Top 5 Video Cameras to Consider for Documentaries

 

Are you a documentary filmmaker? Do you stay up late at night watching through collections of classic cinema verite? Do you aspire to capture interesting characters and tell impactful stories like Errol Morris or D.A. Pennebaker?

If you do, then this article is for you. One thing every aspiring documentary filmmaker absolutely needs is a high quality camera. And while many documentarians will tell you that the camera itself does not make the story, it can be helpful to have one of the better tools for the job.

So let’s look at five of the best video camera options for shooting video in documentary filmmaking.

1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K for Documentaries

One of the newer cameras on this list, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (BMPCC4K for short), has been a game changer for film and video professionals across the industry. While many mirrorless cameras are built with both photo and video in mind, the video focused Blackmagic Design company is solely dedicated to filmmakers.

The BMPCC4K hits all the marks for what a small and affordable handheld camera could and should offer here in 2019. With its 4/3” sensor it shoots DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at up to 60 frames per second (fps) and includes Blackmagic RAW and ProRes 422 codecs. It is great in low light documentary environments and pushes 13 stops of dynamic range. It also offers up to 120 fps in cropped Full HD to boot.

The real kicker though is its price point, currently available at $1,295.00. However, for true documentary filmmaking you may need to invest in additional battery and power support, as well as extra storage when you’re out on long shoots.

2. Panasonic GH5

Panasonic GH5 for Documentaries

While some might argue that Panasonic’s more recently released Lumix DC-GH5s is the true better camera, the Lumix GH5 might be the better buy for documentary filmmakers in 2019. Another micro four thirds mirrorless camera offering, the GH5 has been one of the best selling video cameras for the past couple of years.

Coupled with a recent price drop in thanks to the updated GH5s’ release, the GH5 is still highly capable with a 20.3MP sensor, its solid Venus Engine processor, and internal 10-bit 4:2:2 4K recording at up to 60fps.

The GH5 is currently retailing for around $1,500 and has proven to be a highly capable documentary camera that is deceptively small and compact for sneaking into situations where you need to keep an unassuming profile.

3. Canon VIXIA G40

Canon VIXIA G40 for Documentaries

The debate between documentary filmmakers about cinematic stylings often comes down to the difference between digital cameras and digital camcorders. For those who prefer the camcorder route (which are often designed with more functionality for documentary filmmakers in mind), the Canon VIXIA HF G40 is a real run-and-gun videography beast.

While it might not boast 4K video recording, it can shoot Full HD (1920 x 1080p) up to 60 fps in the MP4 format. It also features a 20x HD video zoom lens with a hybrid manual focus/zoom ring. It’s a perfect fit for nature documentaries and other difficult settings. You can purchase the Canon VIXIA G40 for $1,299.00.

4. Canon C300 Mark II

Canon C300 mk II for Documentaries

Moving up the price scale, Canon’s C300 mk II has quickly become an industry high-end staple and one of the brand’s most popular professional video cameras. Cased in a slightly larger body than a standard mirrorless or DSLR camera, the C300 mk II has a Super 35mm sensor that records up to 4K (DCI) still directly to CFast cards. It also uses Canon’s DIGIC DV 5 image processor and can utilize Canon’s Log 3 Gamma for 14 stops of dynamic range. This allows for premium image quality.

This is a great cinema camera and features all the bells and whistles you’d expect at an advanced price point of $8,999 – like multiple 3G-SDI outputs, genlock input BNCs and timecode I/O. It has its own built in handle, but is best utilized when combined with a rig or mount system.

 

5. Sony FS7

Sony FS7 for Documentaries

Finally, at a similar level as the Canon C300, we have the Sony PXW-FS7 XDCAM which is another true cinema camera designed for run-and-gun theatrical filmmaking. Another Super 35 camera system, the FS7 is a true 4K workhorse that can record either DCI or UHD using XAVC-I/XAVC-L, or MPEG-2. 

Priced at $6,500 and designed for a Sony E-mount, you can adjust with adapters to include mot 35mm lens types. The FS7 is also a great camera for slow motion allowing 60fps at 4K or up to an outstanding 180fps at HD.

Use Transcription Services for Your Documentary Films

Do you ever sift through hours of interview footage for your documentaries, wondering if there’s a more efficient and easy way to find that awesome quote you got? Rev is the world leader in transcription services and can make your life much easier. Rev offers time stamping and full audio to text conversion of your videos. This makes all of your interviews completely searchable!

Rev also offers world class captioning services and subtitle translations so that you can reach the widest audience possible with your films.