Don’t blow your entire budget on an expensive camera! Let’s explore the best video and filmmaking cameras under a grand.
If you listen to any notable indie filmmaker or auteur director speak, they’re going to talk about an undeniable passion for film. You’ll also probably hear anecdotes of growing up with a cheap camera in their hands, as well as war stories of shooting their first shorts or features on a shoestring budget with the cheapest camera they could find.
And, yes, there are plenty of amazing cameras currently on the market, and new technological breakthroughs coming almost every day. (Case in point, Sony just announced the Alpha 1, a 50MP 8K video behemoth.) But, the point of videography and filmmaking isn’t just to chase the highest pixel count or technology. It’s to tell a story in a compelling way, full stop. Your gear doesn’t necessarily determine the quality of your story.
So, whatever your film and video needs may be, instead of blowing your entire budget with a new $5,000+ cinema camera, here are six options for high-quality, capable video cameras all under $1,000.
1. Best Action Cam: GoPro Hero9 Black
Breaking down our selections by different camera types, we’re going to start with one of the most reliable, and arguably easiest to use. Action cameras (a.k.a. “action cams”) might make you think of mountain biking vlog content but, in reality, they can be some of the most powerful and capable options on the market. Plus, they’re designed for durability, flexibility, and working in the wildest of situations.
Currently on the market, you’re not going to find anything better, or more affordable, than the latest offering from GoPro with the GoPro Hero9 Black. Just from a pure filmmaking perspective, this camera is impressive. As an upgrade from the previous Hero8 version, the Hero9 Black has further bumped up its sensor to 23.6MP to offer 5K video recording at up to 30fps.
I recently snagged one of these for a video that has a lot of running footage. As in, I’m literally running while either holding the camera or it’s attached to a chest mount I’m wearing.
I’ll be honest, before the 9, I hadn’t really used a GoPro since 2014, when they released the Hero 3? I think that’s what it was? Well, good grief, it has improved since then. Of course the footage is smooth like butter, but the image is nothing to scoff at either. I’ve shot a lot of the footage at 4K 24fps in their “wide” mode. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what I’ve seen after a run and will continue to use the camera on this video and, hopefully, find other uses for it later on.
- 23.6MP sensor
- 5K video at up to 30fps
- 8x slo-mo
- Live view front display/rear touchscreen
- HyperSmooth 3.0 image stabilization
- 33′ waterproof without external housing
- Time-lapse & night-lapse modes
- 30% longer 1720mAh capacity battery
2. Best Mobile Camera: iPhone 12 Pro
After considering an action cam like the GoPro Hero9, you might want to also take a hard look at the smartphone in your pocket for your filmmaking needs. As we’ve seen with the rise of smartphone camera technology, as well as the rapid adoption of iPhones being used for major motion pictures, these latest mobile camera phones are becoming quite impressive and powerful.
I know, at this point, saying you can use your iPhone to shoot a major motion picture is a little bit of a meme, and easy to say when your main commercial A-cam is a Canon C500 and you’re consistently getting good paying gigs. Come on, man! Shoot that movie with your iPhone! But, it doesn’t mean your phone can’t help you in different ways.
While there are stunning examples of Hollywood filmmakers using phones to shoot their film, it’s highly unlikely any of us will see our iPhone movies on the silver screen. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use this thing for practical purposes on jobs, spec shoots, and smaller film festivals. There are tons of “iPhone specific” film festivals that have cash rewards for the winners and runners-up.
There are other ways your phone can act as a fully-realized filmmaking camera. For instance, you can use your phone to shoot a quick spec video for a client or map out lighting when you scout.
I’ve told this story on this blog before, but I once saw a videographer go into a coffee shop, shoot a quick video of the shop and his coffee being made, cut it together on Adobe Rush, then DM it to their Instagram account on the spot. And, voilà, he had a new client wanting him to shoot a more professional-looking video.
There’s also plenty of gear you can buy—like literally any of Moments’ different lenses and stabilization tools—to pull off that “cinematic” shot. Given that our phone’s cameras only keep getting better and better, the lenses are a sound investment, in my opinion.
- Pro 12MP camera system: ultra-wide, wide, and telephoto cameras
- HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 60fps
- 4K video recording up to 60 fps
- 4x optical zoom range
- Digital zoom up to 6x
- Slo‑mo video support for 1080p up to 240fps
- Cinematic video stabilization (4K, 1080p, and 720p)
- Continuous autofocus video
- Can take 8MP still photos while recording 4K video
3. Best Point-and-Shoot: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10
Moving up from action cams and smartphones, there are still plenty of other camera options that are cheap and affordable outside of DSLR and mirrorless. For many, the notion of using a point-and-shoot camera for anything other than travel photography might sound a bit silly, but hear us out. Even in 2021, you should never rule out a good point-and-shoot camera. Case in point—the Panasonic Lumix LX10.
With a point-and-shoot like the Lumix LX10, you’re really investing in compactness with the bonus of a better lens than what you’ll likely find on a GoPro. Plus, the LX10 is extremely affordable, and it shoots excellent photos and video alike. With a 20.1-megapixel sensor, the LX10 can record UHD 4K video at up to 30fps. You’ll also get a built-in Leica DC Vario-Summilux f/1.4-2.8 lens, which should cover pretty much all the shots you need with its 3x zoom range (offering the equivalent of 24-72mm coverage).
Below, I list the price at $699, but you can usually find this camera on sale for much cheaper. As either an easy-to-use run-and-gun option or a pinch backup, the LX10 is another affordable option well under $1,000. Will this ever be your A-cam on a shoot? Probably not. But, this little monster could be a perfect backup for scouting and minor pick-up/B-roll coverage.
- 20.1MP MOS sensor
- Leica DC Vario-Summilux f/1.4-2.8 lens
- 24-72mm (35mm equivalent)
- 3.0″ 180° tilting touchscreen LCD
- UHD 4K video at up to 30fps
- 5-axis HYBRID O.I.S.+, 49-area AF system
- Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity
This camera caught me by surprise. I feel like it snuck into the conversation on the back of the popular X100V, but I’m so glad it did. This little beast is, well, a beast, and its video capabilities are seriously under-appreciated.
4. Best Budget Mirrorless: Fujifilm X-E4
It boasts a 26.1 megapixel sensor and shoots 4K at 30fps. Once you throw in those Fuji colors you know and love, you honestly can’t beat the price for what you’re getting. I’m a little unfairly biased though, as I’m all in on Fuji and think they’re one of the only companies making cool cameras anymore.
- Backside Illuminated X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor
- DCI and UHD 4K video recording at up to 30fps
- 4:2:0 8-bit color to SD card
- 4:2:2 10-bit color to external recording device
- X-series lens lineup
- 180 degree forward-tilting LCD touchscreen
- .02 sec AF detection
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
5. Best Budget DSLR: Nikon D5600
When looking at the top-of-the-line camera options on the market, one could easily argue that DSLRs are now a thing of the past, with mirrorless becoming the new standard. However, for those thrifty filmmakers and videographers, DSLRs have now become a much more affordable option as older cameras take on price drops and resales hit the market. One fantastic DSLR camera that’s still relevant is the Nikon D5600—proven to be an in-demand workhorse option for anyone looking to shoot both digital video and photography.
With a 24.2-megapixel CMOS format and Nikon’s EXPEED 4 image processor, the D5600 has perfected Full HD 1080p video recording at up to 60fps. Yes, it’s not 4K (or 8K), but if you’re shooting video footage simply for online uploads and social media, you’ll be delighted at the small file sizes, short upload times, and playback quality.
So, if you’re needing an all-in-one daily driver, this camera is for you. And, if you pair the kit lens with it, you’ve got an efficient, lightweight setup that will give you clean images in a quick, user-friendly manner.
- 24.2MP CMOS sensor
- EXPEED 4 image processor
- 3.2″ 1.037m-Dot vari-angle touchscreen
- Full HD 1080p video recording at up to 60fps
- Multi-CAM 4800DX 39-point AF sensor
- SnapBridge Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with NFC
- Time-lapse movie recording
6. Best All-Around: Canon EOS RP
Finally, a camera line that will always cause controversy, Canon’s R System of mirrorless cameras has polarized the video community as the manufacturer has finally moved away from the DSLR and embraced a mirrorless future. Yet, while some might have scoffed at the initial Canon EOS R offering, don’t let those poor reviews turn you away from the Canon EOS RP, which corrected many of the issues and has actually proven to be a powerful, yet equally affordable, mirrorless camera option. I mean, our main guy Peter McKinnon makes a compelling case for both cameras. So, if you’re interested at all in this lineup, the RP might be the best place to start.
While it might not push 8K video like the Canon EOS R5 can, the RP does boast full-frame spectacular UHD 4K video recording. The RP is a more lightweight, beginner version of the now flagship R5 and features just about all the same great perks with its LCD touchscreen, advanced autofocus tech, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
So, while this camera isn’t quite on the level of the EOS R or the R5, this camera has an RF lens mount. We’ve written about the RF lenses before and, while our thoughts on the RF rollout have been mixed, these lenses are some of the best pieces of glass being made right now. Full stop.
So, even though the camera body and sensor might be lacking in certain areas, these lenses more than make up for the difference.
- 26.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- DIGIC 8 image processor
- UHD 4K video recording up to 24fps
- Full HD 1080 video up to 60fps
- 2.36m-Dot OLED electronic viewfinder
- 3″ 1.04m-Dot vari-angle touchscreen LCD
- Dual pixel CMOS AF
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity