Buyers' Guide: Production and ENG Cameras
When I started in the video production business in 1992, the typical camera profile for professional producers was a 3-CCD camcorder that shot on S-VHS tape and sold in the $7,500–$10,000-plus range, depending on options. Broadcast camcorders based on the Betacam SP tape format started at about $10,000 for the cheap “industrial” model, increasing to more than $30,000 for the ones the TV news camera ops were running around with. 1995 saw the launch of the consumer DV format. Because this format was both less expensive and better than Betacam SP, the prices of broadcast-quality gear began dropping to compete. Pro divisions of Sony, Panasonic, and JVC started incorporating iterations of the DV format into more professional cameras, hatching DVCAM and DVCPRO, along with “plain DV,” just in a better camera/recorder configuration. These units put much better cameras in producers’ hands than they could afford just 5 years earlier.
With the advent of HD, we saw similar (if not the same) tapes that were used for standard definition being used for HD. You could take a 15-year-old DV tape, put it in an HDV camcorder, and record HD video. The last generation of HDV camcorders recorded on both tape and CF cards simultaneously. These dual-
media models helped dedicated DV users transition away from the tape medium.
The next generation of camcorders eschewed costly tape transport. Camcorders became lighter, more power-efficient, and less expensive to produce. Without the limitations of tape, camera manufacturers could go beyond HD to 4K and more recently up to 8K. Today, a great UHD 4K camera with a 1" CMOS sensor sells for less than $3,000. Solid, smaller-sensor models retail for $1,500. That boggles the mind if you consider how far camera and recording technology has come in a short time.
Most of the camcorder-style models professional producers are considering for day-to-day production work in 2021 are priced in the $1,500–$8,000 range. All of the video production/ENG cameras shown in the table carry MSRPs of less than $8,000, the most expensive being the Canon XF705 (Figure 1, below; reviewed at go2sm.com/xf705). Some include built-in streaming features; all will integrate into professional, live-switched streaming production and are commonly used in streaming workflows.
Figure 1. The Canon XF705 4K 1” Sensor Professional Camcorder
With two notable exceptions, all of the models featured in this guide are fixed-lens models in more-or-less traditional camcorder bodies. The table does not include “cinema” cameras, which are a different category and are sometimes used in comparable ways but generally are designed for different types of productions. (And for the sake of cost comparison, arguably, it makes more sense to stack up models in which the widely varying cost of additional lenses need not be factored into the price to assemble a camera that’s ready to be used in the field. As a result, I've included one interchangeable-lens camera here, which is otherwise a good fit for this list.) Although there are dozens of different cameras to choose from, these are the ones I consider to be best-suited to our readers. But, of course, there are many more out there than could be included in the table.
Action cams remain a popular option for action sports (of course), POV video, drones, underwater video capture, and vlogging applications where a front-facing screen makes a difference. GoPro's Hero 9 Black still grabs most of the headlines, but other contenders round out a thriving and reasonably diverse action-cam market.