Whether you’re a vlogger, an amateur filmmaker, or even a band with a cool idea, your choice of cameras has never been better. Competition between manufacturers and the explosion of the mirrorless market have produced cameras that are small, affordable and packed with features. No matter what your needs are, there is probably a camera that fills them.
To help organize a sense of the current offerings, we’ll look at some leading manufacturers and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Sony has taken the video world by storm in the last few years with most credit going to it’s mirrorless camera line (recently they became the #2 seller of full-frame cameras, ahead of Nikon and behind Canon). The a6500 boasts 4K recording, in-body image stabilization (IBIS) to smooth out handheld shots, and the ability to record at 120fps in HD for butter-smooth slow-motion. The larger a7sii, the video-focused variant of the flagship a7 line, offers similar specs as well as a full-frame sensor that provides a wider field of view and increased low-light performance. Sony’s low-light performance is legendary, especially in the a7sii, which can actually see better in the dark than the human eye. With the recent release of the a9, an a7sii successor with even better capabilities is probably on the way. Concert shooters, journalists, and anyone filming without control of their lighting should definitely consider a Sony camera.
Panasonic is Sony’s only big competition in the mirrorless world, and with offerings like the G7 and GH5 it’s not hard to see why. The G7 offers a similar feature set to the a6500, (noticeably lacking is no framerates above 60fps), but at half the cost. The GH5 can record 4K at 60fps, supports 10-bit video recording in-camera (great for green screen work), and can shoot up to 180 fps in HD. Panasonic cameras also have an articulating flip-out LCD screen, a crucial feature for vloggers and something that is noticeably absent in most mirrorless cameras. The main drawback of Panasonic cameras is their Micro Four-Thirds (M43) sensors. M43 sensors are smaller than the APS-C and full-frame sensors found on the other cameras in this article, and decrease the maximum aperture and minimum focal length of lenses to a greater extent. This means wide angle shots and good low-light video will be more difficult to get. Aftermarket focal reducers (or “speedboosters”) are available that negate this, though they will increase the price of your setup. If wide shots or low-light aren’t situations you deal with, Panasonic’s offerings are worth looking into.
Blackmagic is a bit of a wildcard in the camera market, as they have only been selling cameras for about five years. The company has taken their extensive background in video production hardware and software and used it to build cameras that prioritize image quality above all else. All Blackmagic cameras can record in various ProRes codecs and even full RAW, and at the amateur/indie level there is no other camera brand that can match their image and price point. The Pocket Cinema Camera is especially notable; about the size of a point-and-shoot, it produces HD footage so sharp it could be mixed with the 4K footage from other cameras without issue. However, Blackmagic tend to fall short in almost every other area as a result of their focus on image. Battery life is abysmal, low-light performance is non-existent, high-FPS recording is only present on the more recent and top-tier URSA Mini models, and all their cameras require additional accessories to be ready to shoot. With a controlled set and a knowledgeable crew Blackmagic cameras will shine, but for run-and-gun shooters and budget-conscious buyers there are better options.
Canon helped usher in the amateur filmmaking boom almost a decade ago with the 5D Mark II. However, since then they have been firm in keeping most advanced video features like 4K recording and high framerates in their professional Cinema EOS line, their DSLR/mirrorless offerings lag behind the competition in terms of video features. Where Canon is still relevant to the indie video world is in their lens system. Canon has arguably the most diverse lens system in the world, and because of their age and prevalence they tend to be more affordable. All of the cameras mentioned in this article can use Canon lenses either natively or through the use of adapters, some of which will maintain electronic features like auto-focus. No matter what camera you choose, investing in Canon glass will help you get the most out of it.