We have an extensive buyer’s guide for every type of video production tool you can think of, but not everyone is looking for the newest — and often most expensive — camera with all the bells and whistles. Sometimes, you just want a solid dedicated camera. That’s why we’re highlighting three budget-friendly cameras that offer exceptional value for video shooters.
There are a few things to consider when looking for a low-cost camera. The first is that you will have to settle for fewer features. Separate your needs from your wants; those wants will cost you extra money. When looking at the marketplace, one thing is certain: The less you pay for the camera, the lower the resolution options are. At a minimum we expect these cameras to shoot full HD video.
Best cheap camcorder
Our first camera is a consumer camcorder. This means the camera was made for a wide array of people and it has an attached lens with zoom capabilities. Camcorders are an easy choice for those who want to capture video without the fuss. Along with a small imaging sensor, they often have automatic exposure and keeping focus is not a problem.
For just under $200, the Panasonic HC-V180K shoots up to 60 frames per second (fps) in full 1080p HD. It has a 1/5.8 inch BSI MOS sensor with 5-Axis HYBRID O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) to keep the shot steady when fully zoomed in. The more zoom you use, the harder it is to keep the shot steady, so optical image stabilization is a valuable feature. The zoom is quite impressive on the camera with a 50 times optical zoom. Lastly, the HC-V180K has a backside illuminated sensor that allows for better low light performance, offering less noise when shooting in poor lighting conditions.
Best cheap action camera
GoPro HERO7 Silver
There are loads of action cameras on the market. If you shop for an action camera based on specs and price alone, you’ll find lots of cameras cheaper than the one we’re about to recommend. However, not many of them are very usable. The original action camera is a GoPro; they started the trend and have continued to offer the best action camera year over year.
Between their software and ecosystem of mounts, GoPro is the best-outfitted action camera line for all needs. Right now, the best price for a new GoPro is for the HERO7 Silver for $200. Shooting up to 4K at 30fps, it’s the only camera on this list to shoot above HD. In HD it is capable of shooting up to 60fps. The HERO7 Silver can capture 10MP photos at up to 15 fps, has built-in video stabilization and can capture in vertical portrait mode for posting to social media.
Best cheap mirrorless camera
Olympus OM-D E-M10
The only camera on this list to have a detachable lens, this category will be more expensive than the last two. Additionally, because you have to buy lenses for the camera, the entry price for the camera is just the start. You’ll also need to consider the cost of buying lenses. However, if you want to be able to get a shallow depth of field, an interchangeable lens camera is the easiest and best way to get there.
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 is just under $350. It’s 16.1-megapixel micro four-thirds image sensor and lens mount make it a great entry into the category. It also can shoot up to 60fps in full HD. An interchangeable lens camera like this one is a hybrid camera, offering both stills and video functionality. The rear screen of the camera tilts to assist in preview when shooting in less than optimum shooting conditions and angles. Lastly, it has a 2.36m-Dot OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) so you can see how exposure adjustments look in real-time.
Are these cameras for me?
Even if one of these three cameras doesn’t best suit your needs, there are lots of options out there. Figure out what your must-have features are and try to distill the options to what camera would best fit you. It’s not a bummer to have a small budget; it just forces you to be creative. Separating your needs from wants will give you a much better option for less money.
If you need more help choosing a camera, see our guide: How to buy a camera.