This article first appeared in MAKE Volume 38, on pages 62–63.
Lots of people in video production are very gear-focused. While having good equipment can be important, it’s not everything. You should start out making videos on whatever camera you can get your hands on: your phone, your old point-n-shoot, an old camcorder, or your webcam. Learn what you like and don’t like about it before spending a lot of money on new gear.
Once you’re ready to take the plunge, think carefully about your needs. Do you make projects of varying sizes and contexts? A camera with interchangeable lenses might be for you, like a DSLR. For years of MAKE videos, my trusted buddy was the Olympus E-P2, the first micro four thirds camera to support audio input. Before that was the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2. Nowadays I mainly use a Nikon D5100 with a 35mm or macro lens. The articulated screen helps you see the shot you’re getting while you’re making the project, and lets me shoot over my head with the screen pointed down. Look for cameras with audio input for adding an external microphone.
Make sure it’s a camera you’ll actually use on a regular basis — Are you always making in the same physical space? If not, will you carry the camera with you? Can you operate it quickly and easily? If you can, go to a store with lots of different cameras so you can test them out. The smallest oversight in the design can have you tearing at the tripod plate every time you need to change the battery, which is not something you’d see in the product description online. Read lots of product reviews before buying anything online, and make sure you can return it.