Making a documentary is daunting, and picking the right camera for one isn’t easy. Between all the brands and models, it’s not always clear which camera performs best. Also, finding a good balance between performance and price is difficult.
I’m Caleb, and I have five years of photography experience. While I mainly do still photography, I’m familiar with what makes a good video camera. Most cameras these days, after all, can handle both photos and videos.
If you’re looking to make a documentary but are unsure what’s the best camera for the job, keep reading for the full rundown on the top options.
- The Fujifilm X-T4 is an excellent option if you’re looking to make a documentary using consumer-level hardware.
- If you’re after the highest level of image quality, the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K offers incredible resolution in exchange for its hefty price tag.
- The Sony Alpha ZV-E10 is affordable to beginners and has 4K quality.
- The GoPro HERO11 maintains the same quality that’s become the expectation for GoPro action cams.
The cameras used for nature documentaries can vary greatly, depending on factors like the budget and the shots required. Red Digital Cinema cameras are standard, but also other brands like Sony and Arri.
What Camera is Best for Filming Wildlife?
You don’t need a specific camera to film wildlife. The more important thing is having the right lens. You need to be at the appropriate distance to film many animals, and having the correct lens will make that much easier.
What Do I Need to Shoot a Documentary?
Technically, you don’t need more than a basic camera and a story to shoot a documentary. If you have a compelling enough story, you can get away with a lower production value. However, high-end gear will make your job much easier if you can afford it.
What Cameras Do Netflix Documentaries Use?
Netflix original documentaries use a variety of cameras, but all of them meet a set of minimum standards laid out by Netflix. It’s best to check this list directly on Netflix’s site, as it’s subject to change over time.
What Makes The Best Video Camera For Documentaries
You should think about these things when picking a camera to film a documentary.
- Resolution: A better resolution usually comes at a higher cost but can significantly improve the quality of your final product.
- Available Lenses: Some cameras are compatible with many lenses, while others have a poor selection. Make sure that your camera is compatible with the kinds of lenses you plan on using.
- Frame Rate: Getting the highest possible frame rate and resolution is usually very expensive. If the frame rate is important to you, consider sacrificing some resolution.
- Size: Depending on the kind of documentary you’re shooting, a small and mobile camera might be more effective than a large and cumbersome one.
- Price: Obviously, every documentary has a limited budget. Sometimes it’s worth using an older, more affordable camera and allocating more money toward other expenses.
The Best Video Cameras for Documentaries
In my opinion, these are the best cameras for making a documentary. This list includes cameras with various strengths, from price to image quality.
1. Fujifilm X-T4 (Best Overall)
- Type: Mirrorless
- Megapixels: 26.1MP
- Max Video Resolution: 4K 60fps
If you’re looking for an accessible mirrorless video camera that won’t break the bank, the Fujifilm X-T4 is a good option. As an APS-C camera, it has a better price point than many of the full-frame cameras that deliver similar video performance.
The X-T4’s max video resolution is good enough for most amateur filmmakers, as it can record at up to 4K 60fps.
Another feature that makes the X-T4 a good choice for filmmakers is the in-body stabilization. It’s designed to reduce camera shake by up to 6.5 stops, making for a smoother experience even when not using an expensive external camera rig.
Finally, the X-T4 is a good general-use camera when not being used for video. While it does have an APS-C sensor, it still provides decent quality and an excellent 26.1MP resolution.
On the cons side, the autofocus system can take some time to properly find the subject. The camera also features no headphone jack.
My Verdict: The Fujifilm X-T4 is a great camera for amateur documentary makers who need good quality without breaking the bank.
2. Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K (Best Image Quality)
- Type: Super 35
- Megapixels: 80MP
- Max Video Resolution: 12K 60fps
If you’re after the highest video quality for your documentary production, the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K is the way to go. This video camera’s main claim to fame is that it can record up to 12K resolution at 60fps. Of course, you can also lower this to 8K, 6K, or 4K.
The camera also gives flexibility when it comes to lenses. While it comes with a PL mount by default, you can interchange it for EF or F mounts for a greater variety of options.
It’s a larger camera, built similarly to the professional cameras you may see on a Hollywood set. This, of course, gives the URSA Mini Pro 12K an edge in durability compared to a hybrid camera.
The colors are also quite vibrant, even without editing and post-processing. When you combine this with the model’s extreme resolution, you’re left with a great package all-around in the image quality department.
However, it’s not a camera for every kind of production. The autofocus isn’t great, and there’s no continuous autofocus mode, so the camera works best for shots with little movement required.
My Verdict: The Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K is best for filmmakers who need the highest level of video quality.
3. Sony Alpha ZV-E10 (Best Budget Camera)
- Type: Mirrorless
- Megapixels: 24.2MP
- Max Video Resolution: 4K 30fps
If you’re a documentary maker on a budget, you may want to consider the Sony Alpha ZV-E10. It’s one of the most affordable cameras with a set of features focused on video.
The ZV-E10 is an APS-C camera that can shoot at up to 4K 30fps, which is pretty good for the price, especially considering its APS-C status. While 60fps would be nice, you can’t have everything with such a small camera body.
Despite its tiny size, it includes eye-tracking autofocus and in-body image stabilization. These features are influenced by the ZV-E10’s focus on capturing the vlogging crowd.
Those aren’t the only quality-of-life features for vloggers and filmmakers. The ZV-E10 includes buttons to quickly toggle background blurring or slow motion mode, both of which are rare additions for a camera at this price point.
The main drawback with the ZV-E10 is the lack of 60fps capability when shooting in 4K. Additionally, thanks to the camera’s small size, a viewfinder is one of the things Sony decided to go without.
My Verdict: The Sony ZV-E10 is suited for budget filmmakers but stands out over similarly priced cameras thanks to its 4K video quality and its video-focused features.
4. GoPro HERO11 (Best Action Camera)
- Type: Action camera
- Megapixels: 27MP
- Max Video Resolution: 5.3K 60fps
The GoPro HERO11 might be the way to go for first-person or action shots. It brings the ruggedness that’s expected from the GoPro brand, being waterproof to 33 feet and having a build that can handle outdoor environments.
GoPro’s cameras have come a long way in resolution over the years, and this one is fairly good in that regard. Its resolution for still photos is 27MP, which can go up to 5.3K at 60fps in video mode. It can also handle 8x slow motion at 2.7K resolution.
You might also find the GoPro HERO11 useful if your documentary is set to include time lapses, as there are multiple included presets for recording these.
If you’re wondering where the HERO11 improves on previous GoPro models like the HERO10, the largest area is the sensor. The HERO11 has a new sensor with support for 10-bit colors, and this improved sensor also adds support for 8:7 aspect ratios.
The HERO11’s main con is sustained performance. Because of overheating, you may have difficulty shooting longer than 20 minutes at the max resolution. It’s a common problem for smaller high-res cameras but still an annoying downside for longer productions.
My Verdict: The GoPro HERO11 is a great action camera for documentaries that need up-close and personal shots in rugged environments.
As you can see from this list, there are plenty of options out there when it comes to documentary cameras. From cinema cameras to small GoPros, you can make a documentary production work with pretty much anything if you have enough creativity.
Hopefully, you have a better idea of which camera you need for your own project. Are there any cameras that stand out to you for documentary filmmaking? Let us know in the comments!