6 Best Video Cameras for Indie Filmmakers in 2016

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

Don’t get lost in the specs – get lost in your story.

We’ve updated our “Best Cameras for Indie Filmmakers” roundup for 2017. Check out the new breakdown HERE!

“What video camera should I use to make my movie?” It’s a common question here at Lights Film School.

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, we profiled eight popular video cameras in the world of indie filmmaking last year.

Since then, the cinematography landscape has changed.

Granted, ARRI and RED continue to lead the digital revolution in Hollywood. Although ARRI’s Alexa lineup remains out of reach for many indie filmmakers, RED has lowered the bar to entry with its introduction of a sub-$10K camera.

Meanwhile, despite their venerable offerings, Canon and Panasonic have been outpaced by Sony’s and Blackmagic Design’s rapid rate of innovation and DSLRs (arguably) have fallen by the wayside, even as rumors of the 5D Mark IV abound.

Looking forward, CRAFT seems poised to make a splash with its modular camera system, and Lytro could change filmmakers’ approach to cinematography and post-production with its mind-blowing technology presented at NAB this year.


The 6 Contenders

More immediately, here are six cameras worth considering in 2016. 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 focus on six of the most popular video cameras we’ve seen mentioned time and again this year, and every one of them is capable of producing impactful images:

  • RED Raven | $6950.00 at RED
  • Sony PXW-FS5 | $5599.00 at B&H
  • Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K | $4995.00 at B&H
  • Canon C100 Mark II | $3999.00 at B&H
  • Sony a7S II | $2998.00 at B&H
  • Panasonic Lumix GH4 | $1297.99 at B&H

What Can These Cameras Do?

Without further ado, we invite you to compare these six cameras using our 2016 camera chart. Simply click the image below to access a high resolution interactive PDF:


As suggested by these side-by-side comparisons, every camera has its pros and its cons. There is no such thing as “the best camera.”

So how do you choose the camera that’s best for you?

How You Can Choose

First, identify your primary use.

Are you a narrative filmmaker working in a controlled production environment? Then you might find an ally in the RED Raven or Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K. Are you a documentary filmmaker keen on ergonomics? Perhaps turn to Sony’s FS5 or Canon’s C100 Mark II. Of course, budget comes into play, too. If you’re strapped for cash, then Sony’s a7S II or Panasonic’s GH4 probably merits consideration.

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.

You, the Filmmaker, Matter Most

Which brings us to an important point: tools are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

“Inherently, we all know that an image isn’t measured by its resolution, dynamic range, or anything technical,” photographer Chase Jarvis reminds us. “It’s measured by the simple – sometimes profound, other times absurd or humorous or whimsical – effect that it can have upon us.” Certainly, specs matter, but what matters most is the person behind the camera.

The key to unlocking your camera’s potential lies in your acceptance of its strengths and weaknesses. Create a film concept that embraces what your camera can and cannot do – for example, if you have an old SD camera, then you might make a found footage horror film. If you’re working with an iPhone, then you might take advantage of the camera’s small form factor to execute radical camera angles and moves.

In other words, it’s entirely possible to make a movie today with the resources you have around you. It’s not about the image that looks best; it’s about the image that looks best for your specific application. Don’t get lost in the specs, filmmakers – get lost in your story!

What do you think? Vote for your camera of choice, and feel free to expand in the comments below. We’d love to hear your perspective!

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 and support in your filmmaking journey, check out our in-depth online filmmaking course, 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 than traditional film school.


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