What is the best camera for beginners?
This is one of the top questions we’re asked by Sparks Film School students, their parents, or our social media followers.
But for us, it’s a bit of a red herring. Cameras change, models and technologies update all the time. So for us at Sparks, the answer isn’t which camera you’re shooting on, it’s what you have and what you know how about how to use it.
So, on that basis, the best cameras for beginners (or otherwise) are the cameras you have access to. There is no better rival for learning about filmmaking than to pick up a camera and to get on with making a film.
So, let’s start there…
Best Cameras for Beginners: Smart Phone Cameras / Tablet Cameras
The most widely available form of camera is the one that you might already carry around with you in your pocket. (And if you don’t have one yourself, perhaps ask to borrow one from a parent or guardian).
There are some amazing things that can be achieved with a phone camera or a tablet camera, such as an iPhone, an iPad or a Samsung model. Many shoot in resolutions of up to 4K and through particular apps, or add-on lenses, you can also achieve lots of different effects.
Newer models have options to vary the focus and the depth of field. In some apps – either for live shooting or editing after the fact – you can also vary exposure, saturation and even the ISO, so the opportunity for what can be shot and created on a smart phone camera really is amazing.
So, if you’re thinking that you’d like to get into film, but only have access to your phone camera, don’t let this stop you. This shouldn’t be a barrier to exceptional filmmaking and some of the best cameras for beginners are smart phone or tablet cameras.
There are film festival categories around the world, which are especially for films that have been produced on phone cameras. To illustrate, why not take a look at this list of incredible award-winning films, which have been shot on an iPhone?
Best Cameras for Beginners: DSLR Cameras
If you’re looking to invest in a new camera especially for your filmmaking, then a DSLR is a great option and one of the best choices for best cameras for beginners. There are lots of DSLRs cameras for beginners available on the market.
DSLRs come with lots of great features, with the added advantage of portability and relative ease-of-use. With additional lenses, you can also expand the visual capabilities of your DSLR camera without needing to buy a whole new camera. We use DSLR cameras regularly in our filmmaking classes for these reasons.
Entry-level DSLR cameras start from around £400-£500 for the base unit and a ‘standard’ lens. We recommend Canon’s EOS 2000D as an entry-level DSLR for beginner filmmakers. If you’re looking for a more advanced model, then we also like the Panasonic Lumix G85.
Semi-Professional Video Cameras: Best Cameras for Beginners
If you have a higher budget, or you’re moving on from beginner filmmaking and starting to build a professional portfolio, you might want to look at semi-professional video cameras, or ‘prosumer’ models. Whilst not necessarily the best cameras for beginners, they can be great for filmmakers looking to build on their existing skills or looking to upgrade from a lower-spec DSLR.
These models tend to be more expensive to buy, but if you’re entertaining building up a show reel or taking on professional work, then you’ll get great results and longevity from one of these models. We like the Canon XA40 or the Sony PXW-Z90 models.
Another option – and a great camera choice – for this level of filmmaking is the Black Magic range. Their PocketCamera offers up great results, but it can be tricky to use for beginner filmmakers.
Knowing How to Use Your Camera
Whatever model of camera, or whatever spec you’re working with, the answer to making great films lies in knowing how to use it and how to get the most from it. Often this starts before you even pick the camera up.
Here are our top tips on how to get the most from the model you’re shooting with…
- Have a Plan
Whether this is a fully fledged pre-production folder with a shooting schedule and a floor plan, or a rough storyboard outlined on the back of an envelope, have a plan for your film and what you intend to shoot. (You can find some great pre-production tools here)
Almost all cameras, from beginner DSLRs right through to professional cameras, perform better with good lighting, so plan this out carefully. If you’re shooting at night, think about how to compensate with additional lighting, or make sure to adjust your ISO settings to capture the best images you can.
- Focus on Your Story
In the words of Steven Spielberg, “Audiences are harder to please if you’re just giving them special effects… But they’re easy to please if it’s a good story.”
Audiences will overlook technical issues, or basic imagery if they are invested in the story you’re telling.
- Explore All Your Settings
Off the Auto-mode, you’ll be amazed at how much control you have over your camera settings. Delve into all the options and experiment before starting your shoot, this will give you the best understanding of how your specific camera performs in individual circumstances or environments.
- Make a Start
For any filmmaker of a perfectionist nature, it can be easy to procrastinate waiting for the perfect idea to arrive, or until you have the ‘best’ camera to work with. The best way to build your portfolio, to learn about film, and to develop your knowledge of cameras and cinematography, is to pick up a camera and start making films.
So, whatever camera you have access to right now, that’s the best choice of best cameras for beginners to be working with.
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