What's The Oldest Camera I Can Buy For Video?
I love buying used kit. I sometimes rent gear or have it provided, but for my own direct commissions I like to use my own stuff. It makes more sense economically and it means I get to understand the gear inside-out - invaluable when something inevitably goes wrong.
So right now what is the oldest camera (and I'm thinking of an interchangeable lens system so you can keep the lenses for future use) you could get away with using for a professional assignment? Well, there's a couple of caveats before I answer that. First of all - will the client be present during filming? If so, they might have certain expectations in terms of how up-to-date your equipment is; but of course, that should be reflected in your charges. Let's just assume that we are talking about work where the client isn't present or doesn't care about the camera you're using.
In that case, there's a couple of aspects in the spec that I'd say is a minimum. First of all the camera should be capable or recording an unlimited run-time, or at the very least 30 minutes. That rules out the legendary Canon 5D mkii with it's 10 minute maximum recording duration.
The second thing to consider is if the client requires 4k. If you are uploading in 1080p to the web, and so 4k isn't a consideration, you have just massively expanded the range (and lowered the price) of the options available to you. Remember that a 4k capability doesn't necessarily mean better-looking footage. The added resolution in some cameras actually means they are not capable of, say, very good color science which counter-intuitively means their HD footage actually looks much better, even though the physical size in pixels is smaller. I own the Sony FS5 and I really don't like the 4k footage as much as the HD, which in my opinion (and many others) is much better.
With these things in mind, you absolutely can use older models to create great work. Filmmaking and particularly cinematography is about the final image. It is not about blowing up your footage to 400% and looking for noise. I was watching Season 7 of Mad Men on Netflix the other night in 4k and noticed noise in some of the shadows in a couple of shots. Did that detract at all from the story? Or the gorgeous photography? Of course not.
Anyway, I'm going off-topic. Once you have a solid, professional camera that you can control all of the settings on, you are good to go. Looking around locally (I live in Dubai) I'm amazed that the incredible Sony A7s now sells used for around $500 - $600. It shoots stunning full-frame 1080p and is such a clean image at high ISO's you can use natural light if you have to pretty much every time. Throw in Sony's flat S-Log cooler profile and you have a fantastic camera you'll keep for years, if nothing else as a B-camera or spare eventually.
If you absolutely must have 4k then the fantastic Atomos Ninja series will do a great job and give you a monitor you wish you'd had all along - but like I say, if you aren't outputting to 4k, you really don't need it.
I would steer clear of Sony glass, however. If it is for the E-mount, it is meant for mirrorless cameras and this is where it's bitten me on the behind. In a nutshell, you can't use it on a movie camera with the Canon EF mount. It has to do with flange distances but just take my word for it - get a Metabones if you have the money or a cheap Chinese EF to E-mount adapter (I love the Commlite and Viltrox ones) and buy Canon full-frame glass. There's so much of it around used that the prices are fantastic and for filmmaking those L-lenses are pretty much the standard at this level. Because they are made for full-size DSLR's rather than mirrorless cameras, they can be adapted to kit like the Sony and are effectively future-proofed.
The 24 - 70mm f2.8 Canon zoom goes for about the same money as the A7s if you get a good Mark 1 version and if you need stabilization, the 24 - 105mm f4 is terrific and with the great low-light of the A7s the slower lens speed isn't a problem. For about $1200 you have a camera and lens combination that, as long as it's in HD, will stand very favorably next to any other combination up to professional cine cameras, where the compression kicks in and you notice that cine cameras are... well... a totally different beast. But more on that in the next article.
Have any questions about cameras you're thinking of buying? Have you picked up a bargain camera you love and would never sell? Tell me about it below.