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The best cinema cameras in 2020: stepping up to full scale filmmaking

best cinema cameras
(Image credit: Canon)

Welcome to Digital Camera World's guide to the best cinema cameras. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or are looking to start creating video professionally, a lot hinges on the quality of the footage you capture. 

This is where we're seeing one of the biggest and fastest changing revolutions in the photography market right now. Mirrorless cameras like the remarkable new Panasonic Lumix S1H are nibbling at the heels of proper high-end video cameras, and the extraordinary Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K offers high-end pro video features in a camera no larger (and no more expensive) than a decent mirrorless camera.

Everything from smartphones to DSLRs right through to mirrorless cameras can record decent quality footage at up to 4K, but if you need a high-end system for broadcast and cinema productions, then you will need to go way beyond the best cameras for vlogging and even the best 4k cameras for filmmaking.

The best cinema camera to go for hinges heavily on your budget. Are you just starting out? If so, then the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K is about as entry-level as cinema cameras get when it comes to price, while still offering professional filmmaking features. With Canon fit lenses and the same UI as Blackmagic's premium line, this is a fantastic way to sharpen your teeth as a filmmaker or videographer. 

Climb to the upper end of our list, and you’re looking at a true workhorse in the Canon EOS C300 MK II. This is one of the most popular cinema cameras around, and the champion when it comes to dynamic range. Of course, you can go higher if you look at cameras from top-end manufacturers like Arri and RED, and by the time you're in this territory, you'll already know what hardware you need. This list aims to give you a spread of accessible options you can pick up and start creating with at under $10,000 or £10,000.

Cinema cameras seldom ship with lenses as standard, and each entry in our list features specific mounting options, listed in the key features for your convenience. Additionally, some of the cameras here use CFast cards. These are incredibly quick, and capable of capturing high-quality RAW 4K footage, but are also very pricey. They could prove to be a technical dead end too, as CFexpress seems to be taking over as the next big thing in high-speed storage.

Best cinema camera: Canon EOS C300 MK II

(Image credit: Canon)

1. Canon EOS C300 MK II

The best cinema camera with dream dynamic range and excellent AF

Sensor size: 24.6 x 13.8 mm | Sensor resolution: 4206 x 2340 (9.84 MP) | Card slots: CFast x 2, SDXC x 1 | Lens mount: EF or PL Lens Mount | Max shooting resolution: 4K | Display size: 4-inch | EVF: Yes

EF or PL lenses
Excellent dynamic range
Slow motion crop
No high framerate 4K capture

With an ideal array of ports, features and modes to help you capture excellent footage, the C300 MK II is a good few steps up from a DSLR or mirrorless camera that happens to shoot video. It’s able to handle low light video like a champ (up to roughly ISO 32000 before grain is noticeable), and unlike most consumer Canon cameras you won’t be grumping about its 4K capabilities – the C300 MK II captures UHD content at up to 410Mbps/10-bit. Dynamic range is excellent at 15 stops, as too is its continuous autofocus – one thing the C300 MK II does share with its sub-£2000/$2000 siblings. In a break from tradition, it takes either EF or PL lenses, and the lens fitting can be swapped out at an approved service centre. 

The best cine lenses

Best cinema camera: Sony PXW-FS5 MII

(Image credit: Panasonic)

2. Sony PXW-FS5 MII

The best cinema camera for capturing slow-mo footage

Sensor size: 24.6 x 13.8 mm | Sensor resolution: 4096 x 2160 (8.84 MP) | Card slots: XQD x 2 | Lens mount: Sony E Lens Mount | Max shooting resolution: 4K | Display size: 3.5-inch | EVF: Yes

Excellent slow motion credentials
BT.2020 colour space
Virtually identical to original FS5
AF inferior to Canon

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. 

Best cinema camera: Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro G2

(Image credit: Blackmagic)

3. Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro G2

External recording and excellent dynamic range

Sensor size: 25.34 x 14.25 mm (Super35) | Sensor resolution: 4608 x 2592 (12MP) | Card slots: CFast x 2, SDXC x 2 | Lens mount: EF | Max shooting resolution: 4.6K | Display size: 4-inch | EVF: Optional extra

Excellent dynamic range
Convenient storage options
Built in ND filters
Bulky when loaded up

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 MKII (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.

Best cinema camera: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

4. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K

An extraordinary portable 6K camera that takes Canon lenses

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Super 35 | Megapixels: 8.8MP (native 4K) | Lens mount: Canon EF | 4K/6K frame rates: up to 60/50p | Standard ISO range: 400,3,200 | Memory cards: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II, 1x CFast

Excellent video quality
Popular Canon EF mount
Amazing value
No continuous autofocus
No ND filter/articulating screen

The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K is a unique and specialised video camera with extraordinary specifications, design and value for money. It's not a big cinema camera in the classic style and you probably wouldn't use it as the main camera for a shoot, but as a portable second camera it's really rather extraordinary. It's styled like a compact rangefinder camera, but it's designed solely for video, not stills. The older Pocket Cinema Camera 4K used a Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount (and is still being sold), but this new model uses a larger Super 35mm sensor format and the Canon EF lens mount. Amazingly, it can capture 6K raw video at up to 60/50p. This camera does have limitations, including a fixed, non-tilting screen and no continuous autofocus, but technically it's quite extraordinary.

Read more:

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K review 
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K review

Best cinema camera: Panasonic Lumix S1H

(Image credit: Panasonic)

5. Panasonic Lumix S1H

Panasonic's powerful mirrorless camera has earned Netflix accreditation

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame | Sensor resolution: 24.2MP | Lens mount: L-mount | 4K frame rates: 60, 50, 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: Dual Native ISO, 100-51,200 (50-102,400 exp.) | Memory cards: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS II)

6K video capture
Effective as a stills camera too
V-Log, LUTs and cinema features
No raw video capture
Camera rather than camcorder design

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 hands on review

Best cinema camera: Panasonic AU-EVA1 5.7K

(Image credit: Sony)

6. Panasonic AU-EVA1 5.7K

This Netflix-ready cinema camera offers 5.7K capture

Sensor size: 24.89 x 18.66 mm | Sensor resolution: 6340 x 3232 (20.5 MP) | Card slots: SDXC x 2 | Lens mount: EF | Max shooting resolution: 4K | Display size: 3.5-inch | EVF: No

5.7K downsampling works well
Dual-native ISOs
Reflective screen
Mediocre AF

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.

Best cinema camera: JVC GY-LS300

(Image credit: JVC)

7. JVC GY-LS300

MFT lens mount meets YouTube live streaming

Sensor size: 24.89 x 18.66 mm | Sensor resolution: 4512 x 3008 (13.5 MP) | Card slots: SDXC x 2 | Lens mount: MFT | Max shooting resolution: 4K | Display size: 3.5-inch | EVF: No

Livestreaming support
Affordable
Plastic frame
Mediocre screen

In 2020, the JVC LS300 is a much better camera than it was when it launched. Its hardware is relatively inexpensive given its functionality, and while its design is atypical when set alongside most of the film cameras in our list, it’s a serious contender for anyone looking to live stream, with direct output to services like YouTube. Capable of shooting 4K Ultra HD recording (150 Mbps, 24p/30p), it can constantly record to one SD card, and simultaneously record manually to the other, so you always have a backup. The camera also has a three-position ND filter – 1/4, 1/16 and 1/64, and includes a shotgun microphone in the box so that you can capture decent sound from the off. With its latest firmware upgrade adding JVC Log mode, it can deliver a filmic look, and it also has a lossless crop zoom feature that enables zoom functionality without detail loss when using prime lenses. All-in-all, it’s an excellent package that’s versatile without breaking the bank.

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