The 5 Best Cameras to Rent or Buy for Any Video Shoot
We take a look at choosing between the ALEXA Mini, RED RAVEN, URSA Mini Pro, a7S II, or GH5. Here are the 5 best cameras to rent or buy for video production.
Top image via Blackmagic Design.
Lower prices and new top-tier features make choosing the right camera difficult. This roundup will help you find the right camera for the job.
Like never before, camera manufacturers are tuning in and intently listening to their customers’ feedback. That means companies like ARRI, RED, Blackmagic, Sony, and Panasonic are pushing out some of their best models to date, and packing them with the features and improvements we’ve been begging them for.
ARRI overhauled the form factor of the ALEXA, moving toward a more modular design with the Mini at the behest of MOVI and drone pilots. Panasonic’s GH5 is rocking the DSLR/mirrorless shooter industry with powerful in-camera stabilization and high frame rate options for 4K, making it a great option for travelers and small-budget documentaries. And Blackmagic took a bold step away from functional minimalism with the URSA Mini Pro’s programmable buttons and sought-after ENG functionalities, such as internal ND filters.
In this camera roundup, I’ll be sharing my recommendations for how (and when) to use these stellar cameras:
I’ll cover their most popular features, pros and cons, price points, best-use scenarios, and even share the inspiring work by DPs who are using these cameras to create truly cinematic work.
My Process for Rating and Reviewing These Cameras
When researching this camera roundup, I used several benchmarks to help compare these models. I grade each camera in the following areas:
- Rental price
- Estimated cost-to-rig
- Pros & cons
- Best uses
I based all rental prices and cost-to-rig estimates on a four-day rental period from the rental house LensProToGo (my personal go-to rental company for about 99% of my projects).
I based the portability rating on my own experience with the cameras — as well as from user feedback pulled from B&H and Amazon. My ratings use the following scale:
- 1 — not portable
- 2 — difficult to transport
- 3 — somewhat portable
- 4 — portable
- 5 — highly portable
I’ve also included a link to the best in-depth reviews of each camera, as well as finished films shot using these cameras.
Let’s get to it.
Mid-range budget feature films and short films, commercials, or music videos shot in low or natural light environments — and anything in true anamorphic.
Far and away the most expensive option in our review today — but rightfully so in many respects.
The ALEXA Mini was originally a companion camera to the larger ALEXA unit. Its modular design makes it an extremely versatile camera. Designed largely based on user feedback, the form factor was a highly sought-after improvement suggested by MOVI and drone pilots who wanted the excellent quality of the ALEXA sensor, but in a smaller form factor.
A recent firmware update allows DPs to shoot full gate on ALEXA’s 4:3 sensor, making it an excellent choice for cinematographers who want to shoot true anamorphic without cropping the sensor.
Rental price (4-day rental) — $2,365.00
Click here for the LensProToGo Rental Kit for the ARRI ALEXA Mini.
Cost-to-rig — $1,800-$2,450
Portability — 4
Portable (Note: Depending on your rig configuration, the ALEXA Mini can be very portable, or downright stone-like.)
- Modular design makes it extremely versatile, and it integrates nicely with drones, MOVIs, and Ronins.
- Unparalleled color science and beautiful skintones.
- 4:3 full sensor license allows you to shoot true anamorphic without cropping the sensor.
- Can be stripped down and highly portable or rigged to the hilt, depending on your needs.
- Does not shoot true 4K (3.2K upscaled in camera)
Looking for more on the ALEXA Mini? Check out this in-depth review by Atlanta-based filmmaker, Brent Zaffino.
Budget features, short films, and commercials that are graphics-heavy and shot in artificial light environments; a favorite among high-end wedding videographers.
An excellent choice for DPs who want to enter the RED playing field.
Rental price (4-day rental) — $750.00
Click here for the LensProToGo Rental Kit for the RED RAVEN.
Cost-to-rig — $800-$1,500
Portability — 3
- Modular design makes it versatile and integrates nicely with drones, MOVIs, and Ronins.
- 120fps at 4.5K is great for the price point.
- 16 stops of dynamic range, plus HDRx (2 frame recording, letting you shoot two exposures), which allows for great flexibility in post.
- User friendly menu and interface.
- You have to use RED mini mags.
- Change of crop factors for different resolutions (4.5K = 1.87x; 2K = 3.74x).
- No built-in NDs.
- Noise present at 3200 ISO.
Lower-budget short films and commercials with little to no graphics, shoulder mount ergonomics makes it a favorite for documentaries; very versatile camera.
I love the Blackmagic series. I’m a big fan of the Pocket Cinema Camera, which I mention in this post — Build Your First Filmmaking Kit for Less Than $5,000.
The form factor of the URSA is personally the largest form factor that I’ll travel internationally with. In daylight, the Blackmagic sensors work wonders, colors are balanced, and I prefer the skin tones of Blackmagic sensors over RED’s DRAGON sensor.
Rental price (4-day rental) — $366.00
Click here for the LensProToGo Rental Kit for the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro.
Cost-to-rig — $800-$1,200
Portability — 3
- 4.6K resolution; best option for the price.
- Internal ND filters.
- Swap between EF, PL, and B4 lens mounts.
- Programmable buttons on the exterior of the camera for quick access to functionality.
- Ergonomic design, and weight distribution is great for shoulder mounted shots.
- Noise present at low ISOs, not recommended as a low light camera
4. Sony a7S II
Weddings and events filmed in low-light environments, timelapses, excellent low-cost alternative for filmmakers seeking the “cinematic look.”
Both the a7S and the a7S II garner praise for their low light sensor and for good reason. Perhaps the best low light sensor in this price range, the a7S II has a max ISO of 409,600 — though the footage, in my opinion, is unusable at that point. But you can push it to 12,800 and still have usable footage — though I’ve shot at 3200 with negligible noise.
The SLog-3 profile is an excellent profile to work with when color grading, and it gives you a nice flat image to work with in post.
The a7 series in general is a dynamite favorite for timelapse photographers. I would recommend the a7S II for those who are specifically looking to capture timelapses while traveling and still have a photo camera that takes great images.
Rental price (4-day rental) — $160.00
Click here for the LensProToGo Rental Kit for the Sony a7S II.
Cost-to-rig — $400-$600
Portability — 5
- Compact form factor makes it a highly portable and less intrusive option.
- 5-axis internal stabilization makes it a great choice for travelers who don’t have gimbals on hand.
- SLog-3 picture profile is one of the most popular profiles for its flat image, and it gives you lots of room to color grade.
- Short battery life (30-40 mins continuous use) and therefore need spares on hand.
- Sony menus are less intuitive than the ARRI, RED, and Blackmagic menus.
- Can overheat when shooting 4K for longer periods of time.
- Limited high frame rate options; no high frame rates at 4K.
Check out this in-depth review of the Sony a7S ii by Caleb Wojcik.
Low-budget documentaries and travel.
The GH5 lets you shoot 4K at 60 fps. No doubt this is the functionality that has the DSLR/mirrorless filmmaking community most excited, and rightfully so: no other DSLR/mirrorless camera for the price has come close to this.
Another feature that has me thinking seriously about purchasing the GH5 is the dual SD card slot. Mostly seen on higher-end production cameras, this feature means backing up footage, or recording full output to one card, and proxies on another saving time in post.
Rental price (4-day rental) — $124.00
Click here for the LensProToGo Rental Kit for the Panasonic GH5.
Cost-to-rig — $400-$600
Portability — 5
- 60 fps at 4K resolution.
- Compact form factor and 5-axis internal stabilizer makes it a great option for travelers.
- Dual SD card slots.
- Micro four-thirds lens mount; you’ll need adaptors if you’re using Canon, Nikon, or Sony glass.
- Short battery life and therefore you need spares on hand.
Check out this in-depth review of the Panasonic GH5 by Michael Maher on Premium Beat.