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What's the Best Camera Under $1K? Canon T4i, Sony NEX-6, Panasonic GH2 Shootout

Kevin Good and the Weapons of Mass Production team are on a sleepless mission to determine the best bang for your buck, and weed out all the rest. Each contender will get its due where it excels, but a clear winner will emerge from the settling dust just about every time — and WOMP will suffer no runners-up, all on behalf of the budget shooter. You know this from the show’s 24-70mm lens shootout — you also know how to shoot with an iPhone, or how others measure up to GoPro as action cameras. Now, WOMP sets out to answer the question of questions in today’s camera market: what’s the best you can do for under a thousand dollars? (Runners-up, beware).

The contenders are:


And the pudding, wherein lies the proof (drumroll, anyone?):

Given that there are plenty of other sub-$1000 options available, here’s Kevin on why he limited the scope of the shootout, via his post-video writeup:

I know there are a lot more cameras I could’ve chosen from. I chose these because:

  1. Canon has consitently been a leader in DSLR video quality, so I felt they should be represented
  2. Mirrorless is the way of the future for video, so I wanted the others to be mirrorless
  3. These all have larger chips that ‘traditional’ video cameras (the handycam you’d get at Best Buy made specifically for video) which gives us better light sensitivity, shallower depth-of-field, and that cinematic look that viewers of my show are concerned with.

We’ve seen some gorgeous stuff shot on the GH2 (particularly hacked or aerial), even from the very beginning. So much so that the GH3 had pretty big shoes to fill for those counting out offerings from the industry-dominating Canon. Kevin saw the highest level of sharpness from the Panasonic workhorse in his findings, which he sees as further proof manufacturers may be holding out on options and quality in favor of making us pay for upgrades or more ‘mature’ models. Either way, Canon — to everyone’s surprise, I’m sure — wins out in shadow-rendering out of the box, and that counts for a lot.

The Sony did a good enough job to surprise me, at least, especially considering most of the company’s video eggs are in an entirely different basket altogether. I think there’s something to be said for how admirably well it does given its size, though we already know (in terms of camera form factor) that size does matter — just in a different way than it does to, say, Godzilla. As for the Canon, Kevin breaks it down better than I could — and his points could be seen as indicative of Canon’s grasp of the DSLR video market in general:

It’s not as sharp as the Panasonic, and the form factor (with optical viewfinder instead of electronic) isn’t as good for video as the others. But it was the best in low light, it was the best with dynamic range, it was just about even on the other tests, and there is a hack available for it (Magic Lantern) that gives some really nice functionality. It worked predictably, it has a nice articulating touch-screen, it has a histogram to aid exposure, and having the cleanest image matters a lot to me. I think it’s embarrassing that it can’t resolve the same detail as the much older Panasonic, but you have to remember that these cameras are all stills cameras first.

What do you guys think of the test? Have you, in your own work, found the T4i to be the superior camera, or one of the others? Either way, which do you personally prefer, work best with, or feel you can get the best material out of? Why? Did you cringe at WOMP’s symbolic “destruction of that which fails the budget shooter in terms of overall value?”

Link: Weapons of Mass Production: <$1,000 Camera

Related Posts

  1. Weapons of Mass Production Action Cam Shootout: GoPro HERO3 vs. Panasonic TS4
  2. Which Camera Won the Zacuto Camera Shootout? The (Anonymous) Winners and Losers
  3. 1080P Camera Shootout: ARRI ALEXA vs Sony F3 (S-Log) vs Canon 7D

COMMENT POLICY

We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • This is iPhone 5 for Below $ 1K

    https://vimeo.com/57793113

    1080p Version here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsBsPpGYRLc

    Cheers . . !

  • I’m not surprised at all about the sony. My NEX-5N fared very well when jI compared it against T2i, GH2, D800:
    http://vimeo.com/46037571
    For me, it’s a nearly-perfect mix of sharp enough but not too sharp, decent DR, and very nice colors. The biggest downside is the codec: it could be a lot better. And keep in mind that it overheats like crazy, so if you’re shooting long takes forget about it. But I LOVE the image it’s giving me. For example, this is not color graded and I think it looks gorgeous:
    http://vimeo.com/57879637

    • BTW: once you factor in the much-reduced moire and aliasing issues, my opinion is that my 5N is a huge upgrade from my old T2i (which has the same IQ as the T4i). Unless you shoot long takes.

      • Agreed. My 5N has been wonderful. I purchased it over the gh2 for better low light and I fell it has a less contrasts image natively, I just finished this short shot at night with mostly available light and an occasional Led on its dimmest setting. Overall very happy with the image. https://vimeo.com/56217892

        • Also.. I used ram heatsinks on the back to dissipate heat. I get 30 min recordings now without issue.

          • I’ve got copper RAM heatsinks installed too, but in hot summer weather it shuts down after 5 minutes of recording. My old T2i did better than that (maybe 15 or 20 minutes).
            Luckily, the NEX-5N generates nearly no heat at all while it’s “on but not recording”, so this matches my usage pretty well.

  • GH2 all the way.
    Had it for almost 2 years and I have no intention of upgrading, until a Blackmagic BMCC2 comes out.

    • I approve this message.

    • I approve this message squared.

      I have one with a PL mount adapter and i use it with Optar prime lenses

      WOW !!!! and those lenses go to T1..3

      gonna get me a RED 18-85 next

    • And the hack i use give me 176Mb. i shot a very noisy shirt last week you would expect aliasing from and nothing…..im actually thinking of buying another one

    • Yes, the canon and sony DSLRs are just not suitable for anything besides DVD delivery… they lose immediately. They were also exposing the GH2 like noobs, GH2 is much better than my 7D in low-light, the ISO measurements are just different. Should have been addressed here and properly compensated for in the low-light test.

      • Yeah… My thoughts as well. I about crapped myself when they said that all 4 cameras were set exactly the same. That is impossible. You can’t set 3 completely different cameras the same. The least they could have done is exposed them somewhat the same. To me, it looked like the DR was about the same on all of them but the GH2 was underexposed compared tot he others.

        Also, where was the aliasing test? Hmm… yeah…. Anyhow, this “Comparison” is great for the average newbie who just wants to get a DSLR to shoot hip video with and doesn’t care to learn about picture profiles / Film Modes, settings etc….

        For 90% of what people will shoot, after the resolution and clarity test, the Sony and Conon should have been smashed with a sledgehammer. You can work with lighting a scene for the GH2, you can’t help that ugly mush the other cameras were excreting.

    • Waiting for that Active m43 mount before I pull the trigger, but this is the upgrade path for a GH2 user.

  • “14-15mm kit lens” ? :)

  • sorry NFS, maybe I am used on the quality here, but such a lame test should stay only on youtube and should not be here

    • A lot of readers here can’t afford to consider budgeting a camera for more than a thousand. I’ve been a longtime reader of NFS and there were originally a lot of posts about DIY rigs out of wood and PVC or how to make a film for less than 1K. I think this kind of article is missed. There are too many times were most of us can only dream about the kind of cameras that NFS writes about these days. No film school means no money for film school. I stand by this site as a great resources for filmmakers who don’t have access to high and mighty equipment.

      • I agree about what you said.. but the test is totally stupid

        1. they are comparing cameras under 1000, the nex setup is with 16-50 zoom which is better than kit lens and costs 1000.. gh2 is 650 for 400 i can get panny 20mm , so all in all I will get better everything for the same money
        2. DR test? I know you can push some detail from shadows when you have hacked gh2
        3. iso test? LOL he didn´t even exposed properly the gh2´s and he just pushed the gain in post.. not to mention his bad focus on sony .. and another thing every lens has different T-stop and canon sensors WON´T GIVE YOU SAME LIGHT GAIN ON SAME ISO SETTINGS (iso 200 on gh2 will give you more light than iso 200 on canon)
        4. my gh2 (flowmotion) footage grades better than canon one (I´ve had used lot of canon dslrs (550D/600D/7D/5DmII- some with hmagic lantern and marvel´s cine profile) also because of resolution.. the smoothnes is better when heavy graded the gh2

        • I totally agree.

          I’m bored to read this crap on this site. I hope at least they get some cash from Canon.

          EOT

          • “…crap on this site”. Do you mean THIS site, or the youtube channel of WOMP? Because THIS site posted the test with a commentary and asks you, the reader, at the end “what do you think of the test? (…)”
            So THIS site never said the test was accurate or good, it just presented us this test as a news site, because WOMP is a channel that gets a lot of attention, and they posted the test.

            You need to start reading properly and then assess things correctly before you start bitching, please!

        • Well said! I couldn’t agree more. This “Test” makes this WOMP group look like a couple of complete fools. I’m actually quite surprised they didn’t just set all the cameras to Auto after mounting them on that piece of wood.

  • I don’t really agree with their latitude conclusion, and all in all, in my opinion, the hacked GH2 gives the most pleasent image.

    • What don’t you agree with about it?

      • Kevin why no moire test???
        Moire and aliasing are some of the biggest downsides of the canon.
        Plus you can mount virtually any vintage lens on the gh2.
        Just my 2 cents.

        • No moire– just a matter of time and picking the most important stuff to do in a short review. You can definitely get a sense of it though in the shot with the helicopter and John doing ‘produce samurai’ when I zoom in. No question Panasonic keeps it under control in a way that the other cameras do not.

          • Well, I guess “most important” means different things to different people. If all you are doing is shooting video for youtube then I guess the ability to resolve true detail isn’t all that important….

            If however, you are concerned about putting out the best quality you can and expect to have your final product projected, then aliasing is a huge concern. You can light for lacking Dynamic Range but that ugly mush that the Sony and Canon are putting out won’t even hold up to the stock GH2 let alone a high bitrate hack.

            I think the disappointment in the latitude test may have stemmed from comments like that the cameras were all set exactly the same. That is impossible. ISO settings don’t behave the same on different cameras and F-Stop is NOT the same as T-Stop. You could have at least made an attempt to expose them all about the same. Also, as someone else pointed out, you boosted the GH2 low light footage in post. I know the GH2 isn’t the best in low light but I also know what turning up the gain in camera looks like vs boosting the levels in the NLE.

            I know that a good comprehensive comparison would have taken a lot more time than you or even I would want to put into it but the simplicity of this comparison makes you guys look like a couple of Jobbers.

  • I was in the market for a new camera a few weeks ago.

    Was considering the GH3, but since all my gear so far is Canon-oriented, that would’ve required new batteries, new lenses, a $300 battery grip, … which would’ve raised the price even more.
    After comparing all the options I had I eventually settled for a Sony NEX5N (specifically for slow motion) and a T3i with a Mosaic Engineering anti-aliasing filter.

    A T3i body costs 1/3rd of a GH3 !

    Why a T3i (and no T4i or 60D) ? Mainly becos of the 3x crop factor when shooting, imagewise there’s no difference between these 3 cameras for video (all the same sensor).

    These 2 cameras cost me a little over $1000, for an almost aliasing free T3i that can use the same batteries, battery grip and lenses I already had from my T2i. The Sony NEX5N was modded with small RAM heatsinks to prevent overheating (does a perfect job so far).

    The main pro of the GH3/GH2 (sharpness) didn’t outweigh the pros of the Canons : better DR, better low light and better shadows. I might eventually get a GH3, but sticking with Canon also meant I could stick with the same workflow, pick up the camera and start shooting.

    I can’t recommend the Mosaic Engineering filter enough : it seems to allow the H264 codec to compress better (due to not having to deal with aliasing), coupled with the Visioncolor picture style this gives way better footage than a standard Canon without filter and neutral picture style.

    • Do you have any footage with the VisionColor picture style, and the filter? I have the same rig without the filter, and I have been wondering what the images look like.

      • I just shot a music video with Visioncolor but without the filter. I can’t post it yet since it’s not officially out. Will post it as soon as it’s premiered online.

    • I concur. The Mosaic Engineering Filter (VAF-Txi) is a godsend. Well worth the investment IMO. I just shot a test in midtown and the filter severely cuts down or even eliminates the amount of moire in frame.

  • This test is unimpressive and relatively pointless because the GH2 will fail with its kit lens – which no one serious about making a short will shoot with. Put on a fast lens or an old Nikkon F and add the hack, then you have a serious film making tool that easily surpasses these other cameras (also with their magic Lantern hacks and fast lenses) .

    • You have a point, but the T4i was also used with the kit lens (which starts at f/3.5) and without Magic Lantern or a Mosaic Engineering filter, same for the Sony NEX, so if you’re looking for a test of unmodified cameras this is pretty fair.

      The pros of the GH2 vs Canon T4i (better resolution and sharpness) will remain valid when testing with fast lens and hack. The cons too (worse low light performance, more noise in the shadows, a little bit less dynamic range).

      • You took the words right out of my mouth Seenematic. :) Although it is fair to point out that with the GH2 you’d have enough money left over to buy a decent prime lens to throw on there. But yes, I wasn’t just testing bodies– I was testing the body-with-kit-lens combination that many people start off with when adopting a new brand of camera.

  • Upstream Color by Shane Carruth (Primer) now showing at Sundance, is shot with a hacked GH2
    http://i.imgur.com/3lLBz.jpg

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084989/

    nofilmschool should do a piece on that.

    • Definitely. I’ve been waiting to see another film by him since Primer. Interesting camera choice.

    • Don’t tell any one!
      Everyone will buy one then and we won’t have the secret advantage anymore :)

    • Thanks for the picture! It’s really encouraging to see an independent filmmaker — who isn’t just working under a studio’s indie label — using accessible equipment.

      From what I can tell, Shane & Co. are using the GH2 and the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 (http://bhpho.to/Ul4YFy). Any ideas on what adapter that is? Novoflex makes a blue-ring, but it doesn’t look quite the same.

    • No mention on this

      This demonstrates how this place is biased.

      Someone else farts with his canon and here will be plenty of posts

    • “There are a few things I’m trying my best not to talk about,” said Carruth, “and that’s the tech specs on the camera and the workflow and the budget. Last time around, I was grateful to have some praise for ‘Primer’ but they would say, ‘it’s a great movie for the budget.’ And I don’t ever want to hear that phrase again. It would be shocking I think, if people knew, but I’m not going to tout it and I hope it doesn’t ever get out.”

      _ Shane Caruth on wanting to keep many of the specifics of how “Upstream Color” came to be to himself :)

  • in capable hands, all 3 cameras will deliver comparable results.
    this was shot with both 5D and GH2 : https://vimeo.com/55388112

  • shylendra.h on 01.23.13 @ 9:37AM

    but
    i have Nikon d3200, i took same shot on both cannon 550d and my Nikon d3200( full HD video)
    i got better result than canon 555d

  • DIYFilmSchool.net on 01.23.13 @ 9:52AM

    I’m surprised that the GH2, even hacked, didn’t fare as well as the T4i. I’ve been consistently impressed with the GH2′s visuals; I guess it really depends on what it is you’re shooting. I’m still going to stick with the T3i as my eventual choice in camera.

    • I wouldn’t say it “didn’t fare as well” overall. It just that it’s the sharpness king. It definitely doesn’t have the low light or latitude of the other cameras. If you had tight control over the lighting of your scene though, you could (arguably) get better results out of the GH2, by controlling the light level and dynamic range. For my shooting I rarely have as much control & time as I’d like, so that’s why I chose the Canon.

      • The GH2 really NEEDS 3rd party lenses. The Panasonic lenses do not allow the full DR of the camera to shine through. You will see an amazing nearly 2 stop improvement once you ditch the crappy Panny lenses. Honestly. You will. I, personally, don’t even advise people to shoot on the GH2 unless they are planning on using different lenses.

        • Swami Digital on 01.25.13 @ 1:40AM

          Yeah getting an f0.95 mft lens put the low light performance on par with my previous canon APS-C (Canon 60D) cameras. I got the GH2 because I got a good deal on it, but ended up ditching my canon after shooting some tests.

  • These guys are shooting a feature on a couple of GH2′s and LOMO lenses. I have a T2i, but I’m considering going the GH2 way considering their price now.

    http://www.mandorlamovement.com/about/

  • Anthony Marino on 01.23.13 @ 11:06AM

    Entertaining and terrific review, but my GH2 (nebular) continues to surprise me. I don’t expect too much and I usually get more than I need. In similar (real world) shots I have to admit I pulled nicer images then I’ve seein in that review. But I love the GH2, and it is nice to see these types of cams perform well, I just say from experience the GH2 does a pretty amazing job in most cases.

  • It’s interesting how different tests get different results.

  • you guys need to go back to mini dv

  • @Kevin Good Thanks for making my GH2 look like crap. I knew I should have sent you the gh2 attached with the Voigtlander instead of the 14-42mm.

    • I was reviewing the whole package though– with cheap kit lenses. Keeping the price down for an all-in package was the challenge. No doubt all the cameras (and in particular the super-sharp Panasonic) can perform better with higher-end glass.

  • I have the hacked GH2 with flomotion as well and I was surprised at these results. Despite the fact that these were some pretty simple tests that in no way reflect cinematic shooting, I’ll accept the results.

    I shot a short film last summer (that we are turning into a web mini-series) with my GH2 before I hacked it and overall it looks okay, if I knew more about my camera and how to shoot at the time, that would have made it better more so than anything else.

    As far as I’m concerned, as we gain experience as film makers our gear can grow with us, but most of us can start practicing with anything, because shitty camera work is worse than any of the issues pointed out in this video. You just have to start shooting and make tons of mistakes. Once you’ve made your mistakes and have a handle on things you can move up from an 8-bit DSLR to something like the BMCC. I did a lot of shooting in 2012 and that 8-bit color is just killing me now.

    • “(…) because shitty camera work is worse than any of the issues pointed out in this video.”

      That is so true, glad somebody said it!
      I have seen too many bad videos by people who now think they can shoot because they have a Video DSLR… :)

  • Guys, stop getting anal about the friggin tech. What matters is the script. As long as its a great script, you can shoot it on any of these cameras. Geez, im starting to get a little pissed off at the this willy waving… Tech is not the most important.

  • There’s no question the hacked GH2 beat out the others! Although the T4i was great in low light, the GH2 still had fewer rolling shutter artifacts, better resolving detail and dynamic range (even with the misleading exposure metering).

    Seriously considering selling my T3i for a GH2 or GH3.

  • It’s great to see a comparison between some truly attainable cameras, and I also agree with anyone that says the camera is one of the least important parts of a great film. But for those of us who have to own (cheap) cameras for free-lance work, comparisons like this are really helpful. From my experience owning a 60D (with MagicLantern) and now the NEX-6, I much prefer the NEX for several reasons:

    1. Higher resolution. In my tests, it’s way better at resolving fine detail than the Canon. This of course does depend on the lens as well, but with the same lens on it, the Sony wins.
    2. Greater dynamic range. When shooting, it seems to expose the shadows more than the Canon, and it does so without losing highlights. When I bring footage from the Sony into Resolve, I have way more room to play than with the 60D.
    3. 1080p at 60fps. I do so much work that benefits from mild overcranking, and it’s a huge deal to be able to do this without lowering resolution. I wish it had the same control over fps that MagicLantern does, but it’s still a better option than stock Canon.
    4. Form factor. I can easily adapt just about any lens mount to it. Having a built in viewfinder is nice, and believe it or not, I like the WiFi remote control option. And out of all the cameras I looked at, this one has the best AF in video. I know that’s a travesty for most pros, and it’s not something that I use a lot. But I do a lot of work for a church, and there are times where I unfortunately must hand my camera over to a volunteer assistant who is not as skilled or trained as myself. For those times, having a dependable autofocus is a huge benefit.

    I still use both, but I find myself shooting more and more with the Sony. I just like the look better, and it suits my needs. It’s far from a perfect camera, but it’s cheap and works very well for the money.

  • Dave Kendricken wrote:
    “$650 Panasonic GH2 with 14-15mm kit lens, both stock and with Flowmotion v2.02 (+$10 or so) hack ($700 total)”

    Thanks for crediting my Flow Motion v2.02 patch, and for providing a link to my download link on Personal View. I’d appreciate it if Weapons of Mass Production would update their YouTube video description to provide these credits as well.

    However, I’m not sure how you got the impression that there is a charge of $10 Flow Motion v2.02. I’ve always provided this patch as a free download for use with Vitaliy Kiselev’s GH2 PTool hack. It is Vitaliy’s hard work and dedication that has made it possible to create GH1 and GH2 patches like Flow Motion v2.02. For those who would like to help support Vitaliy’s efforts, please make donations to the Paypal link on his Personal View website.

    • I think that is why he wrote “(+10$ or so)” – the “or so” meaning: “please donate 10$ or so for this great piece of software”.
      But I wasn’t sure about what it meant exactly either until I read your comment! :)

  • I have a Gh2 and had been using the Aquamotion v2 hack but just shot with a new Driftwood firmware. I am a beginner and learning how to evaluate quality but I was impressed: Kanana Pond Wildlife Sanctuary Maui – Panasonic GH2 with Driftwood’s “Apocalypse Now” firmware hack Clutster v7 Apocalypse Now – 6 GOP Nebula “444 https://vimeo.com/58232509

    I also have a GH3 and love the idea that I can have a different lens on each or do a multicam shoot for live music production.

    Vance

  • Shane Carruth shot Upstream Color on a hacked GH2 and it’s absolutely astounding:

    http://vimeo.com/57342043

    It’ll be one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2013.

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