The best cinema cameras are designed specifically for professional video capture, and this goes way beyond having 4K resolution and above or high-speed frame rates. Cinematographers also need a modular design based around essential add-on accessories like handles, microphones and external monitors. They also need niceties like built-in ND filters, long recording times, a wide choice of codecs – and ideally raw capture – and a whole lot more.
But the market is evolving. Advanced video-orientated mirrorless cameras are eating into the cinema camera market and there is now a great deal of crossover – and not just with the camera tech, but with the filmmakers who are using it. So when does a video camera become a cinema camera? Some might say it's when the camera is clearly designed for video capture and not stills; others might say it's when the cameras switch to a much larger, modular, cinema-focused form factor.
While many mirrorless on the market today have great video capabilities, the best cinema cameras are simply on a different level. Even the best mirrorless cameras, including the Canon EOS R5 with its 4K 120p and 8K video, simply don't have the connections, the cooling systems, the modular design, the in-built ND filters or even the same language of shutter angles and iris control that cinema cameras have.
So in this guide we've covered both bases. We have one section for full size, modular cinema cameras and another for smaller and more portable video cameras for a broader audience of filmmakers and advanced vloggers.
You can think of the first list as 'A' cameras and the second as backup 'B' cameras. But that's in a professional filmmaking setup. Any of these 'B' cameras could be perfect for independent filmmakers or single-handed video shooters.
We have left out some cameras. We have not included Arri or Red cameras because these are seriously high-end tools that are a little outside most users' scope. We've also left out most mirrorless cameras because they don't have quite the same cinema focus as the cameras listed here. (You can see our favorites in our Best vlogging cameras and Best 4K cameras for video guides.)
What about the 8K EOS R5 and Sony A1?
The 8K video capture of these two cameras has certainly made headlines, but it doesn't automatically elevate them to the status of cinema cameras. The issues around cooling cameras capable of 8K capture are now well documented, and these are still essentially stills cameras capable of capturing high-resolution video.
Now when these two companies refine their 8K capture to the point where it's reliable, effective and affordable in a full-size cinema camera, then we really might see something. Unfortunately for Canon and Sony, however, they will still be behind the amazing Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12K.
Best cinema camera in 2021
Full size cinema cameras
Sony’s recent A7S III mirrorless camera sent video shooters into a frenzy with its stunning 4K image quality, especially at high ISOs, incredible video AF, fast frame rates and very high-spec internal 10-bit codecs. The story here is that Sony has put the same sensor and all that clever tech into a compact cinema camera, the FX6, and actually improved on it in many ways. It has even better performance in low light, shoots at DCI 17:9 C4K instead of just 4K, and of course has XLR audio, built-in ND filters and all the usual handling benefits of a dedicated video camera. And at this price, it’s by far the best value full-frame cinema camera you can buy.
Read more: Sony FX6 review
The Mark II was our cinema camera of choice for a long time, but the Canon EOS C300 Mark III eclipses it in every way. The first camera to boast Canon's Dual Gain Output technology (basically dual native ISO), the result is It achieves remarkably clean low light picture quality, HDR acquisition and a whopping 16 stops of dynamic range. It can perform high-speed recording at up to 120fps in 4K at Super35, or 180fps in 2K at Super16, with internal recording options including 4K Cinema RAW Light at 10- or 12-bit, 2K RAW (in Super16) at 10- or 12-bit, and XF-AVC (MXF) at 4:2:2 10-bit ALL-I or LongGOP. And its modular design extends all the way to the lens mount, which can be changed between EF, PL or EF Cinema Lock without needing to send it to a service center. However, many of the same features are available in a cheaper, sleeker, more advanced camera…
If you really must have the bragging rights that comes with owning the highest-resolution video camera on the market, then the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12K is it. With a 79.6-megapixel CMOS sensor, it shoots 12K Blackmagic Raw files which give stunning quality with 14 stops of dynamic range and very filmic colours. Reduce it to a more reasonable 8K and 4K, and not only is the quality incredible, but you can shoot at fast frame rates that no other cameras can. But a camera is more than just its headline resolution and the Ursa Mini Pro 12K is based on the original Ursa Mini Pro launched almost four years ago and is starting to show its age. For example it has a Super35mm sensor, no IBIS, no codecs other than Raw, no continuous autofocus at all and certainly no phase-detection AF. It’s really a camera for experienced cinematographers shooting narrative drama such as feature films and VFX specialists rather than all-rounders.
Read more: Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 12K review
Blackmagic’s cinema cameras are an industry favourite, and the URSA Mini Pro is a shining example as to why its products get so much love from filmmakers. Despite costing significantly less than the Canon C300 II (at number 1), it delivers the same 15 stops of dynamic range, as well as up to 4.6K resolution shooting at a staggering 150fps when shooting RAW. The inbuilt ND filter at two, four or six stops is combined with IR compensation. Like the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (number 4 in our list), the Mini Pro G2 can record directly to an SSD through its USB-C port, and it also features two SDXC cards and two CFast cards as well. Pick one up one of these excellent cinema cameras and you even get a free copy of DaVinci Resolve, Blackmagic’s excellent video editing suite, which now comes loaded with audio and graphics software to elevate your footage beyond simple edits and grading.
For serious video shooters, the Panasonic Lumix BGH1 boxcam can make a lot of sense as it can be rigged up for a multitude of different uses. With the sensor technology and 10-bit recording of the popular Lumix GH5S, Varicam colour science and Dual Native ISO sensor as found in the high-end Panasonic camcorders, and a small modular body, it can be pressed into service for a huge range of high-quality productions. From documentary to full-on cinematic films, event coverage and live streaming, the BGH1 can be used for just about everything a professional filmmaker might need. But it’s definitely not a walk-around hybrid camera for people who like to shoot stills and video.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix BGH1 review
The Sony FS5 MII is virtually identical to its predecessor, with the same body. However, it comes pre-loaded with many of the paid firmware upgrades that unlocked advanced features of the original. It’s able to shoot 4K at up to 60p for example, with support for the BT.2020 colour space, elevating footage to broadcast standards. With its built-in electronic variable ND filter, variable lighting conditions aren’t a problem, and with 10 assignable buttons, you can also tune it to your shooting tastes. If you're a fan of slow-motion this is the camera for you; it offers up 180fps 1080p capture with no crop. With 14 stops of dynamic range, it’s no slouch – even though it can’t quite stack up to the C300 on that front. Finally, it supports Sony’s E mount lens system, so there’s plenty of glass around you can combine it with to capture sensational, cinematic results.
The Panasonic EVA1 is Netflix-approved, something you don’t usually find in such a small cinema camera. It’s just 1.2Kg without a lens, so is a great run and gun option, and even fits on a gimbal, especially if you’re shooting with a pancake lens. The 3.5-inch screen goes a step beyond articulating – you can detach it and reposition it depending on what you’re shooting, though outdoor viewability isn’t great. As for its 5.7K CMOS sensor, it oversamples to create excellent 4K results, and just like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (number 4), the EVA1 also has a dual native ISO, giving it two sweet spots, one at an ISO of 800, the other at 2500. This results in less grain and more dynamic range. With a compatible recorder such as the Atomos Shogun, the camera can output 5.7K RAW or 240fps at 2K resolution, so while the slow-motion capabilities might not be class-leading when working with the out-of-the-box kit, couple it with a few accessories and you can get stellar results that are ready for the big and small screen alike.
Portable cinema cameras
The Canon EOS C70 is like a remixed C300 Mark III. It packs the same 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.
Read more: Canon EOS C70 review
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameera 6K Pro is an evolution of the original 6K model which adds features missing from the first, including in-built ND filters. First of all, though, you have to get used to the handling from the odd size and large shape of the Super35mm Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro – which is certainly far from being pocket size. And the lack of continuous autofocus, image stabilisation or any auto-exposure can be an issue for some. It’s definitely not a run and gun camera. But if you use it as a tool for considered, cinematic shooting then it’s a bit of a steal as it produces rich, detailed files in Raw or ProRes from its dual native ISO sensor.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K looks great value for money today and it's an intriguing alternative for Olympus or Panasonic users who've already invested in MFT lenses. It has some disadvantages, such as no continuous AF and a fixed screen, but this is a cinema camera not a vlogging camera. It always comes back to bang for buck with the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. When you consider the fact you have a mini XLR audio input as well as USB-C storage support for recording to hard drives, a full sized HDMI port and dual card slots, the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K leapfrogs the competition in almost every video-centric area. Consider that the camera also ships with a full licence for Davinci Resolve, an excellent bit of pro video-editing software that costs £239, the Pocket Cinema 4K is quite a bargain.
Read more: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K review
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 designed like a stills camera rather than a cine camera, though, so the handling is compromised in that respect, but its specifications, performance and dedicated video-centric UI make this a strong challenger to more conventional cine camera designs.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S1H review
We suspect the Sony FX3 is what the Sony A7S III should have been all along. Although it's part of the Sony FX cinema camera family, it's clearly a derivate of the Alpha line, and ooks like a bridge between Sony’s Alpha mirrorless cameras and its box-shape cinema camera. Despite its Alpha appearance, the FX3 is an out-and-out movie camera, complete with Sony’s Cinetone-S color science, a detachable handle with XLR audio input, integrated mounting points and a movie-specific control layout unlike anything on Sony’s existing Alpha models. It's still very new and we haven't been able to test a sample yet, but as soon as we do we have a feeling this camera will be climbing much higher in this list, and probably a few others too.
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