5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 

Documentary Filmmaking – When shooting video for documentaries, regardless of genre, a documentary filmmaker requires a high-quality documentary camera to assist capture the mood required to hold an audience’s attention. 

To shoot a documentary well, you’ll need a particular set of requirements, talents, and demands. On a documentary film shoot, having the correct camera system to get the job done perfectly the first time is one of the most important requirements.

With so many cameras on the market now that may be equipped with the necessary filmmaking tools to be used as a documentary camera, this article is for documentary filmmakers looking for the finest out-of-the-box options to get started. 

When building a documentary filmmaking camera package, the following camera accessories are requested the most from documentary cinematographers:

  • Built-in ND filter
  • High ISO performance
  • XLR/audio capabilities
  • Strong camera features (high-speed, in-camera IS) 
  • Ease of use

If you’re seeking the best Documentary Filmmaking cinema camera to help you make the next big smash at a film festival or a Netflix documentary series, keep reading to view some of the top documentary cameras on the market today!

5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 
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Features Need In A Documentary Filmmaking Camera

Before we get started, there are some characteristics that make a camera excellent for documentary filmmaking, as well as some disadvantages that doc filmmakers should be aware of before making a purchase.

Here are some instances to think about when choosing a camera for documentary filmmaking:

Audio Inputs

5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 

To achieve the finest sound in the setting, documentary filmmakers frequently utilize boom microphones or lav mics to record their subject’s talk. 

Finding a cinema camera with a Mini-plug microphone or XLR audio inputs, which is common on video-enabled DSLR & Mirrorless cameras, allows for a shotgun microphone, such as the Rode VideoMic, to be attached via the camera’s cold shoe, which is useful if you’re a run-and-gun documentary filmmaker with a small crew.

Size & Weight

5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 

Documentary filmmakers frequently spend a full day following subjects to capture a day in the life of the subject. This means that gear that needs to be transported from shot to shot must be lightweight and small.

Unlike narrative filmmakers who have a larger team to transport equipment at a slower pace, documentary filmmakers typically have a one-person crew on set who is responsible for hauling all of the equipment.

This means that a documentary filmmaker seeking for the best documentary film camera should look for a small, lightweight design that can be readily transported from one location to another. Or, in cases where video recording isn’t permitted, disguised.

Low Light Performance

5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 

Documentary filmmakers frequently find themselves in situations where there is insufficient light to shoot in when shooting documentaries. 

When you’re following your subject down a dark alley or sneaking out in the middle of the night to capture footage of a corporate polluting, using an on-camera LED light isn’t an option. 

As a result, cameras with large sensors that can capture more light (even if it is low) can be useful.

DSLRs or mirrorless cameras for documentary shooting, such as the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S or Sony A7S iii, can be a godsend in this sense, as their ISO can often be turned up and still offer passable footage.

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Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro

The Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro is a full-featured, small Super35 camera with plenty of punch for documentarians. 

The 6K Pro camera captures rich images at resolutions up to 6144 x 3456 at up to 50 frames per second with a Super35-size sensor, 13 stops of dynamic range, and dual native ISO up to 25,600. 

6144 x 3456 (6K), 6144 x 2560 (6K 2.4:1), 5744 x 3024 (5.7K 17:9), 4096 x 2160 (4K DCI), 1920 x 1080 (HD), and more resolutions are available for video capture.

This camera is a favorite among documentary cinematographers since it has two mini-XLR connectors, a built-in ND, and a tiny size factor. It can easily sit on handheld gimbals, practically disappear during vérité shooting, and travel light in a backpack due to its compact shape.

Result: With the sheer variety of settings you can control, and the ergonomic design of the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro is enough to make this the clear choice for a low-budget documentary filmmaker. 

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Canon EOS C70 Cinema Camera

The Canon EOS C70 Cinema Camera boasts a Super35 DGO (Dual Gain Output) sensor for shooting nuanced images with up to 16+ stops of high dynamic range and incorporates important Cinema EOS video functions in a mirrorless-style body. 

The DGO technique combines two distinct gain values for each photodiode on the sensor, emphasizing saturation in bright areas and reducing noise in dark parts. DCI 4K capture at speeds ranging from 23.98 to 60 fps is available, as well as high-speed possibilities of up to 120 fps in UHD 4K and 180 fps in cropped 2K.

Unlimited video recording, Dual Pixel CMOS AF autofocus control, a motorized ND filter wheel buried inside the shorter RF-mount flange depth, a BNC timecode input/output connector, and built-in dual mini-XLR audio inputs are just a few of the pro video features. 

The EOS C70 is also the first Cinema EOS camera to feature an RF attachment, allowing you to use Canon’s RF lenses, which feature superior coatings and image stabilization. 

This compact cine camera features a 3.5″ Direct Touch Control LCD panel for quick and easy setting changes, as well as auto-ISO and auto-gain functionality for on-the-fly light level adjustments.

The EOS C70 camera is also compatible with the separately available EF-EOS R 0.71X EF to RF lens mount converter, which gives you more lens options. This adapter transforms your full-frame lenses to Super35 format while also giving you a one-stop aperture speed improvement. The EF adapter sends all EF lens data to the RF mount, allowing certain lenses to have complete Dual-Pixel Auto Focus and metadata information. 

The EOS C70 is also the first Canon EOS cinema camera to include the EOS iTR AF X autofocus system, which employs a deep-learning-based head-tracking algorithm for increased distance measuring and tracking accuracy.

Using widely available and relatively affordable SD cards, this digital cine camera records up to DCI 4K definition video to dual slots. In 4K, frame rates of up to 120 fps can be recorded, while in 2K cropped Super16 mode, frame rates of up to 180 fps can be recorded. 

One HDMI Type-A output, a BNC timecode input/output, and a USB Type-C connector for control or linking to an external Wi-Fi adapter for streaming are all included in this cinema camera for documentary and narrative filmmakers.

Dual mini-XLR ports, an inbuilt stereo mic, and a 3.5mm mic input provide up to 4-channel audio. A detachable handle unit, a mic holder, a shoulder strap, one BPA-30 battery, a battery charger, an AC adapter with a power cord, and a port cover are included with the EOS C70 body.

Result: With 4K, built-in ND, and tiny XLRs, this mid-tier, entry-level camera meets all of the needs of documentary filmmakers, with Canon colour science baked right in.

Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM Super 35 Camera System

5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 

The PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM Super 35 Camera System from Sony is a versatile 4K camera. Designed to work on a wide range of projects, including “Cinéma Vérité”-style documentaries, reality television, commercials, and corporate applications. It has a Super 35mm sensor, which means you may record photographs with cinematic depth of field.

The camera has a stronger locking E-mount that works with all E-Mount lenses and supports all electronic connections. The locking mount prevents lens play and lets you utilize most 35mm lenses with available adapters, including PL, EF, Leica, and Nikon. Without the need for extra lens support, this stronger E-mount is perfect for using heavier-long cine-zooms.

An electronic variable ND system sits just behind the lens mount, with a transparent filter and three user-definable preset. The variable ND can be set to anywhere from 2 to 7 stops of ND. The camera can record footage in DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) or UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at up to 59.94 fps or HD at up to 180 fps to optional on-board XQD storage cards. 

The camera can record in XAVC-I, XAVC-L, or MPEG-2 formats.

However, MPEG-2 recording is limited to capturing HD footage since it does not support the large data rates that the camera may create while shooting in UHD. Dual XQD media card slots on the camera allow for simultaneous or relay recording. Many of the camera’s functions are controlled by an ergonomically built handgrip, which includes an adjustable length support arm.

The 4K Super 35 EXMOR sensor has a large colour range and 14 Stops of latitude. It supports either the XAVC or MPEG-2 codecs. The XAVC codec is capable of recording in both 4K and HD, whereas MPEG-2 is only capable of recording in HD. XAVC INTRA and XAVC Long allow you to encode from HD to UHD using Intra-Frame or Long GOP compression with 10-bit 4:2:2 for HD and a choice of 10-bit 4:2:2 or 8-bit 4:2:0 for UHD. XAVC intra compression is incredibly efficient, recording at low bit rates, while XAVC Long extends the recording length significantly while maintaining very good quality and low noise.

Result: The end result is that if you’re searching for a cinema-style camera for documentary production, this camera will not let you down. The Sony FS-7 has been used in several Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentaries, and it can employ both Sony E lenses for still cameras when we want big apertures and shallow DOF, as well as Sony 18-110 zooms to track reality. There are a plethora of third-party attachments available for this camera, making setup a breeze.

Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera

The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S is a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera with low-light capability. DCI and UHD 4K video recording at up to 60p is possible because of the 10.28MP Digital Live MOS sensor, and the huge individual pixel size also allows for exceptional low-light performance up to an extended ISO 204800, as well as Dual Native ISO technology at ISO 400 and ISO 2500.

The sensor and processor combination, when combined with an upgraded Venus Engine, allows for faster readout speeds and 1.3x less rolling shutter distortion than prior GH-series cameras. 

Internal DCI 4K30p recording with 4:2:2 10-bit sampling is offered, and a full-size HDMI A connector can be used to output to an optional external display or recorder at the same time. Working with V-Log L and Hybrid Log-Gamma HDR modes for efficiently extending your dynamic range and allowing more versatility when color grading during post-production has also been promoted thanks to the sensor’s wider sensitivity range.

Aside from its video capabilities, the GH5S is also a capable stills shooter. With the sensor and Venus Engine together, you may shoot 14-bit raw files at a high continuous shooting rate of 12 frames per second with single-shot AF or up to 8 frames per second with continuous focusing. 

4K PHOTO modes, which borrow from the video side, allow you to capture 8MP stills at up to 60 frames per second. The Depth-From-Defocus AF technology, which benefits stills, works swiftly and precisely with 225 specialized AF regions and is sensitive to -5 EV brightness for working in low-light situations.

Aside from image specs, the GH5S maintains the GH-series’ superb build quality. Physical controls have been improved for easier tactile control, and the magnesium alloy body is entirely weather-sealed for working in bad weather. 

A big 3.68 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, as well as a rear 3.2″ 1.62 million-dot LCD touchscreen with free-angle movement, are included for high-resolution eye-level monitoring. Built-in Wi-Fi with NFC and Bluetooth wireless connectivity enable smooth image sharing and remote camera operation from a mobile device, and dual UHS-II SD memory card slots are available for versatile file recording.

Results: This camera will exceed your expectations if you’re seeking a cinema-style camera for your documentary production. Your work will have a cinematic quality to it. The camera’s stability control is excellent! In every low-light situation, you can shoot.

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Sony A7S III

The Sony Alpha a7S III increases the standard for what a full-frame mirrorless camera can do with enhanced video, sensitivity, and speed. A revamped 12.1MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor and enhanced BIONZ XR image processor, as well as UHD 4K 120p video recording and internal 10-bit 4:2:2 sampling, provide faster performance, improved noise reduction, and a broader dynamic range.

The a7S III’s primary use is video, and improvements to the sensor and processor allow for faster readout speeds and reduced rolling shutter, as well as high-bitrate internal recording, 16-bit raw output via the full-size HDMI port, and flexible motion control with variable frame rate selection. In addition, the a7S III eliminates recording time constraints and has HLG for direct HDR production as well as S-Log2/S-Log3 gamma profiles for advanced HDR production with editing.

Improved autofocus performance is provided by 759 phase-detection points, which provide intelligent subject tracking and Real-time Eye AF to assure critical focus on moving subjects in all recording modes. 

The sensor and BIONZ XR processor also allow for high sensitivity, with a range of ISO 40 to 409600, as well as quick 10 fps continuous shooting for up to 1000 raw frames. Also available is 5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift picture stabilization, which reduces the appearance of camera shake by up to 5.5 stops.

Sony has made various improvements to the a7S III’s physical design to complement the imaging assets, including a back LCD with a side-open articulating design and an outstanding 9.44m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder. 

The camera’s menu system has also been modified for easier navigation, and the body design aids in heat dissipation for better continuous recording capabilities. Additionally, the twin memory card slots enable CFexpress Type A and SD UHS-II memory cards for versatile and fast file storage.

Result: The Sony a7RIII is incredibly versatile as a cinema-style camera for documentary filmmaking: autofocus, improved color, dynamic range, gyro or active stabilization, low light, battery life, little overheating, dual recording, efficient codec, EVF, custom buttons, no crop in most recording modes, ergonomics, and a plethora of full-frame E-mount third-party lenses that perform near-natively. 

Internal RAW, waveform, anamorphic mode, time code, hybrid articulating screen, internal ND, pixel shift, and greater burst shooting are all lacking features but aren’t deal-breakers. It’s a terrific pick if you’re searching for a documentary filmmaking camera for run and gun shooting, vlog, b-roll, or gimbal work.

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

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5 Best Cinema Cameras For Documentary Filmmaking 

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