This is a question we at Scene Alive often are asked and it can be a tough one, no lies. There are a few factors that one needs to consider when picking out their first camera or even a second camera, cause, yes you shall need one.
USE - What is your main use for this? This is a factor that is usually overlooked but it is quite important. We are always mentioning that the gear you use is just a tool. So what shall you be using this tool to do? There are different types of hammers. If you were roofing, you would not use a rubber hammer for the nails as this would not get the job done. This is the same for film. What camera would get the job done most efficiently and while not breaking the bank. It would also help to mention that no camera is perfect. Each camera has its use and knowing the restrictions of the camera as it relates to what you are doing will help a ton.
BUDGET - This is an important one but we have seen it often overlooked. Expensive cameras are not always the best and more often than not siphon all the funds and nothing is left for grip, post as well as paying the crew. We will touch on this at a later stage.
WHAT IS THE LOOK YOU ARE GOING FOR - Is there a certain look that you need for the project? Cameras nowadays have unique looks as far as color and sharpness. Are you looking for something that is close to the Arri or the Canon color profile? This should all be taken into account when making the ultimate decision.
WILL IT PAY ITSELF OFF? - This is one I ask myself often. Not sure if it is a personal preference but I always like to see if the investment I make will bring in dividends and then some. 3 years down the line, am I still paying it off? If so, something is wrong. Do some research on the market and see what people who are doing the same thing you are would be charging for the gigs then use this info to make the choice.
DOES YOUR NLE PLAY ? - Not to rag on Canon, but their AVCHD is not a very well sought after codec. It is great for capturing all day and leaving some room on the card for BTS, but on the Avid does not play too well with all codecs either. So you might have to use Premiere. This is not a problem if you are accustomed to using Premiere.
TEMPERAMENTAL - I love traveling and I'm sure people in this industry do as well. If your work usually takes you to the Alps or the Sahara, your camera could be subjected to some amazing temperatures and humidities. Make sure it will cope under the pressure and you will not be needing to refund the client. If this is not you, move along. Nothing to see here.
When all the options have been looked at and you have a camera in mind, I would suggest renting it out for a weekend just so you and the camera can become buds. Get to know the camera in and out. See how it looks in specific light setups. How it operates under different temperatures and scenarios. And for rental, I would recommend lensrentals.com. They are fantastic on the customer service and the gear is always taken care of. What's more, for a small fee of $79, you will get free shipping for a year, like a baws. It would also help to realise that some of these cameras have been around for a few years and are now cheaper. Use this to your advantage and check out the used section of camera rental stores.
This being said, let's look at the options that are in front of us.
Black Magic Pocket Cinema- $995
Panasonic GH4 - $1299
Sony A7R - $1898
Black Magic Cinema Camera - $1995
Canon XC10 - $1999
Canon C100 (Second hand) - $1500-$2000