Buying a video camera is a major purchase, and you need to be able to justify the costs. Think about your budget and the features that you absolutely must have. Online video is made with everything from inexpensive pocket cams to cinema-worthy professional systems, but what are your needs?
To give you a roadmap for professional cameras, we turned to our favorite camera expert. Steve Subit has been with New York’s B&H Photo and Video for 16 years, and he’s the superstore’s expert on professional video. He was happy to share his expertise, as well as his top picks, with OnlineVideo.net’s readers.
By the way, if you’d like to spend less—perhaps a lot less—on a video camera and make do with a consumer model, we’ve got you covered. Read our buyers’ guide to budget cameras.
Coming in at around $2,000, the prosumers area is a safe place to start for those who need to limit their budget. At this point you’ll get single-chip tape cameras or newer three-chip models that use the AVCHD format, says Subit. Some cameras at this level have XLR connections, but others need adapters.
Light sensitivity can be an issue at this price. Expect to use an on-camera light during shooting. You’ll find cameras with image stabilization, but you may not get iris control or manual focus. The body and the view finder might be made of plastic.
All the lenses at this level will shoot in HD, although some will have a 27mm lens and others a 37mm lens. That matters because filters aren’t widely available for all sizes.
Subit recommends the Panasonic AG-HMC70 (which is tapeless) and the Sony HVR-HD1000 (which records to MiniDV tapes).
Ranging from $2,500 to $4,000, the high-end prosumer area provides more control for the money. Cameras still have 1/3-inch chips, says Subit, but they’re more sensitive and deliver better results in low light. Expect to find full audio manual controls, as well as manual iris and focus. You’ll be able to work more creatively with all that control.
Cameras here have XLR inputs standard and offer viewfinders with greater resolution. The camera body is better constructed, often of an aluminum alloy.
At the upper end of this range, light sensitivity gets really strong. They’re still fairly small cameras, about the size of consumer video cameras, which Subit says can be a negative for buyers. Many prefer the look of larger cameras, and also find them easier to control.
For around $3,000, Subit likes the Panasonic AG-HMC150 and the Sony HVR-V1U. For $4,000 you can find cameras with histograms, which tell you precisely how much light is on your subject. At this level, Subit says the Sony HXR-NX5U is the hottest camera on the market. It performs well in low light, works with multiple cards and flash drives, and was the first at this level to offer HD-SDI out.
At the $5,000 to $10,000 level you’ll find 1/3-inch chips or even 1/2-inch chips in some Sony cameras. The ½-inch offer unmatched light sensitivity, says Subit. Four years ago, that was an unheard of feature in an HD camera at this price level.
You’ll get more cinematography functions here, as well, with true 23.98 frame rate identical to that of film. The camera body is better made, and all models are shoulder-mounts. You’ll also get a fully interchangeable lens system.
Cameras here are moving into professional battery systems, using Anton/Bauer or Sony V-mount batteries. You’ll need to spend a little more, however, if you want a 2/3-inch chip.
For high-end cameras, Subit likes the Sony PMWEX3 and the JVC GY-HM790.
Spend $15,000 or more and you’re into true broadcast quality. You’ll get at least a ½-inch chip here, or a 2/3-inch chip in the $17,000 to $18,000 range. Bigger chips mean better light sensitivity and better color saturation.
You’ll also get more advanced processors which can delivery truer colors and more detailed images. There’s no aliasing, as with lower-end HD cameras, Subit notes.
If you’re shopping for broadcast quality, Subit recommends the Sony PMW-320 (which will be available in July) and the Panasonic AG-HPX370.