What is the Best Camera for Video for Non-Profits and Social Enterprises?

So you’ve decided that telling your story through video would be very powerful, and understand the reasons why video is great not just for showcasing the impact your organizing is making, but also for attracting more supporters.

Now comes the next question. What is the best camera for video for non-profits and social enterprises? With so many options out there, and most with great quality video, it can sometimes get overwhelming. Here’s a guide to help you make an informed choice.

Factors to Consider When Choosing A Camera

1. Audio Level Meters

This may come as a surprise to you, but the quality of your audio is more important than the quality of your image. Audio quality is something most people don’t notice when it’s good. But it’s the first thing people complain about when it’s poor.

Truth is, people are able to tolerate poor quality video better than poor quality audio.

A big part of getting good quality audio for your video is using external microphones instead of the one built into your camera. But once you have that, having audio level meters to gauge the strength of your audio signal is very important.

audio level meters panasonic gh3 at zeroaudio level meters on panasonic gh3 at two-third level

  • If your signal is too weak, your audience will not be able to hear you very well even if they max out the volume on their computers.
  • If your signal is too strong, you end up having distortion in your sound, making everything that’s being said impossible to understand.

The only way to really know whether your audio is at an optimal level is to watch your audio level meters during recording.

Audio Monitoring – Some cameras come with a built-in headphone jack that allows you to monitor the audio that’s being recorded as well. It is always a good idea to monitor your sound via headphones while recording so you can check for any background noises or distortions.

2. Video Record Limit

Ever since DSLR cameras have started being able to record videos in full HD, they’ve been a go-to choice for many non-profits and social entrepreneurs thanks to the great image quality and affordable price tag.

But unlike traditional video cameras, many popular DSLR cameras have a limit for how long each individual video clip can run. Some of these limits run as low as 10 minutes. This is because of two factors:

  • Preventing damage to the sensor due to overheating
  • Some file systems limit clip sizes to 4GB

While the newer cameras being released today have increased clip duration limits, it’s worth noting what they are, especially if you have plans to film speeches at conferences, activities at your annual benefit or long sit-down interviews.

3. Sensor Size

Camera Sensor Size Comparison with Canon Nikon Panasonic iPhone

Even though the camera sensor is something you rarely see, it has a huge impact on many factors, including:

  • Image Quality – Camera sensors contain millions of photosites, which are light-sensitive spots. Each photosite has the ability to capture a limited amount of information. So the larger the sensor, the more information it can capture, and the more detailed an image it can produce.
  • Low-Light Capability – Similarly, with more photosites in larger sensors, the camera is able to capture a greater amount of light. This gives you greater freedom to film in darker environments. This is especially useful in indoor locations like offices, auditoriums, and some banquet halls where there may be little light.
  • Field of View – As the image above demonstrates, if you use the same lens on two cameras with different sensor sizes, you will see that part of the image captured with the larger sensor will not show up in the image captured by the smaller sensor. This is commonly referred to as a crop factor.
  • Depth of Field – You know how some images have the subject very clearly in focus in the foreground, but has the background beautifully out of focus? The bigger the camera’s sensor, the shallower the depth of field. The shallower the depth of field, the less of your image you will have in focus. This gives you the ability to draw your viewer’s attention to a particular point in the image by having it be the only thing in focus.  That also means, however, that you’ll find it more difficult to keep a moving subject in focus.
  • Weight of Camera – Since bigger sensors require bigger lenses to cover them, cameras with large sensors tend to be much bigger and heavier. You’ll feel the difference especially after extended periods of shooting handheld, or when you’re traveling with your heavy camera bag full of these larger lenses.

4. Flip-Out Screen

fujifilm digital camera with flip out screen

Having a flip-out screen enables you to see what you’re filming even when you’re holding your camera way above your head, or down at your waist level, or even when you’re taking a selfie. You’ll love the freedom and flexibility of having more camera angles to choose from.

5. Image Stabilization

When it comes to filming live events, we don’t always have the luxury of filming with a tripod. The Image Stabilization feature helps make handheld footage a little more smooth and sharp. This comes in especially handy when you’re taking telephoto shots (zoomed in to capture something far away), as hand movements tend to be magnified at that distance.

Image stabilization also usually happens in the lens, and not in the camera body, for Canon, Nikon and Panasonic cameras. Sony tends to favor its in-camera stabilization. So pay attention when buying a new lens.

You’ll find that each manufacturer has its own name for image stabilization:

  • Nikon – Vibration Reduction (VR)
  • Canon – Image Stabilization (IS)
  • Panasonic – Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS)
  • Sony – SteadShot INSIDE

6. Budget

Ah yes, the big B-word. When considering which camera would best fit your budget, I highly recommend also thinking about all the accessories that you will need to get alongside it. These include the following basics:

  • Shotgun Microphone – A decent, reliable one can be found for about US$149
  • Lavaliere Microphone – Runs between $199$579 depending on quality
  • Tripod – Runs between US$149-$350. Definitely go for a ball base head for easy leveling.
  • Extra Batteries – About US$50-$60 each
  • Memory Cards – I’d recommend 16GB or 32GB cards by SanDisk or Transcend. They run US$13-24.
  • Camera Bag – I’ve been very happy with my Case Logic camera and laptop backpack. This one’s about US$76.

You could choose to invest in one good heavyweight camera like the Canon 5D Mark III, or with less money, you could also choose to get two Canon 70D cameras instead.

Camera Comparison At A Glance

To sum it up, here’s a quick guide on your options available today, and how each one stacks up based on the factors I mentioned above:

 Top Camera Comparison for video


Footage Samples From Each Camera

Canon 5D Mark III vs. Panasonic GH3


Nikon D5100 Test

Canon 70D Test


Let The Filming Begin

So what’s the best camera for video for non-profits and social enterprises? Certainly, the above 4 cameras aren’t the only options you have. A lot of what you end up choosing will depend on your budget and needs.

As someone who uses my camera for video rather than photos 99% of the time, my personal favorite and recommendation is the Panasonic GH3 because of how outstandingly video-friendly it is.

Either way, I do hope that reading this has helped arm you with the knowledge to make an informed decision when it comes time to make your camera purchase.

So what’s one message you want to convey about your organization through video? Let me know in the comments section below.

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