Choosing the best 4K camera has become more difficult because it has become the new standard for video capture on lots of different devices designed for lots of different users.
The best camera phones already shoot 4K, as do many of the best point and shoot cameras. But these are fixed lens devices with small sensors, which limits their versatility and performance. 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.
The other point is that there are many different types of videographer now, from stills photographers who are moving into video, through vloggers and YouTubers through to professional filmmakers.
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.
That's why we've created sections in this guide for all three types of user: photographers, vloggers, filmmakers. Obviously there's crossover here, and there are cameras that can do all three, but it's a starting point to help you think through what you need.
Read more: Key 4K video jargon explained
So here we’ve gathered together ten of the best 4K cameras for filmmaking across a range of price points, starting off with hybrid stills/video cameras for photographers who work in both areas, affordable consumer cameras for vloggers and a special section for video-centric models to see what they do that’s different.
And don't forget that Black Friday is coming! This could be the best time to invest in that new video camera that's been on your wish-list for ever. You can find out more below...
What you need to know about Black Friday 2019
The Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have always been a great time to pick up camera gear. This is when camera retailers bring out their best camera deals, often for a short time only and while stocks last. So what do we expect to see this year? Well, we think some of the best Black Friday camera deals in 2019 will come via the big-name brands. You may not get massive savings on the latest models – instead, the best deals are often on cameras, lenses and accessories that are a little older, or the previous model. So should you wait before you buy? Not necessarily! Makers and retailers bring out promotions and deals all year round, and you can be sure we'll bring you the latest just as soon as they appear!
4K cameras for photographers
These cameras are equally at home shooting stills and video. Essentially, they are stills cameras which have developed 4K video features that rival or even beat those on dedicated video cameras. Many professional productions are shot using cameras like these, and they are ideal for pro photographers who now need to move into video too. They include some of the best mirrorless cameras you can get right now.
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. Almost from nowhere, it seems, Fujifilm has produced one of the best 4K cameras around.
Read more: Fujifilm X-T3 review
2. Panasonic Lumix S1
Panasonic's new S-series cameras bring high-end video capabilities
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: 100-51,200 | Memory cards: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS II), 1x XQD
The Panasonic Lumix S1 may not have the headline-grabbing megapixel count of its S1R stablemate, but it's around 35 per cent less expensive, and is a great all-round performer for shooting both stills and video. In fact its video capabilities leave most of its rivals trailing in its wake, though to get 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording made possible by this camera, you have to pay extra for a 'software key'. While larger than the mirrorless competition, the S1 feels very solid and is built to last. Its controls take some getting used to, but the S1 offers a superb blend of direct and touch-control. Factor its huge dynamic range and great high ISO performance, along with stunning video features, and the S1 is a superb full-frame mirrorless camera for both stills and video. Even better, Panasonic has released a free firmware update that adds support of the latest super-fast CFexpress memory card format.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix S1 review
3. 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 quality 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
4. 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 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
5. Panasonic Lumix G9
The Lumix G9 just keeps on getting better... and cheaper!
Type: CSC | Sensor: Four Thirds | Megapixels: 20.3MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,040k pivot touch | Viewfinder: Electronic, 3,680k | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps (6k 30fps, 4k 60fps) | Max video resolution: 4k | User level: Professional/Enthusiast
With a relatively high megapixel count for a Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic 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
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 video 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
Pro photographers will be looking at high-end cameras with full system support, but everyday vloggers, content creators and influencers will be happy to set their sights (and their budgets) a little lower. Here are two cameras which have real appeal in this market, and you can see our guide to the best cameras for vlogging for a wider range of candidates.
7. 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-tech 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 – which is why we've included this camera in our list. 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
8. Olympus PEN E-PL9
Retro chic design meets effective stills and video capture
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Micro Four Thirds | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Screen: 3.0-inch 1,040k tilting touchscreen | Viewfinder: None | Lens: Micro Four Thirds | Continuous shooting speed: 8.6fps | Max video resolution: 4K | User level: Beginner/intermediate
This is Olympus's latest PEN 'fashion' camera, and comes with a 180-degree selfie/vlogging screen, 4K video, easy touch control and in-body stabilization, though we're a little disappointed that Olympus has stuck to its older 16.1-megapixel sensor instead of swapping to its latest 20.4MP sensor. That’s still plenty for many photographers, though, especially in the fashion/style/blogging market Olympus is aiming at, and has no impact on the 4K video quality. (There is an E-PL10 variant, by the way, but this is more of a special edition rather than a different camera.) The Olympus E-PL9 has excellent build quality despite its compact, lightweight construction. The diminutive build is ideally suited to travel photography, especially when the body is paired with the remarkably small Olympus 14-42mm EZ ‘pancake’ kit lens. Better still, this camera is a thing of beauty in its own right as a style statement, not just a boring tech device, and is one of the easiest and best 4K cameras for novice vloggers.
Read more: Hands-on Olympus PEN E-PL9 review
Filmmakers have very different requirements to regular photographers and vloggers. They don't need the ability to shoot stills as well as video but they do need a whole new set of video-centric features and controls – and a camera compatible with a broad ecosystem of cinema lenses, rigs, sound equipment and other movie accessories. We have a whole guide dedicated to the best cinema cameras, but here are a couple of favorites.
9. 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
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K is a unique and specialised video camera with extraordinary specifications, design and value for money. 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, no continuous autofocus and seemingly constant supply/availability delays, but technically it's quite extraordinary.
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.
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