How to Choose the Right Camera
With the option of so many different types of cameras on the market these days, how do you go about choosing the right one to fit your needs? Well, that all comes down to figuring out what you intend on using it for most.
For instance, my first professional camera was a Sony HDR-FX1. The camera was huge, heavy, bulky, and extremely limiting. I didn’t know too much about HD shooting when I first purchased that camera; but I was looking for high definition video recording, XLR inputs, an adjustable zoom lens, and manual focus. This camera offered all of those things! Quickly, however, I realized that an “All-In-One” style camera doesn’t quite cut it when you intend on doing more than just the standard interview setup when shooting. I was always limited to the focal length of the of the built in zoom lens. It actually only recorded at 1440X1080, which is not exactly HD (1920X1080 is the standard). If I remember correctly, it shot on mini dv tapes, which required the old school method of capturing your footage to the computer to be edited. Talk about time consuming!
Anyway, it was a great camera, for the position I was in when I bought it. I was just starting to enter the professional field, and was able to land a few side jobs with it. It did accomplish the goal of those shoots. If you are in the market for your first camera or a new video production camera, the cost efficiency and “All-In-One” convenience of this style of camera might be tempting to grab and go; but I highly recommend against that temptation. You will probably end up like me using it for a year or less and moving on to a camera with more accessibility.
Which leads me to my next camera purchase. I purchased a Canon Rebel T3i, which was the highest model in the Rebel series offered at the time. The cost was around $500 for the kit which included the body and a 18-55mm lens. I thought the camera was great when I first started using it. Granted, I didn’t know much about aperture, ISO, shutter speed, low light shooting, basically anything to take a great photo at the time, but I learned a lot with this camera. I actually liked it so much that I purchased a second one when I began to shoot weddings with it. They worked great until the venue turned the lights way down. I mostly shot at 24fps, 1/60 shutter speed, and cranked up the ISO as needed.
Here’s the deal with cranking up the ISO on that camera. It was never really created for professional shooting, just more of an advanced consumer style camera for someone who wants to shoot their kids birthday party with a “fancy” looking camera. What that means is there are very few options for ISO settings (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, and 6400). Cranking the ISO to 6400 in that type of low light I was mostly working in would have worked out fine, except that camera’s sensor is incredibly grainy! Even shooting at an ISO of 800, I still needed to denoise the footage, which if you’ve ever done that is extremely strenuous on the computer when rendering. I try my hardest to shoot without ever having to denoise. In the end, this level of a camera is great if you want to learn about photography or videography. The pictures and video footage are acceptable quality in the correct lighting. It shoots at full 1920X1080 HD resolution. Low light situations are going to leave you with super grainy footage. Even using a LED panel mounted to the hot shoe on top of the camera, you’re still left with grainy, unevenly light footage. My opinion is if you are looking to learn how to shoot those nice photos the professional shoot and don’t want to spend a fortune to do it, this style of camera is a great option. It is not for professional use. If you’re just starting out in this field as career, it would be highly tempting to purchase one or two of these, but I suggest against it.
That leads me to my latest camera which is a Canon 5D Mark III. The cost comparison of this style camera compared to the previous cameras mentioned, it quite a bit more; however, it is completely worth it. In this case you definitely get what you pay for. The kit for this camera includes, the 24-105mm lens which is great for 90% of the grab and go type shooting situations I find myself in. Sometimes I find myself wanting a bit of a longer lens for something, but not often enough to drop another grand or more for that option. The camera itself is just build nice and solid. It feels very heavy duty in your hands. I wouldn’t recommend dropping it, but I feel like it would survive fine against a slight drop. The low light shooting capabilities of this camera are much better! I can crank the ISO up to 8000 with little noise problems, at 6400 there is almost no noise issues. Over 8000 the noise does increase and does become noticeable. I will just say that the footage I have been able to shoot with this camera is tenfold compared to the other cameras I have owned in the past.
I highly recommend this style of camera if you are looking to get into the professional field. I’m sure Nikon has a comparable model like the Nikon D800, and I know Sony makes the Sony A7 Series, which actually shoots in 4K and RAW which gives you tons of color space! You should be able to get a nice setup of any of these for under $3500. For a beginning professional I get that that is steep, but you should be able to make that money back in no time!
Finally, I realize there are many, many more cameras and camera styles, especially if you start moving even more into the professional field. I have used a lot of different cameras ranging from a couple hundred dollars to $50K+. While those super high-end cameras are fantastic, they just aren't feasible for a one or two man operations. If you are looking to get into freelancing in the film industry, a prosumer-style camera has the range of upgrades you can acquire as you grow, while still being more than enough ready as a base model with a kit lens.