For anyone struggling to find the budget to fund a brand new camera, a second-hand unit represents good value if you chose the right technology. Phil Rhodes gives us a rundown of some of the camera models to look out for.
One of the side-effects of rapid advancement in camera technology is that the previous generation is often found clogging up eBay long before it's really obsolete. Still, while buying brand-new gear is a tricky decision in such a fast-moving market, it's sometimes necessary to have something immediately on hand, or available for a long-term project. Some of us might even occasionally do a loss leader for a new client. Obviously, all camera crew own gear in order to give it away.
Happily, the used market makes all this much less financially painful, so let's look at some of the best options that exist at the moment. Naturally, this advice is likely to date quickly, so your own research is still important, but it's certainly possible to get an excellent camera body for under £2000. That's a limit specifically chosen to exclude some excellent brand-new options (the higher-end DSLRs, particularly the Sony alpha series) as well as the powerhouse FS700, which tends to start at a bit more than £2000 secondhand and is certainly a glitteringly attractive choice if you have the money.
All of these cameras take interchangeable lenses, and most will require external recorders for reasonable performance, so factor those costs in too.
Sony PMW-F3 (around £1500)
For some time, the F3 was a favourite of the self-employed cameraperson who needed to own something but didn't want to pay Alexa money. The launch price of the PMW-F3L was some US$16,000, positioned as a second-unit camera alongside the F35. Now they can be had for 15% of that, supporting modern log workflow (though lacking 4K). The inbuilt SD-card recording is very basic but there are both 4:2:2 1080p outputs for monitoring with optional LUTs, and clean outputs, without LUTs, for recording. Sony also sold an update which provided dual-link 4:4:4 output, though that would require a reasonably capable recorder.
The F3 boasts the highly-compatible FZ lens mount. Many were sold with PL adaptors, but anyone on a budget is likely to pair it with, say, Nikon AIs mechanical stills lenses. Used F3s vary in price, and some, with the 4:4:4 update, will break our £2000 limit. The upgrade itself is now very expensive and no longer sold by Sony. However, essentially all F3s will have S-Log as Sony quickly made that part of the update free; what it lacks is the 4:4:4 RGB.
The Sony PMW-F3. Image credit: Sony.
Canon EOS-C100 (around £1000)
The C100 has the same excellent Canon-made sensor as the mark-one C300. It suffered a little from mediocre internal recording options, limited to 24Mbps to SD cards, but is likely to be paired with an external recorder in modern practice. While the HDMI output is limited to 8-bit, the camera should otherwise get quite close to C300 pictures but with a rather better recording. There isn't even any need to buy a particularly expensive recorder – Atomos' early generation of little five-inch HDMI recorders will do a perfectly workmanlike job, and can record to low-cost spinning disks into the bargain.
The EOS lens mount is either a boon or a curse, depending on the glass you own. Canon users will, of course, be keen to use a camera that leverages their lens investment, and the C100 will do that nicely. It's very small, which is good, and the viewfinder isn't particularly wonderful, which is bad, but that sensor for £1000 is an intriguing deal nonetheless.