How to Choose Your First Video Camera (Part Two)

In Part One we defined what a video camera is, and listed its most important requirements. Let’s go further.

Canon XA10

The Most Important Features and why YOU need them

These features are mandatory!

Feature What happens if you don’t have it
Full Manual Control You don’t know whether you are causing your results, or your camera is causing them.
Interchangeable lenses You will not develop a strong personal style if you aren’t allowed to see beyond the manufacturer’s idea of what they think the world should look like. What will you do when you move to a newer camera?
Broad aperture range Learning about light and lighting begins with the knowledge of aperture, and the ability to control it is the strongest skill you can have.
Reasonable shutter range Video is forced to operate over a limited shutter range, but the ability to change it gives you a new perspective on why this is, and how you can go past the norm to create your own vision.
Reasonable ISO range A beginner does not have lighting resources, and a camera with good low-light ability will let you learn even in the dark.
Microphone inputs An external microphone is like a pet dog, and once you have learnt to use it, you will never work without it.
Reasonable audio quality An appreciation for audio does not come from listening to music, it comes from learning first-hand how hard it is to record quality audio in the real world.
Audio monitoring jack You can’t control sound if you can’t hear it in real time.
Manual audio levels control The ability to tweak controls in camera lets you try different things on the field, rather than be stuck with one recording in post production.
Excellent meter You can’t shoot if your camera is lying about light and exposure.
Different frame rates The ability to shoot various frame rates teaches you about slow and fast motion, and how they can be used in subtle or glaring ways for maximum emotional impact.
Different video signals A camera that gives you two options for video will teach you how to record and manage data in two different ways. It will teach you how to select the right codec for the job, and will prime you for working with more complicated gear.

You don’t learn by making things easier for yourself. You learn by making them harder. That’s the cool thing about learning – you are allowed to fail as many times as is necessary.

And before I forget, you can’t learn videography in post production. The girl who gets the shot in camera is always smarter and faster (and more likely to be hired) than the guy who gets into the habit of fixing it in post. She’s out having fun, while he’s sitting in front of a computer with a mouse in his hand.

How can you make your first video camera pay for itself

Now’s a good time to read the best video camera for web videos to learn the minimum settings your camera should have for the modern world.

If you want to make your first video camera pay for itself, you must shoot video in a format the world wants. Fortunately or unfortunately, what the world believes is ‘cool’ video is directly related to glossy magazine photography and cinema. This means large sensors, not 1/3″ CCD sensors.

Sony FS100

When you’ve finally learnt the basic skills of videography, you can actually use your learning tool to earn money – it already has whatever is necessary! The camera is still better than you are, and all you need to do is make sure you get up to speed by the time it’s obsolete.

By then, it should have earned its worth many times over. Ever been to a film school where they guaranteed your money back within a year? Whenever you’re stuck there’s always resources you can use or training events you can attend. You can always intern with a professional, or become an assistant. Who dares to stop you?

Teaching is something that others do. Learning is something that only you can do. So do it, and make your living. If you’re the type who never gives up, I’ll bet you’ll make a fine career out of it!

Your First Video Camera – My recommendation

Can you learn on an Arri Alexa or Red Epic? Sure you can. If you can afford it, go right ahead, after you read this sponsored message:

Why not challenge yourself to buy a cheap camera, learn with it and earn from it – just to show yourself you can do it? Why not be self-disciplined and only reward yourself once you’ve proven your ability with a camera beyond doubt? Are you afraid that the very first time you switch on your camera and point it at your neighbors you might capture a masterpiece of visual glory – and it has to be in 5K or 4:2:2 or RAW or whatever? If this is your disease, I’m not the right doctor for you.

Get a reliable camera that delivers professional results and is better than yourself. I give you two recommendations.

In second place: Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Why is this camera in second place? Three major reasons:

  • Price
  • Small sensor size
  • Poor ergonomics

On the other hand, it has phenomenal potential to train you in the use of codecs and RAW workflow, and it has decent audio inputs, LANC control and so on. Close call.

In first place, the camera I think is an excellent choice for your first video camera:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Panasonic GH3

Does it tick all the right boxes? See for yourself. Compare it with the conditions I’ve laid out. Also compare it with the cheaper Canon T4i and the more expensive Canon 5D Mark III. Don’t forget to read What is the best DSLR for video?

Once you’ve decided on what your first video camera should be, it’s time to read the Comprehensive Guide to find the best lenses and rigging gear.

What camera did you start out with, or are planning to start out with? What criteria did you use to judge which was the best fit, and how did it work out?


7 replies on “How to Choose Your First Video Camera (Part Two)”

  1. Hello,
    Do you think if i start video film making with Panasonic GH3 ? or if I can have a good bargain for a Canon 70D, it will be better?  Cos Canon 70D has Dual AF.
    Thanks in advance,

    1. Roman K if the Panasonic GH3 is too expensive for you then look at the Panasonic G6 which is about to be released. Or a second hand GH1 or GH2.
      Or even get the Panasonic Gx1 for only $199! :-o
      The GX1 falls short in a lot of key areas listed in this blog piece, but much less so with the hack out now and as it is further developed.
      And the GX1 will get you learning in many areas as you save up for a better Micro Four Thirds camera (maybe even the BMPCC? Or the GH3/G6 once it has got a price reduction). And at only $199 it frees up a lot of cash for lenses/sound/lighting/software.
      btw, last week I purchased the GX1 myself as a perfect complement for my GH1 :-)

      1. David Petersonthanks for your answer, yes I have not a big budget but I need 60fps on 1080p (as I think :D) for slowmotion and wifi so nice feature. The more I read about GH3 the more I want it, but is it not too expensive toy for non professional user ?

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