November 17, 2014 at 2:33PM

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Which is the best first-camera and lens to get on a budget?

From doing a lot of reading, I seem to be coming across the same three brands: a Nikon D5300, Panasonic GH3 or T3i but I can't seem to narrow it down from these.

I'm not a beginner as I've graduated from film school however I am on a budget hoping to go no more than 600 for both a new camera and lens. I hope to use it primarily for shooting short films but I'm unsure of which route to go down.

As for lenses, I'm just as confused and I'm unsure which one would suit me best, budget included.

18 Comments

My picks in order of preference would be...

GH3 ( highly detailed image, excellent 50 Mbit 1080 HD recording, long battery life, EVF )

D5300 ( very detailed image, minimal moire/aliasing, good low-light performance )

T3i ( magic lantern hack, low cost, easy to buy and sell used )

November 17, 2014 at 5:20PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30970

Of the ones you mentioned, go with the GH3 for the aformentioned reasons, plus it's 60 fps at 1080p.

November 19, 2014 at 11:56PM

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Choose wisely. What you choose now will determine what you get in the future. I like to think of a first camera as a "gateway camera." You are choosing what company you are going to invest lenses in for later. So when you are considering the camera, consider what system you are locking yourself in. If you go with the Panasonic GH3, a mirrorless system with a m4/3 mount. You would have some freedom with what you upgrade to because Panasonic isn't the only camera manufacturer to use the m4/3 mount. Also, almost any lens can be adapted onto the m4/3 mount. With Canon and Nikon you're locked into DSLRs with a larger sensor. The sensor sizes are an important factor. Do get me wrong, it's not that you can't switch brands-I swapped from Canon to Panasonic. It's just a big pain to switch after you already buy lenses for a brand. Don't make the mistake I made and not think in terms of the future when you make your decision. Also, have you considered the Sony a5100? It's $600 dollars new with a kit lens included on B&H and it shoots with a great codec.

November 19, 2014 at 11:57PM

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Beau Wright
Filmmaker
409

I would opt for a wide-angle zoom, and work from there. Go for something around 20-70mm focal range, as that's the range you'll generally be using. (Note that is on a "full frame" sensor, that's 10-35 on an MFT lens set) This range can provide you with a very wide variety of shots, from interviews to (decent but tight) action shots. This all depends on the content you're shooting of course. If you're shooting all or mostly action, like sports, go really wide. If you're doing documentary work, go for something a little bit tighter. Just know that there is no perfect lens for everything, let your content guide your decision.

November 20, 2014 at 3:37PM

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Brandon Neubert
Color Artist / Writer / Director
728

To add to my previous comment, there is no "best camera" for those starting out. But I would choose a system to follow. Lenses continue on for your whole life. I recommend following the MFT wave right now. I have lost faith in Canon and Nikon, and think they're falling behind the curve that mirrorless cameras have set.

When choosing a camera, choose one that fits your budget. Look for used cameras since you're testing your market talent. Avoid features like 4K or wifi connectivity to save on cost. If you decide you love doing this and want to pursue more - whatever system you choose is what you'll continue using. If you purchased a used GH3 and are ready for more, move on to better cameras within that system, and keep your lenses.

Bodies die. Lenses are forever.

November 20, 2014 at 3:44PM

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Brandon Neubert
Color Artist / Writer / Director
728

I'd have to say the Canon T3i with Magic Lantern. You can pick a used one up from ebay or craigslist for under $500.00 with a descent lens. There is an unlimited amount of info on the T3i on youtube. Magic Lantern is free and it makes the life of a new film maker less stressful, you'll see it transforms the T3i to something special while filmmaking.

Though I agree with everyone else, lenses are the important factor, if you're just starting out, work with what you have, because there is no substitute for creativity.

November 21, 2014 at 9:43AM, Edited November 21, 9:43AM

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Enrique Olivieri
Film Maker/Writer/Actor
164

FWIW I got a 550d/T2i a couple of years ago and I continue to be amazed at how great it is. Don't fall into the trap of getting excited about every new camera/lens that comes out. I see 4k footage and think 'cool' like I watch IMAX multi-million dollar movies and think 'cool' - but being able to pick up my cheap camera and shoot footage on it whenever I want means so much more. Get the camera you can comfortably afford. I love my 550d and I'll be happy to shoot on it for a long time yet. Just start making stuff asap.

November 21, 2014 at 12:06PM

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Jon Mills
Filmmaker
762

I'm in the same boat: am in film school and frustrated that I want to shoot things but can't book gear out all the time. I'm also rather skint so am looking for a cheap but solid camera.

I totally love the Sony line of cameras for many reasons and am looking at a NEX 5r, NEX 6, NEX 7, or A6000. Eventually I'd like to grab an A7S and am trying to figure out if it's worth waiting and saving for that or grabbing a cheaper camera to practice my skills first. I'll likely go with the latter.

At the moment the NEX 7 is winning out purely because it has a mic input when all the others don't.

November 22, 2014 at 2:23AM

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Jebus
AD / Producer
74

What do you think of the Black Magic Pocket Camera? Add a mount converter and an analog lens and you´ve got yourself a working camera that can shoot Full HD in Raw format for under 1000 bucks.

November 22, 2014 at 2:55AM, Edited November 22, 2:55AM

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Jakub
Video Artist
86

I have seen this question a few times now. Not too long ago I was on the same predicment. Just finished cinema school and wanted to start with my own equipment, but had a budget and no clue what was the best option amidst so many. So I'm going to tell you breiefly my choice, and I know many people might argue, but I have not rejected this choice even a little bit.

I went for the Canon eos M. If you want it for video, not for taking pictures, is far than the T3i (it has a better image processor, Digic 5 instead of 4, and, being a mirrorles, the autofocus when in video mode is better than in the t3i). You can also get Magic Lantern (it's still a beta version, but works well). And which is a plus for me, you don't get LOCKED to any lense system yet. Why? Because although the Eos M has its own lense system, given the flange distance between sensor and lense, with a very cheap adapter (10$) you can use any lense. including old ones which work really well. For example, I recently got a Kiron 70-200 mm which works really nice, for 20€ en ebay.

And if that's not enough to convince you, Amazon has it at this very moment at 334$ (down from almost a 1000$ that costed when it was first released). Go check it out. And you can also see what is capable of on youtube.

I know there is no definitive answer to this question with the currently quick development in cameras, but on a budget, this is a serious contender and widely unknown. As I said, I'v been using it for 6 months now, and don't regret it even a bit. Even now that I work professionally and use a Canon xf350, I still take my eos m always and some things I preffer to shoot it with the eos m.

November 22, 2014 at 3:07AM

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Luqman Nieto
DoP/Producer
74

I believe the GH series is a perfect first camera.

1. Teaches about different lenses via interchangeable lens system (though this is true of all dslr's) and adaptable M4/3 mount.
2. M4/3 size sensor grants more forgiving depth of field for handheld and beginners.
3. Customize-able options, accessories and (in the GH2, hacks) allow for a very long life in these cameras.
4. The adaptability of the lens mount means that you can look into purchasing less expensive lenses which still supply the glass quality you seek.

ONE THING I WILL SAY

I DO NOT think that a full-frame sensor camera is a good choice for a first camera for anyone who is considering working in the film industry. Though we may some day head that way, no serious cinema camera these days shoots on a full frame camera. Introducing someone to a full stills-35mm sensor is misleading and it will poison their perception with skewed views on "crop-factors" and low-light ability.
A beginner in the industry should be learning how to properly light a scene for the camera, not how to get a camera to cheat around poor lighting.

November 22, 2014 at 3:21AM

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Brandon Kelley
DIT/Director
634

I have the Gh3 and the T3i, and the GH3 is so much better in Image Quality, it has Slow- Motion and a more intuitive handling.
Only for timelapses i use my Canons because of the ML-hack.
I think the Nikon is better for photos, not for videos...

November 22, 2014 at 7:20AM, Edited November 22, 7:20AM

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I would recommend either a 700d (t5i) with magic lantern or a 70d (which will hopefully get magic lantern soon), Canon 600d T3i if on a budget but it can only do 960×540 24fps raw vs 700d 1280x720 24fps raw (using magic lantern), they both do 1920x1080 24-25-30fps H.264.

Keep in mind that the camera and lens is just a small part. You also need to factor in a microphone, tripod, editing software, possibly external HDD (video takes up a lot of space), SD cards, Colour accurate monitor, more ram (after effects loves to eat up ram) and possibly a Steadicam rig or Glidecam rig. That being said what are you planning on shooting with your camera? Short films are a very broad term. Action? Drama? Documentary style?

My recommendation. Assuming your tight budget I would go for the 600d (t3i), along with this (in order of importance)

1. 600d with kit lens 18-55mm (good starting lens, good range, Optical stabilization),
2. Camera bag (just buy a cheap one, don’t need anything fancy, like $10)
3. Tripod (can get a decent one for about $50)
4. Microphone (do not skimp on audio). I would recommend the Rode Video mic Pro (it’s about $200). (your better off getting a cheaper camera with a separate dedicated microphone than an expensive camera with no microphone)
5. Canon 50mm F1.8 lens (they cost about $100, should only use it on a tripod though as it has no stabilization and is a semi-long focol length)
6. Lights (buy some spot lights, or something like that for indoor or night shooting), and some deflectors (refractors)
7. Rode smartlav+ (make sure you get the + version, this can be very helpful for getting good audio, plugs into your smartphone), they’re about $60
8. Green screen ($20), this really depend on the work your doing.
9. Editing software (premier pro/after effects, Film riot has some good cheap editing software tips on YouTube I believe) probably about $100

If you still have budget left than I would recommend jumping up to the 700d if possible, given that it can do higher RAW resolution video (using magic lantern).

Here is a good video on audio gear
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HM-dTyTeCes&list=LL8wlxNfLxFp2oGhkXihsJH...

Also what are you planning to edit on, not all displays are colour accurate. This is a cheap display but still good “Asus VS248H”. if your budget dramatically increases you can Pick up a 70d with a 18-35mm f1.8 sigma lens and a DNA 5050 steadi cam along with a NTG2 microphone and an external H4n recorder (because NTG2 direct in camera sounds bad)

November 22, 2014 at 10:45AM, Edited November 22, 10:45AM

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I have a Panasonic GH3 for sale if you decide to go with the Panasonic. Since you are No Film School peep I would give it to you for $600 and give you the lenses that I have with it. It's a Canon FD 50mm 1.8 and a 17mm 3.5. The 50 is nice, but the 17 is alright, little soft when open wide open and I already have cheap adapters on them.

I bought it used but everything is in good condition. I upgraded to the GH4 and A7S hence which is why I don't need it.

http://denver.craigslist.org/pho/4719676371.html

November 23, 2014 at 6:00PM, Edited November 23, 6:00PM

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1. Buy a camera based on what lens system you want to buy into. (You will start out with one lens, and then you will gradually buy more. Before long you will have a big collection).
2. I personally like a camera with a super35 sensor because that's what major motion picture films are shot with. But that's just me.
3. Start out with a good zoom lens. The ideal would be 18-70 or 18-105mm (for a super35 sensor). The wide-angle side (18) is more important than the telephoto side. If you are shooting a film in a small room, you will really want the width. For a movie, you would rarely want to zoom during a shot. The zoom is to give you a range of focal lengths and for non-filmmaking use.
4. Find some way to light your film. This can be done incredibly cheaply.
5. You now have a way to create good images, but not good sound. As soon as you can, plan to spend $200-600 for a starter audio system. Plan to get XLR mics, even if you can't afford them right away. Many people start with some kind of Zoom system, or equivalent. Whatever recorder you get, buy one that will accept XLR mics. Remember that people will accept marginal images, but they will not accept bad sound.
6. Many of these items can be purchased used. Just be careful.

November 23, 2014 at 7:25PM

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I'm also seeking a starter rig. I'd like some clarification please on some of your comments:

Beau, can you explain "mirrorless system" a bit more and tell me which cameras have this feature? Is it preferable or no?

Jim, what is a super35 sensor and which cameras have one?

Also, please explain more about the "Zoom system."

Peter, do you use the Rode Lav to record to your phone? How do you synch the sound to the video?

I have a number of really nice Sennheiser mics, including lavs, and an ambient mic. What would be the best way to use them as part of my rig?

Brandon, can you explain "full-frame sensor camera" a bit more and tell me which cameras have this feature?

Luqman, the Eos M appears to be a discontinued item, were you suggesting buying a used model? Would its being discontinued cause any problems down the road?

Re: lenses... I have some old SLR lenses from my photo-journalism days... would they still be useful if I can adapt them to my new camera?

Thanks in advance!

November 24, 2014 at 1:27PM

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Noel Ramos
Actor, Graphic Designer, Music Conference Director, Advocate
33

Here's a starter Camera kit that will run you $422 USD
Camera Body = Canon T2i (used on Amazon for ~$255 USD) Same sensor as T3i, just no swivel LCD
Lens = Canon 50mm 1.8 (used on Amazon for ~$77 USD), solid image with good light
Microphone = Rode Videomic Shotgun Microphone (used on Amazon for ~$90)

I would also recommend a Manfrotto monopod as a first stabilizer. You don't necessarily have to spend $270 right away for the MVM500A, but it will be a great investment once you do get it. My first Monopod was one intended for photo that I got off Craigslist for $40, but then making the upgrade to a fluid head video monopod made quite the difference.

Hope the kit finds you well! Best -George

November 25, 2014 at 12:00AM

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George Mihaly
Director at storyfirm.com
180

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

October 11, 2015 at 9:33AM

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Alex Ferrari
Director / Producer
869

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