What to Look for When Buying a Camera

Tips for the action sports cinematographer.

Ready to purchase a DSLR camera? The multitude of options out there can be overwhelming, so we’ve broken down a few features to consider before deciding on the right camera for you. Keep in mind that there’s no perfect camera for every situation. It all comes down to what’s most important for the style of shooting you’ll be doing and what fits best into your budget.

Types of Sensors:
The size of the camera’s sensor will affect the field of view, light sensitivity and image quality of the footage you capture. Larger sensors are more sensitive to light and will create higher quality images in low-light situations. They’re also more expensive. Full-frame sensors offer the largest field of view while the micro four thirds sensor used on camera models like the Panasonic GH4 will crop the image at a factor of 2.0. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially if you’re shooting action from afar. You can essentially take your telephoto lens from a 70-200mm to a 140-400mm.

Sony a7R image from Bhphotovideo.com

Resolution & Frame Rate:
4k-capable DSLRs including the Sony a7R not only capture superior image quality with reduced noise, they can also provide more latitude in post-production. Having a 4k shot to work with in an HD edit makes zooming in or applying motion tracking possible without compromising quality. If you want to be able to shoot in slow motion, you’ll need a camera that offers higher frame rate settings of 50fps and above. Take note of any limitations to resolution when shooting at those higher frame rates. For example, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III can shoot 50fps and 60fps, but not at the full HD resolution of 1920x1080 and only at 1280x720. Sacrificing resolution for slow motion may or may not be an issue for you, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Knowing how your camera will perform in low-light situations is partially dependent on the range of ISO settings at your disposal. ISO is the level of sensitivity the camera has to available light. Higher ISO numbers increase the camera’s sensitivity to light, but also introduce more noise into your image. Variable ISO settings are important for dialing in the right exposure and desired effects you want to capture. Something to look out for in less expensive DSLR models is having a limited range of ISO settings.

Other Considerations:
DSLRs range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. When factoring in what model best fits your budget, be sure to factor in the cost of lenses and other necessary accessories. In general, larger sensor cameras require more expensive lenses. It’s also important to consider which lenses are compatible with your camera based on the type of lens mount and sensor. 

B&H (Bhphotovideo.com) is a great resource for learning more about each camera’s specifications and comparing prices. 


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Read other Warren Miller articles about filming tips and production ticks here