If you’re keen to film a documentary, you’re probably wondering what the best documentary camera might be.
Shooting documentaries, same as any type of film, requires its own equipment in order to achieve a satisfactory product in the end.
While audio equipment is especially important, as is editing software, arguably the camera you use is the central piece of making a documentary.
That leaves us with the question, “What’s the best camera for shooting documentaries?”
There is simply no singular answer. There are many factors that come into play when deciding on the best camera.
Most of these factors have to do with you and what you need from the camera.
This is why we’ve compiled a guide on the best cameras for documentaries.
We’re going to discuss the things you should consider before buying a camera. Then, we’re going to delve into the best cameras for each type of filmmaker.
Best Documentary Camera
So, without further ado let’s dive in.
Make no mistake about Canon’s C300 MK II. This is a high-end camera for professionals looking to take advantage of its full capabilities. The first indicator is the camera’s body which is larger than your DSLR or a Mirrorless camera.
The C300 MK II is equipped with an S35mm sensor. It can record 4k directly to the internal storage. The image quality on this is simply pristine.
The design of the MKII is also premium in its feel and handling. It’s clear that Canon spent a lot of time and money on the camera’s ergonomics.
You won’t have to worry about paying a premium price for the MKII. Thanks to the release of a subsequent model, the C500, this model benefits from a price slash down. So, you can buy a camera for probably less than what your first car cost.
An amazing feature included here is support for both interchangeable PL and EF lenses formats. So you can choose from a wide array of great lenses.
This is a big selling point since the lenses are important to the quality and look of a documentary.
To wrap up, the C300 is a great filmmaking camera. Its skin and color tones will especially add a cinematic and professional touch to your footage. This once comes highly recommended from us.
Let’s balance it out by looking at a more reasonably priced camera. Panasonic has released the DC-GH5S which has some features that the GH5 doesn’t.
However, for a few reasons, among them the price tag, we think that the GH5 is the superior camera for documentary filmmakers.
The GH5 is a micro four-thirds mirrorless camera. What this means is that its sensor is smaller than a full-frame but bigger than an APS-C.
This allows the GH5 to give pretty great image quality but maintain a slim and slick design which is essential for a documentary camera.
Since the GH5s’ release, the GH5 received a discount which makes this the perfect time to get your hands on it.
It’s a superb camera equipped with a 20.3MP sensor. It uses Panasonic’s Venus Engine processor. It’s capable of shooting in 4K at 60fps.
The GH5 is a great documentary filmmaking camera thanks to its video capabilities and its neat small design that makes it easy to carry around. This in conjunction with its lower price makes it hard not to recommend.
Sony is the crowned king of documentary cameras, and we think no camera exemplifies that better than the FS7. It’s equipped with a Super 35mm CMOS sensor.
The camera is compatible with all Sony E-mount lenses.
Thankfully, you can also purchase an adapter to utilize EF/PL lenses.
The FS7 can shoot in 4K/60fps. The high frame rate allows buttery smooth slow motion. If you choose to record in full 1080p HD, the frame rate can reach all the way up to 180fps. This is a mighty impressive feat for any camera to reach.
To record video on the FS7 you’ll Sony’s XQD media cards.
Additionally, you can use external HDDs or SSDs to record on or simply as a backup. This opens more options than you’d get with your average digital camera.
Overall, the FS7 is a great documentary camera, especially if you want to blow your audience’s mind with great image quality and cinematic effects.
The backup options are a godsend as any videographers will let you know.
For our final recommendation, we want to suggest something a little different. This is the
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and we think it has something to offer for documentary filmmakers.
This camera, unlike other mirrorless cameras that try to cover both photo and video, focuses squarely on video. Black magic takes the approach of “other cameras are a jack of all trades, master of none but this is different”.
The camera is compact and surprisingly affordable. It houses a four-thirds sensor and can record at 4K at up to 60fps. It performs amazingly in low-light situations.
Should you choose to film in 1080p, the frame rate can be boosted up to 120 fps. Not too shabby.
The most impressive feature of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is the price tag. It’ll go easy on your wallet, more so than most cameras on this list.
However, we recommend you take full advantage of the camera’s capabilities by adding a few accessories. additional power supports and storage are highly recommended.
Documentary filmmakers are presented with two choices, digital cameras, and digital camcorders. While the former is self-explanatory, the latter has some interesting features we’d like to discuss.
Just like digital cameras, Digital camcorders are able to record to memory cards. They are able to directly store footage into their internal storage.
This is a great asset for documentary filmmakers. Faulty SD cards or lack of storage space can put a strain on a shooting session.
The Vixia HF G50 by Canon is a classic example of the budget camera options that we always like to recommend, especially for those readers who are more budget-conscious. It can shoot in 4K at 60 fps. This is really is the perfect beginner camcorder.
Its compact design makes it easy to carry around and conceal. It does a great job at shooting in low-light situations.
The G50 is equipped with a CMOS sensor. It has a 20x HD video zoom lens which helps get footage from a distance.
The G50 is a reasonably priced digital camcorder that’s perfect for shooting documentaries. It’s a capable and beginner-friendly device that should be on your radar.
So, you’re considering purchasing a camera for shooting documentaries?
Now let’s take a deep dive into your purchasing considerations. Because you need to know the important pointers before wading in!
The Type of Documentary
What we mean by this is where exactly the documentary is to be shown.
If you’re shooting a documentary for the internet, the camera you’ll need will be different than one used for a documentary that’ll be shown on a big screen for a viewing audience. So think about it.
Documentaries on the web are mostly seen at full HD resolution, so your camera will only need to go that far. However, if you’re showing it in a theatre, it’s better to present it in the highest resolution possible.
This is probably the biggest consideration you’ll have to make when deciding on anything.
Depending on your budget, you can either buy a basic professional camera with an interchangeable lens or splurge on a high-end camera with the latest features
However, before you do that link that to the type of documentary. A web documentary won’t need to be shot on a fancy camera with features like 4K.
So just because a camera is superior doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
different styles constitute different cameras. Are you the type who plans shots and sets them up accordingly?
Then you may squeeze a good performance out of a standard camera on a tripod.
Are you a gorilla-style filmmaker who carries the camera around and makes it up as they go along?
Well, you may want to invest in a camera with a rugged design for more durability and image stabilization to lessen camera shake and unwanted movement.
we know this seems like the last thing you should worry about. However, if you have a lot of great footage but you can’t edit on the software you bought because it doesn’t support it, you’re in trouble.
Make the file type the camera records in is compatible with whatever software you want to use. It’ll save you a lot of time and headaches.
Best Documentary Camera – Wrap Up
That concludes our guide on the best cameras for documentaries. Hopefully, by now you’ll have a good idea of what you need and what you want to get.
As we mentioned before, the best camera is the one that suits the size and budget of your project.
Additionally, the camera should complement your filmmaking style. The video format should also be compatible with your video editing software for a smoother process.
We also think that portability is important for documentary filmmaking.
Finally, we hope that our picks for the best documentary cameras will set you on the right path to finding the perfect camera for you. Good luck!