When jumping into a documentary project, the most important decision a documentary filmmaker has to make is which camera to use. This is because documentary filmmaking requires a much greater range of coverage than narrative or commercial filmmaking. It also requires greater flexibility and resourcefulness from (usually) smaller crews.
If you’re looking to start a documentary project, here are some of the best digital cameras to consider.
Canon’s EOS digital cinema camera is a compact, well-rounded, and proven commodity in the documentary and video production world. Its 35mm CMOS sensor and high-end processor both give the camera a wide dynamic range at up to 60fps recording. Particularly useful for documentaries, this camera has built-in dual XLR inputs along with a removable hand grip, which is great for one-man shoots.
The camera behind the recent SXSW award-winning documentary The Work, the Sony EX3 is a versatile camcorder that offers everything a documentarian needs for long shoots and lots of coverage. Like most camcorders, its handheld and shoulder-friendly design is ideal for those looking to capture a wide range of video and audio.
Price: $3,300 (used)
A popular camera for all types of video and photography professionals, the Canon 5D is an industry mainstay, thanks to its sturdiness and strong brand reputation. It does not record good audio in-camera, but with a good setup, the camera’s strong full-frame sensor and lens versatility make it a favorite on smaller and lower-budget documentary projects.
The newest, strongest contender against the Canon 5D’s industry dominance is Panasonic’s LUMIX GH4 — a mirrorless camera that shoots gorgeous 4k footage on a budget. For documentarians, its strengths and weaknesses are similar to the 5D, but it comes with a higher resolution and a lower price point. Also, consider the recently released GH5 (or pounce on the GH4’s subsequent price drop)!
While Blackmagic’s URSA Mini Pro’s inclusion on this list may surprise some, this camera has made a strong push into the documentary conversation with its recent 4.6k digital cinema camera offering. With its powerful Super-35mm CMOS sensor and 4,608 x 2,592 recording at up to 60fps, the URSA Mini Pro should get your attention. Its shootability, huge flip screen, and in-camera audio controls make it a good investment.
Top image by hin255.