The best cameras for low budget filmmaking

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Updated 15 July 2020

4k mirrorless cameras are the best option for getting started with creative low budget filmmaking. They’re affordable and fairly easy to use. They have larger sensors than most camcorders, which makes them better for low light shooting and creative shallow focus shots. And you can swap lenses. Instead of being limited to a single zoom lens, you can choose between different kinds of zooms and prime (non-zooming) lenses.

I’ve chosen cameras costing from $500 to around $2000. If you’re on a really tight budget, you could choose a used DSLR for under $300.

If you’re planning to mainly film news, events or fast moving subjects, you may not want shallow focus or interchangeable lenses: a prosumer camcorder could be a better choice.

Panasonic G85/G80

The Panasonic G85 (G80/81 in Europe) is the best-value camera you can buy for filmmaking, at under $700 with lens. I use one myself. It has a solidly built magnesium body with a tilt and swivel touchscreen, and the body and lens are weathersealed. The sharp 12-60 kit lens covers a useful zoom range, from wide to telephoto. The camera can shoot 4K, and HD at up to 60p slow motion. And it has very good image stabilisation, which makes for easy handheld shooting.

Cons? The sensor size is Micro Four Thirds, which is smaller than the Fujifilm and Canon cameras below. So it’s not as good in low light, though it’s better than older Panasonics. It doesn’t have a headphone socket, though you can rig up an audio output from the HDMI socket. Battery life is OK but not great (you can add a battery grip to double it).  Autofocus is slow, especially when shooting 4K. But its solid build, slow motion and image stabilisation make it a great choice.
More about the G85

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Panasonic G7

Panasonic G7

If you can’t afford the G85/G80, the Panasonic G7 is exceptionally good value for beginner filmmakers. It has 4K and Full HD slow motion for under $500. It has a tilt and swivel screen and electronic eye level viewfinder. But there’s no headphone socket, and unlike the G85/G80 you can’t rig one up. It doesn’t have in-body stabilisation or weathersealing. More about the G7

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Fujifilm X-T3

Fuji XT-3

Fujifilm’s X-T3 (around $1300 body only) has a larger APS-C sensor, so it’s better than the Panasonics for low light and creative shallow focus. It has great color rendition, good dynamic range, and pro video features at a relatively affordable price.

Its impressive features include very good low light performance, ultra-fast autofocus, and 4K slow motion. It can record high-quality 10bit files at 400Mb/s, and shoot in log mode. (Log mode compresses the highlights and shadows, so the camera can capture a greater range of contrast and the image stands up better to colour correction and grading.)

It doesn’t have in-body image stabilisation, and the screen tilts rather than swivelling fully. Battery life isn’t great, but you can power it over USB-C using an external power pack.

It’s also a very good camera for still photography.

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Fujifilm X-T4

Fujifilm X-T4

The newer X-T4 costs more: it’s around $1650 body only. That gets you excellent 5-axis image stabilisation, a fully swivelling screen, a bigger battery, better autofocus and 10x slow motion in HD. You also gain ‘F-log assist’, which allows you to preview what the finished image will look like when you’re shooting in log mode. They’ve removed the headphone socket, but the camera comes with a USB-C to headphone adapter.

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Canon EOS M50

Canon’s M-series cameras and lenses are very compact but have fairly large APS-C sensors, excellent colors and very good dual pixel autofocus. You can fit standard Canon EF lenses with an adapter. The affordable EOS M50 (around $500 with kit lens) has an easy-to-use interface. Its portability makes it a good option for vloggers and journalists. It’s really designed for shooting HD: when it shoots 4K the dual pixel AF doesn’t work and the image is heavily cropped. It doesn’t have in-body image stabilisation, and there’s no headphone socket.

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Panasonic GH5

Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera
The Panasonic GH5 mirrorless camera (around $1400 body only) has a lot of video features in a relatively small package. It has excellent in-body image stabilisation, good battery life for a mirrorless camera, and it can record a range of broadcast-quality 4K and HD formats. It’s solidly built and robust, and you can add a pro audio module. Cons? The MFT sensor is relatively small, and Panasonic’s colors and low light performance aren’t as good as their competitors. More about the GH5

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The pricier GH5S (around $2000 body only) is designed specifically for filmmaking. It has more pro video features and is better in low light. But it doesn’t have any in-body stabilisation. More about the GH5S

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BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

The BlackMagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K has plenty of pro features and excellent image quality at an affordable price. It costs around $1300 body only. It can shoot RAW and ProRes files at up to 60fps and has pro audio inputs. Like the Panasonic cameras it has a Micro Four Thirds sensor.

The downside are that its RAW and ProRes files are very large, it doesn’t have in-body stabilisation or an eye-level viewfinder, and battery life is poor. It’s very good value for creative filmmakers looking for very high image quality in controlled conditions, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.

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Fujifilm X-T30

Fujifilm X-T30 mirrorless camera

This little APS-C camera has very good video quality for under $1200 including a 15-45mm kit zoom lens. Fujifilm also make good value fast prime lenses.

It can shoot Full HD at up to 60fps, though its 4K is limited 10 minutes continuous recording. Unusually for a camera at this price, it can shoot in log mode and in 17:9 DCI (digital cinema widescreen) aspect ratio. It can also record high quality 10-bit 4:2:2 to an external recorder. There’s also the option of shooting cropped Full HD video at up to 120fps slow motion.

There’s no headphone socket, but you can connect headphones via the USB-C adapter. It has focus peaking, zebras, and Film Simulation modes which emulate the look of traditional Fuji film stocks. But there’s no in-body image stabilisation or weathersealing, and the screen tilts rather than swivelling fully.

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Used Canon T4i

Canon T3i

If you’re on a tight budget, used older models of Canon’s video SLRs such as this T4i are the best choice. Unlike the other cameras here, it’s not mirrorless and it doesn’t shoot 4K. But it has good colors, a relatively large APS-C sensor, and a good range of lenses.

Alternatively, you could opt for one of the mirrorless EOS-M series, or a camcorder. Other options under $300 on this page. 

More DSLR and mirrorless cameras

Tom Barrance

Tom Barrance I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and EditClass