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A Resource for “Budget Friendly” 4K Cameras

By: Michael Blair

I recently discovered “4K for $10K,” a video series on AbelCine’s blog. The limited series profiles and compares six cameras that capture 4K video, meet certain minimum criteria, and cost between five and ten thousand dollars. 

Late last year when this series launched, we were in the throes of researching and selecting a new, more specialized camera to add to our inventory. We went with the Sony Alpha A7 III, a full-frame DSLR. Even though the $5-10K range will still be high for many production units at academic institutions (it’s worth noting that the list prices reach $9,999 and do not include the cost of lenses), the series is still extremely helpful to those considering a new camera with any budget. 

The minimum criteria used to select the cameras to be profiled and the features and specifications they compared were very similar, if not identical, to the things we were thinking about when selecting our new camera. They are all designed with small crews or single operators in mind, and the needs of those users are the same regardless of the available budget. Even if an even more budget friendly camera lacks some of these features, it is important to know what you are sacrificing and why. 

The videos also strike a good balance of investigating both the technical and functional characteristics of each camera. It can be easy to get lost in all of the technical specifications and minutiae of individual cameras and lose sight of the importance of how the camera will be used and what role it fills among the equipment you already have. Jem Schofield, the author of the posts, sums it up in the introduction to the series. “Creating this series confirmed, once again, that there is no perfect camera system. Each has its perceived strengths and weaknesses, which are different for each operator. That must-have, killer feature in one camera may or may not even be of interest to certain people when considering cameras that are right for them.” For example, we were looking for a camera that could produce a higher end, more versatile image to supplement the 4K camcorders that we use to record long form lectures and interviews. The strengths and weaknesses of a DSLR made sense for filling the gaps in our toolkit without replacing what we already have. 

The other huge takeaway from this series is the reassuring fact there are many excellent camera options across all price points. Again, Jem Schofield summarizes, “Each of the six cameras is capable of producing amazing results in many different production environments. We have come so far in just a short period of time, in terms of the tools that are available to us to create high resolution and high dynamic range moving images at such a reasonable price point.” The number of options and nuanced differences can be overwhelming, but it’s comforting to know that it is harder than ever to make a regrettable camera choice as long as you are thoughtful about prioritizing your specific needs. 

I’d recommend this series to anyone looking to purchase a camera on a reasonable budget even if the final choice is not on this list. It provides a useful framework for how to think about a camera’s unique personality and demystifies some of the more intimidating “under the hood” aspects of camera shopping. You can find links to the complete series here.

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