4 Best Video Cameras for Indie Filmmakers in 2017

What cameras are used in the world of indie filmmaking, and which should you choose?

The year of 4K.

In order to help our students and readers keep up with camera technology and decide what tools best suit their needs as they gear up for their productions, Lights Film School profiles popular video cameras in the world of indie filmmaking every year. We’ve taken to calling 2017 “the year of 4K”, since 4K is increasingly expected.

So far, the year of 4K has been somewhat unusual. We’ve chosen to profile just four cameras, down from 2016’s six and 2015’s eight.

Canon’s much-anticipated 5D Mark IV produces fantastic images, but it disappointed many filmmakers with a 1.64x crop factor in 4K video mode, lack of zebras and focus peaking, and MJPEG compression type, among other perceived drawbacks. Canon’s C100 Mark II remains formidable, but the lack of 4K dates its feature set.

It seems that Canon – the company that kicked off the DSLR revolution in 2008 – has been outpaced in 2017, especially by Sony. Sony continues to innovate on the camera front. It recently released its FS7 II powerhouse and full-frame, high-speed a9, and it continues to support both the FS5 and a7S II, arguably the champion of shooting in low-light, low-budget conditions.

We should mention that both Canon and Sony are slated to release new cameras in the near future. Canon’s 6D Mark II is an affordable point of entry into full-frame cinematography but lacks 4K functionality, while Sony’s yet-to-be-announced a7III is expected to resemble the a9.

At the higher end, RED hiked up the price of its RAVEN by thousands of dollars to $8950.00, putting it out of reach for some indie filmmakers. Meanwhile, ARRI replaced its ALEXA SXT PLUS and STUDIO models with the SXT W, introducing a built-in wireless HD video transmitter. The ALEXA Mini also received a software update. Like RED, ARRI’s solutions cost quite a bit, which is why we chose not to profile them here.

The 4 Contenders

Instead, we’ve chosen to profile four affordable video cameras excelling in the indie film scene, all of them under $6000.00. We’ve done the brunt of the research so that you don’t have to, distilling our findings into the at-a-glance camera chart below.

Of course, this is not a comprehensive roundup! We focused on four of the most popular video cameras we’ve seen mentioned time and again this year, and every one of them is an excellent tool:

What Can These Cameras Do?

We invite you to study our camera chart for 2017. Simply click the image below to access a high-resolution interactive PDF:

As suggested by the chart above, every video camera has its pros and its cons. There is no such thing as “the best camera.”

How You Can Choose

To choose the camera that’s best for you, you must identify your primary use. There is no objectively right or wrong answer, here. There is only what’s “right” or “wrong” for you and what you plan to achieve with your tools. For example, in shooting Sicario, cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve wanted the film to look “brutal” and “ugly”. “There’s a danger that you just shoot pretty pictures,” Deakins shared.

Good cinematography is cinematography that serves the story it’s helping to tell. It doesn’t necessarily have to look beautiful; it just has to look right in context.

This helps us indie filmmakers, who often must contend with tight budgets. It means that we can create outstanding content even if we can’t afford to use the latest and greatest tools. All we need to do is develop concepts that can be told within the constraints we face. If you have an iPhone, then you might write a screenplay that takes place in a gritty, imperfect world that suits the iPhone camera’s aesthetic and idiosyncrasies. If you have an a7S II on-hand, then you might set a scene at night in order to leverage the camera’s low-light capabilities. The goal is to find a match between the content and your resources.

Said differently, embrace your constraints; don’t resist them. It’s totally possible to make movies with whatever gear you have available, wherever you are in the world!

You, the Filmmaker, Matter Most

This brings us to an important point we drive home fairly frequently here at Lights Film School: tools are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Specs matter, but what matters most is the creative force behind the project. “What makes great directors great,” we’re reminded, “is that they don’t see things the same way as everyone else.”

How do you see things?

How can you use the tools you have available to express that and catalyze conversation? We’d love to hear your perspective in the comments below! Share your thoughts and vote for your video camera of choice in 2017.

What is your preferred video camera?

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Looking for more video camera comparisons from a filmmaking perspective? Explore our top picks from previous years:

4 Top Video Cameras in 2017
6 Top Video Cameras in 2016
8 Top Video Cameras in 2015

 Michael Koehler, with

For guidance, community, and support in your filmmaking journey, check out our online filmmaking course here at Lights Film School, designed to keep with your vision and schedule from concept through final cut – more guided than a blog, more interactive than a textbook, more flexible and affordable than traditional film school.

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