How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

What video camera should I buy? 5 Questions to Ask

People love to worry about what video camera they should buy, as if the right camera will automatically take a more interesting video than the wrong camera. It won’t.  You can shoot a great movie on your cell phone, and a bad one on an IMAX rig.

Manufacturers release a new video camera every 27 seconds and everyone’s needs are different. Rather than recommend cameras, let’s list the questions you should ask yourself when shopping:

Do you already own it? Your smartphone probably shoots great video. Your digital still camera probably does too.  Check yours, and learn what you need by playing with what you have.

Is it easy for you to use?  Note the use of the word “you.”  Nothing worse than a complicated camera you use as a paperweight.

Is it easy to carry? Easy to tote = more likely to carry = more likely to have when you want it.

Does it shoot video in a format that is current?  For now, that means HD—full 1080p is best.  As of now (May, 2016 update) 4K is overkill for most people– it’s harder to store and process, and unless you’re projecting on a giant TV you won’t see the difference.  Home VR cameras are as dumb an idea as home 3D was when I originally wrote this page in 2010.

Does it take video you think looks good? Note the “you” again. If you can’t tell the quality difference between two cameras then for you there isn’t one.

Your standards may change as you shoot a lot of video. It’s like skiing—at first the crappy rentals are just fine, but as you learn to feel the difference between skis, you’ll upgrade to a more sophisticated ride.  Should an occasional fair-weather skier buy racing Volkls?  Only if they have more money than they know what to do with.

If you shoot enough that you find yourself thinking, “Boy, I wish my camera did X” then it’s time to think about trading up.  The same questions apply, but your answers will be a little different.

See also: What Video Editing Software Should I Buy?

9 thoughts on “What video camera should I buy? 5 Questions to Ask

  1. question #1 just saved me a few hundred dollars! although now that I've made one video and have a new macbook with iMovie I really want a good camcorder…!

    • well it's been 10 weeks and now I'm decided on getting a new camera! As you said, I'm ready to "upgrade to a more sophisticated ride". I'm glad I waited though – now I can feel good about the purchase because I know I'll use it!

  2. Basically pick the one that gives you the most bang for your buck. Resolution and stabilization are particularly important. A video just wouldn't be worth watching if it was blurry or shakes too much.

  3. I learned photography on a 35mm film DSLR and video on Hi8. These were great cameras but I didn't have the ability to develop my own photos or edit my own video. Everything was as it came out of the camera. Then I used basic point and shoot cameras for a few years. The benefit of this was, I had to plan out my shots; film was too expensive to waste and unedited video which isn't thoughtfully shot just–you know–sucks.

    Finally this year I bought a Canon T4i DSLR and an iPad. As a Christmas present to myself, I also signed up for a Plus membership with Vimeo. And of course I've been reading your book and doing the projects.

    The thing I learned from your book is, visual storytelling isn't all that different from written storytelling. But now that I have decent equipment and skills, the next step is actually producing a well planned and shot story, with a script and actors.

  4. People get tricked into buying the wrong camera by retailers who push megapixels and zoom. Megapixels aren't as important as the quality and size of lens. You CAN shoot videos and photos with a smart phone or point and shoot, but if you want to do a quality job of it it's better to select a compact camera, DSLR, or video camera.

    When it comes to DSLR, don't feel intimidated by all the settings. Cameras like my Canon T4i can shoot in Manual Mode, but they also shoot beautifully in Auto Mode.

    When I bought mine, including an EF-S 18-135mm STM zoom lens, they were selling for $1200 but I bought mine factory refurbished, directly from Canon, and got an additional 20% off during one of their frequent promotions for only $700.

    I also recently helped someone out who was looking at buying a very good compact camera for $399 by showing him he could get a Canon T3 DSLR with zoom lens for the same price. When I showed him my photos and video on my iPad he was blown away, and that made the difference.

    The compact camera by Sony wasn't bad either, but you can keep using the DSLR 'til you're dead.

  5. People get tricked into buying the wrong camera by retailers who push megapixels and zoom. Megapixels aren't as important as the quality and size of lens. You CAN shoot videos and photos with a smart phone or point and shoot, but it's better to choose between a compact camera, DSLR, and video camera.

    DSLR can seem intimidating because of all the settings and features, but they also take beautiful photos and video on full Auto. The only thing to be concerned about with DSLR is, if you want to shoot video constantly for more than 15 minutes or 30 minutes tops, the DSLR will overheat and shut down. But if you're reading the book that goes with this website that shouldn't be a problem.

  6. My favorite camera canon 5d mk II, the image produced remarkable and simple portability. the price is not expensive. My favorite lens 16-35 mm f / 2.8. lens and camera combination is very cool. regards,

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