller than the a6000 in fact. And it shoots 4K video at 24fps. The NX500 has many of the capabilities of the Samsung NX1, but for more than half the price! Picture quality is generally superior on the Samsung cameras, capturing more detail and true to life, vibrant color. And you know the screen is going to look good. The NX500 is our top pick if you are willing to get good at manual focus and don’t need an external audio microphone.
We love the fully flippable touchscreen for selfie videos.
Best price in the list at less than $500 with a zoom lens! An awesome deal!
#3. Sony a7
4K: No (Not without an external device)
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
The a7 ii was released in late 2016, and now includes built in 4k shooting capabilities. The a7s ii is built for video but unfortunately is $3000 for the body only.
The only full frame sensor crammed into a mirrorless camera to date. It has awesome low light capabilities. For a full review by a fellow travel blogger, check out http://expertvagabond.com/sony-a7-camera/. However, the a7s has even better capabilities (it is supposed to be their video-focused model) but they are far above this price range ($2500 for the body only) and the crazy jump in price is, in my opinion, unjustified. The fact that you need an external memory bank for recording in 4K either means paying an extra $1000 to buy that, or never using 4K. The Sony a7 is a great camera, I just don’t like the feeling that they’re holding back on providing certain capabilities just to release them in a newer model (the recent update a case in point). I don’t like playing that game. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great camera. The a7 series allows you to film in the dark without getting noise, so if you are frequently filming in low light and don’t need 4K, then this is your pick. Keep in mind, quality Sony lenses can be a little more expensive than other brands.
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
The GH4 also has a built-in time-lapse mode which is a great feature.
4K, auto video focus, external mix jack, mirrorless technology, great picture quality: The following two cameras have everything you would want in an Indie filmmaking camera minus image stabilization. But you can get lenses with image stabilization and besides, that is really for still images and not for video. When you’re shooting video, you’ll probably be using a tripod or stabilizer rig anyways.
Before discovering our #1 pick, this was my definite favorite.
The video customization in the GH4 is really great, you can compress into a tight codecs package or one with tons of info that retains the detail to fine-tune color correct, etc. in editing. If you are already a fan of Panasonic, then this would be your top pick.
Ext. Mic Jack: Yes
Rumors are out there that Samsung is pulling out of the mirrorless camera market. This could mean less support for the NX1 and a discontinuation of new lenses. Just be aware. Depending on your editing software, file conversion can be a pain.
This is our number one pick for the best camera for video! It shoots 4K at 24 fps, has good low light capability, an external mic jack, video autofocus and a mirrorless compact video-focused design. This camera outshines all others as a camera that was built based on the the needs of the Indie filmmaker, not just a money grab that will soon be replaced with something slightly better. It has ridiculously fast startup time at 0.7 of a second. The NX1 has higher image quality than the GH4 and better low light capability, although not as good low light capability as the Sony a7 series. It boasts 205 focus points, 4 times as many as some others! And with a bigger battery than other mirrorless cameras, it does 500 shots per battery life.
Downloadable updates that make the camera better are constant. Updates are sometimes monthly even as oppose to yearly tweaks in other cameras. Some codecs that were not available at launch came with software updates and more will surely come. There devotion to this camera means they are not ditching the model and putting the improvements in a later model, but truly dedicating themselves to the quality of this camera from beginning to end. For me, this instills a lot of confidence in Samsung’s commitment to quality for the NX1.
Although there are not as many lenses available, the ones available are great quality. The highly recommended premium series 16-50mm “S” lens costs and weighs more than the camera itself. But quality, not quantity matters. The price is cheaper than comparable DSLR lenses and the lenses for the Sony mirrorless cameras.
But we will again endorse here the use of pancake prime lenses (compact lenses with no zoom). They are less expensive, and force you to be smart about your composition, as opposed to standing in one place and zooming at stuff, when you should be moving around, finding the best frame up. Samsung offers great 16, 20, 30, and 45mm prime lenses. Each at that zoom level, are equal if not superior to the “S” lens (especially the 30mm and 45mm), for a fraction of the price (around $200 a lens as opposed to around $1000 for the zoom lens). A 30mm is a good all-arounder option with F/2.0.
It also comes with Lightroom for your photo editing.
Best video quality at 1080p: The BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
Best deal: Without a doubt the Samsung NX500.
Most compact mirrorless: Again, the NX500.
Best in low light: The Sony a7.
Best mirrorless full-frame sensor camera: The only: Sony a7.
Best all-arounder: Samsung’s SMART NX1
Next step? Buying one!
Can you add anything to the list? Do you have a personal favorite? Leave a quick note in the comments, we would love that!