The best video camera (not a lot of money) can buy

No camera is perfect. But for under $2,000, this will put you in a good situation more often than not.
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Buying a video camera can be expensive. There are hidden costs that can become not-so-hidden once you start picking up the video camera and actually using it.

The video specs featured on a listing are supposed to make purchasing a camera easier, but can sometimes seem like you’re decoding a foreign language. While you don’t need to know the nitty gritty on all of these specs, I’ll give a rundown as to what they generally mean and what you need to know.

I’ve owned about four different cameras and I have shot on about a dozen different video rigs in my day, from Canon to Panasonic to Sony to Arri.

Here’s why the GH5 is the camera to buy for people on a budget … in 5 minutes.

What’s the mission of your camera

Purchasing the right camera is usually less about knowing which camera to buy and more about understanding why you want to buy a camera.

I want a camera that can do it all. Find me a camera that can do that.

I have only five minutes (likely four now) so this article is geared towards those who are looking to spend around $2,000 on a video camera setup (lenses, batteries, memory cards, you name it). At that price level, you’re simply not going to get everything. That’s okay. A video might have great specs, but those might not mean anything if you don’t use them in the environment for which they were intended.

Are you shooting more often at night or day?

Usually, most people starting out in video aren’t shooting a great deal at night or in the dark, which nullifies some of the weaker features of the GH5 (and subsequently the more positive features of its competitors). The Sony A7s iii has become famous for its ISO features (the ability to shoot in the dark without creating black specs or noise on your camera), this is not what the GH5 is known for. Subsequently, the GH5 is half the cost of the A7s iii.

Are you looking to shoot 4K?

Shooting on a tight turnaround? Filming subjects or landscapes that you don’t think you’ll be increasing the size of in post? Then 4K isn’t likely for you.

But if you want something that looks similar to a popular YouTubers and you have a modern Mac or PC with a lot of storage, 4K makes sense. The GH5 is a 4K workhorse, with the ability to shoot in high frame rates or with very high video quality (ALL-I) for such a low-cost camera.

Even with an external recorder mounted to the shoe (top), the GH5 is a compact camera that fits nearly anywhere. Here I am in an airplane cockpit so there you go …

Why the GH5 is the best camera for video

If you saw the guide on buying the right drone, we get a bit into things like resolution and color. In short, video resolution is how many pixels the camera is shooting with—so more pixels means the more accurate the picture will be as you increase the size of the image (e.g. when you blow it up to become a poster or when you scale in when editing a video).

Bit depth is how many colors the video camera can read—the more color information the camera can take in, the richer the video image. Bit depth can often be more important than resolution if you’re viewing on a small screen.

Price

The GH5 can be had fully loaded, brand new for about $2,000. This will get you 2-3 batteries, a 128GB fast memory card, a decent lens from Sigma, and a case to put the camera in.

4K / 10 bit Shooting

The GH5 is very unique in its ability to shoot 4K at 10 bit. Most cameras don’t have this ability at a price under $1,500. 4K is double the resolution of conventional HD cameras, which will allow you to scale a picture to about 20% above its original size without losing quality and also presenting a sharper image. 10-bit cameras can read about a billion colors compared to an 8-bit camera, which can read about 16 million colors.

Variable Frame Rates

If you’re okay sacrificing a bit of resolution, video and color quality, the GH5 has a variable frame rate mode that can let you shoot at up to 180 frames per second, which can slow your footage down 7.5x. The significance of shooting video at high frame rates is that it allows you more frames to slow down while editing, so it creates a smoother picture as opposed to something choppy. If you don’t care for slo-motion, this feature will mean nothing to you.

A video might have great specs, but those might not mean anything if you don’t use them in the environment for which they were intended.

The kicker is that more frames mean you need more light, and your camera’s bitrate will not perform as well as it would in 24 frames per second (the camera is basically spreading its ability to take in information across more frames, which degrades overall video quality).

Isn’t the GH5 an old camera?

Sometimes the new hotness can’t beat the camera that’s 2-3 years old.

  • You’ll get a better deal and have used options
  • Given more people will have experience with the camera, if you encounter any issues, there will likely be a question and an answer in a forum somewhere to help you through it
  • Any major bugs will be well known before you purchase and/or have a firmware update to help you fix

Is the GH5 better than my new iPhone?

The GH5 will shoot with a bitrate anywhere from 2x to potentially 8x higher than the iPhone 11. The bokeh (how well the camera can focus on a subject) will be much more natural with a GH5, while the colors will also be more vibrant.

The biggest obvious of course is the ability to add a wider array of lenses.

It is a fair question, however: do you need to spend an additional $1,500 to replace the camera most of us already own in our pocket? To which I ask “why do you want to get a video camera?”

The GH5s. Almost exactly the same size as the GH5, but with more of a video focus.

GH5 vs. GH5s

The GH5s is offered as an upgrade to the GH5, but in reality, it’s a camera with more of a video focus. The GH5s offers better low light performance than the GH5 but with less resolution for photos. The GH5s removes stabilization but includes V-log shooting mode (a $100 value), which gives you more dynamic range (i.e. will allow you to get more detail from shadows). The kicker is you need to correct the color in post, which can be tricky for some new shooters.

My two cents is buy the GH5 over the GH5s and put the $500 you save to an external recorder.

Final Minute

The only thing I’ve left off is autofocus. Autofocus technology gets much better with every new generation of camera, but in my experience, a camera made after 2018 or so will do the job with most interviews. The GH5 is no exception (assuming you upgrade the firmware).

People ogle over features instead of focusing on the 2-3 primary uses of your camera. Even at $20,000 a camera will rarely have “everything” and then you’d be dealing with the trade-off of a heavy camera to lug around.

The GH5 isn’t perfect but it is the best 4K, high framerate, and high bitrate camera I’ve found on the market. For those of you dipping your toes in the water, there’s a reason so many people have found it to be a great camera to build around.

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