The Best Cameras for Documentary Filmmaking in 2022

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One size fits all…in documentary filmmaking, this rule definitely doesn’t apply. It always really depends – are you a beginner planning for your first documentary? Or a professional doing it for the umpteenth time?

In this blog, I will focus on recommendations for beginners as well as slightly more advanced filmmakers that might have done some filming, but not a documentary. Because a documentary is not like any other movie!

Editor's Choice

Sony PXW-FX9

Sony PXW-FX9 is a full-frame 6k camcorder with a large format CMOS sensor and first full-frame electronic variable ND filter. It can shoot 4k at 60fps and features 190fps slow motion.

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Best Value for Money

Panasonic Lumix GH5

The GH5 is one of the best-selling video cameras over the last couple of years. It is a highly capable Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera with a 20.3 Megapixel sensor supported by a reliable Venus Engine processor.

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Community Pick

BMPCC 6K

The BMPCC 6k is a popular camera for filmmakers. The footage it produces feels cinematic, all in a compact and lightweight body. The BMPCC 6K features the S35 sensor, EF mount and shoots ProRes 4K or 6K BRAW.

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The 8 Best Cameras for Documentary Filmmaking

Editor's choice

1. Sony PXW-FX9

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Pros

Most affordable full-frame cinema camera

Fast 180fps for slow motion in HD

Advanced hybrid AF and digital audio

Modular design

Great low-light performance

Cons

Expensive

No touch-to-focus screen

No internal Raw recording

Specs

Sensor

Full-frame CMOS

Resolution

20.5MP

ISO

320 - 102’400

Dimming

13 – 100%

Image stabilization

Yes

Dynamic range

15 stops

Video recording

6K

Display

Included External Touchscreen LCD 2760K dots

Memory card slots

2

Weight

2kg (body only)

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Features

1

A full-frame 6k camcorder with a large format CMOS sensor

Sony PXW-FX9 is a full-frame 6k camcorder with a large format CMOS sensor and first full-frame electronic variable ND filter. It can shoot 4k at 60fps and features 190fps slow motion. It has fast hybrid AF with face detection and prices around $10,000 which makes it one of the more expensive camcorders on the list.

2

Dual base ISO, 15 stops of dynamic range

It includes dual base ISO, 15 stops of dynamic range and records 10-bit 4:2:2. FX9 can shoot UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) up to almost 60fps, or HD up to 120 fps.

3

Better Price

In comparison to Canon C500 II – they may battle a bit since both cameras have very similar specs. However, the FX9 is cheaper by more than $5,000 so it might be a pretty big factor and an easy choice for many of the buyers.

Final Verdict

The FX9 includes a full-frame sensor and hybrid AF from the Alpha mirrorless series in addition to all the professional features of a genuine video camera, including as XLR audio connectors and long battery life.

Additionally, it incorporates a dual native ISO sensor for outstanding low light performance as well as the exquisite color science of Sony's top-of-the-line Venice motion picture camera.

Contrary to its 5.9K competition, the full-frame Canon EOS C500 Mark II, the FX9 downsamples its 6K signal to C4K and does not support internal Raw recording.

Although it only supports HD, the FX9 offers 180 frames per second for extremely slow motion, unlike the Canon.

Best Value for Money

2. Panasonic Lumix GH5

Read full review

Pros

Brilliant video capabilities

4K/60p video with no recording limits

Large and bright EVF

Good dynamic range

Effective high ISO noise reduction

Cons

Competitors have better image quality

No high-res composite mode

Specs

Sensor

Micro Four Thirds CMOS

Resolution

21.7MP

Maximum aperture

f/2.8 to f/4

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

4K

Display

3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,620,000 dots

Memory card slots

2

Weight

660g

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Features

1

Filmmakers favourite

A firm favourite amongst documentary filmmakers is the Panasonic Lumix GH5. While some people may argue that the newer edition Panasonic Lumix GH5s is a better camera, the GH5 might remain the better camera for documentary filmmakers.

2

Low price

The GH5 is one of the best-selling video cameras over the last couple of years. This was helped by a price drop thanks to the updated GH5s model release. At release, Panasonic charged $1999 for their GH5, whereas now you can pick one up for around $1400.

3

Highly capable camera

It is a highly capable Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera with a 20.3 Megapixel sensor supported by a reliable Venus Engine processor and internal 10-bit 4:2:2 4k recording up to 60 fps. The GH5 has proven itself to a very capable documentary camera that’s compact - allowing you to take it anywhere!

Final Verdict

Despite being a strong stills camera, the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 II prioritizes its video capabilities. The stabilized 20MP sensor is the same as that of the GH5, but it has a faster processor to get more out of it.

The viewfinder and other changes to the body are also included. For system owners, it's a good update, and videographers should strongly consider it.

Although its still image and video characteristics aren't particularly innovative today, the way they are integrated into a single camera is noteworthy.

Community Pick

3. BMPCC 6K

Read full review

4.9/5

4.9

Based upon3 reviews from Wedio members

Effectiveness icon

Effectiveness

4.8

Usability icon

Usability

4.5

Value for money icon

Value for money

4.9

Overall icon

Overall rating

4.9

What creators like

Thumb up green icon

Nice built-in ND filters, Small body size & Tilt screen.

Thumb up green icon

Very versatile camera, with lots of options.

Thumb up green icon

High quality codecs - Prores and Blackmagic RAW. Built in ND-filter, dual ISO and intuitive interface. Lots of inputs for a small package.

What creators don't like

Thumb down red icon

Not as good ISO, No IBIS & its Body shape could be improved

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Camera body needs a rig to perform best.

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Battery life without external power. Odd form factor for smaller gimbals.

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Pros

Captures video at 6K

High-quality Raw footage at up to 50fps

Built-in ND filters

Dual native ISO sensor

Cons

SLR mount limits lens options

Not a full-frame sensor

Limited battery life

Specs

Sensor

Super35 CMOS

Resolution

21.2MP

Focal length

35mm equivalent

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

6K

Display

Tilting touchscreen LCD

Memory card slots

2

Weight

1238g

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Features

1

Cinematic footage

The BMPCC 6k is a popular camera for filmmakers. Why’s that you may wonder? The footage it produces feels cinematic, all in a compact and lightweight body. The BMPCC 6K features the S35 sensor, EF mount and shoots ProRes 4K or 6K BRAW. It’s perfect for filmmakers that want to shoot high-quality raw footage in a small package. Slow-motion is much cleaner and sharper than its predecessor, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. These two cameras hit the mark when it comes to small and affordable handheld cameras. With its impressive sensor, ability to shoot DCI 4k 4096x2160 at up to 60 fps and Blackmagic Raw and ProRes 4:2:2 codex. It’s fantastic for low-light documentary environments and pushes 13 stops of dynamic range. It also offers up to 120 fps in cropped Full HD. You should be able to source a BMPCC 4k just under $1300.

2

Best DSLR cameras at this price level

The BMPCC is priced at $2,499, which is a lot less than many DSLR cameras. It is often considered to be one of the best DSLR cameras at this price level. If the price is still a bit steep for you – there’s is a solution! Opt for the BMPCC 6K’s little 4K sibling. While many mirrorless cameras are built with both video and photo in mind, Blackmagic Design is dedicated to filmmakers. These two cameras hit the mark when it comes to small and affordable handheld cameras. With its impressive sensor, ability to shoot DCI 4k 4096x2160 at up to 60 fps and Blackmagic Raw and ProRes 4:2:2 codex.It’s fantastic for low-light documentary environments and pushes 13 stops of dynamic range. It also offers up to 120 fps in cropped Full HD. You should be able to source a BMPCC 4k just under $1300.

Final verdict

Blackmagic Design has long been a major player in the video industry, starting with its own line of digital cinema cameras and later with add-on cards for PCs to digitize footage for editing.

With its high resolution and excellent Raw video quality, the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K surely grabs attention. However, it has some shortcomings, and assembling a kit will cost you more than the base price for body-only.

For professionals with well-established equipment collections, that might not be as much of an issue, but independent auteurs and documentarians should be wary of it.

4. Canon Vixia HF G40

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Pros

Stellar low-light performance

Sturdy build

Responsive touchscreen

Efficient dynamic range

Great image quality

Cons

AF could be better

Wi-fi is tricky to set up

Specs

Sensor

1-Chip 1/2.84" CMOS

Resolution

3.09 MP

Focal length

3.67 to 73.4mm

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

1920 x 1080p

Display

OLED 1230K dots

Memory card slots

2

Weight

765g

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Features

1

Digital Camcorder

There is a big difference between digital cameras and digital camcorders. Digital camcorders can record not only to flash memory cards but can also store content internally as well. Camcorders are often designed with more functionality for documentary filmmakers. But remember it is only a camcorder, so you better have something else to hand for your stills.

2

Full HD 1920x1080p

While Vixia HF G40 can’t shoot 4K, it can shoot full HD 1920x1080p at up to 60 fps in mp4 format. It’s a perfect camcorder for beginners, but don’t underestimate this machine, especially if you’ve already got experience making movies.

3

Small size and good footage

You can almost fit the G40 in your pocket. You can capture decent footage in low light. The G40 has a CMOS sensor and a 20x HD video zoom lens with a hybrid manual focus/zoom ring.

Final Verdict

The Canon VIXIA HF G40 Camcorder offers a small, feature-rich, and user-friendly design with all the bells and whistles, whether you're a professional videographer or just someone who appreciates preserving the best memories with the best quality.

The VIXIA HF G40 from Canon is packed from head to toe with a wide range of appealing features that cater to the effective and cutting-edge filmmaker. These features include advanced 1080p recording at 60p, Wi-Fi integration, a high-capacity battery, a super-lightweight design, and an incredibly vibrant OLED screen.

5. Sony DSC-RX10 IV

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Pros

25x zoom lens

Large 1-inch sensor

Phase detect autofocus

24fps Raw capture with tracking

Dust- and splash-resistant design

Cons

Expensive

No in-lens neutral density filter

Specs

Sensor

1"-Type CMOS

Resolution

20MP

Focal length

8.8 to 220mm

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

4K

Display

tilting touchscreen LCD 1440K dots

Memory card slots

1

Weight

1095g

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Features

1

All-in-one camera

Sony DSC-RX10 IV is an all-in-one camera perfect for amateur videographers, casual shooting and travellers. However, with the rough price of $1500, advanced filmmakers might be tempted by its impressive list of specs and features.

2

Capable features

RX10 IV has a 20MP CMOS sensor, a 315-point phase-detection autofocus system that covers 65% of the frame, touch LCD and EVF, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. It shoots detailed 4K video, 1080p slow-motion, and has a native ISO range of 100-12800.

3

Premium image quality

It features a 25x zoom lens, a large 1-inch sensor, phase-detect autofocus, and 24fps Raw capture with tracking. It is dust and splash-proof, weather-sealed, and has a battery life that comfortably captures 400 shots. It also has high frame rate video capture and delivers premium image quality.

Final Verdict

With a stacked sensor construction, phase detection focus, and an amazing zoom range, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV camera captures images at a speed of 24 frames per second.

Phase detection focus is added to the image sensor, allowing it to shoot at up to 24 frames per second while monitoring targets. The camera has a 600mm reach, which is a huge bonus for sports and wildlife photographers who want to travel light.

The RX10 IV is pricey, but it's worth it if you don't mind spending more money for faster acceleration.

6. Canon EOS C100 MK II

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Pros

Compact and lightweight battery system

Elegant and ergonomic build

Intuitive menu

New OLED adjustable screen

Built-in ND filters

Cons

Limited flipping up of the EVF arm

No 4K recording

No broadcast-friendly codec

Specs

Sensor

35 CMOS

Resolution

9.8MP

Focal length

320 - 102’400

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

4K

Display

OLED 1230K dots

Memory card slots

2

Weight

1.5kg

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Features

1

Made for documentarians

Canon EOS C100 MK II is made for event videographers, documentarians, and independent filmmakers. It’s an 8.3 Megapixel cinema camera with a Super 35mm CMOS Sensor, Full HD, Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Face Detection AF. ISO ranges up to 102400.

2

HDMI output and EF lens mount

The C100 II has built-in Wi-Fi and remote-control functionality, HDMI output, an EF lens mount, dual-format AVCHD / MP4 recording up to 1080 / 60p, and a digital viewfinder.

3

Good battery life

You can record up to 3 hours in HD on a single 32 GB card. The 12 steps of dynamic range are great for shooting in stealth and low-light conditions.

Final Verdict

The Canon C100 Mark II is a feature-rich camera that represents a good improvement over earlier versions of comparable cameras.

It works flawlessly with all Canon EF mount lenses, including specialized lenses like the 24mm f/3.5L II tilt shift lens and the ultra-wide fisheye lens. Additional accessories can be attached to the body.

A wide range of supplementary equipment is available to accompany the camera, or you can just stick to the run-and-gun style with it.

The C100 Mark II is the best option if you're filming material for the web and only require a camera with HD recording capabilities.

7. Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H

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Pros

6K 10-bit full-frame capture

Brilliant low-light performance

Dual IS 2 with 6.5 stops of stability

Anamorphic support

V-Log, LUTs, and cinema features

Cons

Lacks raw video capture

AF performance not best in class

Bulky

Specs

Sensor

Full-frame CMOS

Resolution

24MP

Focal length

50 - 204’800

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

6K

Display

Free-Angle Tilting Touchscreen LCD 2330K dots

Memory card slots

2

Weight

1164g

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Features

1

Full-frame professional mirrorless camera

Panasonic developed game-changing technology for its GH5 series cameras. However, Lumix DC-S1H is not too far behind! The S1H is a full-frame professional mirrorless camera with a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor. It records internal 6k at 24p in 10-bit 4:2:2.

2

Excellent features

The camera includes 5-axis IBIS, dual UHS-II SD card slots, 6.5 stops of stabilization, flippy LCD screen and unlimited recording time. It is also weather-sealed, making it dust, splash, and frost resistant to -10°C.

3

Dual native ISO

The S1H also includes dual native ISO in the range between 640 and 4000 without increasing the noise and high frame rate shooting with autofocus.

Final Verdict

The Lumix S1H raises the bar significantly and provides astounding performance. Sharp as s tack image quality is delivered by 6K video with 10-bit color, as well as outstanding low-light capabilities.

It's also the little things that matter, like an amazing EVF and a flip-out back LCD, as well as a cooling vent that lets you shoot for hours without worrying about overheating.

The fact that it also functions extremely well as a 24MP stills camera is a plus. The controls, the interface, and most definitely the hardware have all been designed for video and filmmaking.

8. Canon C300 MK II

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Pros

Impressive dynamic range

Excellent AF

Steady

Improved image quality

Good color balance

Cons

LCD quality could be better

No SDI

Specs

Sensor

Super35 CMOS

Resolution

9.8MP

Focal length

800

Image stabilization

Yes

Video recording

4K

Display

fixed LCD 1230L dots

Memory card slots

1

Weight

1.3kg

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Features

1

Industry high-end gadget

Canon C300 MK II is the industry high-end gadget, and one of the brand’s most popular professional video cameras. It is cased in a slightly larger body than a standard mirrorless or DSLR camera. C300 MK II includes an S35mm sensor that records up to 4k internally with 14 to 15 stops of dynamic range, along with 4:4:4 RGB, ideal for colour matte shots. It includes interchangeable PL and EF lens mounts, so, you don’t actually have to buy two bodies – just the lenses.

2

Premium image quality and improved ergonomics

It is a great cinema camera with premium image quality and improved ergonomics. Its short body makes it super easy and light to film by hand. When released, it was priced at $15,999 but can now be bought easily for around $5,000. To compare, we can look at C300 II’s bigger brother Canon C500 MK II. C500 MK II’s price is double what you’d pay for C300 MK II. C500 MK II can record internal RAW Lite but also has a full frame or large format sensor.

3

Native 2x anamorphic

Finally, it has great slow motion as one of the first cameras in the Canon C series with 4K 60p internally. With this camera, you have the option to do true native 2x anamorphic. True skin tones and colors make it perfect for indie or documentary filmmakers.

Final Verdict

With its 4K capability, the Canon EOS C300 Mark II enters the ranks of premium camera systems like the new ARRI Alexa SXT, the Red Epic Dragon, and the Sony F55. It is a truly professional camera.

It's a considerable upgrade for Blackmagic or DSLR shooters with the original market price, but it's still significantly less expensive than high-end motion picture cameras.

The camera is one of the greatest ones available for independent filmmakers thanks to its simplicity and small size, but it also has adequate power for studio filmmakers.

Featured Cameras

Extra tips

Accessories for your documentary

Yes, the camera is important! But what about the other gear and accessories you might need along your journey? Don’t forget to think of an audio recorder for your interviews, lights and LED Panel, tripod, or gimbals.

Which one is your favourite?

Gear for Documentary

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best cameras for shooting a documentary?

In 2022, the best cameras for documentary filmmaking are:
  • Canon Vixia HF G40
  • Panasonic Lumix GH5
  • Sony DSC-RX10 IV
  • Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6k (and 4k)
  • Canon EOS C100 MK II
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H
  • Sony PXW-FS7 II 4K XDCAM
  • Canon C300 MK II (vs Canon C500 MK II)
  • Sony PXW-FX9

What equipment do you need to shoot a documentary?

Your camera is very important but remember the other gear and accessories too. You'll need an audio recorder for your interviews, lights, a tripod or gimbals. Besides the gear, you need to plan your crew, time and finances. This planning phase is just as important as the execution, so have everything laid out before you pick up your camera to shoot.

Is GoPro good for documentary filming?

The video quality of GoPro cameras is not comparable to the typical film camera. The GoPro is, however, a discreet, sporty and durable camera. This means it could be useful for shooting specific scenes that require these attributes. E.g. shooting scenes where a person is in movement, to get a first-person view.

What type of camera is useful for documentary filming?

You need a camera with great video quality, but which is also durable, handy and compact. Documentary filming typically requires travelling and filming in uncontrolled areas. So you want a camera that is durable in most climates, and which is fairly easy to operate and transport.

Can I rent a camera for my documentary?

Yes, you can easily rent a camera on sites like Wedio. Rent or subscribe to it now.

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Documentary Filmmaking 101: Best Documentary Camera | Matt Harris x Wedio

How we picked the best

Size and weight

Documentary filmmakers frequently follow subjects for an entire day in order to document a day in the life of the subject. This necessitates that any equipment that needs to be moved from shot to shot be portable and light.

Documentary filmmakers often have a single person on set who is in charge of moving all of the equipment, in contrast to narrative filmmakers who have a larger team to move equipment at a slower speed.

Therefore, you should be looking for the best documentary film camera should consider a compact, lightweight model that is simple to move from one site to another.

Low-light performance

When making films, documentarians regularly run into circumstances when there isn't enough light to shoot in.

Using an on-camera LED light is not an option whether you're pursuing your target down a dark alley or sneaking out in the middle of the night to film a corporation polluting. Large-sensor cameras that can capture more light can therefore be helpful.

Image stabilization

Have you ever recorded a video and noticed that the video was shaky? A camera with image stabilization can reduce the shakiness of the video.

It's not really necessary if you're using a tripod or other reliable camera support. In order to produce excellent handheld video with fewer shaky results, several cameras combine sensor-based in-body image stabilization with lens-based optical stabilization.

Why should I rent my next documentary camera?

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About the instructors

Matt Harris

Matt Harris

Producer, Filmmaker

United Kingdom

Matt Harris is a UK based award-winning DOP, producer, and director specialising in high end documentary and branded content.

Mazdak Luyeh

Mazdak Luyeh

Creative Philosopher

Copenhagen, Denmark

OUTFOX, founded by Mazdak Luyeh, is a bold Danish PR and communication agency that gathers clever ideas and tell amazing stories with visual expressions that focus on quality.

Gustav Sloth

Gustav Sloth

Filmmaker

Aarhus, Denmark

Gustav Idun Sloth is a filmmaker and a co-founder of Movimentum together with Marcus Hasselgaard. They are two creative minds who are passionate about making movies and telling stories.

Kristian Kettner

Kristian Kettner

Film Creator

Risskov, Denmark

Kristian Kettner is a colorist, workflow specialist, and film creator. He started with wedding videography to being the lead colorist on a feature film.

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