Are you shooting corporate videos for your office? Starting a DIY YouTube channel? Looking to start shooting stock footage? Maybe you are a photographer who is looking to start shooting video as well, and you have no idea how to choose a video camera?

There are so many video camera options available – it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the choices. Instead of picking a specific camera or brand, it’s best to first decide what type of camera you need. Here is a handy guide for choosing the best video camera for your needs.

Cell Phones

Best Video camera apps
License smartphone photo by 1000 Words

You may be gawking, but today’s cell phone cameras are no joke. Many manufacturers like Apple and Samsung offer 4K video in the palm of your hand.

With built-in image stabilization, users can easily capture decent footage. You can also edit video on your phone and immediately upload your videos online. There is already an entire Swiss news channel shooting on iPhones.

While the footage quality is often sufficient, it can be difficult to capture quality audio, especially if your subject is too far away from the built-in microphone. You’ll probably want to go ahead and invest in a separate audio recorder.

Size limitations are another major problem. If you are shooting long videos or a ton a footage, you need plenty of space on your phone to store the video files.

If you don’t plan on shooting much and are only interested in making quick short videos, this may be your best camera for filming. If you’d like more production value, then you’ll need to look into one of the following options.

With cell phone video, the cost is minimal. The greater investment will be time in production and post.

Camcorders

how to choose a camcorder
License ‘digital video camera isolated on white background’ by keella

Camcorders are the standard video camera for amateur users. While they are limited in features compared to DSLR and cinema cameras, they are great for those who don’t want to get into technical menus and camera settings.

Most camcorders have a built-in zoom and will autofocus on your subject. They also often have touchscreen LCD monitors. Portability and ease of use are the two biggest factors here, making camcorders a good choice if you’re on-the-go or have a simple video setup (like a corporate address).

Most camcorders shoot 1080p resolution, but there are some that shoot 4K. All camcorders have built-in microphones that capture ‘decent’ audio, but pale in comparison to the quality of an external mic.

The top video camcorders worth checking out are from Canon, Sony, and Panasonic. These cameras are great for online videos or quick corporate projects.

Plan to spend several hundred dollars (on up to $1,000) for a quality video camcorder. ‘Prosumer’ camcorders command a higher price, but typically have a better lens and inputs for external microphones. They can also deliver cleaner shots in darker conditions.

DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

DSLR Sunset Stock Photo
License ‘camera capturing sunset’ by Jan-Jacob Luijendijk

DSLRs double as both still and footage cameras, so they are especially advantageous to photographers looking to shoot video. Not only can you get fantastic HD or 4K quality video, you can also use interchangeable lenses to get more out of your camera.

In the past, Canon (5D, 7D, t5i) has been known for the 1080p video quality on their DSLR cameras. Now, there are plenty of competitors offering equally fantastic options. Both Sony (a7S) and Panasonic (GH4) offer 4K video in their newest models.

You will need a separate audio recorder and microphone to capture decent audio. You will also need to invest in support gear like a tripod or a stabilizer rig. If used handheld, the footage will be very shaky — possibly unusable.

These cameras are for users that are (or want to become) more advanced. To get the most out of the camera, you will have to learn the basics of shooting — framing, white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed, and more.

These cameras are great for music videos, web series, independent films, and small commercial work.

Plan to spend around a thousand dollars for an entry level DSLR or several thousand for a high-end DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Professional and Broadcast Video Cameras

best camera for music videos
License ‘super close up of professional video camera’ by jordeangjelovik

Professional video cameras are the top eschelon of camcorders. Most have high-end sensors and use interchangeable lenses. They shoot HD and 4K footage.

These cameras are for advanced users. Not only will you need to be familiar with the previously mentioned basics of shooting, you’ll need to know color grading, setting audio levels, and have an understanding of video codecs.

These cameras are not simple to set up either. You will need the proper lenses for the camera’s mount, a monitor or viewfinder, battery packs, as well as any other necessary support gear.

If set up properly, professional video cameras will capture stunning images. You may also have high-quality audio built in depending on the model, and all of these cameras feature professional inputs and outputs for gear.

There are many professional camera options, some of the most popular being Canon (C100, C300), Sony (FS7, FS5), Pansonic (AG-HMC80), and Blackmagic (Pocket Cinema Camera)

These cameras are designed for news broadcasts, professional interviews, documentary films, music videos, and commercial work.

Plan to spend a couple thousand dollars on a professional camera. With the necessary support gear, it could be well over ten thousand.

Cinema Cameras

Cinema Camera Stock Photo
License ‘high definition cinema camera on a movie set’ by Peter Kim

If you are looking at making high-end commercial work or feature films, a cinema camera is going to be your best option. It’s also best to have an entire camera crew dedicated to working with these cameras, as their operation is more complex than simply ‘hitting record’.

Some of the cameras you’ll most likely see on major commercial sets are from ARRI (Alexa), RED (Epic, Scarlet), Blackmagic (Ursa), Sony (F55), Canon (C500) and Phantom (Flex)

While the price of just a camera body may look appealing, don’t let these prices fool you. These cameras are EXPENSIVE! The camera body is not the only thing you will need. Support gear is absolutely necessary to make these cameras function.

Plan on spending at least ten thousand dollars for a functioning camera with gear. Most of these cameras will cost more than a car.

In the market to buy a camera? Check out this recent post on PremiumBeat that answers 10 questions you should ask when buying a video camera.

Top image: ‘press and media camera’ by stockphoto mania

Need other equipment for professional videos? Get all of the equipment for the perfect shoot!