3 Camera Options Under $1,000

Every year at our workshop we get the same question: "We don't have much of a budget, so what camera should I get?" Then I go into this convoluted and technical decision tree speech that overwhelms everyone in the room. They stop listening and I always end up saying, "It depends". So here are three viable camera options under $1,000 that can shoot quality interviews and b-roll.

 Disclaimer: I am admittedly biased toward Canon cameras. I've always shot with them and have always been happy with the images they produce. I've also found that most other film and journalism people lean toward Canon cameras so there seem to be a lot more resources out there in terms of online information and resources. So these aren't all of your options. But several good options that I would recommend for broadcast journalism teachers on a budget.

Route #1 - The Absolute Cheapest Setup

Camera: 
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/726157-REG

Microphone: 
http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Technica-ATR-3350-Omnidirectional-Condenser-Microphone/dp/B002HJ9PTO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1382319025&sr=8-2&keywords=audio+technica+lavalier

PROS

  • By far the cheapest route.
  • To my knowledge this is the least expensive decent camera with a mic input.
  • I've used a version of this camera and mic setup at camps and it works surprisingly well.
  • Super compact.
  • Perfect for entry-level students. They could smash a half dozen of these and you would still be under $1,000. 

CONS

  • Good but not great quality.
  • Need pretty good light to make this work well. A window will do.
  • Limited control of manual function like focus and exposure.

Route #2 - DSLR

Camera:
http://www.amazon.com/Canon-Digital-3-0-Inch-18-135mm-Standard/dp/B0040JHVC2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1382365733&sr=8-2&keywords=canon+60dAudio:

There are several ways to do audio for a DSLR

A. Magic Lantern

http://www.magiclantern.fm/index.html

This is a custom firmware that replaces Canon's factory firmware. It enables manual audio controls for the 60D. This should allow you to run a microphone straight into the Canon DSLR and control it manually. But there's no headphone jack so it's a bit of a guess at what it sounds like. You could use a mic like the one linked above in option #1.

B. A Dual system

This is where you record audio and video separately and sync them in post. Kind of a pain, but it works well if you don't mind the hassle. You can use software like Red Gian'ts "Pluraleyes" ($200) to sync "automatically" (works 80% of the time).

I would suggest external recorders like these for a dual system:

The Zoom
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/699403-REG/Zoom_H1_H1_Ultra_Portable_Digital_Audio.html

or the Tascam DR40
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/821259-REG/Tascam_DR_40_DR_40_4_Track_Handheld_Digital.html

or your iPhone with this:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/922914-REG/rode_smartlav_smart_lav_lav_mic_for.html

C. Camera-Mounted Preamp

This is where you run a microphone to a "preamp" attached to the camera that allows you to use a wide variety of microphones, including xlr mics. This is a popular DSLR-mounted preamp:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/868931-REG/juicedLink_RA333_RA333_Riggy_Assist_Low_Noise.html

Example of XLR mic you could use with this setup:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/581525-REG/MXL_FR_355K_FR_355K_Lavalier_Interview_Microphone.html

PROS of DSLR Option:

  • By far the most manual options. 

  • You can get some incredible image quality.

  • Doubles as a really good still camera.

CONS

  • Because of all the manual controls, there is a learning curve and it's much easier to mess something up. 

  • Dealing with audio is a mess and takes considerable trial and error.

In my opinion, the hassle is worth the image quality, but you've got to be up to opening pandora's box of issues and digging for solutions online. There are many many resources out there. Some of the best DSLR filmmaking site are:

http://cheesycam.com/

http://nofilmschool.com/

https://vimeo.com/videoschool

#3. All-in-one

Again, I admittedly have a bias toward Canon because that's what I've always used. I'm sure Sony, JVC, Panasonic, etc all have similar offerings to the cameras below. The main thing you're going to need to shoot interviews is a microphone input and a headphone jack.

Cameras:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/909788-REG/Canon_8155b004_VIXIA_HF_R400_Full.html

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/838772-REG/Canon_M500_VIXIA_HF_M500_Full.html

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/909792-REG/Canon_8063b002_32GB_VIXIA_HF_G20.html

Microphone:

http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Technica-ATR-3350-Omnidirectional-Condenser-Microphone/dp/B002HJ9PTO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1382319025&sr=8-2&keywords=audio+technica+lavalier

PROS

  • Very easy to use.

  • Single system for audio.

  • Some manual controls.

CONS

  • Will need more light than DSLR option.

  • Because it has a smaller sensor and less sensitive lenses, the image won't look as "cinematic".

I hope this is useful in your decision making process. Post your comments below if you have any other suggestions or recommendations. Also, keep in mind that this post will likely be outdated by the end of the week.

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Brandon Goodwin

Based in Springfield, Missouri, his video production work has taken him to four continents, a dozen countries and well over half the United States. Brandon has a decade's experience collaborating on projects of all shapes and sizes with a variety of clients, including record labels, non-profits, and advertising agencies. Recently Brandon worked as DP & Editor for the documentary, "Linotype: The Film". He has been on the ASB staff for seven years, and provides training in shooting, editing, writing, and interviewing. He is also the voice of the "Video Coach" series of training discs. He lives in Springfield with his wife Morgan and dog, Peter.