ANSWERED: The BEST Sub-$1000 Camera To Tell Your Story
So you’re just getting started and you have a great story you want to tell, but need the perfect gear to tell it. Well, dear reader, you are in luck. Today you’re going to learn the EXACT make and model of the best sub-$1000 camera for you as you start out. You might be surprised at the answer, but by the end of this article you’ll completely understand the choice.
Various lists and articles recommend a variety of cameras: the Canon T6i, Sony a6000, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, Panasonic GH4. They’re all good cameras, but none of them are the one I’m recommending. Or maybe they all are.
I can see you have a question mark on your face right now. Allow me to explain, but promise to read the rest of this article. Promise? Awesome. You can send me hate tweets to me on Twitter later if you’d like, but just finish this to the bottom – you’ll be glad you did.
Don’t use your $1,000 to buy a camera. Instead, focus on crafting your story: make it strong, engaging, thought-provoking. The best camera is the one you already have access to. This could be your smartphone (they all shoot at LEAST 1080p and are increasingly good in low light and with focus), an old HD point and shoot, or a friend’s DSLR that they’ll let you borrow for a few days.
Take the time to really polish it and stop focusing on the gear. And of course by “gear” I generally mean “the camera.” You can have an Arri Alexa with $500,000 worth of primes, a tractor trailer-sized grip truck, a crew of 300 trained professionals and some A-list actors, but without a good story, you have nothing. There are SO many $100,000,000+ budget movies that are total flops because the script was horrible. Want examples? Jupiter Ascending, John Carter, Pan, The Adventures of Pluto Nash… you get the idea. No amount of CG will be able to gloss over a bad script. Well, if you’re in that position, you’d have either a tremendous amount of debt, or some really upset studios.
The point is that no matter how great the gear is and how big the budget is, story is king. Story is the foundation that your film rests upon. If you don’t take the time to make sure it’s rock solid, whatever you build on top of it will be unstable at best, or will completely collapse at worst.
Now let’s assume you HAVE worked on your story, and it’s ace. Review the script through the lens of equipment required to pull it off. Don’t review it as if money is no object; you need to look at it with a more realistic budget (in this case, $1,000). While you could spend it all on a camera, you’ll be without costumes (if applicable), makeup, audio gear, lighting, paid cast & crew and (the one thing you should have 100% of the time) food for said cast & crew. So you can see how a “nice to have” camera is just that: nice to have. Figure out the absolute basics first, then work your way down from there.
Looking at a 3 day shoot with a cast of 3 and crew of 5? Figure out how much sustenance that’ll be and determine a mix of decent food on a budget (and the answer is no… pizza for 3 days is no bueno, mi amigo). That might mean going grocery shopping the day before the shoot and making a ton of sandwiches, getting snacks & drinks in bulk from Costco or BJs, and making pancakes or something else that’s easy to make yourself and that the majority of people like. Don’t forget coffee, but stay away from your actors ingesting carbonated beverages until after they’ve shot their scenes. Seriously.
I spent a bit talking about feeding your cast and crew, because with a budget of $1000, chances are excellent no one is being paid for their time and talent. At the absolute very least, you’ve got to feed them while they’re helping you create your vision. A fed crew is a happy crew.
Now that this necessity is accounted for, what else is required to tell your story? Is there going to be dialogue? Rent or borrow mics you may need, and don’t miss this point. Good audio is more important than a perfectly sharp, 4k image.
Talk to whoever is going to be your Director of Photography, review the script and determine what is needed for lighting. This could be nothing, or it might be pretty involved. Any way to change a non-critical scene’s location to somewhere that is more accommodating from a lighting or audio perspective? You’ll have to be thrifty with your funds, so stretch every penny as far as it will go.
All this and I haven’t even begun to go into editing software, royalty-free music or film festival submission fees. You can see why your $1000 budget being spent entirely on a camera (that you may be able to borrow anyway) would be a mistake. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: The camera doesn’t make the artist, and story is #1.
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