So you want to start shooting high quality videos? so cool. Once you start researching ready-to-use cameras, you’ll realize that most of them are eye-wateringly expensive. However, if you’re determined, you can put together a setup capable of shooting 5K video for less than $300. Here’s how I did it, along with some tips for using your favorite new strap.
I’ve included some optional, helpful accessories that bring the total cost up to over $500, but these aren’t essential to taking amazing pictures.
Choosing a camera
With such a small budget, I gravitated towards Canon’s EOS-M platform. I picked it up for just $239 on mpb.com—a site for buying, selling, and trading used camera gear. That deal was all well and good, but the EOS-M only shoots 1080p video natively. Everyone seems to talk about these higher resolutions, but no one mentions what makes them inherently better than 1080p. 5 by 5K simply refers to a horizontal resolution of 5,000 pixels; More dots create sharper, clearer, more lifelike footage. 5K also allows you to dramatically freeze your footage without losing definition.
To get around this quality limitation I turned to Magic Lantern (a firmware add-on for most Canon cameras), a literally pocketable camera capable of recording up to 5K video. Thankfully, installing Magic Lantern was pretty easy. All I have to do is download the latest build for my particular camera (found here), drag and drop the contents to the SD card, and pop it back into the camera.
Choosing a lens (and adapter)
Thankfully, I had some existing lenses to shoot with my Canon DSLR, but there are plenty of native lenses that work great for the EOS-M. I personally have a Canon 18-135 installed, which gives me image stabilization and plenty of zoom. Given that it is made for very large cameras (with a separate lens mount), I had to buy an adapter to make the 18-135 work properly; Once installed, it unlocks the ability to use Canon EF-mount lenses on the market. Having said that, the more expensive 15-45 lens above still works very well—though I recommend shooting with a tripod to combat its lack of image stabilization.
Extend battery life with a power bank
EOS-M uses more power and storage space after charging with Magic Lantern capabilities. The standard battery can last surprisingly well, but it dies after 45 minutes. To get around this, you can actually power the camera with a USB battery bank; To connect to the camera, you will need a dummy battery (with a compatible USB cable) to run the camera from an alternate power source.
Anker’s 10,000-milliamp-hour power bank allows for more than 10 times the battery life of the EOS-M’s standard 875-mAh pack. Once I had these things working, I added a base plate to the camera unit, which allowed me to attach a swinging monitor mount and a phone mount – the goal here was to create a modular battery solution that could be moved out of the way while adjusting the camera. settings.
If you’re adamant about keeping things under $600, you can skip these items. Having said that, these add-ons definitely take a beating by swapping out batteries every 45 minutes.
At its best – in the soft light of a sunrise or sunset – the EOS-M’s footage looks remarkably close to that of a pro-level camera costing five times as much. The notion that you can’t get good footage with an entry-level camera is wrong. Better tools make the process much easier.
For an entire camera system that costs less than some pro-level lenses, the fact that it can shoot 5K video is impressive. Feed the camera sensor with plenty of light, and the camera will capture some great shots.
Along those lines, any hint of darkness in the frame will lead to a noisy image that’s uncomfortable to look at. Shooting at 5K certainly doesn’t help the EOS-M’s lack of natural dynamic range; Incredibly high resolution makes it easy to see noise. Shooting at 2.5km reduces the noise slightly. But obviously if you’re investing in this setup, you’ll want to shoot a properly exposed scene at 5K.
It was doubly difficult to get all the parts I bought to work together properly. Check out my list of teething problems below so you don’t have to.
- For the dummy battery to work with the USB power bank, the battery door must be closed – the camera will not turn on with the battery door open. With the door closed, there is an additional dust cover that allows you to connect the cable to the dimming battery.
- Destroy as many Magic Lantern screen overlays as you can. These almost always rob processing power, resulting in white frames in the final shot. Go to the “Overlays” tab, and make sure that only the bare essentials are selected. Plus, if you’re just starting out, you don’t need extras like focus viewfinder, exposure assist, and Live View adjustments.
- Finding the right parts for him (the house and everything that goes with it) took some trial and error. The best advice here is to look for hardware and accessories that feature the same size threads – quarter-inch threads are the most common.
My final issue with this budget camera is the strong rolling shutter effect, which makes the footage look distorted when taking quick shots. Fast movements can easily render the footage useless as the camera sensor cannot process the frames fast enough. If you need to move the camera while filming, simply keep things smooth and steady.
During fast recording, the footage looks distorted.
Once everything is together.
The Canon EOS-M somehow manages to be equal parts fun and challenging to use. Coming from a photography background, it brought me back to camera basics—most of the principles are very similar. Having said that, the margin of error for getting a good shot with this camera is slim.
Despite the inherent weaknesses of the EOS-M, it is a perfect sleep camera. From the outside, it looks like a point-and-shoot. But with a little tweaking, it can punch well above its weight. If you can get good footage with the Canon EOS-M, you can get good footage from any camera.
Matt Crisara is an Austinite with a passion for cars and motorsports, both domestic and foreign, and as the editor of Autos. Famous mechanics, he writes most of the automotive coverage in digital and print. He was previously a contributing writer for Motor 1 following training at the Circuit of the Americas F1 Track and Speed City, an Austin radio broadcaster focused on the world of motor racing. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he competed on mountain bikes with the university’s club team. When he’s not working, he enjoys sim-racing, FPV drones, and the great outdoors.