The best camera for film students needs to combine durability, affordability and ease of use. The last thing you want is to buy a camera that won't see you through the whole of the course or one that's too difficult to understand right from the start. Whether you're studying at school, university or college, lots of different courses including media, photography and broadcast journalism will require you to know about filmmaking. Understanding how aspect ratio, framerates, bitrate and bit depth affect your video is the first step to becoming a fully-fledged videographer.
Of course, cameras aren't cheap and some of the best cinema cameras are huge investments and a beginner would probably find them a little overwhelming. Some of the best mirrorless cameras and best DSLRs now come with powerful video capabilities such a 4K, log recording and 8 or 10 bit video. If you're a little confused by what that all means, check out our video jargon guide which helps to explain all the technical terms.
Since the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have made groundbreaking advances in their video capabilities. No longer are stills cameras just for photography, with impressive continuous autofocus, ports for HDMI cables, external, mics and headphone jacks, the ability to use prime and zoom lenses, shoot in 4K and view footage either on the camera fully articulated screen or an external recording device, they offer everything a film student needs to master the basics and advance their skills.
Micro Four Third systems are a popular choice among budding filmmakers due to their compact size, affordable bodies and lenses. APS-C sensors are also an excellent choice and are very similar size to Super35 format but if you're after the best low light performance and a shallow depth of field, opt for a full-frame body.
So, with all the above in mind, these are our picks for the best cameras for film students across all budgets and sensor sizes…
The best camera for film students
The Fujifilm X-T4 is somewhat of a powerhouse considering its size. It's slightly chunkier than the X-T3 but the added 6.5 stops of in-body stabilization definitely make it worth it, especially considering you won't need a gimbal as much. The video specs are pretty impressive, it's capable of shooting 4K 60p 10-bit 4:2:0 video internally but if you connect it to one of the best on-camera monitors, it can shoot up to 4:2:2 for more accurate colors. It benefits from a fully-articulated screen so whether you want to shoot from the hip, overhead or record yourself it's super easy and the screen even flips on itself so it's protected when not being used. It uses a phase-detect autofocus system which on the whole is pretty accurate though it can 'hunt' occasionally. If you're after a camera that is portable, affordable and also takes high-quality photos and video, the Fujifilm X-T4 is well worth considering. There are lots of Fujifilm lenses available too!
Despite the fact that the Panasonic GH5 II has now been superseded by the Panasonic GH6, if you're looking for a more affordable camera that can take professional-looking videos the GH5 II is still excellent. Chances are if you're a student, money will be tight and if you can save on the body you can invest in the best micro four-thirds lenses of even an on-camera monitor. It can still shoot 20MP stills, up to C4K at 60p, 200Mbps 4:2:0 10-bit LongGOP4K60p video and 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 internally. Contrast detection DFD (depth from defocus) autofocus is super fast and has a sensitivity from -4 - 18EV. The screen is fully articulated which is perfect for when you need to shoot overhead or at the hip as it makes it much easier to view. It takes two UHS-II SD cards and offers 5 axis Dual IS giving up to 6.5 stops of stabilization. The Panasonic GH6 is more advanced in almost every way but you will spend a lot more money on it.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix GH5 II vs Panasonic GH6
If you want to truly step up your filming skills, the Panasonic S5 features a full-frame image sensor – which is about 50% larger than Super35 / APS-C and 100% larger than Micro Four Thirds. This gives a number of technical advantages over smaller formats, from higher resolution and detail to cleaner ISO and low light performance. It also delivers the creative effect of an incredibly shallow depth of field, for superior subject separation and dreamy out-of-focus backgrounds. In effect the S5 is essentially a full-frame version of the GH5 (though it's actually smaller and lighter), though it incorporates features from the Netflix-approved Panasonic S1H. With 10-bit 4:2:0 4K 60fps, and up to 180fps in 1080p, it's an absolute powerhouse – though it's worth noting that native L-mount lenses are quite expensive, and like all Panasonics the continuous AF can be a little flaky. However, you can easily adapt all manner of other lenses, and for filmmaking, which is very different to vlogging, you'll likely be pulling focus manually anyway.
See full Panasonic S5 review
A version of the Panasonic GH5 that has been tweaked for video, at the expense of some of its still shooting capabilities. It offers ‘just’ 10 megapixels – and thus even more dedicated to the art of filming, and particularly so in low light. Here we get not just regular 16:9 ratio 4K footage and the option of Cinema 4K at the slightly wider 17:9 ratio, along with twin UHS-II card slots to cope with the data hungry demand; we are also gifted Dual Native ISO. The latter is a feature borrowed from its maker’s pro video cams that claims to deliver less noise at higher sensitivities – thereby making the camera a more proficient tool when recording in lower light. Naturally, this being Panasonic, 8MP stills can be snatched from a 4K video sequence, and, unlike regular stills cameras, video recording duration doesn’t cut off at just shy of 30 minutes. With far too many nuanced video features to go into here, check out our standalone long form review of the GH5S for the fuller picture.
See full Panasonic GH5s review
Designed for videography from the get go, the (deep breath) Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K isn’t an option to consider if you’re looking to shoot stills as well. For this chunky retro looking device is based around a Micro Four Thirds lens mount and Four Thirds sensor combo while being heads and shoulders above actual Four Thirds stills cameras when it comes to video capability. It benefits from a huge 5-inch LCD, lots of on-board connectivity, dual card slots and dual native ISO; the latter meaning that this Blackmagic option actually delivers low noise 4K video recording more impressively than some full frame sensor cameras, which is a high recommendation. If it’s video you want pure and simple, you could even say it’s ‘magic’.
While this compact, solid-feel Sony may not offer 60/50P 4K capture like a couple of its rivals, it does utilise full pixel readout, capturing oversampled 6K data and then down sampling it to 3,840x 2160 pixels UHD resolution. It also offers clean HDMI output to external recorders, while claiming to offer the world’s fastest AF acquisition time of 0.02 seconds. The above is undoubtedly what sets this camera apart and makes it worthy of investigation by those looking to get into shooting 4K video on a budget, as apart from the features mentioned the A6400 is rather conventional. It has to be said though, the fact that the magnesium alloy body is dust and moisture resistant will aid film students looking for a camera that won’t let them down, while once again a tilting rear LCD screen offers up flexibility for anyone looking to get creative – student or otherwise.
Described by us as one of the best beginner-targeted interchangeable lens cameras ever, we get the ability here to shoot 4K video coupled up with Canon’s latest Digic 8 processor. A further bonus is Live View autofocus utilising Dual Pixel sensor technology, thereby ensuring a swifter response than the contrast AF used by many competing models’ sensors when placed in Live View mode. For composing and reviewing videos, the DSLR’s flip out and twist LCD screen adds creative flexibility; but there are some limitations. For example when switching from Full HD video to 4K shooting there’s a significant crop factor, which effectively narrows the lens’ angle of view, meaning you may need to step back and re-frame your shot. Focusing in video mode isn’t instantaneous either; but it is at least smooth and silent, avoiding jerky transitions between subjects. While not 100% perfect, then, this is still a decent option for film students looking to cut their teeth.
Crammed full of technology that has trickled down from its Nikon Z6 and Z7 bigger brothers, the Z 50 has the advantage of capturing 4K across the entirety of its sensor width, rather than a cropped version that some of its rivals have employed. On top of this, 4K time-lapse sequences can be created in-camera, while shooting in Full HD adds additional slow-motion footage. Digital image stabilization is provided in video mode only, plus a tilting one million-dot touchscreen flips through 180° to face the person in front of the lens. This obviously makes the Z50 particularly useful for vloggers, not just film students looking to buy the best capture device they can for their budget. If you want a similar, but retro-styled camera then also check out the recently release Nikon Z fc. The biggest downside is there still aren't many lenses available for it but that does seem to be improving.
Read more: Nikon Z fc vs Nikon Z50
The best cameras for filmmaking