Best Cameras for Beginner Filmmakers

September 15, 2019

Lesson 3: Best Cameras for Beginner Filmmakers

My three year old has this little pink polka dotted blanket that is her absolute most prized possession. Last year, she became obsessed with making sure it was perfectly neat and flat at all times. It was such a cute little quirky phase.

It was one of those little things that I never wanted to forget. So I filmed it. In fact, every month I create a little family film of my girls. These little monthly films contain memories that I will treasure forever.

I use video as my primary form of journaling everyday life and I love it. It’s a creative outlet, plus a way to preserve priceless memories.

If you are a parent, then you likely have the same desire to capture your own memories through video. I created this series for you. I’m sharing everything that I have learned along the way from my background in filmmaking and how I apply it today as a mom and as a filmmaker.

In this lesson, I want to get right into the details of exactly what kind of camera gear you’ll need to start filming your own videos.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the previous lesson on how to tell stories using video as well.

Here are the main topics that we will cover in this post:

  • Finding the right camera
  • Picking the best lens options
  • My favorite editing software

1 | Finding the right camera for shooting family videos

There are a few key features that you need to consider when picking the right camera for filming lifestyle videos:

  1. Auto Focus: An essential tool since you will be filming on the move, oftentimes handheld, and shooting subjects that are in motion and mostly unpredictable.
  2. Footage Quality: 4k or HD? Obviously we want the image quality to be as good as possible, but this comes at a cost. It’s all about finding the right balance for you and your budget.
  3. Photo Capabilities: When I travel, I like to just have one camera with me at all times. Since I am a photographer as well as a videographer, it’s important that I have a camera that is capable of capturing both.

I scoured the internet and found what I think are the best camera options for filmmakers in 2019 based on those features. I have divided them by price to make things easier to navigate.

Entry Level // Most Affordable Options

If you are just getting started, it’s likely that you may want to start with a camera that won’t be too expensive. That’s not a problem! Here are a handful of options all in the range of $300-$1000.

  • GoPro Hero 7 : Now that a newer version is out, the Hero 7 is much more affordable and honestly an amazing little camera. Perfect for those on the go. The main drawback to this camera is the inability to manipulate many of the controls, so you’d be more on auto pilot with this camera than others, but it’s not a bad option for just getting started.
  • Canon EOS M50 : Very affordable, excellent auto focus system, good footage quality
  • Sony a6400 : Shoots 4k (great quality), slow motion, and great auto focus
  • Sony a5100 : Most affordable option, shoots HD, but not 4k, flip out screen and slow motion
  • Panasonic Lumix G7: Shoots 4k, handles light very well, known for image stabilization in camera

Serious Hobbyist Level // $1000-2000 range

  • Fujifilm XT-3 : Shoots 4k, great quality, good auto focus, excellent in low light
  • Panasonic Lumix GH5: A favorite among hobby filmmakers, excellent image quality, dual image stabilization eliminates excess hand shake with shots
  • Canon EOS R : Awesome quality and the best auto focus on this list, shoots great photos as well
  • Sony a7iii : Also great quality, decent auto focus, excellent in low light conditions

*Any camera will do.

If you are in the market for a new camera, any of the above options would do you well. However, these are simply suggestions to help you get started. Like I discussed extensively in my post about how to craft a story through video, the type or quality camera that you own isn’t nearly as important as the creative tools you use to tell your story.

Shooting on an iPhone or Smartphone

You can absolutely start capturing excellent footage to make your films using simply your iPhone.

By the way, if you do choose to stick with your iPhone, there is are two extra accessories that I would highly recommend.

  1. Hohem Gimbal Stabilizer for Smartphones : This handy little stabilizer is excellent for smoothing out handheld video clips and adds an extra element of cinematography to your footage.
  2. Rode Compact Microphone : I would actually recommend this microphone to everyone - camera or iPhone shooters alike. It’s the perfect sidekick microphone that discreetly sits on top of your camera for professional quality audio.

2 | The best lenses for shooting your own films

Choosing the best lens for shooting a lifestyle film depends on a few factors - mainly the type of camera that you own, but also on the feeling or style of shooting that you plan to capture.

In my kit, I have three main lenses that I use for lifestyle videos:

  • One pancake lens (given it’s name for how small it is) - seriously, it’s comically small compared to the size of my camera, but it’s absolutely perfect for 99% of the time that I am filming on vacation or anywhere outside the house. Here’s the one I own, it’s very affordable and will fit any EOS Canon camera body. I recommend finding a small option like this for your kit.
  • One 35mm lens - this is going to be your everyday go-to lens. It will most closely mimic what your eyes see. Because it’s a prime lens (that means it doesn’t zoom in or out, the distance is fixed), you have to get up and move to get closer and further away from your subjects. This tends to give your footage a feeling of intimacy, which is perfect for lifestyle filmmaking. Here’s the one I own from Canon.
  • One zoom lens - while these can sometimes be more expensive and bulkier than the other two types of lenses, if you want to complete your kit, this would do it. This adds some additional variety to your shots and will allow you to get even closer to your subject, especially if there are scenarios where you simply can’t do it yourself (sports games, wildlife videos, etc.). Here’s the one I own.

Here are some general feelings or styles and what type of lens you may consider for each of those approaches. You’ll need to do a bit of research to make sure you find the correct lens to fit the type of camera you own or you can always shoot me a message below and I’ll be happy to respond.

Documentary Style

In general, a 35mm lens is going to give you the most ‘documentary’ or ‘in the life’ feeling because it most closely mimics the distance and scope that our eyes see in every day life.

Light and Airy, with Blurry Background

If you want to capture that beautiful dreamy bokeh (aka blurred out background) with soft, light colors, you need to make sure you purchase a lens with a wide aperture. At least f2.8, but even wider is better. I own the Canon 35mm f1.8 and it’s wonderful. I have also shot with the Canon 50mm f1.2 and it too is incredible.

3 | My favorite editing software

The Options:

  1. Premiere Pro ($20/month with Adobe Cloud Suite)
  2. Final Cut Pro ($299 one time fee)
  3. iMovie (free)

When I first began editing videos, I used iMovie. It was simple basic, and easy to use. When I was in film school, we were required to use Final Cut Pro. This was back before Adobe Premiere Pro existed. Final Cut Pro and Avid were the industry standards.

When Premiere Pro finally did come around, I resisted it for years. I knew Final Cut like the back of my hands. You’ll learn that with editing, all the keyboard shortcuts and personal preferences become like second nature. Transitioning to a brand new platform was tough. But finally, I did. Here are a few reasons why I made the switch to Premiere Pro and why I am happy that I did:

  • Price: For my work, I use several adobe suite products (Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects) on a daily basis. It makes much more sense for me to purchase a bundled package of these programs rather than piece-mill them together across different platforms. You can get them all monthly for $52/month. There are discounts for students and groups, and they also offer sales pretty frequently, just fyi. Check the current packages here.
  • Integration: The workflow between all the adobe suite programs is seamless. I can edit a basic video in Premiere Pro and then take it straight into After Effects to add titles, motion stabilization, and color correction all with a few clicks.
  • Updates: Because you are paying a monthly fee for the subscription to Adobe products, when they update the programs your version will update at no additional cost. This is important because updates are constant and always will be as technology continues to improve.

In the end it’s up to you.

Like all the options in this post, they are merely that: options. You have to evaluate your own goals and personal situation to decide what is going to make the most sense for you. For the vast majority of my tutorials and lessons I will be demonstrating on Adobe Premiere Pro for my edits, as well as my Canon DSLR for video examples.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make your own tools work just the same. If you want to start with iMovie and see how it goes before you purchase anything further then that’s completely fine! You really don’t need anything too sophisticated to edit amazing family films. And I am here to help. Let me know what you’re exploring. Leave a comment below and I’ll send you my thoughts.


Your homework for this lesson is to select what gear you’ll be using for your films and get it all ready to go. If you need to purchase any new equipment or software, go ahead and spend some time researching what is going to be the best fit for you. Please reach out to me if you need any help during this process. I’d love to answer any questions and help however I can.

In our next several lessons, I’ll be walking you through some real life examples of how to shoot and edit your films. It’s going to be fun! What specifically do you want to learn about? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll see you soon!


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Hi, I'm Beth.

I started Handcraft Films to give other filmmakers and photographers the gift of documenting their own stories for years to come. I hope you'll learn something new and share your creativity here.
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