If you’re looking for the best HD video camera, you’re not alone. Over the past year, my inbox has been inundated by ambitious filmmakers seeking advice on gear. And if you’re like most filmmakers, you can’t wait to get your hands on the best HD video camera and lens package you can.
To help us out, I reached out to filmmaker and self proclaimed gear nerd, Michael Head.
Michael, what is the best HD video camera and lens package for filmmakers on a budget?
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That is actually a great question, and I’ll start by saying this:
Having the best HD video camera in the world will not make your film look better if you don’t know how to use it. You’ll want to know how to properly light for the camera and how to record awesome sound. I’ve seen videos shot on RED Epics that look awful and videos shot on handicams that look spectacular.
Think about it this way. Nobody asked Leonardo Da Vinci what kind of brushes he used. It was his skill that made the difference.
I don’t know what your budget is, but I’ll make any recommendations I can based on my knowledge and experience. Let me directly answer your question on selecting an HD video camera and lenses.
The Best HD Video Camera For Filmmaking
1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is great little HD video camera, around $1,000, micro-four-thirds lens mount with a small sensor. But the camera is very workflow and add-on heavy. You’ll either need a lot of batteries or an external power source.
The Blackmagic can shoot both ProRes (compressed) and raw (uncompressed), but both require more storage (a LOT more) then the AVCHD that comes out of the 7D. And while this HD video camera uses SD cards, you are going to need very fast cards (write speeds of 90+ mbps, which are the more expensive cards).
The raw files are amazing to work with but require good knowledge of color correction to make it look right (but at least Da Vinci Resolve, an outstanding color correction software, has a free version). It has around 13 stops of dynamic range and can look very filmic if properly exposed and color corrected.
2. Panasonic GH4: For around around $1,400 this HD video camera comes with a micro-four-thirds lens mount, small sensor, and great images recorded 4k internally. This makes the Panasonic GH4 a great choice if you want to capture 4K in-camera. But similar to the Blackmagic, higher resolution requires more storage.
The Panasonic GH4 also has an add-on unit that allows for XLR audio to feed directly into the camera, but I’ve heard several reports of the audio “drifting” (becoming out of sync) when utilized. Capturing external audio is still a best practice that applies to any HD video camera you choose.
3. Sony A7s: With this HD video camera, $2,500 gets you the body, an e-mount lens mount (highly adaptable) and a full-frame sensor, which allows for very shallow depth of field with the right lens. The Sony A7s gives you around 12 stops of useable dynamic range, which makes it extremely sensitive in low light. As a consequence, it is very easy to overexpose. So you’ll probably need filters if you plan on shooting outside during the day, especially if you want any depth of field.
The Sony A7s is capable of 4k output to an external recorder which, of course, costs more money. And as a possible downside, the battery life is short. So you’ll need extra batteries (there’s a reason it comes with two). Despite these costs, this is actually the camera I choose to adopt, and it has been outstanding for me so far.
Again, it’s not necessarily the HD video camera that makes the most difference. Good cameras can help, if you know how to use them properly. But in reverse order: Make sure your lighting is good, make sure your audio recording is outstanding, and make sure your story is interesting. Without a good story, the camera won’t help much. And without good audio, your audience won’t care what kind of images you’re putting out.