Welcome to the brave new world of 4K video! 4K has become the new standard for video capture on modern digital devices, but what does it mean, what do you look for and how do you choose the best camera for 4K video?
If you've got an up to date smartphone, you'll be shooting 4K video already. The same applies if you have one of the latest compact digital cameras. But these are fixed lens devices with small sensors, which limits their versatility and performance. Once you start getting serious about video, you'll need a 4K interchangeable lens camera, and we've picked out the best, across a whole range of prices.
We're also covering a range of user types. For budding Instagramers and YouTubers we have a whole guide on the best cameras for vlogging, but we've also picked out a couple of great 4K vlogging cameras to include here.
If you're an enthusiast or pro photographer with clients who now want video as well as stills, you'll need a camera that can do both, and the latest pro DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are perfect for the job.
Serious videographers, whether they shoot single-handed or as part of a small team, now have more choice of 4K cameras than ever, and with specs and prices that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago – and we've also included a full 'cinema' camera for pro cinematographers, just for context.
Read more: Key 4K video jargon explained
So here we’ve gathered together ten of the best 4K cameras across a range of price points – including both hybrid stills/video cameras and specifically video-centric models to see what they do that’s different, and why many pros choose to pay the extra for dedicated video cameras.
The best 4K cameras for filmmaking
1. Fujifilm X-T3
Amazing 4K video capabilities in a great all-round camera
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Sensor resolution: 26.1MP | Lens mount: Fujifilm X | 4K frame rates: 60, 50, 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1.1x | Standard ISO range: 160-12,800 | Memory cards: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS II)
The Fujifilm X-T3 isn't just a great all-round mirrorless stills camera, it's also a spectacularly effective camera for 4K video. Most rival cameras can capture 4K video up to a frame rate of 30p (normal speed), but the X-T3 can shoot 4K 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-T3 can capture higher-quality 10-bit video internally and, if you connect an extenal recorder, it can save video at a higher 4:2:2 colour sampling quality. To cap it all, the X-T3 comes with a high dynamic range F-Log mode as standard (missing or a paid extra on some cameras) and HLG (hybrid log gamma) mode via a firmware update. The only thing missing is in-body stabilisation, but many videographers will use a tripod or a motion-smoothing gimbal anyway.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T3 review
2. Panasonic Lumix GH5S
A great camera for 4K video – not so much for stills
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Sensor resolution: 10.28MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | 4K frame rates: 60, 50, 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 160-51,200 | Memory cards: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS II)
Panasonic has made 4K crossover cameras its speciality, but with the GH5S it’s gone a step further, sacrificing outright resolution for high-end video features. The 10MP sensor dents its appeal for stills photography, but it's ideal for 4K, especially as this is a Multi Aspect sensor. This allows it to shoot in both the 17:9 Cinema 4K and 16:9 4K UHD aspect ratios, in addition to regular 3:2 and 4:3 stills ratios, without the focal length changing as you alternate between these. Uniquely amongst crossover cameras, it can capture 4:2:2 10-bit video internally to suitably fast SD cards. The GH5S also comes with Panasonic’s V-logL log mode pre-installed for extra dynamic range, and while most rivals have a maximum 30min recording time, the GH5S supports unlimited recording (up to the capacity of the memory cards used). Performance is first rate, capturing great clarity, contrast and colour straight out of the box. It's more limited for stills photography than many of its rivals, but one of the best 4K cameras for filmmakers. If you need high-quality stills capability too, get the GH5, which shoots 20MP stills and is almost as good as the GH5S (but not quite) for 4K video.
Read more: Panasonic GH5S review
3. Sony A6400
Perfect for vloggers, the A6400 is also a handy all-round camera
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C | Sensor resolution: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Sony E | 4K frame rates: 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 100-32,000 | Memory card: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS I)
On the surface, the Sony A6400 is just another variant in Sony's long-running A6000-series of cameras that first appeared in 2014, but with the company's latest high-tect AF system and a flip-over screen for selfies. But while these features might leave regular stills photographers unmoved, they are great news for videographers – especially vloggers. Flip-over screens used to be considered a gimmick for selfie fans, but they're really useful for vloggers who need to film a piece to camera. The same goes for Sony's latest eye AF and eye AF tracking capabilities, because when you're in front of the camera rather than behind it, you need to be sure it's going to keep you in focus. The A6400 is not the cheapest 4K vlogging camera, but it is very effective and it's a pretty decent stills camera too, especially for action subjects.
Read more: Sony A6400 review
4. Nikon Z 6
It's Nikon's cheapest Z-mount camera, but it's the best for video
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: full frame | Sensor resolution: 24.5MP | Lens mount: Nikon Z | 4K frame rates: 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 100-51,200 | Memory card: 1x XQD
There are lots of reasons to love the Nikon Z 6. It has the same build qualtiy and controls as the more expensive Z 7, it can capture full-width oversampled 4K video and it's better at high ISO settings. And thanks to some aggressive recent pricing by Nikon, it's a whole lot cheaper. Stills photographers might prefer the extra resolution of the 45.7-megapixel Z 7, but for 4K video the Z 6 is clearly the better camera. Nikon's in-body image stabilisation is really effective, and if you connect an external recorder you can record high-quality 10-bit 4:2:2 footage – and Nikon also includes a high dynamic range F-Log mode for those who want the flexibility to carry out colour grading work later. The only things you don't get are 60p 4K capture (though it can do 1080 video at 120p) and a flip-around front-facing screen (it simply has a tilting mechanism).
Read more: Nikon Z 6 review
5. Sony A7 III
Here's another camera that's the cheapest in its family but the best for 4K
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: full frame | Sensor resolution: 24.2MP | Lens mount: Sony FE | 4K frame rates: 30, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 100-51,200 | Memory cards: 1x Memory Stick Duo/SD (UHS-I), 1x SD (UHS-II)
It's a measure of how quickly 4K capture technology is advancing that the Sony A7 III should find itself half way down our list, as when it was launched it was setting new standards for 4K capture amongst mirrorless cameras. But it's still the best A7 model for video all round, even including the video-centric A7S II, which was good for its time but now looks long overdue for a refresh. The A7 III is a great all-round camera for any photographer who wants to move up to full frame without spending a fortune, and who wants a good 4K video camera too. The A7 III tops out at 30fps and doesn't offer a Cinema 4K mode, but it uses the full sensor width with no crop factor to capture great quality 'oversampled' 4K footage, and comes with an S-Log mode for high dynamic range scenes and colour grading later on.
Read more: Sony A7 III review
6. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Good video and highly effective stabilisation
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Sensor resolution: 20.4MP | Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | 4K frame rates: 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 200-25,600 | Memory cards: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS I, 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS II
When it comes to cameras with 4K video, Olympus has not built quite the same reputation as that of other Micro Four Thirds camera maker Panasonic, but its OM-D E-M1 Mark II still offers some powerful video tools for stills shooters. It can shoot both 4K UHD (3840x2160) and Cinema 4K video (4096x2160) at 30 or 24fps, and with a maximum bitrate of 237Mbps, which is pretty good for a consumer-orientated crossover camera and the best 4K camera in the Olympus range (we've yet to give the 4K video in the E-M1X a full test). It also benefits from Olympus’s 5-axis in-body stabilisation system, which works alongside the optical stabilisation in certain newer Olympus lenses. The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-100mm 1:4.0 IS PRO is the perfect parter for this camera, combining an effective 24-200mm focal range with a constant f/4 maximum aperture and its own in-built stabilisation to provide a combined stabilising effect of up to 6.5 stops. The Olympus captures crisp, clear and natural-looking video with only slight rolling shutter effects, but it’s harder to get cinematic depth of field with the smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor size.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II review
7. Nikon D850
Best at shooting stills but captures good-quality 4K too
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Lens mount: Nikon F | 4K frame rates: 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 64-25,600 | Memory cards: 1x XQD, 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS I)
As a high-resolution multi-purpose DSLR, the Nikon D850 is more or less a direct rival to the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (number seven in this list). It does, however, offer both higher resolution and, via an optional battery grip, higher continuous shooting speeds. Its advantage for video is that it captures full-width 4K video with no crop factor, so your lenses have the same angle of view for video as they do when shooting stills. Another advantage is that it can output clean 4:2:2 8-bit 4K video to an external recorder, while the external output on the EOS 5D Mark IV is restricted to Full HD. There are no log modes, which is a pity, and the D850 relies on contrast-detect AF when shooting video, which slows things down a little. The video quality itself is very good indeed, though with moderate rolling shutter if the camera is moved too quickly. These days you might not expect to find a DSLR in the list of best 4K cameras, but let's not forget it was DSLRs that started the whole crossover stills/video market.
Read more: Nikon D850 review
8. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
A camera that was good for its time but overtaken by rivals now
Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full frame | Megapixels: 30.4MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | 4K frame rates: 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1.74x | Standard ISO range: 100-32,000 | Memory cards: 1x CF (UDMA 7), 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS I)
Canon has always been ahead of the curve in the DSLR video market, and the EOS 5D Mark IV is an all-rounder that has proved a big hit with pros for its durability, versatility and affordability. The camera shoots 4K video too, although there are some limitations to be aware of. First, the 4K video mode does not use the full width of the sensor, so there's a fairly substantial 1.74x crop factor in this mode. Second, while the camera does support Canon’s Log Gamma mode for extended dynamic range, this is only via a paid upgrade at a Canon service centre. Most surprisingly, it can only record 4K to internal memory cards; you can use an external HDMI recorder but only for Full HD footage. The camera's Motion JPEG video files are huge, and the 4K crop factor makes wide-angle framing more difficult, but the quality proves very good in both our outdoor and indoor tests. Our tests did, however, show rolling shutter to be the worst in this group. Nevertheless, for Canon DSLR users, this is perhaps the best 4K camera in the current range, as the EOS-1D X Mark II is substantially bigger and more expensive. The new mirrorless EOS R may look like the best camera for filmmaking, but in reality its tech is very similar to the EOS 5D Mark IV's
9. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
An unusual semi-pro portable camera from a cinema specialist
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: MFT | Megapixels: 8.8MP (native 4K) | Lens mount: MFT | 4K frame rates: 60, 50, 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 100-32,000 | Memory cards: 1x SDXC, 1x CFast
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is a long way down our list, but that's not because it's no good – it's because it's a unique and specialised camera than needs a bit of thinking about. It's styled like a compact rangefinder camera, but it's designed solely for video, not stills. It uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount, so there's no shortage of lenses to choose from, but it's an 8.8MP sensor made specifically for native Cinema 4K resolution. The Blackmagic does have autofocus, but not continuous AF – but it can capture 4K video at 60fps, and it can even capture raw video for high-quality grading/editing later. It's also no more expensive than, say, the Sony A6400. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K camera looks ideal as a second, pocket-sized camera for a videographer, but it's a little specialised for new users and no good for those who want a camera for both video and stills.
Read more: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K review
10. Canon EOS C300 Mark II
A great 4K camera, but you’ll really need to raise your game
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Super 35mm | Megapixels: 8.85MP | Lens mount: Canon EF | 4K frame rates: 60, 50, 30, 25, 24p | 4K sensor crop factor: 1x | Standard ISO range: 160-25,600 | Memory cards: 2x CFast 2.0 (4K), 2x SD (FHD only)
The C300 Mark II is in the middlemost model in Canon’s Cinema EOS range, and while it’s substantially more expensive than any of the DSLR/mirrorless crossover 4K cameras in this group test, it goes a whole lot further towards meeting the needs of professional videographers, with a modular design better suited to attaching external monitors, grips, rigs and sound equipment and for professional videographers this may make it the best camera for filmmaking, despite its size and cost. It uses a Super 35mm CMOS sensor similar in size to APS-C and corresponding to the old 35mm movie format. The 8MP sensor captures 4K video directly without cropping, pixel binning and oversampling, and it can capture 4:2:2 10-bit footage internally to twin CFast memory cards. It can also capture raw 4K to an external recorder. The built-in ND filters are a major asset outdoors, and there was no visible rolling shutter effect at all in our panning tests. However, while this is one of the best 4K cameras for experts, its price, ponderous handling and complex controls make it too much of a handful for amateurs.
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.
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.
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.