Which camera is best for filming your hunt?


Mule deer buck from Steve Alderman
Photo credit: Steve Alderman

Are you thinking about filming your next hunt or upgrading your camera for a better end production value? There are a lot of things to consider when you want to capture a hunt to share with friends. Knowing what is needed to take your video to the next level and share it with the world means understanding that quality matters. Filming hunts is not cheap and you should expect to spend some money in order to get started.

Video camera and GoPro mounted on tripod
Photo credit: Steve Alderman

It can be overwhelming when you decide to purchase a camera to start filming your hunts. What to buy, how much to spend and what kind of quality are you going to get out of your new purchase are just a few questions that you might want to consider before purchasing to help create a video worth watching. With the holidays just around the corner, hopefully you will find a new camera or accessory under your tree this year.

How do you choose a camera? 

Most beginners are not going to spend $5,000 to $10,000 on a high definition camera to film their hunts just to share with their friends on Facebook and YouTube. Most beginners should expect to spend between $1,000 to $2,000 on their first HD camera. It is possible to spend less, but there have been vast improvements from the $500 to $1,500 camera. I will offer suggestions as well as pros and cons for both. I plan to focus on the Canon line of cameras because that is what I am familiar with since I have used that line of cameras over the last 15 years. There is nothing wrong with using other brands like Sony and Nikon and, as a matter of fact, I plan to purchase the Sony FS7

Filming your hunts
​Photo credit: Steve Alderman

For a video camera, at the minimum you want to choose a model with a built-in zoom and 1920x1080 resolution. 1080 resolution is the current broadcast standard for most television and web-based content. You want to pay attention to the optical zoom, not the digital zoom.  Digital zoom is worthless and should be shut off as soon as you turn on your camera. Most video cameras come with anywhere from a 10 to 20 optical zoom. The higher the number, the further out you can zoom. For quality, usable footage that still allows you to count the points on a deer, you add a zero to the end of the zoom to figure out the maximum yardage to film. For example, 10 power equals 100 yards, 20 power equals 200 yards, and so on. Yes, you can film beyond this, but your quality will start to diminish. 

Starter camera

A great starter camera is the Canon Vixia HF R500.

Canon VIXIA HF R500 video camera

Photo credit: B&H

This camera is priced from $200 to $300 dollars and package deals are available at places like Campbell Cameras for around $600 that include extra batteries, tripod, exterior shot gun mic and a number of other important add-ons. 

Intermediate camera

For an intermediate camera, I recommend the Canon XA20. It runs around $2,000, but it is worth every penny.

Canon XA20 video camera for filming hunts
​Photo credit: Steve Alderman

It comes with two XLR audio jacks. It also has a top handle that I use about 50 percent of the time when I am holding the camera. The XA20 has some of the most vibrant color and sharpest video footage I have seen come out of a camera, including cameras that cost twice as much. It is the right size not too big and not too small, and fits into most daypacks. The problem with smaller cameras is the smaller it is, the harder it can be to hold and film. The bigger the camera, the easier it is to hold steady due to the size and weight. 

Now that you have the camera, what other accessories are essential?

There are a few other accessories that I would never leave home without when heading out to film a hunt. The first and foremost important accessory is a decent tripod and video head.

Various tripods for filming hunts
​Photo credit: Steve Alderman

The better the tripod and video head, the steadier the footage will be when filming in the wind and while panning with your camera on the tripod. A decent tripod and video head combo will cost you between $150 and $2000 depending on what you buy. Spending $150 to $200 is about the lowest I would suggest you go when looking at options. Slik and Manfrotto make some great tripods in the $100 range. I would also buy the Manfrotto 128LP video head, which retails around $80. 

Audio quality is next and probably just as important, if not more important depending on who you ask. Onboard mics are not that great. You need an exterior shotgun mic with a Deadcat mic cover. A Deadcat mic cover is the fuzzy or furry thing that covers the mic and allows you to film outside in the wind. Even the slightest breeze can ruin most shots, especially if there is any dialog you need to use

For the intermediate person looking to step it up, go with the nicer camera. Go ahead and get the tripod and video head and look into getting a cordless lapel mic. One of the reasons I like the Canon XA20 is because it has two XLR audio jacks to accommodate the cordless microphones. These separate audio jacks allow you to mic up your talent cordlessly and then record ambient and backup audio with the onboard shotgun mic.

Audio quality and lighting accessories
​Photo credit: Steve Alderman

A decent cordless mic is the Sennheiser EW G3, which costs approximately $600. A cordless mic will take your production to the next level. Audio is 50 percent of your project so do not skimp in this department. You may also want to look at getting an onboard LED light. As hunters, we spend a ton of time in the earlier morning and late evening hunting and preparing for hunting. This light is not the best for filming and an artificial light can make or break your project. Even during the day an LED light can take the hard shadows off a person’s face so you can see them. Decent on-camera LED lights can be purchased for around $200. Finally, always bring extra batteries because you can never have enough.

GoPro or Sony Action cam?

While these cameras are great for filming up close on subjects or for establishing shots, they are not good for filming wildlife past 30 yards and nether will do your hunt justice.

GoPro cameras
​Photo credit: Steve Alderman

If you want to film yourself in the tree stand or blind, these cameras are perfect for a second angle and cutaway shots, but they will not work for your main camera.

I hope this article has helped you plan out your next camera purchase. One last consideration that most people do not think of when getting into filming is the cost of replacing your cameras every three to four years to keep up with the changing technologies.

Packing out the buck
Photo credit: Steve Alderman

Filming is not a cheap endeavor, but it can be very rewarding to sit back and watch some of the amazing footage you have captured. 


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