I get asked this question so often I decided to finally make a blog about it. There is no “easy” answer to this question. Everyone has different styles, tastes, and types of productions they work on the most.
Here is a little background on me. I do mostly corporate videos, documentaries, narrative films, music videos, and portrait photography. I worked as a General Manager/Photography Manager at a portrait studio before I made the transition to film. I used to work in a studio with White Lightning strobes and a Canon 10D with 24-70mm f2.8L and a green screen. I got bored with the studio and decided I liked natural scenery and lighting better. Now I work mostly on exterior shoots, photo and video. If you are planning on working in a studio, you may consider different cameras, lenses, lighting, and other equipment than I use.
That being said, let’s get down to answering the question.
In my opinion, it’s not all about the camera you own. It’s about the person behind the camera and how well they know their camera and lighting. A good Director of Photography can make any camera look decent. So if you are just starting out don’t drop $15K on a camera you will never use the features of. A friend of mine Richard Aughpin told me, “Never be less expensive than your camera.” That has stuck with me to this day.
Since that advice to me was the truth I did a lot of research on several different cameras. The first camera I bought was a Canon 600D/T3i. It was a tough decision because I was looking at many different Canon cameras….
Canon 7D, 60D, 550D/T2i (these are the most affordable to people not making a good amount of money)
I chose Canon because, at the time, Nikon video just wasn’t very good. It was webcammy with the rolling shutter and just did not hold up to a professional quality video.
The most expensive and better quality came from the Canon 7D (Under the $2,000 mark). The Canon 7D has the same imaging sensor as the 60D, 600D, and 550D but more than twice the price ($1,400 Amazon). Where the 7D excels is in the photography side and ISO options. The 7D has a way faster shutter actuation speed (131 ms) than any of the other cameras. Also the 7D has a 19-point, all cross-type AF system equipped with dual diagonal cross-type sensors. This is way better than the 600D/55oD which only has 1. Not to mention the 7D is also weatherproofed and takes Compact Flash memory instead of SD cards. Many people prefer that because of higher bit rates.
But why didn’t I choose the 7D? The answer is simple. I DO VIDEO!!! So should I spend $1,400 on a 7D for a better AF system and a faster frame rate on pictures vs. spending $600 on a 600D/T3i that has the exact same imaging sensor and video quality? But why the 600D/T3i over a 550D/T2i or 60D?
The 60D is the next best of the group but I am not a fan of the buttons on the back. They kind stick a bit and are not the easiest to push in. It has the same ISO options as the 7D 100, 160, 200, 320, 400, 640…… The 550D and 600D have ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 natively. You dont get the half stops in-between. It has the swivel LCD screen that the 600D has. The 7D and 550D/T2i have a static screen. I am not a fan of static screens because you have to put yourself in awkward positions to see your shot or buy an external monitor. Again, the reason I didn’t choose the 60D is price ($899 Amazon).
With the 600D/T3i being $300 cheaper and having the exact same features that the 60D has I felt it was not worth spending $300 for a faster frame rate in stills and extra half-stops in ISO when you can just download Magic Lantern FREE and get the same ISO options. Magic Lantern even provides a live histogram, live audio levels, converts your input jack into a headphone jack, and has a focus assist option. The other thing the 600D has is the swivel LCD screen. The 550D does not. The 550D is $100 cheaper, but to me that was a $100 I was willing to spend. I am also glad I did because you can do shot like this without a ladder.
Cost wise $600 is much more affordable than $1,400 for basically the same quality of video. It may not be weatherproof but you can just cover the camera. I don’t know about you, but I don’t shoot much in the rain. A light rain will not affect the camera.
If you want a swivel LCD screen spend the $600 and get a 600D. If you don’t care about the swivel screen, save $100 and get the 550D which is the same camera without the swivel screen!!
If you have any questions please feel free to comment!!