With the plethora of new camera models and features introduced each year, it’s difficult to determine what you need. These questions will help.
Every once in a while, someone will ask me which camera they should buy. Sometimes, it’s somebody who wants to make YouTube videos. Other times, it’s an indie filmmaker looking for a budget-friendly cinema rig. Even close friends and family members who want to capture memories of their kids reach out with camera questions. So what do I tell them?
It’s usually the same story each time — the person will tell me their budget and then ask which camera is the best option in that price range. I hardly ever have a straight answer for them, as it’s never as simple as the size of a budget. There are other questions you’ll want to ask yourself when shopping for a new camera.
Now, I happen to be in the market for a new camera, so I’m going to show you five questions to consider when deciding which camera is best for your situation. These questions apply to any budget, whether you’re looking for a new cinema camera or just something to use on your weekly YouTube series.
1. What Type of Content Creator Are You?
First things first: to determine which camera is best for you, you’ll need to take a look at how you’ll be using it. The best way to do this is to make a quick list of the types of content you’ll be creating. Here are a few examples:
- Hybrid photographer/videographer
- Action sports videos
- Narrative films
- Home videos
- Corporate videos
- High-end commercial work
- Wedding videos
- Live streaming
- Music videos
- Green screen/visual effects
Often, there will be a significant overlap between the subcategories here, so just include everything at first. You can always narrow things down later — or you can order the categories based on importance. In my case, I’m looking for a high-end documentary camera — something to use on both features and shorts.
2. What Are the Key Features You Need?
Deciding on the type of content you want to create will help you figure out the key features you’ll need. I’m going to put together another list and break it into two different sections — features I need and features I want. This way I’ll know what I absolutely have to get for my camera and what is optional. If I can somehow get the features on my want list into my final decision, it’ll be great. But again, these won’t be deal breakers.
So, for the list on my documentary camera, I want something I can operate easily by myself, or with a very small crew. Ergonomics is very important, as well as the quality of the build. I want quick access to the controls on the camera, without having to navigate menus. I want something with a viewfinder. I need something I can operate comfortably handheld and use interchangeable lenses. I also want the ability to use both budget-friendly and cine-style lenses. Here’s my full list:
- Interchangeable lenses
- Audio connections
- Variable frame rates
- Canon EF mount
- Flip screen
3. What Is Your Budget?
Budget is naturally an important factor when shopping for a camera. But again, this will really depend on the situation. Don’t think that an expensive camera is out of your range. You can always rent the things you need.
In my case, I want to buy my own camera as a long-term investment. However, if I don’t have the money available, I still have a number of options. There’s plenty of used equipment available for sale, as well as financing options. B&H has deals where you don’t have to pay any interest if you pay everything off within the first six to twelve months. I could also easily rent this camera, or even hire a DP who owns or can rent this gear.
4. Which Cameras Fit Your Needs?
Now that I know what kind of content I want to create and I know what features I need, I can start to narrow down some options. This is the research phase, and if you aren’t careful, you can lose weeks (or even months) of your time spiraling down research rabbit holes.
Let’s say I’m starting with absolutely no knowledge of current camera models. I can start my research with simple Google searches. I’ll use specific keywords, such as the word documentary, the current year, and even the price range. This is a really great way to get the ball rolling.
With these results, I can make a long list of camera models in a spreadsheet. I can immediately rule out the cameras on my long list that don’t match up with my list of required features. Now, I’ll research these cameras further via YouTube, B&H reviews, Amazon reviews, and any other outlet I trust.
Once I’ve narrowed the selection down to two or three cameras, I can start to closely compare the models. B&H has a Quick Compare feature that allows you to look at cameras of similar price or other common camera comparisons. I can also type in the name of a camera into a Google or YouTube search with the word VS immediately after. I’ll take note of what autofills to see if I missed any popular camera models.
5. What Is the Price of an Entire Rig?
Another important part of the process is to figure out all of the accessories you need. There can be a ton of hidden costs associated with a camera, including media cards, batteries, lenses, and plenty of other essential trinkets. You’ll also need to think about the workflow. Is your computer powerful enough to handle the content? Certain codecs can be very processor-intensive, so be sure to do the proper research prior to making a purchase.
I’ve decided on the URSA Mini Pro as my choice. While the body is $6K, I still have to consider the viewfinder, recording media, and a handful of V-mount batteries. The accessories alone almost cost as much as other smaller cinema cameras. So, do your research!
And there you have it. Next time you’re in the market for a new camera, ask yourself the five questions above to point you in the right direction.
Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?
- “Sunday Cruising” by Mattijs Muller
- “The Prophet” by Origami Pigeon
- “Liseberg” by Origami Pigeon
- “Streams” by Origami Pigeon
Looking for more on video production gear? Check these out.