Choosing the best camera for you is not that hard if you’ve got years of experience and you’ve tried pretty much everything that’s on the market. If you’re new to film or photography – it’s way harder. Today I’m going to share with you my thoughts and experiences about different camera systems that we can use for timelapse or hyperlapse photography, and for video shooting as well.
DSLR or Mirrorless?
Let’s start with a type of camera. Just a few years ago, there were no mirrorless cameras or they were not that good. The only way to go was a DSLR. You can buy a very cheap DSLR by getting some old model. They have pretty good battery life for timelapse, because they don’t process the image through the camera sensor all the time, only when you take the picture. But is it reasonable to get a DSLR in 2021? You can think of that if you’ve got a very limited budget. You can get some very old Canon cameras, like T2I or 550D as we call it in Europe. Then you get pretty good quality 18 megapixels RAW images. I was starting with this camera and I made my first commercial projects with it. The advantage is that afterwards you can connect Canon EF lenses to pretty much any mirrorless camera with an adapter. On the other hand, pretty much any mirrorless camera will have better video performance than this one.
For any other than an extremely low budget I would suggest getting into the mirrorless world. I think that’s the future of the camera industry. With the camera you need to get some lenses, and you don’t want to sell all your lens collection after a year or two just because your camera system became obsolete.
The second general question you need to answer is what sensor size you are interested in. In mirrorless cameras there are basically 3 different sensor sizes. I’m leaving out the medium format because it’s quite a niche. We have here micro four-thirds system, with basically only Panasonic and Olympus cameras and it’s the smallest size within those three. The bigger one is the APS-C sensor, and the biggest is full frame. Usually, but it also depends on the specific camera, the bigger sensor will have better low light performance, better dynamic range and you’ll be able to achieve shallower depth of field.
My first serious camera that I used for timelapse was Panasonic GH4, so micro four-thirds sensor. Do I think it was a good choice after all these years? Yes and no. I needed a camera that shoots stills as well as high quality video. Back then it was the first and only mirrorless camera with internal 4K shooting and I decided I needed that extra resolution for my flow motion films. However as I ended up in Sony system anyway, probably it would be better to get the Sony A7S then. The huge advantage of any Panasonic camera, including the new full frame sensor models, is the ergonomics. They have options that other cameras just don’t have. They have the best built-in intervalometer for timelapse that I’ve seen, which you can enable with a wheel on the body and I loved that.
So, which sensor size I would recommend for timelapse? Today I would say leave the micro four-thirds and get at least APS-C. In the end, if you want to do it professionally you’ll end up with full frame cameras, so if your budget allows, get a full frame.
I won’t be talking about every brand on the market. I’m not too familiar with Nikon or Fuji for example, however I know they have some good cameras. Rob Whitworth, a great hyperlapser and inventor of flow motion technique, uses Nikon cameras. I will focus more on Panasonic, Sony and Canon. If you want to get an APS-C sensor mirrorless camera, for now you’re stuck with Sony.
Probably the absolute winner of the quality for the money award would be Sony A6300. I’ve used this camera for a few years with the biggest projects I made. It has amazing image quality when it comes to stills, shoots beautiful 4K video with amazing autofocus, and it is very affordable. Disadvantages? The APS-C Sony cameras are way slower than their bigger brothers. I mean, it takes longer to turn it on, shuffle through the menu. It doesn’t look like a big deal, but it’s annoying. Also, A6300 uses the old Sony FW50 battery, which shouldn’t exist at all. Currently, I have like 8 or 9 batteries for this camera, because they discharge so quickly. Sony now has a new battery for all new cameras, and it’s FZ100 and it’s so much better.
For full frame, there is a much wider range of cameras. Again, let’s start with a camera that I consider the best quality for the least money and it’s again Sony. I’ve been using Sony A7III for over a year and I’m impressed with that camera. It has better ergonomics than A6300, that way better FZ100 battery and very good low light performance if you want to shoot any astro timelapse. It has pretty good video features, so it shoots very nice 4K with excellent autofocus. For a cheaper full frame option you can get some older and cheaper, second hand cameras like A7 mark II, but you’re losing these video features and good battery life.
With very similar pricing we have a Canon EOS-R camera. It seems to be a very similar choice. It has higher photo resolution, 30 mpixels versus 24 in Sony. Canon will be similarly good for photos, Sony has better video features, with real 4K full frame video, not cropped like in Canon and sensor stabilisation. From well known timelapsers it is Kirill Neiezhmakov, who shoots beautiful hyperlapses all around the world, and uses Canon.
Panasonic recently joined the full frame game with their S line. Within this price range we have very similar S1 and S5 cameras. As I said Panasonic has great ergonomics, awesome video options including in camera 10 bit 422 footage, external ProRes RAW with Atomos Ninja V and probably one of the best sensor stabilization that exists in the cameras right now. These are things you don’t have in Sony A7III. Panasonic cameras are visibly bigger than Sony with similar specs. When I saw video centric S1H for the first time, I was surprised how huge it is. If you’re shooting high in the mountains every kilogram matters, but if you can drive a car to your shooting location all the time – it doesn’t matter that the camera is bigger. For timelapse, a bigger camera can also be less shaky in the wind. The timelapser that you might know, who uses Panasonic is Matjoez, so Matthew Vandeputte.
So, why haven’t I chosen Panasonic, if I said I need strong video features? That was a hard decision for me, but I went with A7III for a cheaper body and better lens choice, hoping that in the future Sony will release some killer video oriented camera. And they did, here’s my A7SIII. About lenses – Panasonic uses L mount for their line, which is fairly new. They work with Sigma, so they have some cool lenses, but still for Sony E there is much more, especially if you’re going for good quality small and light lenses. For now, no one else except Panasonic, Sigma and Leica is licensed to do L mount lenses, so we won’t see anything from Tamron for example. A few days ago there was news that Laowa will release a few of their lenses with L mount, so it’s heading in the good direction. Panasonic also loses when it comes to video autofocus, if that’s something you need.
Besides those, maybe not entry level but basic full frame cameras, every brand has something video centric or resolution centric. So if you shoot a lot of video you can choose Sony A7SIII, as I did. Panasonic has the S1H model, Canon has their R5 and R6 with some overheating issues. For higher resolution you can choose Sony A7R4 or their latest, very pricey A1, Panasonic has S1R model.
Let’s stop for a second on resolution. Is higher better for timelapse? The most popular resolution in allround cameras is 24 megapixels, which gives you up to 6K resolution in timelapse. In my opinion that’s a great sweet spot between the high resolution and ease of use. I don’t have clients yet that want anything higher than 4K. TV shows are still in FullHD. On the other hand we have high resolution cameras, which I mentioned before, so Sony A7R4, Canon R5 or Panasonic S1R. They have about 50 megapixels, so you can get 8K timelapse with it or even more. Of course, it’s good to have higher resolution, you can crop it in post or do some crazy zooms. Beside that, we have previously mentioned A7SIII, which is about 12 megapixels. This is for sure a video centric camera, 12 megapixels give you enough resolution to shoot 4.2K video. I use this camera for timelapse too and it works great. I am just losing the ability to do a big zoom in post when I’m exporting in 4K. For 1080p video, I can still crop the shot up to 200% without quality loss.
So, as a conclusion, my personal favourite camera brands these days are Sony and Panasonic. Choosing the camera is a little more complicated when it comes to video features. For only pictures, and specifically just timelapse, most of the cameras that are on the market right now will do well. I still think that if I had chosen Panasonic I would be equally happy with their system. Try to list your needs, whether you need RAW video, great autofocus, super high resolution or the lightest and smallest body and lens combination.
Let me know if you find this material useful, or if you want to hear about my lens choice for my cameras. Don’t forget, that pretty much with any camera you can do amazing timelapses, even with your phone, so there is no excuse not to shoot. Stay creative and see you next time.