Camera bodies, a Video Editor’s Guide

DSLR, mirrorless, or camcorder? Which one is the right one? Camera bodies are a huge debate in the photography and cinematography world. Ever greater megapixel counts, auto-focusing points and dynamic range claims. What camera is the best for you is almost an impossible question to answer. There are a few considerations you should ask yourself before purchasing one.

  • Is it necessary? This might seem like a pointless question as you’re viewing this blog, but it is a valid question. With sites like lensprotogo, borrowlenses or the myriad of other rental houses to choose from, you can rent camera bodies and lenses for a set amount of time. The prices are very reasonable and you can get really great gear for fairly cheap considering the cost of buying everything you’d need for a given shoot. Some people aren’t happy with this answer though, as renting everything you’d need on a per job basis as well as having a strict time limit is difficult if you’re shooting on a low budget. That’s crap. The new entry level Canon DSLR, the T6i, is over $700, a used T3i is around $300 body only.Lens pro togo 6D The 6D has a full frame sensor, capable of shooting RAW video, and in general has more functions than an entry level camera. Having an external mic is always helpful for capturing quality dialog away from the noisy motors on the camera, and spare batteries is always a must. There is a downside though. If you want to be a cinematographer or director, every time you want to practice your skills with composing, different lens techniques or just spur of the moment creating, renting becomes impractical. So on to the next point.
  • How much money do I have to spend? If you absolutely have to have a camera body, and are unable to make friends with someone who does have a camera, then this is your next step. Like I said before, a used entry level camera is around $300, and new it’s around $700, but by no means does that mean those are your only options. Pro camcorders are in the tens of thousands of dollars, like entry level RED Scarlet Dragon at $14,000… for JUST the body, no mounts, batteries, monitors… nothing else. There are a great many differences between the two cameras when you’re making movies, more than I should go into this blog. You need to find out what you can and can’t live with. Is rolling shutter going to be a problem? Dynamic range? Do you need 5k footage? Does it matter what format your footage is when you try to edit it? Do you need to shoot footage at 128,000 ISO? More importantly can your wallet handle all the things you want your camera to do?

How many of those questions did you answer “yes, absolutely” to? Let me edit your footage… In all seriousness if you’re reading this you don’t need bleeding edge camera tech to make good movies. I promise you a new camera body is coming out in 12 months that’s going to be the next big thing in camera bodies. How do I know this? There will always be a new something that revolutionizes the camera game. The word has lost all meaning in this industry. The main thing is that you tell a great story. A camera can’t do that for you. Shot on an $40,000 Arri Alexa or the iPhone in your pocket, a good story doesn’t manifest itself inside the camera. It’s when, and where you put the camera to capture a shot. Regardless of how powerful the tool, it can only be harnessed by the person wielding the tool. If you know all the strengths and weaknesses of you AND the tool, you can’t help but make good decisions.

The reason why I always suggest not buying a camera right away is so that you get to know your own limitations before introducing something like a camera. New bodies are constantly coming out, with newer, better or faster technology. If the perfect camera were to come out tomorrow, that doesn’t mean anyone needs it. Is someone going to have a television, monitor or projector that can display that image? Probably not. Does anyone need to shoot at 80,000 ISO? Probably not. Lighting that dark a situation would be problematic on a budget, but it’s not like the A7s II is exactly budget friendly either. If you can shoot on whatever camera you have lying around, over-coming it’s limitations with your own creativity, then you’re in a much better position than someone who has access to every piece of kit and never understands how to be creative with what they have. They’ll pretty much just wish they had more kit instead of creating an interesting solution from what’s on hand. On any set I’ve been on, there was always something I wished I had thought to bring, buy, rent, check out, or just plain forgot at home. In those situations you have to think quickly and creatively to get the shot you need instead of wasting time lamenting on the short comings of the gear you have.

In any case, that’s just my opinion. You can go from here and buy the most expensive camera and lenses you want. Just remember that those things won’t help you tell a good story, but if it helps you to make more films, that’s great! Good luck!