🎬 Categorizing Cameras

Hybrid Cameras

The so-called “hybrid” camera does both photo and video well and is generally the type of camera I’ll always recommend on a site like this. It provides massive value and convenience at very little cost to image quality.

Dedicated Video Cameras

When you buy a video-specific camera you get these features at the expense of being able to use it for photography:

ND filters

Having “Neutral Density” filters built in to the camera is a huge help. These are essentially “sunglasses for your camera” and allow you to cut the amount of lighting entering the camera so you can keep your shutter speed where you want it. Variable neutral density filters are often times the convenient way to emulate this on a mirrorless camera, but they, by nature, cut reflection, so even if their color fidelity is good, they can make skin look peculiar.

Professional Audio Inputs

Running sound into camera is underrated. It’s so much more convenient to not have to sync in post, and many video cameras have low noise, modern pre-amps that are capable of delivering great quality if the signal coming in is hot. Dedicated video cameras have no only the inputs for connecting audio gear, but on-board physical controls for setting levels quickly. In some situations you need a separate person handling audio, but for much run-n-gun work with a single operator, on-camera audio inputs are great.

Many smaller cameras have mini headphone jack audio inputs which can also work. The bigger connections on pro video cameras are three-pin XLR. XLR allows for longer runs because it separates positive, negative and ground across three lanes. For much of what students do it likely won’t matter unless your cable run is long but it’s also a locking connector which is convenient.

Exposure Assist Functions

False color is a very handy exposure tool. Zebras are similarly useful. Scopes, like waveform and RGB parade specifically can reveal exposure information very difficult to gauge by eye.

Focus Assist functions

Peaking, magnification, etc. These functions can make focusing on a 3-inch screen much easier.


Easy to hold up to your eye or on the shoulder. I don’t care quite so much about this one generally, but you can spend a lot of time and money trying to rig up a small mirrorless camera to be more like a video camera. One thing I do find useful is the mounting points that come with the camera without requiring additional rigging.

EVF (Electronic-viewfinder)

These are essential for viewing the picture in bright sunlight if you don’t have an external monitor. The convenience of an attached EVF is something I can’t stress the importance of.


It’s recently become more common for many DSLR/mirrorless cameras to support timecode and UB recorded to a file, but they don’t allow for timecode input for “jam-syncing”. This means it’s basically just an inaccurate clock stamped over your footage but that clock doesn’t correlate with any other piece of gear.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless

The gist: Mirrorless is unquestionably the future. Autofocus, shutter blackout, battery life, all these were once cited as limitations of mirrorless cameras but none of them present a practical limitation to most shooters today. DSLRs can be picked up cheap because of the transition, but it’s best to be aware of a few key differences between the technologies.Around the year 2018, most major camera manufacturers had fully embraced a new style of camera. Where the debate between DSLR cameras and mirrorless once raged passionately, there began to be fewer and fewer advocates of the former and it became clear that mirrorless was the future. That being said, there are still some benefits to DSLR cameras at the time of this writing. DSLR cameras us an angled mirror to reflect the light coming through the lens into the viewfinder. This is one of their oft-cited advantages over early point and shoot cameras which use a separate optical viewfinder where the photographer wasn’t effectively looking “through the lens”. Because DSLRs use purely optical system to relay the light, there is no power consumption necessary when the photographer looks through the optical viewfinder (OVF). Mirrorless cameras, on the other hand, have no mirror. Light is exposed directly through the lens and onto the sensor and a small video feed is taken from the sensor and displayed on an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Because of this, mirrorless cameras have the distinct advantage of presenting the scene as seen by the camera. This “what you see is what you get” approach can be a major benefit, especially to beginning photographers. It does, however, mean that the viewfinder is constantly on and battery life is therefore impacted. Though modern mirrorless camera battery life is much improved from the early models, it still doesn’t quite meet the precedent set by most DSLRs.

Another benefit with mirrorless cameras is that their flange distance is much shorter than that of a DSLR. The flange distance refers to the space between the mounting flange at the back of the lens and the sensor. Recall that DSLRs had to accommodate an angled mirror in this space. Without it, mirrorless cameras and lenses tend to be appreciably smaller. Some argue that a smaller form factor is detrimental to handling, especially with larger lenses, but it cannot be argued that camera manufactures have the option of creating smaller camera bodies, and it seems most photographers are embracing the smaller size as a new norm.The autofocus systems in DSLR cameras are integrated with that same optical path we’ve been discussing. Typically, the mirror itself is translucent, allowing some light to pass to another mirror which reflects light to an autofocus sensor beneath the mirror. That sensor uses phase detection to essentially compare two different focus levels to attain the sharpest result. Because mirrorless camera bodies do away with the mirror, early models relied solely on contrast-based autofocus. Some contrast-only systems can actually be quite speedy, but in contrast-based AF requires an image to go beyond the point of focus for the camera to realize that it’s past the perfect focus point and needs to change direction. This can be a limitation. Most modern mirrorless manufacturers have implemented phase detect autofocus directly on the sensor now, and real-world AF speeds are generally not cited as being the issue they once were.Stabilization systems in lenses used to make people nauseous. For this reason they don’t fully kick in until a full shutter press.

Common mirrorless models include:

  • Olympus
  • Fujifilm
  • Panasonic
  • Nikon Z
  • Sony A7, a6xxx series
  • Canon EOS RF

Canon EOS RF (replacement to their old “M” mirrorless lineup. Canon made a wider diameter mount so they can produce extremely fast (e.g. f1.2) lenses in the future where Sony opted to stick with E-mount for full frame).