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What is a good starter pro camera for under $2500-$3000?

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Trent Slabaugh
What is a good starter pro camera for under $2500-$3000?
on Apr 11, 2013 at 3:14:12 am

I'm a Specs Howard graduate and I've been doing freelance videography for the past year. I'm looking into purchasing my own equipment, but am only looking for something to start with for a smaller budget ($2500-$3000 for camera, tripod, mic, etc.). I've looked at both camcorders and DSLR's. While I love the image quality and lower cost for the latter, I know that a camcorder will still give me a much stronger foundation all around. It will also be more compatible with the type of work I plan on doing, most likely being based around events and run-and-gun style shooting.

In the past, I've operated the Canon XH A1. It was a good camera to work with, and it has given me a good idea of what I would like to look for. Eventually, I would like to work up to the Sony HVR-Z5U, but I know that's a long ways off yet. As far as the budget I'm looking at now (which I will have at the latest by summer's end this year), I would like to come as close to both of these mentioned models that I can. Features that are a MUST on a camcorder are full HD, 24p, dual-XLR ports, manual controls/ring(s), 20x zoom (average), and image stabilization. I'm open to any and all suggestions and pointers. Thanks!

By the way, here's a list of some models (both camcorders and DSLR's) that I've looked at and considered:

Canon XF 100/105
Canon XA 10/20/25
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EOS 7D
Sony HXR-NX30U
Sony HXR-NX70U
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

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Todd Terry
Re: What is a good starter pro camera for under $2500-$3000?
on Apr 11, 2013 at 3:54:46 am

Well Trent... got a little bit of a tall order there... not a lot of money to spend, plus a lot of features some of which are more likely on higher-end cameras.

That, and sounds like you need to dip into that same budget pool to buy all of your support equipment as well.

If I were you, I'd hit eBay and look for a gently used Canon XLH1. This was a $10K camera just a few years ago, and you can find them for peanuts now. This was a GREAT camera, I used it as my principal camera for almost five years. In fact, even though we've retired it in favor of the C300, I still have the H1 sitting on a shelf. I can't bear to part with it because they re-sell for very little now on the used market, and I can't bear the thought of losing $8K on the deal. Although that is very good news for someone wanting to buy one now.

Downsides... it's a tape acquisition format, and it's HDV, not "full HD" (though I tell ya, you'll never know the difference). But in my opinion they are small prices to pay for the incredible image quality and features. It has pretty much all of your requirements, and a lot more.

I really can't say enough good things about the H1, at the time I was using it, it was my favorite camera ever. It's still right up there. And it's ten times the camera compared to anything you can buy new for the same money.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Trent Slabaugh
Re: What is a good starter pro camera for under $2500-$3000?
on Apr 11, 2013 at 12:02:25 pm

Thanks for your response, Todd! I'll look into the XLH1. But now that I'm looking back on my original post, perhaps I should have said PREFERRED features rather than MUST HAVE. I know I'll need to sacrifice and compensate for at least some of the features I've listed with with first camera. But I would like to get as many into one affordable camera as I can so I can get off the ground.

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Roger Van Duyn
Re: What is a good starter pro camera for under $2500-$3000?
on Apr 11, 2013 at 12:31:48 pm

Hi Trent. Sometimes Canon has some good deals on refurbs on their site. Here's the link:

Sony and Panasonic also have links. Most of my equipment was bought used or refurbished ( including my XH-A1 and XH-A1S)

I'd like to go tapeless, but watching the cashflow. Have one external unit that's a little flaky. I suspect that it would be better to go with a newer tapeless camera than deal with the issues of external devices.


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Kim Rowley
Re: What is a good starter pro camera for under $2500-$3000?
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:26:17 am

Hi Trent,
I was browing the web today with the same question you posed last year. Did you make a decision in the end?

2x 2.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon 12GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5770, Xserve RAID, AJA IO, 2 Cinema Display, FCP Studio 3 (7.0.3), OS X10.6.5

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