So you want to start recording high quality videos? Incredible. Once you start researching the right cameras for the job, you’ll realize that most are expensive. However, if you’re determined, you can put together a setup that can shoot 5K video for under $300. Here’s how I did it, along with some tips for getting the most out of your fancy new rig.
I’ve included some useful, optional accessories that total over $500, but these aren’t necessary to capture great footage.
Choose a camera
With such a small budget, I focused on Canon’s EOS-M platform. I picked up mine used for just $239 on mpb.com — a website for buying, selling, and trading used camera equipment. That deal is nice and good, but the EOS-M only shoots 1080p video natively. It seems like everyone is talking about these higher resolutions, but no one has mentioned what makes them inherently better than 1080p. 5 in 5K simply refers to a horizontal resolution of about 5,000 pixels; More dots produce sharper, clearer, more vivid movies. 5K also allows you to crop your scene quite a bit without losing definition.
To get around this resolution limitation, I switched to Magic Lantern (a add-on software for most Canon cameras), which allows this true pocket camera to record video up to 5K. Thankfully, installing Magic Lantern is easy. All I had to do was download the latest build for my particular camera (found here), drag and drop the stuff onto the SD card, and put it back in the camera.
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Select Lenses (and Adapters)
Thankfully, I’ve got some existing lenses from shooting with my Canon DSLR, but there are plenty of original EOS-M lenses that work well. I personally have Canon’s 18-135 installed, which allows me to stabilize the image and zoom quite a bit. Since it’s made for much larger cameras (with a different lens mount), I had to buy an adapter to get the 18-135 to work properly; once installed, it opens up the possibility of using a wide range of Canon EF-mount lenses on the market. Having said that, the more affordable 15-45 lens above still performs well — although I recommend shooting with a tripod to combat its lack of image stabilization.
Increase battery life with battery backup
EOS-M uses more power — and storage space — after enhancing its capabilities with Magic Lantern. Standard batteries can work surprisingly well but run out in about 45 minutes. To get around this, you can actually power the camera with a USB battery pack; To connect it to the camera, you’ll also need a dummy battery (with a compatible USB cable), allowing you to run the camera from an alternate power source.
Anker’s 10,000 milliamp-hour power reserve enables more than 10 times the battery life of the EOS-M’s standard 875 mAh pack. Once I had these working, I added a base plate to the camera cage, allowing me to connect a rotating display stand and a phone clip — the goal here was to create a practical battery solution. -The module can move out when adjusting camera settings.
If you’re adamant about keeping everything good under $600, you can skip these items. Having said that, these add-ons definitely beat having to change the battery every 45 minutes.
Under ideal conditions — sunrise or sunset with soft light — footage on the EOS-M looks almost identical to what you’d get on a professional-grade camera that costs five times more. The notion that you can’t get good footage with a low-end camera is wrong; Better equipment simply makes the process much easier.
For an entire camera system that costs less than some professional-grade lenses, the fact that it can shoot 5K video is absolutely impressive. Give the camera’s sensor plenty of light and the camera can capture some great footage.
Along those lines, any hint of shadow in the frame will result in a rather grainy and unsightly image to look at. Shooting at 5K certainly doesn’t help the EOS-M’s inherent lack of dynamic range; the ultra-high resolution actually makes the noise easier to see. Shooting in 2.5K mode has very little noise reduction. But obviously if you’re investing in this setup, you want to shoot a properly exposed scene at 5K.
Getting all the components I bought to work properly together was doubly difficult. See below for a list of teething problems I’ve experienced so you don’t have to.
- The battery door needs to be closed for the dummy battery to work with USB power — the camera won’t turn on when the battery door is open. There is an extra dust cover that allows you to connect the cable to the dummy battery when the door is closed.
- Turn off as many Magic Lantern screen overlays as you can. These are almost always stripped of processing power, causing white frames to appear in the final shots. Go to the “overlay” tab and make sure to select only the basic elements. Plus, if you’re starting out, you don’t need extra features like focus peek, exposure helper, and live view adjustments.
- Finding compatible components for the rig itself (the cage and everything attached to it) took some trial and error. The best advice here is to look for mounting hardware and accessories with the same thread size — 1/4-inch thread is the most common.
My final problem with this cheap camera is the strong roll-shutter effect, which makes footage appear warped when doing fast panning shots. Fast movements make the footage simply unusable with this super distracting glitch since the camera sensor can’t process the frames fast enough. If you absolutely need to move the camera while recording, just keep things smooth and steady.
The footage appears to be warped when taking a quick pan.
Once everything is together
The Canon EOS-M somehow manages to be equally enjoyable and difficult to use. Coming from a photography background, it really took me back to the basics of the camera — most of the principles are very similar. Having said that, the margin of error for getting a great shot with this camera is very slim.
Despite the EOS-M’s inherent shortcomings, this is the perfect sleeping camera. From the outside, it looks like a point-and-shoot. But with a little tweaking, it can punch well beyond its weight. If you can get good movies with the Canon EOS-M, you can get good movies from any camera.
Matt Crisara is a Native Austinite with an unrelenting passion for motorsports, both foreign and local, and is the Automotive Editor for Popular mechanics, he writes the majority of auto coverage on both digital and print. He was previously a contributing writer for Motor1 after interning at Circuit Of The Americas F1 Track and Speed City, an Austin radio station focused on the racing world. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he raced mountain bikes with the College Club Team. When not working, he enjoys sim racing, FPV drones and the great outdoors.