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5 Best Buys

The Gear To Get You Filming Fast By JG Harding
Published March 2011

New to the world of video production and unsure what gear to buy? Our guide to the five best options in three categories will get you started.

SEMI‑Professional CAMERAS

Each camera has pros and cons, depending on what you want to capture. Bodies with interchangeable lenses give more creative options, but are less convenient than fixed‑lens models. Prices are list, but some of these models are well established and can be bought for less, or hired for short shoots.


Although some camcorders have built‑in microphones, you're usually better off recording to a dedicated audio device. All of these models have XLR inputs with phantom power, so you can use your favourite mics for location sound.

  • 5 Best Buys1. Canon 550D (£779$799, body only): Lowest‑cost DSLR for capturing 1080p video. Many interchangeable lenses are available and shallow depth of field is easily created. Be sure to research useful accessories.
  • 5 Best Buys2. Canon XF100 (£2799$2999): A fixed‑lens camcorder recording to a broadcast‑quality 4:2:2 MPEG2 codec, the XF100 is small but very powerful.
  • 5 Best Buys3. JVC GY HM100 (£2299$3995): The diminutive HM100 is a great option for Apple Final Cut users: it records in a .mov file container ready for editing. Outputs video to small, inexpensive SD cards.
  • 5 Best Buys4. Panasonic AG HMC40 (£2011$3195): Panasonic's little AG HMC40 records 1080p footage directly to SD cards in AVCHD format, sharper than HDV. Lightweight, three‑sensor cam.
  • 5 Best Buys5. Sony NEX VG10 (£2000$1,999): Shoots progressive footage in interlaced files at 1080. Compact camcorder with large, DSLR‑style APS‑C sensor and interchangeable lenses.


    When shooting anything other than a music video, you're likely to want to capture sound on set. Shotgun mics are highly directional, rejecting sound off‑axis and letting you capture just the vital voices. As with all mics, there are models to suit each and every taste and budget.

    • 5 Best Buys1. Edirol R44 (£699$995): This four‑track unit is solidly built and full featured, including built‑in effects on each channel and a pair of mics, as well as four XLR inputs and 24‑bit/192kHz operation.
    • 5 Best Buys2. Fostex FR 2LE (£439$599): A two‑track portable recorder that records to Compact Flash media, this is well‑priced for its build quality and features.
    • 5 Best Buys3. Marantz PMD661 (£519$529): A two‑track recorder with simple operation and rugged construction, recording to SDHC media.
    • 5 Best Buys4. Tascam DR100 (£319$299): A two‑track SDHC‑card recorder with built‑in stereo mics, recording up to 24‑bit, 96kHz. Solid and simple to use, with Li‑Ion, AA and DC power options.
    • 5 Best Buys5. Zoom H4N (£279$299): Zoom's recorder can record from stereo built‑in mics and two XLRs at the same time. Records to SDHC card and is rubberised and durable.
      • 5 Best Buys1. Azden SGM X1 (from £99$199): A popular low‑priced mic, which comes with hot‑shoe shockmount and foam windshield. Known for a warm sound when compared to other shotgun mics. Powered by a single AAA battery.
      • 5 Best Buys2. Audio Technica AT897 (£275$259): A short shotgun that can be powered by an AA battery or phantom power. Has a rich but bright tone.
      • 5 Best Buys3. Rode NTG2 (£199$269): A great mic at a good price, the phantom‑powered NTG2 is moisture resistant, robust and known for balanced sound and good value.
      • 5 Best Buys4. Rode VideoMic (£99$149): Low‑priced short shotgun mic powered by a single 9V battery, and sold in a kit complete with shockmount and foam windshield. It connects using a 3.5mm jack, perfect for small camcorders.
      • 5 Best Buys5. Sennheiser MKH416 (£766$999): Popular premium shotgun mic for those with the money to spare. Rugged and resistant to the elements, it has 130dB peak‑SPL handling and a neutral sound, without the brittle high frequencies that can mar cheaper models. Used in many movie productions.