The Big Dopey Question - Which Camera?

Hi. I am an actor. And wow, do I ever need some help. I appreciate any assistance offered, and thanks in advance to all who respond. Hopefully this will make sense.

I have come to understand that if I want to undertake the challenges I desire that I am going to have to write, direct, produce, and probably shoot my own films. I am tech savvy, and I catch on quick. That stated, trying to make choice when it comes to a camera is daunting. I want to spend about $1000 smackers. Bells and whistles mean less to me than image quality.

Basically - and this is probably easier to write than to pull off - I want to be able to create things that look legit. Legit is good enough. A quality level that doesn't announce that the product is non-professional the moment you see it. I want to make movies that look like movies.  I would like a camera that gets me as close to that as possible.

To better understand what I'm looking for, let me explain what I'm going to be doing creatively - I like films that are composed in a way that I guess would be described as "realism", and I would like to emulate that. The things I write focus on people and their stories. These people live in a complex and diverse environment, and that sense of place will be treated as a character in the story. I will need a camera that does well in natural and low light conditions, as many of these scenarios play out in the evening. Shadows are important. I want to avoid getting into a procedural ecosystem that is difficult to navigate or requires me to "rent" software. I pretty much think John Cassavetes set the standard when it comes to telling stories about people that create opportunities for amazing acting.

I have zero gear-ego.  I don't mind getting something older that is tried and true, but not new. I also am ok spending a bit more for a substantial increase in essential functionality. Bundles are nice.

From my minimal understanding  the Canon Ti6 and Ti7 seem to be decent cameras, and within my price range, that are widely used and offer a robust ecosystem and support. So I'm thinking about those. But... maybe that's a terrible idea. Again, depending on what you read or watch this or that camera is the best thing ever, or Satan.

I am wide open to any suggestions. Thank you very much for your help.



  • I have my finger hovering over 'buy now' for a Canon EOS 70D... but can't justify the price . It would be about your $1000 mark though.

  • Well, that's quite a can of worms.

    You should however be looking at Black Magic rather than Canon dSLR. Same price, but far better suited to film production. 

    And you'll need lenses and lighting gear and audio gear...


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    edited April 2017

    Long story short, ask about a $1000 or lower camera and you'll get a ton of different answers. 

    If you also do still photography, the Rebels are pretty good choices. If you're 100% video a Blackmagic Pocket cinema camera is arguably your best choice. 

    Like WhiteCrane says, don't forget other gear: lighting, audio, tripods, extra batteries, storage media, etc... 

  • Thank you all for the information.

    I had not looked at the Black Magic line, they were all out  of my price range. The camera will be exclusively for making movies. That's it. I will take a look at the Black Magic Pocket Cinema.

    Thank you again. Of course if anyone else has any feedback I would still like more opinions.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    edited April 2017

    If you're in the USA B&H and Adorama have some used BMPCCs for under $700, which leaves an extra $300 in the budget for batteries and lenses. Only real disadvantage of the BMPCC is weak battery life. 

  • If you look around a bit, you ought to be able to find a BMPCC for around $500 on the used market, maybe less. Once you shoot video with a dedicated cinema camera, you won't want to go back to dSLR video.


  • I have indeed spotted a couple of used BMPCC's for a good price. Checking out the reviews. It is a pretty unique device.

  • Yep. It should have signaled the end of the dSLR era, but some people just don't want to learn. ;)

    Once you start capturing in ProRes with a 10-bit codec, you'll get quite spoiled. 12-bit raw is liberating, and when you get to work with 16-bit raw it's a bit like suddenly having so much freedom that you don't have any idea what to do with it anymore. :)


  • With the recent release of the Panasonic GH5, I've seen many posts here & there (U.S.) of folks selling their GH4s for $600 - $700 (some w/lens & extra battery, etc.) toward their GH5 purchase. Just an fyi, if great image quality + some cool bells & whistles, but pre-owned mileage is an option for you. Good luck in your search :-) 

  • edited April 2017

    I was actually looking at used GH4s. A very elegant camera. May I ask where you're seeing them sold as used? Which sites? Thank you.


  • You might want to consider the fact that the GH4 is a very poor performer in low-light circumstances. After the 800 ISO mark, you're going to see noise. The most sought-after feature is its 4K and flat log. 

    The 4K is then usually downscaled to 1080p to get the better results; however the 4K on its own still offers its setbacks.the first being you'll need a beefy workstation that is strong enough to preserve your sanity.  You might also want to know that the GH4's 1080p isn't quite the best, infact, most people use it only for its 4k so they can downscale it to 1080p.. Yes, the camera does offer a flat log that's nice for color grading but.... you're essentially opting for a longer work flow.,. Also, unless you're going to get a decent adapter (the best being a 600$+ Metabone T Speed Booster) that will allow you to use EF lenses t that you already own, you're exposing yourself to an expensive lens market.  Their cheapest being 300 dollars.

    If you really want the most legit of the legit, you need to think holistically, not in horsepower. 

    It usually starts with lighting; and no it doesn't mean having the most expensive lighting set up. There's nothing professional about shining an 800 Dollar LED light, when you don't know how it interacts with skin tones, or don't know how to find a place for it in the mix of others out there in the scene you're shooting.

    I read a few comments here talking about RAW/Flat Profiles. While I'm in no position to judge them, to suggest that DSLR's don't have a place in the industry is quite short-sighted. You can still make miracles out of a 6D, in fact, sometimes, that's quite enough for what you're aiming to shoot.

    I own a Sony FS700; I have used RAW & SLOG's coming out of it and other industy standard camera. I have seen the Pockets & URSA's in action, and worked with their footage in post.

    None of the above make YOU a better or worser filmer. 

    I heavily suggest humbling yourself to your current circumstnaces and maximizing the potential of what you have, and keeping your upgrades at a minimum. In fact, have a look at this video: It was done with a Canon 600D T3i, (plus of course, a range of good lenses and experience)

    I would also heavily recommend the Masterclass done by Warner Herzog.  It's 90 Dollars - and life time's experience in return.

    The key to being a good filmer is humbling yourself to more experienced peers.

  • @DOHHhitfil2017 I have a GH4 and can atest to what @Hictor says about it.  It is noisey in low light and I often shoot in 4K and then down-convert to 1080p for editing.

    With that said, I have been pleased with the results and do not regret the purchase.   So far I've gotten by with the 12-35 mm Pana lens (but will be looking into the Metabone option to get away from vendor lock).

    Before you go out and drop a lot of cash on gear, your best course of action may be to find a "good" used or new camera that does 1080p and just go shoot. 

    As the video above shows, good lighting will get you farther down the road with your image.  Don't just spend money.   Spend your time shooting.  You learn by doing, not buying.

  • And remember that even now, the cameras that serve as primary on most big-budget Hollywood films are 2K... Blade Runner 2048 was filmed using Alexas (not Alexa 65s).

    4K is just to get past the gatekeepers at Netflix and Amazon Prime and their ilk, or for VFX shots where detailed keys are important. Otherwise, even 4K is still overkill for most productions.

    And yes, this is someone from someone who CAN shoot in 4K... with a 1/4 crop from my full sensor. Most of what I shoot is in 2K.



  • I use a Canon 600D with a 18-135mm lens, and I use Magic Lantern.

    I got it many years ago, but it's still holding strong. Actually not a big difference when the end station is a streaming service.

    Although if you're heavily into grading, you definitely want more bits to work with. :)

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    I'll note that my two remaining cameras are a Canon t3i and a Canon XF-305, both of which shoot 1080p. I'm looking into a 4K camera myself this year, but part of that is I'm going to Antarctica and I'm just thinking I might be able to sell off some footage to a stock library later.

    Still, on my short list of cameras I'm more concerned about image quality than resolution. I'm looking at the BMPCC myself as it's small and light (and can fit inside my clothing to keep it warm against my body), while shooting in ProRes or Cinema DNG with 14 stops of dynamic range. Since Antarctica in November is a time of 24-hour sun I'm not too worried about low-light, and the BMPCC may only be 1080p, but it might be the right camera for this trip for getting the best possible footage quality on a budget.

    Cameras that can shoot 4K with that quality are a lot more expensive and a lot bigger. I could look at an external recorder that can record in those codecs, but that becomes something else to fumble with in sub-zero temps, and those external recorders all take CFAST cards, so suddenly I'm looking at a thousand bucks of storage for every half-hour of filming time on a trip where I'm not going to have a computer with me to facilitate backing up footage to hard drives.

    So, I'm back to the BMPCC probably being my "A" camera on this trip. Looking at a Panasonic FZ80 as a possible "B" camera. It's inexpensive and has an amazing 1600mm zoom. It's terrible in low-light, but, again, 24 hours of sun... And for my needs that give me a camera that shoots fantastic 1080p combined with a camera that shoots ok 4K (and, if cropped to 1080p with an equivalent 3200mm lens!) without being something I'll build out in very cold weather and without taking up too much of my limited luggage space.

    I suppose the TL/DR here is, ask for camera recommendations, you'll get tons of answers, and a lot of it is knowing what you're going to shoot and where and when, etc. For 4K work, I'd love to think about something like an UrsaMini Pro, but, for the specific goal of shooting in Antarctica, it's not the best choice.

  • IMO @Triem23 is making a lot of sense here.

    If you're not willing (or able) to pay for it, then you'll most likely get better results using a camera that can record in higher quality codecs than with a camera that makes compromises like aggressive compression to sustain higher resolution recording.

    A lot of dynamic range makes production easier, high color depth gives you more to work with in post, and good color rendition gives you good color (couldn't resist).

    Resolution just gives you more of the same. If it's a crappy camera, more resolution just gives you more crappiness.

    Resolution shouldn't be the highest priority, in other words.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    Also bear in mind NAB is in just over a week--and once everyone announces this year's new and sexy, last year's less new and less sexy will probably drop a bit in price. I wouldn't be surprised to see price drops across the industry for any 2016 or older camera that has a newer/upgraded model releasing this year... As an example, if Sony announces an A7Siii, expect the A7Sii to drop a hundred or two dollars.

  • Most of the big names have already made their big camera announcements, so the A7 series are just about all that's left for this year's NAB. And Red isn't even going to host a booth at NAB this year.

  • What a wealth of information. I am going to save this page as a reference. I sincerely want to THANK YOU ALL. This is exactly the sort of conversation and information that is hard to find. So valuable, to have thoughtful replies. It's different when you're not dealing with someone who wants to sell you something.

    There comes a point where I have to pull the trigger, so to speak. As a lifetime musician I understand the importance of good gear, and I think it's equally important to make smart decisions about what you learn. I good guitar does not make you a better guitarist, but it can speed your way to competence.

    So, I am thinking (at the moment) a GH4 with a Metabones T Speed Booster XL 0.64x, and a Sigma 18-35 for my starting system. I intend to spend the money to get all of them new. Of course that's what I am thinking today, based on this day's research - I am still figuring out what I have to learn.  The Black Magic Pocket Cinema still seems interesting. I continue to Mull. I don't want to Over Mull.  I'm narrowing my Mulling.

    Question to you fine folks - if you had to start fresh what would you buy? I'm looking at a bit larger budget than when I started, so think the price range of a new GH4 or BMPCC, or perhaps a little higher. Again, I want to write, direct, and act in movies that I compose. That is the soul focus of my effort. Within that realm; if you were going to be making short and standard length films, if you had to choose one camera to begin your journey, what you would actually drop your own hard earned money on today?

    I completely trust the comments about getting out into the world and just shooting something. I have an old Canon Vixia HF M500 that I work with a lot, just for the purposes of "practice". I found a couple of lenses for it and - believe it or not - I am able to get some decent work done. I can't move the camera much, but stationary with proper light and I'm making things that I like. Every time I see something, or find something, that I didn't know about the last time. Even using the various software for modifying the footage results in different ways to approach the next thing I shoot. It's like watching a flower bloom.

    I cannot help but think there are a lot of people out there like me who are really going to benefit from these posts. Thanks again.



  • Hopefully, some people will benefit from this thread. Most however will probably focus too much on resolution. 

    Starting out now, I'd go for Black Magic or for a used older model Kinefinity camera.

    Of course,  I'm one of the folks who DID start out using Black Magic cameras.

    I showed my work to a director who said she thought it was all shot on Red... which goes to show what really matters.


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    As @WhiteCranePhoto notes, ultimately its HOW one uses the camera taking precedence over WHAT the camera is. 

    I've seen things shot on a Canon Rebel that looked amazing and seen things shot on RED that looked terrible. 

    What would I buy starting from scratch? In general I would probably go with a Panasonic DVX-200 or Ursa Mini Pro if I could stretch the budget. In general, I'm an event shooter, so the plethora of easy to reach switches and buttons becomes important in the field when it's all real-time, hurry up and go. If I were more of a cinematic guy... Well, last week I still would have said maybe the Ursa Mini Pro or a Sony FS, but WhiteCrane in a PM made me aware of some tempting cameras I wasn't aware of. My "dream camera" is always in flux. 

    The Antarctica trip has its own considerations of trying to balance a camera rig with limited bag space and a fairly miniscule budget for gear. The BMPCC fits that bill nicely, and, with a Metabones, I can use my existing EF-mount lenses, with the Panasonic FZ80 as a "gimmick" B-camera for its superzoom. But, I also know on that trip I'll have sun 24/7 so I can ignore the poor low-light of those particular cameras. I have a decent fisheye, so I can work around the high crop factor of the BMPCC. 

    Only issue with the GH4 is needing that battery grip/interface for decent audio. The GH5 splits that into a separate audio unit and battery grip, which is a smarter move. 

  • My last two cents would be taking into consideration what Photography literally means:

    "To paint with light."

    In principle, this is true to videography as well. If you really think with that mind set, then you will see results. Period. 

  • what about the black magic micro cinema?

  • That is a good choice, you'll just to pair it with a field monitor. It's compact and has a great sensor, uses MFT lenses, making it fairly easy to build up a production setup around it with a relatively low cost.

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