There are many things to consider when shopping around for your first camera which can be overwhelming for someone just starting out. You are looking for a product that will suit your needs and have just the right amount of features while staying within your budget; in addition, technology is always changing and improving.
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What to look for in your first camera
Your first camera isn’t the camera that will make you the big money. Your first camera is the one that you will learn the in’s and out’s of shooting video on; it is where you will get your bearings. With this said, you aren’t looking for a camera with the most amount of features in it or a camera that can shoot in 4K resolution. Below are the features that should be in any first camera that will make you well-rounded in the business of shooting great-looking videos.
1. Manual exposure settings
Having a camera with manual exposure settings as opposed to “auto” settings will get you comfortable with what is known as “The Exposure Triangle,” which utilizes aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to control how much light enters your camera, with the goal being “the perfect exposure.” Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO affect exposure in different ways.
Aperture is adjusted either from the camera lens by rotating the lens’ aperture wheel, or through your camera, and is also known as your “f-stop.” In addition to letting in different amounts of light, your lens’ aperture also determines what is known as depth of field or “DoF” for short. Depth of field determines what can be in focus in a “frame”.
If you’ve ever seen artsy photos of a close-up of someone’s eyeball but the rest of the photo is blurred out, the photographer used a “shallow” depth of field to make just the eyeball sharp and in focus while keeping the rest of what was in frame out-of-focus.
This doesn’t mean that all your footage has to have just one eyeball in focus at all times. Your depth of field can be as small as just an eyeball, but can be used to make a person’s entire face in focus, or even the entire room and all of it’s contents in focus. In the photo below, the photographer used a “deep” depth of field resulting in everything in frame being in focus, from the tent all the way to the mountains in the background. All of this is possible by being able to manually adjust your aperture.
In photography, shutter speed controls how long the camera’s shutter remains open, thus exposing the sensor to light for longer or shorter amounts of time.
In night sky photography, photographers use extremely low shutter speeds, meaning the camera’s shutter remains open for a long time in order to take in as much light as possible in the dark night, in order for the light from the stars and moon to expose properly in the photo. The effect you get from using low shutter speeds like this is that you capture the movement of the stars in the night sky; the stars will appear to leave “trails” and create the illusion of spinning around.
Sports photographers on the other hand often shoot at extremely high shutter speeds in order to capture fast moving athletes and not having these “trails” and blurry photos.
Shutter speed isn’t as much of an issue for videographers as we will often keep it at 1/50th or a multiple of whatever frame rate we are shooting at which most likely is 24 frames per second or “24fps.” If this sounds technical, it is, but don’t worry about it too much for now.
If you’ve ever owned an electric guitar and had an amplifier, there is often an option called “Gain” which changes the clean sound of the guitar to a louder, more amplified and distorted sound. This is the effect that ISO has on your camera’s footage. Never owned a guitar and don’t know what I’m talking about? Think of ISO as steroids for your camera sensor.
If you happen to be shooting in an area without good lighting and your footage is too dark, ISO can be used to digitally “amplify” the little amount of light hitting the camera sensor to make the footage appear to be better exposed. This might seem like a good idea, but ISO must be used with caution as the downside to a high ISO is grainy or “noisy” footage that does not look good at all. You probably don’t ever want to raise your ISO above 800 on an entry-level camera.
2. Interchangeable lenses
The ability to remove and change lenses on a camera is another feature you will want. I could write several entire articles on the different types of lenses you can use and when and how to use them, but for now, we are simply concerned with having a camera with the option to use different lenses depending on what “look” you are going for. There are two types of lenses: prime lenses and zoom (or “telephoto”) lenses.
3. Microphone input jack
Audio is an often overlooked component of a video, yet it is just as important if not more important than the actual visuals. People are more likely to watch a video with shakey, slightly out-of-focus footage, but if the audio is horrible, loud or disorienting for the viewer, they will hit the back button or close your video. Having a camera with a microphone input jack gives you the option to plug in an external microphone or an on-camera microphone like the Rode VideoMic GO Shotgun Microphone (pictured below) that will pickup better audio than the built-in microphone on your camera.
Rode VideoMic GO Shotgun Microphone
Other things to know about entry-level cameras
Regardless of whether you choose to go with Canon, Sony, or Nikon for your first camera, all of the entry-level cameras have the same basic features and shortcomings. I will break down two things that will come into play as you become more familiar with entry-level cameras: crop sensors and low light performance.
Crop sensors and what that means for you
Just about all entry-level and some mid-range video cameras come with APS-C crop sensors with a crop factor of 1.6x. What this means is that the size of the sensor, and therefore the field of view that you are able to see and capture, is smaller than the more expensive “full frame” cameras like the Canon 5D or Nikon D750. Image quality is not affected by the sensor’s size.
This graphic illustrates the size differences of the various types of sensors.
Low light performance in entry-level cameras
One common drawback to entry-level cameras is that their performance in low light situations does not produce the best images. Their sensors will struggle when you increase your ISO, producing grainy and unusable footage. Despite this well-known fact, it is always good practice to shoot with some type of light source, especially for indoor interviews with no natural light source. If you are smart and resourceful, the low light shortcomings of entry-level cameras shouldn’t be a big issue.
Canon T7i Low Light Test via Youtube
Take a look at this test footage of Canon’s T7i camera in low light:
Tip: Watch test footage from the camera you are researching
You can’t just look at a camera’s specs on paper or take someone’s word that it’s a good camera; you have to see the footage that actually comes out of the camera. The awesome thing about this is that there are people uploading tons of test footage videos from just about every camera there is on Youtube. Just go to Youtube and search for the model of the camera you are thinking of buying, and hit enter.
The video below is one of the first videos that came up when I did a search for “Sony a6000 test footage.”
Sony A6000 video test by Wesley Cordeiro
The Sony a6000 camera is another great entry-level camera that is perfect for beginners. What I like about this particular video is that he is using the standard 16-50mm zoom lens that is often sold as a kit lens with this camera, proving that you don’t always need the best or most expensive lens to get great-looking footage.
Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Camera
Searching for your first camera can be overwhelming and hopefully this article boils it down to the basics that will help you make an informed decision that you are happy with. Your first camera is the camera that you will be learning with and playing around with, so don’t feel pressured to splurge on an expensive camera just yet.
If you have any questions or need help please let me know in the comments!