Small Professional Cameras for Videographers


Whenever I think of professional video cameras, my mind is drawn to those ubiquitous shoulder-mounted beasts on news sets, and hundred-pound 35mm film camera setups in movie studios. Romanticizing the idea of the iconic professional camera is easy to do. Generally speaking, the content that most people consume is created with gear that fits into that stereotype. In most cases, the cost, storage space, and maintenance required by that equipment is more than a single person can bear. Hence, those cameras are, more often than not, the property of companies, be they of the production or rental variety.

However, advancements in technology have brought big cameras down in price and size, making the high-end market segment more affordable (relatively speaking) and more practical for the single owner/operator. Going further, technology has successfully enabled camera companies to miniaturize cameras to a degree that would have been unthinkable years ago. Having smaller cameras means that productions will have more flexibility in camera placement. Locations that were once too tight have now been opened up. Major productions in television and cinema are now taking advantage of these relatively tiny cameras to intercut with their high-end equipment, and they don’t seem to be stopping. You, too, can gain the flexibility to shoot high-quality video using some of the smallest form factors available today. Below, I’ve compiled a list of cameras ranging in price from affordable to not-so-affordable (again, everything’s relative), all available to acquire for your production, be it amateur or professional.

GoPro HERO5 Black

Hot off the presses, the HERO5 Black may not be on every pro videographer’s wish list, since it is a consumer camera. However, that’s not to say pros won’t use it. Many television shows over the last several years have taken advantage of the GoPro HERO’s miniscule form factor, even before the camera line made the jump to recording 4K video. It’s also the most affordable camera on this list, so larger-budget productions can feel free to use this model underwater, on vehicles, or in other creative situations.

GoPro HERO5 Black

Z-Camera E1

Moving on up to the Z-Camera E1, the option of interchangeable lenses becomes available. Using the Micro Four Thirds lens mount with electronic contacts, native MFT lenses can be controlled by the camera. The MFT mount is also adaptable to accept many other kinds of lenses. While fixed-lens options, like the GoPro, have an advantage in both size and durability, being able to select a lens for its optical qualities to fit your shot is a very valuable, since you may not want to be stuck with the ultra-wide-angle lens found on most action cameras. Additionally, the Z-Camera brings the goods as far as recording formats. DCI and UHD 4K recording are available, as is HD.

Z Camera E1 Mini 4K Interchangeable Lens Camera

Blackmagic Design Micro Cinema Camera / Micro Studio Camera

The precursor to the Micro Cinema Camera, Blackmagic Design’s Pocket Cinema Camera was a pretty big hit when it came out. Built-in ProRes recording and compressed DNG raw video with a later update were unprecedented in a camera of that price, not to mention size. A little while later, the Micro Cinema Camera offered the same recording options inside a more compact form factor in-line with other professional cameras of this nature. Like the Z-Camera E1 mentioned above, the MFT lens mount offers a flexible lens choice. The box-like chassis of the camera has mounting points on the top and bottom, and video, along with remote control connectivity, let the camera be monitored and controlled away from the action. The Micro Studio Camera features an identical housing to the Micro Cinema Camera, but steps up in resolution and connectivity. The same expansion port can be used to control the camera, or connect a Blackmagic Design Video Assist through SDI, and you have an all-in-one monitor and control solution!

Blackmagic Design Micro Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design Micro Studio Camera 4K

Canon ME200S-SH

Talk about box-shaped cameras—it doesn’t really get boxier than this! Canon’s ME200S-SH camera is a great option for Canon shooters looking for some more versatility. A locking version of Canon’s EF mount will take EF and EF-S lenses, keeping Canon’s entire lens offering open for use. As the ME200S-SH features similar internal hardware to the Cinema EOS line, the footage will match up nicely in post-production with those cameras whether you’re shooting for the Web, TV, or for cinema. Mounting points are everywhere on the body, so this camera can be used for vehicle mounting, drone work, and discreet placement. SDI connectivity for monitoring and recording pins this camera in the professional realm. One concern to keep in mind: in the interest of saving space, Canon opted not to offer an internal battery solution. While that may seem like a negative, being able to relocate a battery at the end of a 4-pin XLR cable lets you use larger batteries (like V-mount and Gold-mount) hidden away, powering the camera for extended periods without bulking it up.

Canon ME200S-SH Multi-Purpose Camera

IO Industries Flare 4K

Now we’ve arrived at the bottom of the list, where the most expensive camera in this roundup resides. It’s a no-holds barred, all-professional compact camera solution. Yes, it’s expensive, but the Flare 4K from IO Industries makes good on its price tag. It may not look like it amounts to much at first glance, but I can assure you, this little guy punches way above its weight class. The body houses a Super35 4K sensor with a global shutter behind your choice of passive lens mount, with the option for an active EF lens mount. The rest of the body doesn’t have much else to it, other than 4 SDI outputs, a SYNC connection, and a power input (like the ME200S-SH, no built-in battery on this one). No internal recording facilities means you will need to provide an external recorder and monitor. Despite the lack of features, the output options of this camera are very versatile. Using all four SDI outputs, uncompressed 4K can be output for recording by a compatible recorder, such as the Atomos Shogun Inferno. High-end cinema productions will like the raw output option. With the proper license installed on the Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+ or 7Q, 4K raw recording is now possible. This is important for those who are brave enough to use this camera in precarious situations, if the camera goes down, your footage might still be safe on the recorder.

IO Industries Flare 4KSDI 4K/UHD Camera Head Kit

So, what do we gain from all this? Sometimes the biggest, baddest camera that you can use is not the answer. There is a place for tiny cameras that can squeeze in tight places, and professionals, even those in high-end cinema, don’t have to compromise on video quality. From the top to the bottom of this list, creative minds can put these to work and have them match their production with minimal effort. You wouldn’t use any of these for an entire mainstream production as an A camera, but having them available for those one-off shots can prove that small cameras have their place at any production level.

Do you have a favorite small professional production camera? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.