The Canon DSLRs remain hugely popular among indie filmmakers and deservedly so. If you are looking to buy one, there are many great models to choose from, in a wide price range. Which one should you get?
Although you can find many very detailed technical reviews, few of them focus on what matters to filmmakers. Therefore, here’s a post that should make your buying decision much simpler.
We will cover the following cameras:
- Budget / compact DSLRs: 550D (T2i), 600D (T3i), 650D (T4i), 700D (T5i)
- Mid-level: 60D, 70D
- Pro: 7D and the full-frame models 6D and 5D
These cameras cover a wide range of prices, starting with the 600D/T3i at about $600 and topping out with the full-frame 5D Mark III at about $4000 (including the stock lenses). Since there is such a gap in prices, there must also be a big difference in quality, right?
Well, when it comes to what matters to filmmakers, we will suggest that there isn’t a big practical difference. Therefore, you should not feel that your work will suffer if you choose one of the affordable models. In fact, your work might improve if you invest the money you save in better lenses.
For photographers, there are some important differences between the top and bottom models and so we would not make a similar statement. But for filmmaking purposes, it is a different story.
First thing to realize is that all these models offer the same or very similar CMOS sensors, except for the size and pixel count. The number of pixels is irrelevant for video, since you can get 1080P resolution on all these cameras anyway. The full-frame sensor of course does make a difference, but more about that in a moment.
Secondly, the processors that these cameras use are very similar.
The 5D Mark III, 6D and 70D use the Digic 5+, whereas the others use the older Digic 4 (except for 700D/T5i, which uses Digic 5). When you look at technical specifications, the newer processor of course looks more impressive, but then when you look at the HD video output, the improvements are negligible.
Going back to the full-frame sensor in the 5D and 6D models, is this really important? You can read more about the advantages and disadvantages of the full-frame sensor in this thorough Wikipedia article. Yes, these sensors produce less noise and are better in low light situations. But the other Canon cameras – which use the APS-C 1.62 crop factor sensors – do very well in low light conditions too.
Also, one overlooked fact is that filming with a very narrow depth of field is very challenging. One of the more common questions we get from beginning filmmakers is how we keep the actors in focus so well. This is something many people clearly struggle with. Therefore, how often are you going to take advantage of the narrow depth of field of the full-frame cameras? In our experience – rarely. So, you should keep this in mind before you spend a lot of money on this feature.
Another point – do not spend extra money to get a camera with a better autofocus. If you want to produce cinematic work, you need to control the focus manually. You can read more about this in this post.
Having said all that, should you just buy the cheapest model? Well, here are some of the reasons you might want to choose a more expensive option.
If you pay more, you will get a camera that is more durable and easier to operate.
For example, the pro cameras (5,6 & 7D) are built from a magnesium alloy, whereas the other cameras are mostly plastic.
The budget models (the Ti series) are not water and dust resistant.
The mid-level and pro cameras are bigger, giving you more buttons and dials and a better grip.
There is actually one disadvantage in the build of the pro cameras (and also the 550D / T2i) – their LCD screen does not flip out. That is actually a very useful feature to have.
So, do these few advantages make it worth spending the extra money? Well, the bottom line is that you should buy a camera that you can comfortably afford. Also, make sure to buy good lenses with it.
If you do decide to buy one of the cheaper models, be assured that your work can look great, as long as you develop your artistic and technical skills. The inverse is also true – an expensive camera will not hide your lack of skills, so work on them before spending the big money.
To find out what lenses we recommend, check out the Gear section of the website, as well as the following two posts:
Lenses – Beginner’s Guide – includes a video tutorial
To buy one of the cameras discussed in this article, you can check out the following retailers
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Here are the listings of the older Canon models on
Also, here are a few more quick notes about how the Canon DSLRs compare to each other:
- T2i / 550D has been discontinued and replaced with T3i / 600
- T4i /650D has been discontinued and replaced with T5i / 700D
- 5D Mark II has been discontinued and replaced with 5D Mark III
- the big feature of 700D/T5i that is missing in 600D/T3i is the stepping motor in the STM lenses, giving you better autofocus; but as noted above, this should not matter to you
- the major improvement of the 70D from the 60D is the dual pixel sensor, giving better autofocus; again, this feature should not be a selling point for you
- 6D is marketed as a smaller, more affordable full-frame DSLR (as compared to 5D)
To see the exact specifications of each camera side-by-side, see this chart at dpreview.com. If you are buying a DSLR for photography, you should definitely check out their website, as their camera reviews are very thorough.