What Video Camera Should You Buy?

I usually don’t make recommendations for specific video cameras, but this time I thought I’d make an exception.

It’s definitely the most common question I get:

What camera should I buy?

Why do I rarely answer it?

  • I get the question so often, I don’t have time to answer it over and over and over.
  • I don’t stay up-to-date on all the latest camera releases, so the only cameras I know intimately are the ones I own.
  • I need a detailed understanding of how you’ll be using a camera before I can recommend one.

Most of the time if I make a recommendation at all, it’s general things to look for — instead of a specific camera.

Well, the other day I received a question similar to this:

Can you recommend a specific camera and microphone for me? I have a budget of about $2,000, and I’ll be using the camera to shoot various interviews with people at a conference I’ll be attending.

That was a good start. I knew the budget and I knew the general purpose of the camera, but I still had a few more questions. I wrote back and asked them:

  • How long do you expect each interview to last?
  • What is the final output medium (I’m assuming the web.)?
  • Do you have a fluid-head tripod? Or will someone be holding the camera?
  • Will the interviews be sit-down interviews or “run and gun”?

He answered:

The video clips will vary from a few minutes to several hours when I’m recording seminars. I’ll be delivering via the web. I have a cheap tripod. And I’ll be doing a lot of sit-down interviews, so that’s the priority. Run and gun are secondary.

Already I’m picturing how I’d shoot these types of interviews, because they’re such common things we do as video shooters.

But with a total budget of only $2,000, and a total crew of one person, I’m thinking the priority should be one camera, and two microphones: one lavalier microphone for the sit-down interviews, and one handheld microphone for the run and gun interviews.

Lights in this situation (crew of one, tiny budget) would be a challenging addition.

Best Video Camera for the Job

So what camera?

I recommended he purchase something like the Canon HF S200 (which has been discontinued, so the updated model is the Canon HF S30). I own the predecessor to this video camera and like it a lot. It’s a consumer-level camcorder, but for the price, it creates excellent images.

And it’s high definition, records to SD cards (allowing for the long record times), and has an external microphone input (mini jack).

Also, because it’s a small camera, it shouldn’t be a problem to mount it on the “cheap” tripod. (Big cameras don’t do well on small tripods. I’ve learned this the hard way.)

The camera’s price is roughly $1,000. That leaves about $1,000 for the microphones.

Recommended Audio System

He could probably make a single handheld microphone work for both the run and gun interviews and the sit-down interviews, but it would be better to have a lavalier (lapel mic) for the sit-downs.

Also, for fast set ups, wireless systems are big time-savers.

So I decided to recommend a specific Sennheiser G3 wireless package which comes with a body-pack transmitter, receiver, lavalier microphone, and a transmitter you can attach to handheld microphones (important for the run and gun times).

Also, it has the mini jack option which is great because the camcorder I recommended doesn’t have XLR microphone inputs.

The price for the microphone system is about $800. That leaves about $200 for a handheld microphone.

Recommended Handheld Microphone

There are a lot of great options in this price range, but the one I personally own and love is the Electrovoice RE50b. It looks sharp and captures great audio.

I use it whenever we’re shooting video of trade shows.

And the price is a little under $200.

The Complete Package

So there it is: a camera, wireless audio, lavalier microphone, and handheld microphone, all for around $2,000.

And I think they’ll serve his specific purposes well.

Would this recommendation work for you too? It might if you’ll be doing the same kind of shooting.

Are there other options for cameras and microphones that would also work? Of course there are.

These are all recommendations for equipment that I personally own and like, so there are zillions of other options that I don’t own, or that I’m not aware of.

If you know something awesome that you’d substitute for one of my recommendations, please feel free to post it in the comments.

* Links to products are affiliate links.

12 thoughts on “What Video Camera Should You Buy?

  1. Thanks, Izzy. Great to hear! I have that camera and I have been looking at that lav. for a while. But I don’t think I need the handheld… I think I’m in need of a boom instead for my interviews. Any recommendations for that (with a stand if possible, since I’m a one person crew as well)?
    Thanks so much! Katherine

  2. Excellent article for newbies, and the perfect compliment to the video tutorials that you do, Izzy. I liked the links to the actual products because it shows not only where to buy, but the specs, too. More please!

  3. This discussion hits me right where I am. I have recently started doing documentary type recordings of motorcycle events for a local Harley Owners Group.  I have studied your tutorials on FCE and that was a great help getting me going.  I had been doing a lot of looking at camcorders as well and had narrowed down to the Canon series of S200 to S30.  Recently the S20’s went on sale, deeply discounted do to being 2010 models, however uses the same lens and processor as the new model S30.  The key difference is the S20 does not have a viewfinder.  I am not finding that a major disadvantage in light of the $350 savings.  It performs beautifully, especially low light and will be starting the interview shots soon.  Great timing on the mic information.

  4. Interesting. Thats about the same equipment I use as a single-man-team. It all fits nicely into one bag and makes you very mobile. You don´t need a car for transports. (At least not in Stockholm). I have made over 70 short films with this kind of equipment since august and more and more organizations become interested in this way to work.

  5. Izzy, Thank you for your recommendations. I noted that you use the HFS200, much the same as the HFS30. However, the HFS 200 [as well as the HFS20 which I own] has no view finder. How do you resolve this issue in bright sunlight???  And 2, do you intend to put out a series of tutorials when the new Final Cut Pro is brought out?  Ed K.

    1. Hi Ed,

      In bright sunlight I put a hood over the display. I think I paid about $20 for it and it does a nice job of shading the screen. :)

      Regarding FCP tutorials — we’ll see. I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet…

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Hey Izzy. I have Canon 60D DSLR, and I’m trying to look into lenses. I look at one of your older posts about video light tips and the comments were closed, but I currently have a Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 55-250. I do a lot of interviews and sport action shots and I’m just looking for a pretty good lens. I love my zoom but I do get a ton of noise in low light situations. What lens do you suggest would be good to look into next? Would wide angle lens be good for video? My budget wouldn’t go over $1,500 for a lens also. Thanks

  7. Hey Izzy. I have a Canon 60D DSLR and I am looking into lenses. I have a budget of $1500. I currently have a Canon Zoom EF-S 55-250 and I’m looking for something that would help with low lighting. I do a lot of interviews and action shots. What lenses would you suggest?

  8. Hi Izzy,

    I’ve two cameras I can use to shoot video:
    1. Canon FX105
    2. Nikon DSLR D4 with couple of 2.8 lenses

    Which camera do you recommend to use? The second gives a very beautiful dept-of-field, while the first is a professional kind of camera to shoot video, but with limited lens functionality.

    With friendly regards and many thanks!
    Bob C.

  9. Hi Izzy,
    3 years ago I paid a lot of money to buy my MacBook Pro, my JVC Everio Video Camera, Final Cut Pro X and all your Tutorials on Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Pro Advanced. Some of my short films have been aired on Australian TV . However, since update Final Cut Pro X I am in such a frustrated state of using “Bundles” and losing all my Projects and Ev ents to God Knows Where, and being unable to replay any of my earlier Projects, I have dumped both the Mac and Final Cut Pro for a whole new PC with Windows and Cyberlink Software.!!!!
    Because I work in a very Remote Aboriginal Community in Northern Australia with no help in these issues, I want to start again as Windows and Cyberlink just dont cut it. Where did I go wrong??????? Are your latest Tutorials dealing with the new layout etc for Final Cut Pro X……. Am I going to lose more money and Projects by going back to Apple and Final Cut.
    Your advice would be greatly appreciated…. especially now as I am looking to upgrade my camera equipment too.

    Pam W.

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