What’s the Best Canon Camera for Video?
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a video creator. In the last few years, DSLRs have completely changed the entry-point for cinematic production levels, with affordable cameras from Nikon and Canon that can produce stunning results. Mirrorless digital cameras from Sony, Panasonic, and Fujifilm have followed suite, packing more and more power into increasingly small form factors. Blackmagic Design has singlehandedly brought affordable RAW recording to the masses, first with the Cinema Camera, then the Pocket, and now the 4K Production Camera. On the higher-end side of things, cameras from RED and Arri have have cemented digital formats as the medium of choice for filmmakers. It seems like an exciting new camera is announced every few months, each one offering new features, new advances, and new possibilities for creating compelling video.
This list is going to focus on interchangeable-lens Canon cameras – and primarily Canon DSLRs. The simple reason for this is that I use Canon cameras and I know them best. I have nothing against cameras from Nikon, or any other manufacturer, but – in my experience – most DSLR videographers use Canons (I don’t have numbers to back that up – it’s just my impression). If you have recommendations for cameras that aren’t on this list, I would love to hear about them in the comments section. In a future post, I’ll focus on some of the exciting non-DSLR options out there, such as the Panasonic GH3 and the BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
There really is no absolute “best” video camera, from Canon or anyone else. Each of these cameras offers something different and, depending on your needs, budget, and shooting style, any one of them could be the right camera for you. If at all possible, you should always try a camera before you invest in it – at the very least, do lots of research and get lots of different opinions. Also, while I’ve done my best to be current and accurate, the camera market is always changing and pricing, availability, and even features can alter quickly. If you see anything amiss, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to address it!
Price: $260 (body only)
About the camera: The EOS-M is sort of a strange little camera. It has an interchangeable lens mount, but you’ll need an adapter if you want to use anything besides Canon’s limited selection of EF-M lenses. The EOS-M was clearly released in response to similar mirrorless cameras from Sony and Fujifilm, but – probably because it’s Canon’s first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera – it feels rougher around the edges than the competition. It has slow autofocus, middling battery life, and a fairly clunky menu system. So why is the EOS-M a good buy? Two reasons: price and customization. At around $260 (or less for a used unit), the EOS-M is just about the cheapest way possible to get into video with an interchangeable lens system. The sensor in the EOS-M is actually identical to those found in more expensive DSLRs like the T5i and 60D, so it can capture beautiful images despite its bargain basement sticker price. And while the EOS-M might have some issues on its own, you can adapt it pretty easily into a very capable video camera with the right accessories. A $60 third-party adapter (or the pricier Canon-made version) will let you use the entire (massive) line of Canon EF and EF-S compatible lenses, with full electronic controls for focus and aperture. An external microphone like the RODE VideoMic Pro will give you good in-camera audio, or you could pick up a low-cost external recorder like the Zoom H1. Finally, adding Magic Lantern custom firmware to the camera will give you professional-level controls and features like focus peaking, audio meters, and histograms. If you’re willing to invest in the right accessories (and probably a handful of extra batteries), the EOS-M becomes an extremely powerful video camera and an absolute bargain compared to the competition.
Who should get one: The EOS-M is a good choice if you’re just getting started in video production and are on a tight budget – provided you’re willing to tinker with it a bit in order to get the most out of it. If you’re primarily interested in video (not stills, the autofocus on the M is just too slow), have a tight budget, and are between the EOS-M and something from Canon’s Rebel line (such as the T2i, T3i, T4i, or T5i), I would suggest grabbing the EOS-M and putting the money you save towards a decent lens. It’s also a great choice if you already have a Canon DSLR and are looking for an inexpensive second camera – since you probably have most of the necessary accessories already, all you’d need is the body and lens adapter to get rolling.
Price: $600 (body only)
About the camera: The Canon “Rebel” line has been a popular choice for filmmakers on a budget since the T2i was launched in 2010. Canon has made small updates with each successive generation, without actually changing the camera’s sensor. Because of this, the T2i is still actually a very popular camera for low-cost productions. Moving up to a T3i gets you an articulating LCD screen (which can be a big help when shooting video) and the nearly-identical T4i and T5i add some nice features like a touch screen, a switch for quickly going to video mode, and the ability to automatically split large clips without a break in recording. If you shop around, you can probably find a used T2i at a great price and new copies of the T3i and T4i are frequently discounted. Each camera in the line is extremely capable (and virtually equal) in terms of video and they are all relatively easy to use.
Who should get one: If you want to get into video using an actual DLSR (as opposed to something like the EOS-M), a Canon Rebel T2i, T3i, T4i, or T5i is probably the least-expensive way to do it. Be aware that the Canon Rebel line is really geared towards amateurs and beginners – they perform well in terms of image quality, but where body style, interface, build quality, and battery capacity are concerned, they fall behind cameras like the full-frame 6D or new 70D. These cameras will let you make manual adjustments to things like aperture, ISO, white balance, audio levels, etc., but they’re really designed to run on automatic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (especially for beginners), but if you’re an experienced shooter, you might want to look at a 60D or 70D instead. For those just starting out, though, look around for good deals online, especially for “outdated” models like the T3i and T4i.
Price: $700 (body only)
About the camera: The 60D utilizes the same 18MP APS-C sensor as the T2i, T3i, T4i, and T5i – as does the EOS-M – which means that every camera listed so far can all capture video of the same quality, resolution, frame rate, etc. – and that video is quite good. While the 60D lacks some of the features in later models like the T4i and T5i (no touchscreen, no automatic clip-splitting), it has superior build-quality and a body style that is better suited for quick manual adjustments. The 60D also uses higher capacity LP-E6 batteries, which means that you can go longer between charges and possibly skip a battery grip (some accessories, like lights or monitors also use LP-E6 batteries, which is convenient). The 60D looks, feels, and behaves more like a “professional” camera than the Rebels do. I personally think that makes it a better buy than the Rebel line, but it will ultimately depend on your style of shooting and individual preference. Since the 70D was announced, you can also get a great deal on it if you’re willing to hunt for the best price.
Who should get one: There’s a reason that Canon stuck with the same 18MP APS-C sensor for so long – it performs well in a variety of conditions. Coupled with some decent lenses (such as a Rokinon prime or the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8), these cameras really sing. If you want something a bit more robust than the EOS-M, are serious about photography and video, and don’t want to spend more than $1000 on a camera body, a 60D is probably where you should be looking. Just be aware that – like all the cameras on this list – you’ll need to invest in more than just the camera itself to really get going. You’ll need good lenses, a quality audio setup, and possibly even a form-factor accessory like a rig or cage, in order to make the most of these cameras. Also be aware that, because they use the same sensor, a high quality lens on an EOS-M or T2i will produce better looking video than a cheap lens on a more expensive camera like a 60D – take the time to really plan out your budget and where to allocate your resources. I personally love the 60D and think it’s one of the best bargains in digital video available right now.
Price: $1050 (body only)
About the camera: After releasing what essentially amounts to the same camera in half-a-dozen or so bodies, Canon finally switched things up with the successor to the 60D, the appropriately-named 70D. This is still as APS-C camera, which means that there is a crop-factor for the lenses when compared to full-frame DSLRs. However, the quality of that sensor has finally been upgraded. There is some increase in picture quality, but the real selling point of the 70D is that the new sensor allows it to smoothly autofocus during video recording – a feat that has never really been possible before in DSLR video. The 70D basically takes all the best features of the previous generation of cameras – an articulating touchscreen, continuous recording, a professional-style body – adds a few new ones, and combines them all into a very compelling machine. It doesn’t add every feature on the DSLR wish list (slow motion, a headphone jack, etc.), but it probably comes closer than anything else in its class.
Who should get one: If you want to go the DSLR route, don’t mind a cropped sensor, and can afford to spend around $1000 on a camera body, this is the camera you should buy. If you film in situations where autofocus will be helpful, the 70D may even be a better option for you than pricier full-frame cameras like the 6D. Now, there are times when you definitely do not want to be using autofocus – if you’re doing something staged or cinematic, you probably want to focus by hand. However, if you frequently film events, weddings, documentaries, or other situations where the subject is going to be moving in an unpredictable way, the 70D‘s smooth, relatively reliable autofocus could be a huge asset. You can always switch it off when you don’t need it – but having the option to use it could conceivably save your shoot.
Price: $1750 (body only)
About the camera: The 6D is Canon’s least expensive full-frame camera, which means that it can capture nice, wide images without the crop factor of an APS-C sensor. If you’re shaky on the difference between full-frame and cropped sensor cameras, there are plenty of in-depth articles out there, but it basically boils down to this: in the pre-digital days of analog photography, most cameras used 35mm film, which means that they captured images onto little rectangles of film that were all the same size. However, digital cameras don’t use film – they use electronic sensors and if that electronic sensor is smaller than the size of analog film, the camera will capture less of the image and it will look more “zoomed in.” Full-frame cameras use sensors that are the same size as analog film, which means they capture more of the image and have a wider field of view. A larger sensor generally also means better image quality and low-light performance, but a full-frame camera is not automatically “better” than a cropped sensor one – they are simply different tools with different assets. With all that said, there are definite advantages to going full-frame and the 6D is a very nice camera. The build quality and body style are excellent and it captures gorgeous video. In a head-to-head with more expensive full-frame cameras (like the 5D Mark III), it might fall slightly behind, but it will still come very close. Specifically, when shooting video on the 6D, you’ll want to watch for distortion like moire and aliasing – this is the area where the 6D tends to lag behind pricier cameras. Make no mistake, though, this is a great camera and a powerful creative tool in the right hands.
Who should get one: If you’re just starting out in DSLR video, I’d probably recommend a less-expensive APS-C sensor camera, especially if it means putting some extra money toward good lenses. However, if you are serious about video and can afford to go full-frame, you probably should. The image quality and low-light performance are terrific and the wider focal length is well-suited for video. For example, an 85mm lens is a great fit for a full-frame camera – perfect for interviews – but it can be uncomfortably tight on a cropped sensor. The 6D really is surprisingly affordable for a full-frame camera and it’s discounted fairly regularly – if you shop around, you could easily outfit a 6D and a second camera for the price of a more expensive full-frame, like the 5D Mark III.
Price: $3300 (body only)
About the camera: The Mark III‘s predecessor, the 5D Mark II, was the camera that convinced many professionals that DSLRs were legitimate tools for serious filmmaking – it was capable of producing video of a quality that had simply not been seen before in that type of camera. The 5D Mark III improves upon that foundation in every way and is considered by many to be the best DSLR for video work available today. The images that come out of this camera are simply stunning, with excellent low-light performance and much less moire and aliasing distortion than the 6D. While this is, unmistakably, a professional’s camera, it is still a surprisingly accessible camera – it’s relatively intuitive to operate with easy-to-use controls. This makes the 5D Mark III an extremely fun camera to go out and shoot with. It also has some uncommon – but wonderful – features like dual media card slots (one SD and one CF) and a headphone jack for in-camera audio monitoring.
Who should get one: You should buy a 5D Mark III if you can afford the best. Keep in mind, though, that the 5D Mark III tends to hover at roughly twice the price of a 6D. Is the 5D Mark III a better camera? Absolutely. Is it twice as good? Absolutely not. I know I’ve repeated this sentiment several times now, but if buying the 5D Mark III means skimping on something like lenses, don’t do it. It would be an absolute shame to own a camera as nice as the Mark III without having quality glass for it. That’s not to say that the 5D Mark III isn’t a good deal, because the quality and features it offers are excellent – but it is an expensive, professional-grade tool. If you need (or just really, really want) top-of-the-line gear, this is the DSLR for you.
Price: $5200 (body only)
About the camera: With so many people buying DSLRs and other still-photography cameras expressly for capturing video, a natural question arises: What would it look like if you took the benefits of a DSLR – small form factor, relatively low cost, gorgeous image quality, and tons of available lenses – and put them into a camera made specifically for video? The answer is Canon’s “C” line of cameras. The C100, C300, and C500 are dedicated video cameras that use the same family of lenses as Canon DSLRs and pack a ton of power into small, versatile bodies. Unfortunately, only the C100 sells for under $10,000 – the C300 uses the same image sensor in a better body (and with a better codec) for around $15,000 and the production-quality 4K C500 goes for around $25,000. However, at just over $5,000, the C100 is still a very accessible camera for a small production outfit and a very solid buy. The C100 has all the wonderful camcorder features that video professionals miss when they move to DSLRs – audio monitoring and a headphone jack, an electronic viewfinder, dual media card slots, built-in ND filters, built-in XLR inputs, and more. It’s not a perfect camera, by an means – the codec isn’t fantastic and there have been some serious complaints about the viewfinder – but it does manage to combine the best qualities of a DSLR and a camcorder into one camera.
Who should get one: For all their great qualities, DSLRs still have some serious downsides when it comes to video – even top-shelf DSLRs like the 5D Mark III. If you’re a run-and-gun documentary filmmaker, having to juggle a separate device for audio is not ideal. Or, if you record live events, the media capacity (or the recording limit) on most DSLRs could get in your way. The point is, capturing video on a DSLR is just not always the best option for every situation. If you want an interchangeable-lens camera that is still decidedly a video camera, something like the C100 is a great option.
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So there you have it – if you’re in the market for an interchangeable-lens video camera (for under $10,000), the odds are good that one of these cameras would be a good fit for you. Of course, there are lots of other options out there as well – inventive filmmaker Casey Neistat relies on inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras like the Canon SA120 for his production work. There are also versatile fixed-lens camcorders like the Canon XA10 (or, moving up a price bracket, the XF100) that give the convenience of an all-in-one dedicated video camera. The bottom line is, regardless of your budget, it is a great time to be making movies – now go out and get filming!