"Which camera should I buy?" This is one of the most common questions I hear. Whether the question comes from an aspiring indie filmmaker, a television production student, or a parent wanting to capture some memories of their children, the answer is never that simple. It’s the equivalent of someone asking what kind of car they should buy. Do you want to carry your kids to soccer practice? Drift around tight corners in a parking garage? Save on fuel costs? The point is that this question leads to more questions. Here are a few things to ask when you’re deciding on a new camera.
Five Things to Consider
1. What Are You Going to Shoot?
When in the market for a new video camera, your first question should be obvious: what kind of content are you going to create? This is why there’s no simple answer when I’m approached by a person inquiring about cameras. Are you a looking to shoot some video on your next vacation? Perhaps you’re a filmmaking student on a tight budget. Or maybe you want to produce feature-length observational documentaries. The list of possibilities goes on and on; weddings, short films, broadcast television, vlogging, slow motion, etc. Finding out what you want to capture will help you decide which camera to pick up.
2. What Kind of Accessories Will You Need?
Once you’ve figured out what kind of content you want to shoot, you will then need to decide on any accessories you might need. Depending on what you’re shooting, the accessories can range from cheap to very expensive. For example, a wedding videographer will need a good amount of extra gear, including a handful of batteries and media cards, as well as some audio equipment. A news videographer might need a sturdy monopod. If you’re a documentarian you might need a good tripod and a lavalier with which to conduct interviews. Also, check the price of some of the essential accessories including batteries and storage. If you pick a camera with very expensive batteries, costs can rack up quickly.
3. What Are the Technical Pros?
Making a list of pros and cons will help you further narrow down a list of camera options. Again, finding out what kind of content you want to shoot will help you flush out what features you want your camera to have. Battery life, codecs, media, accessories, and ergonomics are all important features to check out when looking for camera models. Depending on your workflow, you might want a camera that provides you with a very compressed format, allowing you more storage space on your hard drives. Or you might want to shoot in a raw format, making your footage more suitable for color grading. Content should influence your gear choices.
4. What Are the Technical Cons?
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few cameras, research each model further to see if there are any known issues. For instance, in the early days of DSLR filmmaking, many camera models had several issues including low recording times and problems with overheating. If you are a wedding videographer this could put you in a nightmare scenario. In addition to known issues, read reviews to find what users are complaining about. Reading reviews is a big help in the decision-making process. There are also plenty of YouTube review videos on the more popular camera models.
5. What Does It Cost?
Last but certainly not least: your budget. All of the prior questions will help lead you to your desired price range. However, when thinking about money, you need to be aware of two things. The first is the actual camera isn’t as important as the content you’re creating. This has been proven time and again. Second, just because you can’t afford a camera doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use it on your next project. There are a plethora of rental options online, and you can always buy used or just borrow a friend’s camera. When dealing with money, you just need to think creatively.
How to Search for a Video Camera
I use B&H Photo/Video to help me when researching new camera candidates, and I suggest you do the same. In addition to a keyword search feature, you can also browse and filter camera models through a variety of different categories. These include brand, customer rating, price range, model, resolution, sensor size, lens mount type, media format, digital interface, and system type. Perform keyword searches within your filtered results. One of the most powerful features on the B&H site is "Add to Compare," where you can select several camera models and have a detailed side-by-side look at the cameras in detail. And as I stated before, I also rely heavily on user reviews.
Common Camera Types
- Action Sports Cameras
- Consumer Camcorders
- Professional Camcorders
- Digital Cinema Cameras
The key point I want to get across here is to not be seduced by the tech. It's easy to fall in love or think you need a specific feature of a camera. Are you really going to shoot slow motion at 240fps? Do you really need a $5,000 camera for some weekend vlogging? Think more of the content you want to create, and then spend the time to research the considerations listed above. Gear should never be an obstacle if you want to create something on video. Work with what you have.