July 31, 2020 at 11:59AM

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Best Beginner Cameras

Hi. I am a student filmmaker. I’ve grown rather tired of shooting on my iphone 7 due to the terrible quality, so can you guys give me a suggestion on easy to use film cameras, and list the pros and cons of that camera? My price range is around $2500, but it would be great if it was a little lower. Any recommended sites on where to buy it as well? Thanks.

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By "film camera," I am guessing you mean digital cinema camera, yes? If so, I would recommend one of three cameras on the market right now: The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4k ($1,300), the BMPCC 6k ($1,995), or the Sigma fp Mirrorless Digital Camera ($1,799).

Both Blackmagic cameras are very affordable and have really good dynamic range and color rendering. I've gotten great low-light performance out of my Pocket 4k and really think it is a great camera for beginners because of its ease of use. The only downside I've had with the BMPCC 4k is that it has a micro 4/3 sensor, which means you get a 2X-crop on all of your images. That makes it harder to get wide-angle shots, especially on indoor shoots when you want to take in a wide portion of a space without having to use a really wide-angle lens that might distort your image. I had to compensate for the smaller sensor size with a speed booster, but that adds extra expense to your gear. You also have to purchase micro 4/3 mount lenses for the BMPCC 4k, which can *only* be used with micro 4/3 mount/sensor cameras, which is a big limitation of the format for me--now that I'm moving over to a more professional cinema camera with a Super 35mm sensor, all of my micro 4/3 lenses are useless and I have to replace them.

That being said, I've had a lot of success getting beautiful images out of my BMPCC 4k for several short films and a web series. The camera has a very easy and intuitive menu system, and there are now plenty of accessories for rigging it out. Now, the BMPCC 6k has a Super 35mm sensor and a Canon EF mount, which means you don't have the crop-factor of the Pocket 4k, so you can get nice wide shots at a much higher resolution. You can also purchase Canon-mount lenses for this one, which you can use on a *much* larger selection of camera styles. The bigger sensor also means better low-light shooting. It's more expensive than the Pocket 4k, but worth the investment.

The Sigma fp Mirrorless Camera has seriously impressive stats for its price range, with a full-frame sensor (larger than both the micro 4/3 and Super 35mm sensors), so you get even better low-light performance, a wider viewing angle, and really strong shallow depth-of-field. It uses an L-mount for lenses (but you can purchase separate adapters for other types of lenses). You can also shoot stills with this camera, which is a great perk on a cinema-style camera (you technically *can* shoot stills with the BMPCCs, but it is a real PITA and you can't review your shots until you take your memory card to a computer screen). It has image stabilization (BMPCCs do not), but it is also a tiny camera. Not bad in and of itself, but that means the built-in monitor is also very small, especially compared to the really nice, 5-inch touch screen displays of the BMPCCs. However, you're probably going to want to buy an external display, anyway, whatever camera you end up buying. I wish I had had this option when I was buying my first cinema camera. I might have still gone with a BMPCC, but this looks like a solid choice, depending on the kinds of shooting you plan to do.

My (very humble) suggestion is that you start researching more about the specs on these three options and then look at a few others. While you are doing that, ask yourself, "what kind of cinematography do/will I be shooting most of the time?" If I were doing a lot of run-and-gun, documentary, or vérité-style shooting, I would go with smaller, lighter gear with image stabilization like the Sigma fp (I do use a Lumix GH5 for that, but it's also a micro 4/3 camera with a *beast* of a menu system). If I were doing more locked-down, tripod shooting, then one of the BMPCC might be a better choice. But all of this boils down to what *you* need for your particular uses.

Also, if you don't have a camera yet, you also need to be thinking about *lense* (Oh, gods! you need to be thinking about lenses!) and a good tripod. By "good," I mean a well constructed, adaptable and sturdy tripod with a "Fluid Head." A "decent" tripod with a Fluid Head will probably run you between $350-$500, but the range of prices and quality are vast, so do your homework and buy what you can afford that will also get you the results you are looking for. As far as lenses go, they are expensive. You will need to spend money on buying good cinema lenses. Rokenon lenses are some of the best, more affordable lenses on the market. A nice starter set will cost you around $2,300. (Mind you, a single, decent-quality cinema lens of any other brand will *easily* run you that same price and higher, but Rokenon is a really good place to start). Since you are on a budget, you might think about buying the camera plus one good 50-100mm zoom lens for a couple-hundred bucks. The lens will be the weakest part of your setup, but you can save up for better-quality cinema lenses when you are ready.

All of the prices I'm quoting are for new equipment. Used equipment can be a good way to go, too, on a budget. Just make sure you are buying from reputable vendors.

Good luck! I remember when I was asking the same question and really appreciated the help I got from some pros. But whatever equipment you get, go out and shoot a lot, push the envelope on what it can do, and learn from the mistakes. Take care!

August 1, 2020 at 8:54AM

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Cedrick May
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