Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews › Forums › Cameras and Camcorders › Consumer Camcorders › Affordable Camera for Documentary › Hi blueblade – you are lucky
Hi blueblade – we are fortunate enough to live in an era where there are several very good documentary cameras below $1500, and even below $1000, that can get you started. You'll still need to deal with sound, which is just as important as the image, but let's start with the camera.
At around $1500, I recommend the small-sensor, fixed lens JVC GY-HM70U for $1599. Yes, it's $99 above your $1500 limit, and it won't give you the depth of field control you'd get from a large sensor camera, but it will give you a shoulder mounted 1080/60p camera with a fast power zoom and decent sound all in one package. For documentary/run and gun filmmaking, this will end up saving you money in the long run on shoulder rigs and external recorders.
Here's a great overview of the camera from B&H:
Another option in this price range is a used Canon XA10 for $1597.81 from Amazon Warehouse Deals. This camera has pro mic inputs and dual card recording. It can produce documentary images like these:
At around $1000, I recommend one of two cameras, depending on how what kind of image you want and how much work you want to do in colorizing your film.
The easier camera of the two (even though it will be harder to deal with than a camcorder) is the $1092 (body only) Panasonic GH3. It is a large sensor, interchangeable lens camera with unlimited clip length, tracking autofocus, a headphone jack (like a camcorder) and the form factor of a DSLR. It records at bit rates as high as 72mbps and progressive frame rates as high as 1080/60p. Here is what this camera can do:
The more challenging camera to use is the new $995 (body only) Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It has more "film like" dynamic range than any other camera in this price range. It also records at the highest bit rate of any camera in this class (220mbps ProRes). On the other hand, it lacks some basics. It cannot format cards in camera (you need a laptop), it has no audio metering and no "time remaining indicator". All the information the camera records burns up a lot of memery and a lot of batteries as well.
That said, here is what this camera can do in the hands of a skilled pro:
Hope this is helpful!