June 29, 2015 at 7:18AM

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1000$ budget for first camera - what to buy?

Hi NFS people,

I'm a 2nd year film school student looking to get myself my first camera, so I don't have to keep relying on my friends' cameras to shoot my short films (plus, they're all Canon cameras with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lenses, hardly the best combo for the money). Stills are not very important.
My budget is around 1500$, but I have no intention on spending it all on a camera. I'm keeping aside 1000$ just for the camera, and if it costs less than that, great - more money for lenses, audio, and other gear.
About the camera: I'm looking for a camera that can give me an image that I can tinker around with in post without it falling apart, so I guess dynamic range and color space are a big thing to me right now. I am also leaning away from Canon cameras, as I've always felt their 1080p is not really 1080p, if you compare it the Full HD image of other brands. I don't mean to sound like a pixel peeper, but resolution is big on my priorities (1080p is more than enough, though, if it is good 1080p, like say the GH3's).
But that is just the technical tip of the iceberg... I definitely don't want a camera that will slow me down on a shoot. I know it's a very subjective matter, but I find it almost as important as the image it produces, that the camera is user-friendly, customizable, fast and intuitive to use. Both during production and in post-production.
With that said, I'm ruling out the Blackmagic Pocket Camera. Sure, the images look great, and ProRes and Raw are a wonder to work with, but I don't want the hassle of crappy battery life and huge files. It just strikes as very user-unfriendly, at least within my budget.

So, I've been doing research, and I've kinda narrowed it down to a few cameras (obviously, I'm open to criticism and suggestions of other cameras):

Panasonic GH3
Very sharp video image, amazing battery life and no recording time limit, high bit-rate recording, 1080p 60fps, weather sealed body, mic input and headphone output. The crop factor is a bit of a problem, but I'd pair it with a mitakon Nikon F speedbooster.

Panasonic GH2 (hacked with FlowMotion 2.02 patch)
Very very sharp video image, no recording time limit, very high bit-rate recording, 720p at 60fps that can damn nearly pass as 1080p, and the crop factor isn't as bad as the GH3's.
Plus, the ability to hack it with some more extreme hack, like the Driftwood ones, and get insanely high bit-rate recording, for some special shots where stability and data consumption aren't a deal breaker, is pretty cool.
I'm really leaning towards the GH2, as it is very cheap. I can get it anyday at ebay for 400$/500$ tops. But the fact that, once hacked, it is not as stable and has some quirks, adding to that the fact that it is used, plus the fact that its battery life and data consumption are a problem when hacked, kinda leave me in doubt.

I am aware of cameras like the Panasonic FZ1000, which can give me 4k for 800$, but the fact that it is a fixed lens camera kills the deal for me (25mm may not be wide enough sometimes, and f/2.8 will definitely not be enough many times, as I can't afford big lights, and it makes it impossible to run and gun in low light situations. Any of the other cameras, paired with a speed booster and something like a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lets me do it just fine.)

Nikon D7100
Sharp video image, excellent stills camera, very good dynamic range and color space, moire very much under control. I am aware of the Nikon D7200, but I don't feel it's worth the extra 300$ for my purposes. Or is it? And for the sake of my budget, how much of a difference is there between the Nikon D7100 and cheaper Nikon models like the D5300? If I can trust dxomark's scores, not much, but what do you guys say?

Sorry for the long post, but it's my first camera, and it's a lot of money, so I want to do this right and get myself as much of a future-proof option as possible.
I really appreciate it if you guys take the time to tell me what you think.

35 Comments

Given your budget the cameras I would look at are...

Panasonic GH3 ( $600 used, $900+ new )

Blackmagic Micro Cine Camera ( $1200 new )

Nikon D7100 or D5300 ( they both produce the same video image, but the D7100 has better physical handling for still photo work )

...At one point I owned two hacked GH2 cameras, which were amazing at the time, but the GH3 is significantly better for both still photos and for video. The GH3 battery lasts for more than 3 hours, while the GH2 battery barely makes it to the 90 minute mark. The higher bit-rates of the GH3 also eliminates the need for hacks, and the GH3 battery grip is fantastic for still photo work.

All of these cameras can produce a great video image, you just have to pick one and go with it. ( the Nikons are better for still photos, while I prefer the GH3 and Blackmagic cameras for video work )

June 29, 2015 at 2:26PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
33448

Thanks a lot Guy! Yes, I do feel that the GH3 might be the way to go. But then again, if the video image of the Nikon D5300 is the same as that of the Nikon D7100, I might as well go for the D5300 with the 18-55mm kit lens (as I currently do not own any lens with IS), which would cost me about as much as the GH3 body only. I'll definitely keep that in mind.
Thanks for taking the time to answer.

Peter Johnson

June 29, 2015 at 4:01PM

Given your budget my clear choice would be one of the canon rebels. T2i, T3i or up. I would buy them used. I do think the T3i has an advantage for video with a swinging monitor, another would be the eos-m, any of these cameras can be found used for $350 plus the lens. This is a great time to get a canon refurb because around important holidays Canon.com has unpublicised specials that talking to a salesperson will reveal. I mean jaw dropping deals, so worth a phone call to them. The Canon are really great considering the magic lantern hack, which is software that goes on the memory card that adds many video related features. For the money nothing can touch them. A Canon 50mm is legendary for value and under $100 used. You should be able to put together a great canon combo for under $500. I have the t2i, t3i and eos-m. I really like the mirrorless eos-m being the equal to the canon rebel cameras in function and quality and more compact. I highly recommend buying a camera specific tutorial from Dave Dugdale. Under $40 and the information will benefit you not just with your specific camera, but with any camera in the future, will shorten your learning time considerably. http://www.learningvideo.com/store/

June 30, 2015 at 1:37PM

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Yes, I did consider going the Canon route, only because of how tempting the features on Magic Lantern are.

I'll admit, a t5i with ML and Cinestyle is an awesome deal for the price. But what keeps me back is that, with magic lantern, the Canon cameras under 1000$ can't do 1080p raw. The t5i, I believe, goes up to 1600x680. And without raw, no Canon under 1000$ can produce a video image nearly as good as that of any of the cameras I've listed above: the GH2, the GH3, or the Nikon D7100/D5300. Or do I have this all wrong?

I am familiar with the Canon rebels, and I know they are very nice to work with, and very versatile once with add ML, but I've always found the video image they produce to be lacking.

Peter Johnson

June 30, 2015 at 1:57PM

im with lofar on this, id go the canon route also. but I would look into the 70d ML has an alpha build now. I use a 70d and loved it from day one

June 30, 2015 at 3:15PM, Edited June 30, 3:15PM

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Michael Militscher
Director / Commercial Producer
2432

Like I said to Lofar Fopah, I have been tempted by Magic Lantern, but am quite put off by the Canon camera's "soft" Full HD. Besides, I hear they are much more prone to moire and aliasing than the Nikon or Panasonic cameras, which also produce a sharper video image in the price range I'm looking at...
But I will consider your advice, and Lofar's, if I end up deciding I'd rather have a cheaper camera and invest the savings on some fast, affordable primes, than spending 900$ on a GH3.

Peter Johnson

June 30, 2015 at 7:46PM

You also might try the Panasonic G7. It's basically a baby version of the GH4 with the same sensor and 4K capabilities, and would be an excellent starter camera for a film student - especially if you're already leaning towards the Panasonic end of the world.

Adorama has them for about $800 with a kit lens (14-42mm f/3.5-5.6), and they're running a special where you get a $250 on-camera short-range shotgun mic for free. It's a steal and a great starting place for where it sounds like you're at.

http://www.adorama.com/ipcdmcg7b.html

June 30, 2015 at 5:04PM, Edited June 30, 5:04PM

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Jonathan Hout
Designer, Cinematographer, Storyteller
74

Boy, am I glad you pointed that one out to me! For some reason I was under the impression that the G7 was a fixed lens camera, and had excluded it because of it!

800$ for an interchangeable lens camera with 4K? Awesome stuff l! I'll definitely do some serious looking into the G7. The GH3 just got some serious competition in my list...

Peter Johnson

June 30, 2015 at 7:37PM

I'd agree with Jonathan. The G7 from everything I've seen about it gets rave reviews and from all the tests it's seems quite a good camera, some even saying it is comparable to the GH4 picture wise.

I think you should definitely add it to your choices.

July 1, 2015 at 5:18AM

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Andy O'Neill
Filmmaker / Cinematographer
2367

Thanks! I've been looking into it since reading Jonathan's post, and right now it's the camera I'm the most inclined to. I'll definitely be looking into it, but from what I've read so far, it looks just perfect for me.

Peter Johnson

July 1, 2015 at 5:53AM

What about black magic pocket cinema? I am pretty sure the price on used for these definitely drop by end of this year once black magic micro's come on the market.

July 1, 2015 at 1:16PM, Edited July 1, 1:16PM

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Keith Kim
Photographer
1629

Yeah, the blackmagic pocket camera is awesome, but it's not for me. I am not willing to spend hundreds of dollars on battery solutions and hard drives... I mean, the images it produces are beautiful, amazing dynamic range, amazing codecs, amazing price; but the battery lasts less than an hour, and the files are huge.

To me, the BMPCC nails it on the technical side, and it was definitely a game-changer, but on the practical side it fails pretty hard... It's awesome for someone who's got a bigger budget than mine, though, and can invest in it the money it needs to be an A camera on a production.

Peter Johnson

July 1, 2015 at 2:28PM

yea, I understand what you are saying, I almost bought the camera. But it seems like the Micro version has better battery life when they announced it. But I guess you never know until you really test out the camera. And it's $1K just for the camera and you need to buy external monitor. But the specs seems really good global shutter at 30p and 60p for rolling, plus the amazing black magic RAW and prores. Happy hunting man~

Keith Kim

July 1, 2015 at 5:59PM

Thanks, and thanks for taking the time to answer my long-winded post!

Peter Johnson

July 1, 2015 at 7:39PM

No problem! Keep us updated on what you are buying! =)

Keith Kim

July 2, 2015 at 1:36PM

Some people just don't read original posts, uh? He explicitly said why he doesn't want a black magic cam and I couldn't agree more.
yes, the G7 seems to be the one to pick.

July 2, 2015 at 5:11AM

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Yes, my mind is pretty much set on the G7. Seems like a little beast of a camera, with nearly all I could ask for in that price range.
I'm still open for any suggestions or recommendations anyone might have, though.

Peter Johnson

July 2, 2015 at 6:14AM

Guys, I know this is way off topic, but could someone explain to me what the benefits of high bit-rate recording are? Thanks in advance!

July 2, 2015 at 6:55PM

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P
freelance
74

Just a quick point about the BMPCC; you can get external battery power rather inexpensively. I don't quite know the details, but I have heard that essentially you can make it last a couple hours, rather than 20 minutes. It's a great camera for playing with in post.

July 3, 2015 at 5:57AM

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Found a blog on the battery solution!

http://www.pixol.co/cheap-pocket-camera-battery-solution/

Paul Cummings

July 3, 2015 at 8:58AM

That is really great stuff, not too cumbersome and pretty cheap. But I'm still not convinced by the BMPCC... I feel there's just too many little things outweighing the great image, codecs, and dynamic range.

Peter Johnson

July 3, 2015 at 12:19PM

Still a shitty LCD screen not usable outside, huge file. Yes, ProRes 4: 4: 4 is really tempting for color grading. One suggestion: expose well, don't try to fix it in post. Control your environment and you won't have to grade so much. Of course a terrific story would help too!

Philippe Orlando

July 4, 2015 at 5:05AM

Very true. Yes, I got my hands on an old Cosina SLR recently, and am now beginning to understand just how important it is to expose correctly.
Thanks for the words of advice!

Peter Johnson

July 4, 2015 at 10:15AM

I've been really digging the Sony A6000. Only $550 for the body, and because it's mirrorless, you can adapt pretty much lens you want to it. It has a lot of nice video features, like focus peaking and histogram, and since the most recent firmware update, now has the option to record in 50mbps XAVC-S. And it has a built-in viewfinder that works during video recording. It's not amazing, but better than trying to look at an LCD through cupped hands when it's bright out. The battery life isn't great.

It's not really the best in any category, but pretty great value for the money.

July 3, 2015 at 2:32PM

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I've heard great things the A6000, and have considered it. 50mbps XAVC-S, a viewfinder that works during recording, and a 550$ price tag are awesome features. In terms of the video it produces, I found it very similar to the Nikon D5300. It's one of those cameras I really have no reason not to seriously consider, other than my gut telling me that I'd rather have the others I mentioned.

Sounds a bit amateurish, spoiled even, I know... But I want my first camera to be a camera I actually want, if you know what I mean.

Peter Johnson

July 3, 2015 at 3:48PM

I agree with the getting a canon t2i or t3i. It's a solid starting point and the the EF mount is future proof. So you can spend on glass because it will last which basically means flipping your budget. Set $1000 aside for lenses and the rest for a camera. The lenses are going to be more valuable than the camera. Average camera life is 2-3 years. Average lens life is longer.

With that said, I suggest you buy a t2i and then look at some nice glass like the Tamron 24-70 f2.8. That Tamron is a nice all around focal length zoom and has image stabilization (called vibration compensation) so that f2.8 will be usable in low light . Also, the Canon 50mm f1.8 stm is a super sharp prime like it's predecessor but redesigned for dslr video use. It's an insanely good value at ~$125 because that f1.8 is great in low light and gets you really nice shallow depth of field.

So...

t2i used = ~$300
Tamron 24-70 f2.8 used= ~$850
Canon 50mm f1.8 stm = $125

Puts you at $1275 with a great kit that can handle pretty much any situation. I would take another $200 or $300 and get a nice tripod or some audio gear after that.

Also, look up the Technicolor Cinestyle picture profile. It's a flat profile made for Canon cameras so you can color grade your images.

Just my $0.02, hope it helps!

July 5, 2015 at 10:54AM, Edited July 5, 11:05AM

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Jerald Roberts II
Filmmaker
328

1 more thing... I don't know if it applies to this but...

4k is overrated. It's not NECESSARY...yet. YOU DON'T NEED 4K... yet. You will in the future, but not right now. Unless you're clients want their videos delivered in 4k, 1080p will more than suffice, so I suggest not letting that influence your decision. In my experience the GH4 with 4k is nice, but the low light and colors are pretty horrible. High Resolution is awesome but not at the expense of good dynamic range or low light ability. So I suggest staying way from the Panasonic cameras ESPECIALLY IF YOU WANT LOW LIGHT/RUN AND GUN. You said you won't be packing lights and the Panasonic Gx cameras need lights to get the most out of them.

Jerald Roberts II

July 5, 2015 at 11:04AM

Thanks a lot for that. You might be right, maybe I should flip my budget... Nice lenses and a nice tripod are much more future-proof than a nice camera; but then again, 4k is also much more future-proof than the not-so-great Full HD of a t2i. I will dig deeper into the option. Your 0.02$ are very, very much appreciated!
I'll be making a final decision before the end of either this or next week, and I'll keep you guys posted when I do.

Peter Johnson

July 5, 2015 at 11:24AM

One more thing: you say that the EF mount is future-proof... But if I go the Panasonic route and get myself a 20$ m4/3 to EF adapter, wouldn't that make it just as future-proof? I could use the exact same lenses, right? And since the sensor is smaller, it would even allow me to use c-mount lenses...
Am I looking at this wrong?

Peter Johnson

July 5, 2015 at 11:32AM

Everything you've said is spot on. I missed the part of your original post where you said you're not a fan of canon. Apologies for that.

If you like the look of 4k then by all means go for it! I forgot to add in my original post that the most important thing is what you see with your own eyes. If the image looks good to you then it's a good looking image. 4k is absolutely future proof and it looks stunning when downscaled to 1080p! I was blown away! But what I wanted to add was that resolution is just 1 part of image quality. There's also dynamic range, codec, low light ability, etc. and low light tends to be very important in run and gun situations because you don't have the big fancy lights.

An m43 to EF adapter is an option, but you won't be able to control aperture on the EF lenses because that is done electronically and cheaper adapters don't support those electronics. So you would be stuck shooting at the widest aperture. You could use lenses with manual aperture rings on the lens or an adapter that has aperture control on it or electronic support but those usually cost extra.

I do know you can use c-mount lenses on m43 sensors but I don't know much besides that haha. There is a Facebook group dedicated solely to that topic. You can probably find more info there and get some answers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/cmountm43/

I think it really comes down to personal preference. Everyone prefers something different. If it looks good to you then that's what you should be using. I also would suggest trying out the camera before you buy one. I purchased a camera without trying it to find out I hated it. It seems like you haven't had too much fun with Canon based on your experience, which is good. Definitely try out the camera you're looking at before you buy it that way you're not regretting your decision.

Hope that helped. Good luck to you! I'm interested in hearing your final decision.

Jerald Roberts II

July 5, 2015 at 12:46PM

Thanks again for your help!
I am very glad you mentioned that whole thing about not being able to adjust aperture while with a cheap adapter... I'd already decided to buy a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, and I just now realized it's not a manual aperture lens. I guess that forces me to just get some old manual lenses, which I am perfectly fine with. I'm definitely not spending a fortune on adapters that keep the electronics going. I'm OK with no Auto-Focus, as i plan on using the camera mainly for video.
Rokinon seems to have a manual 50mm f/1.4 for the same price, so I guess that's going to be my first purchase when I have 400$ to spare!
Really glad you mentioned this issue, or I might have found myself in easily avoidable hassle. Thanks a lot!

Peter Johnson

July 5, 2015 at 1:23PM

Hi everybody. First of all, I wanna thank everyone of you who took the time to give me feedback and tell me your opinions! I'm really glad that I started this post, and I am positive my choice is a much more informed one thanks to reading what you guys had to say. So thank you all.

Having said that, I thought I'd let you know that I've made up my mind. I've been doing a lot of reading about the G7 and I believe that it is the camera for me.
To begin with, it's cheap: it's 800$ with a nice 14-42mm IS lens. Also, 4K at 100 mbps is not perfect, but once you downscale it to 1080p, it's amazing. And when the time of 4K comes, I'll have the camera for it.

I still have a few questions that I was hoping someone could give me some feedback on, if you're not yet tired of my pesky little doubts...
Here's the thing: I'll be buying the 200$ Mitakon Nikon F speed booster, which doesn't provide electronic contacts between camera and lens, which means I'll have to get fully manual lenses. I was thinking of buying a Nikon AI-S 50mm f/1.4, as it is fully manual and not too expensive, at 400$. But then I stumbled into a cool shop in my hometown that sells used lenses, and there's better bargains there.
So my question is this: if I got myself a 50mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Jena lens with a Praktica B mount, or a 50mm f/1.4 Canon lens with an FD mount, could I use them along with the Mitakon speebooster using a Praktica B to Nikon F adapter, or an FD to Nikon F adapter? Or is that a mistake in any way?

I really appreciate the help.

July 7, 2015 at 6:12AM

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Peter Johnson
Aspiring filmmaker
86

Thanks for the update Peter! Awesome!
Yea I don't know much about Praktica B mount but I know Canon FD mount has a bigger mount that you could put Nikon F mount on it for sure.
You should definitely double check before purchasing though. My friend use to own 5D which he used nikkor and Carl Zeiss on it

Keith Kim

July 13, 2015 at 3:09PM

Check out this interview with Suki Medencevic ASC. He talks about camera options - http://www.indiefilmhustle.com/cinematography-suki-medencevic-asc/

October 11, 2015 at 6:34AM

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Alex Ferrari
Director / Producer
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