Choosing the best 4K camera for video means being clear about the kind of videography you want to do. This is a very broad field with many different types of user.
In this guide we concentrate on regular interchangeable lens cameras with strong 4K video capture. These are ideal for photographers moving into video, or for filmmakers who don't want or need dedicated cinema cameras, and all the expense and technical complexity that goes into them.
We do have other buying guides for specific kinds of users:
• Best cinema cameras: for professional filmmakers and studios
• Best vlogging cameras: for independent content creators
• Best camera for film students: powerful and affordable cameras to start with
• Best action cameras: for filming adventures and action
• Best 360 cameras: for cutting edge filming and VR techniques
• Best drones: for aerial photography specialists
This guide concentrates on the rapidly growing list of hybrid stills/video cameras that can handle all types of content creation. This is where all the action is happening at the moment, as mirrorless cameras move upmarket and start to eat into the territory of professional cinema cameras – but at a fraction of the price.
The best camera phones already shoot 4K, of course, as do many of the best point and shoot cameras. But these are fixed lens devices with small sensors, which limits their versatility, performance and the settings you can apply. There are many nuances to capturing great quality video beyond simple resolution, and this requires features and controls you will only get on cameras designed for serious 4K filmmaking.
Mirrorless cameras are starting to mount a serious challenge to professional cinema cameras, led by the powerful Panasonic Lumix S1H (which also has the rather remarkable little Lumix S5 nipping at its heels), and the more adventurous camera makers are experimenting with new types of capture device – we are, of course, talking about the tiny and rather likeable Sigma fp.
The really big news, however, is the Canon EOS R5, a 45MP stills camera that can also shoot 8K video. Yes, you read that right – 8K. The R5 is not without issues, including overheating worries that have dented its appeal for many pro videographers, so while it's a spectacular leap forward on paper, the EOS R5 is not quite the ultimate stills/video camera.
Until then, there's also the incredibly well sorted Sony A7S III. This is the opposite of the Canon in terms of specs. Its resolution is capped at 4K, and it can only shoot 12MP stills, but Sony has produced the best 4K mirrorless video camera on the market. The EOS R5 might hint at what's coming tomorrow, but the Sony A7S III truly excels at what filmmakers need today.
Read more: Key 4K video jargon explained
The best 4K cameras for video in 2021
Stills and video
The world's attention seems focused on full frame cameras right now, but the X-T4 is a much cheaper proposition while also boasting very advanced 4K video capabilities. These include the capacity to shoot 4K video at up to 60p, for a smooth 2x slow motion effect. Not only that, it can also capture the slightly wider Cinema 4K format at the same speeds. There's more. Most 4K cameras capture 8-bit video internally to memory cards, but the X-T4 can capture higher-quality 10-bit video internally and, if you connect an external recorder, it can save video at a higher 4:2:2 colour sampling quality. The big step forward with the X-T4, however, is the new in-body stabilisation, which can reduce or eliminate the need for a gimbal, especially when used alongside the digital image stabilisation system. For all-round size, performance, power and price, the X-T4 is hard to beat.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T4 review
As a stills camera, the Canon EOS R5 is simply Canon's finest product ever. It’s the perfect amalgamation of the EOS R’s form, the EOS 5D’s function, and the professional-grade autofocus of the EOS-1D X. If you're a stills or hybrid shooter who flits between photography and videography, it's one of the best cameras you will ever have the pleasure of using. It has attracted some attention for the wrong reasons, notably overheating (or the threat of it) when recording 8K video, but this shouldn't detract from this camera's extraordinary capabilities. It's not perfect at everything, but given its resolution, its frame rate and its video capabilities combined, this is genuinely a landmark camera. It's expensive, and it feels like there's still a bit of development work to be done on the video side, but as a crossover pro stills/video camera, it's a dramatic step forward. The only reason this camera isn't number one in our list is price. This is an expensive professional purchase, especially when you factor in the cost of the best Canon RF lenses.
Read more: Canon EOS R5 review
Despite its compact size, the Lumix S5 shares the impressive 24MP CMOS sensor housed in the Lumix S1, but with improved autofocus. It also has a tough weather-resistant body and delivers up to 6.5-stops of image stabilisation with compatible lenses. Its standout features include class-leading dynamic range and 4K video recording, as well as 96MP high resolution RAW+JPEG capture. It’s tough to beat in this category, and if you had your eye on the Lumix S1H (or the Lumix S1), you should take a look at this first. Panasonic has made a brilliant content creator's camera at an affordable price and in a portable package. Bravo! Panasonic's autofocus tech isn't quite on the same level as other brands, particularly Sony and Canon, but that's not the only factor in choosing a camera for 4K video.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S5 review
The Sony A7C's specifications are unambitious to say the least, particularly in terms of its video capabilities, but its practical performance, from its handy vari-angle screen to its excellent AF system, make it effective enough as a camera. We will leave it to you to decide if its two-tone design is appealing, but for us it does not have the quality ‘feel’ of the other A7 models. Does the Sony range and the full frame mirrorless camera market need this camera, though? It's not cheap, it's not pretty and its not even technically very advanced. However, with that new 38-60mm retracting lens, it is more compact. The main thing for video shooters is the very useful vari-angle screen, the in-body stabilisation and Sony's superb autofocus system.
Read more: Sony A7C review
The Nikon Z6 II is a light refresh of the original Z6, with a second memory card and processor bringing a bump to burst shooting, now up to 14fps, and the promise of 4K 60p video via an update. However, 60p video will cropped (and not here until February 2021) and the camera still lacks an articulating screen, limiting its appeal for video and vlogging. Existing Z6 owners won't see a need to upgrade, but new buyers will get a very capable camera at a pretty good price. The dual card slots are a definite plus point, Nikon's in-body stabilisation is very good, and the list of Nikkor Z lenses is growing steadily.
Read more: Nikon Z6 II review
At one time we wouldn't have hesitated to recommend the more expensive Lumix GH5 as the best Panasonic Lumix G 4K camera. However, a succession of firmware upgrades have brought the cheaper Lumix G9 to the point where it more or less matches the GH5's video capabilities but makes for a slightly better stills camera (not least because of its pixel-shift high-res mode, for example). The Lumix G9 combines a 20.3MP image sensor with super-fast autofocus and a rapid 12fps continuous drive rate. It was originally launched as a stills-focused camera, but its video capabilities are formidable, and have been made even better with a v2.0 firmware update in November 2019 which has brought improved autofocus and 10-bit internal video capture. The G9 includes Panasonic's excellent 6.5-stop dual stabilization system (in-body and lens-based, where available). While it might be a little intimidating for novices, for serious filmmakers and photographers it's a very strong proposition. Better still, recent price drops have made it exceptional value.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix G9 review
It’s taken Sony five years to upgrade the video-centric A7S II to a Mark III, but the wait has been worth it for keen enthusiast and professional moviemakers. It might not boast 6K or 8K video resolution of some of its rivals, and with only 12.1MP it’s not a powerhouse super-stills machine either. But apart from a big and expensive cinema camera, it’s the only camera that can shoot 4K at 60p full frame with no crop, recorded internally, in 10-bit 4:2:2 with no limitations on recording time and with all the advanced AF functions still working. The 12MP resolution means the A7S III is pretty poor as a stills camera, but an absolute natural at 4K, so it is tilted more towards video than stills. However, sports fans should note it can shoot stills at 10fps and has an incredible 1,000-shot raw buffer (using new CFexpress Type A cards).
Read more: Sony A7S III review
The Canon EOS C70 is like a remixed version of Canon's C300 Mark III cinema camera, and a very powerful RF mount camera for video. It packs Canon's Super35 sensor, Dual Gain Output, 16 stops of dynamic range and 4K 120fps / 2K 180fps performance into a compact form factor more like a traditional stills camera. It also packs a touchscreen that changes the game for Cinema EOS cameras, with touch control making it so much easier to maintain focus. For lone shooters, the C70 boasts the iTR AFX system from the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, with head detection and spookily accurate autofocus. The only cinema camera to use Canon's RF mount, it opens up a world of cutting-edge optics – and not only can you still use EF lenses, but a new Canon speed booster enables you to use them with an extra f-stop and a full-frame angle of view! However, it doesn't record in RAW and there's no option to use PL lenses – for that, you'll need to step up to the C300.
With the Lumix S1H, Panasonic has used its considerable video experience to bring many of its high-end VariCam features to the Lumix S range. The controls, the interface and certainly the hardware have been build for video and cinematography, and the fact it’s also a very serviceable 24MP stills camera is a bonus. It’s a truly compelling ‘bridge’ between conventional system cameras and higher end cine gear, especially for existing Panasonic videographers. It's expensive, though, and specialized too, so not necessarily the first choice if you need to keep the cost down – though it does make the 'regular' S1 seem like second best now. Its official Netflix accreditation is a major plus point, but its continuous AF proved pretty patchy in our tests so that, combined with this camera's considerable size and weight, rules it out for vlogger style run-and-gun style videography. However, a recent upgrade to offer ProRes RAW output via HDMI to Atomos Ninja V devices adds to the credentials of the S1H as a cinema camera offering at a regular camera price point.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S1H review
It's easy to fall in love with the miniature size of the Sigma fp and its utilitarian, industrial design. Sigma has always dared to be different with its cameras, and given that there are now so many different full-frame mirrorless systems, this is great to see. This is a camera that is designed to be a start of a system, however, which is where opinions might divide. Stills photographers might find the Sigma fp a bit irritating to handle without its optional screw-on grip and ergonomically challenged even then. Videographers will see it differently. Here, the camera is simply a central component in a modular shooting 'rig', and the Sigma's small size and multiple attachment points are big advantages. In the end, it does feel as if the Sigma fp is no more than an interesting alternative in the stills market, but a much more serious and fascinating option for videographers. The sluggish and unpredictable continuous AF performance is disappointing compared to what its rivals can do, but Sigma does claim to have improved its performance in its recent Sigma fp firmware update, which also adds ProRes RAW output over HDMI to an Atomos Ninja V external recorder.
Read more: Sigma fp review
Key 4K video jargon explained
4K UHD vs Cinema 4K: What most people refer to as ‘4K’ is actually UHD, or 3840x2160 pixels; it’s not quite 4,000 pixels (or 4K) pixels wide. However, it does have the same 16:9 aspect ratio as Full HD, with twice the horizontal and vertical resolution. Actual Cinema 4K, which is often referred to as DCI 4K, has a resolution of 4096x2160 pixels, with a slightly wider 17:9 aspect ratio.
8K: see What is 8K?
Autofocus: Most camera makers now offer fast hybrid phase- and contrast-detection autofocus systems, though Nikon DSLRs still use contrast-detect autofocus in live view and during video recording, and Panasonic’s Depth From Defocus (DFD) contrast-detect AF is really fast. In reality, though, many videographers prefer manual focus.
Bit depth: Most cameras capture 8-bit video, which has similar limitations to 8-bit JPEGs and can start to break up and show banding or posterisation effects with heavy editing (or ‘grading’, to use the video term). Some cameras can capture 10-bit video, which offers more scope for editing later.
Bitrate: The level of compression applied to video footage. As a general rule, higher compression (a lower bitrate) produces smaller files but lower quality, while lower compression (higher bitrate) produces larger files but better quality.
Cine lenses: Regular lenses are fine for video but cine lenses have special adaptations that can make video easier or better. They use T-stops (actual light transmission values) rather than F-stops, and many have ‘declicked’ aperture/iris rings for smooth and silent exposure adjustment. Some also have toothed rings that engage with professional pull-focus mechanisms.
Colour sampling: Video is recorded as a luminance channel and two chroma channels. Compressing chroma (colour) data is less harmful to the image quality and this compression is quoted as a ratio. In the perfect world, cameras would record 4:4:4 video but usually the chroma channels are compressed, for example to 4:2:0 (basic) or 4:2:2 (better).
Crop factors: Not all cameras capture 4K video across the full width of the sensor. Regular stills camera sensors have a higher resolution than is needed, so some makers will crop the sensor area to reduce the image processing overhead or achieve a simple 1:1 pixel ratio for 4K video. This produces a potentially annoying crop factor.
External recorder: Video cameras can record compressed video internally to memory cards, but you can usually record ‘clean’ (ie uncompressed) video to an external recorder via the camera’s HDMI port, too. This offers potentially higher quality and greater storage capacity, and many of these have large displays that let you see the scene more clearly. Some of the best on-camera monitors have built-in video recorders
Frame rate: The traditional frame rate for movies is 24fps, whereas for PAL broadcast TV it’s 25fps and for NTSC broadcast TV it’s 30fps. Now that most video is transmitted and viewed digitally, the old distinctions between PAL and NTSC are less relevant but the frame rate still affects the look of the video.
Interlaced vs progressive: Interlacing is an old technology where two fields of odd and even scan lines are stripped together. It saves on processing power and bandwidth (for broadcasting) but the quality isn’t as good as progressive video, where each frame is captured in its entirety. Interlaced video has an ‘i’ suffix after the frame rate, progressive video has a ‘p’.
Intra-frame vs inter-frame (IPB): Intra-frame compression compresses each frame individually and gives the best quality frame by frame. Inter-frame compression only stores the changes between key frames. The choice may be expressed as ‘All-I’ (intra-frame) and ‘IPB’ (inter frame) compression.
Log modes: These capture ‘flat’ video with a wider brightness range designed for editing (grading) later. All camera makers have their own versions of log modes, such as S-Log (Sony) and C-Log (Canon). Log modes are a selling point for video-orientated cameras.
Microphone: the camera’s internal microphone, stereo or otherwise, will not have the sound quality or directional sensitivity for good-quality video, so an external mic is an essential accessory. You can use directional ‘shotgun’ mics like this RODE VideoMic Pro, or a wireless lapel or ‘lavalier’ mic for clipping to clothing to record speech. See our guide to the best microphones.
LED lights: naturally, flash is no good for video, so if you intend using artificial light it will need to be continuous lighting. LED panels are the top choice for video because they run for a long time off battery power while providing good levels of lighting and low heat levels. Some also offer variable colour temperature for matching the colour of different light sources. See our guide to the best LED panels
Live view: Mirrorless cameras have an advantage because they offer full-time live view both on the rear screen and in the viewfinder. DSLRs only offer rear screen viewing because they have to shoot video with the mirror up.
Memory cards: memory card makers will quote a maximum transfer speed, which is useful for gauging their performance for stills photography, but for video you need a minimum sustained speed. This is not the same thing, so most memory cards now quote both. The bare minimum for 4K video is 10MB/s (Class 10, UHS Class 1, V10); 30MB/s is better (UHS Class 3, V30) and 60MB/s is ideal (V60). Learn how to understand everything written on your camera's memory card
Oversampling: A processing technique where video is captured at a higher resolution then downsampled to 4K resolution. This can produce better quality and is sometimes used on cameras where the native sensor resolution is much higher than 4K.
Pixel binning: A way of combining the output from photosites so that a higher-resolution sensor can be used to produce 4K resolution video. It’s not considered as good, in quality terms, as oversampling.
Sensor size: 4K crossover cameras come with a range of familiar sensor sizes, including full frame, APS-C and Micro Four Thirds. Super 35mm is a sensor size used in cinematography some pro video cameras – it’s roughly the size of APS-C but with a wider aspect ratio.
Tilting screen: Very useful when filming at low angles or ground level. Fully-articulating screens are less important for video because you never shoot with the camera held vertically.
Touchscreen control: Useful in videography because you’re less likely to jog the camera if you need to make adjustments while filming.
Video tripod and head: A dedicated video tripod, such as the Manfrotto tripod above, will have twin legs for extra stability and vibration reduction, and a fluid head with a long panning arm will provide much smoother camera movements. The Manfrotto Nitrotech N8 has both these features, together with a counterbalance system that prevents the camera drooping forward when it’s released. See our guide to the best video tripods
Zebra: A tool provided by many recent cameras that's used to help judge exposure. This displays the areas of highlights in the frame, and the user will typically have control over the threshold to better manage detail in these areas.
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