As more cameras come out, it gets more and more difficult to distinguish between a good and a great camera these days. Today’s camera manufacturers have riddled with “hybrid” cameras that appear to match the quality of real video cameras. But, the truth is, even the best hybrid camera often has drawbacks compared to a dedicated camcorder and video-centric camera.
And while most reviewers and journalists seem to overlook this segment of the camera market in today’s world, these cameras remain dangerous contenders for video shooters.
And these are the cameras that place maximum emphasis on ensuring their footage meets broadcast standards in quality and offer the capabilities to provide dependable professional video. While many great DSLR and Mirrorless cameras offer extraordinary video capabilities, and those have their place.
The reality is that they don’t provide nearly the amount of flexibility a dedicated camcorder provides. With that, let’s cover the top ten most affordable 4K camcorders that deliver excellent quality and value for the money.
Jump to a Section
- 10 – Canon HF G60
- 9 – Sony FDR-AX700
- 8 – Panasonic UX90
- 7 – Canon XC15
- 6 – Canon XA50
- 5 – Sony PXW-Z150
- 4 – Sony NX80
- 3 – Canon XF400
- 2 – Panasonic UX180
- 1 – Panasonic DVX200
- 4k Camcorder Buying Guide
- Sensor Size
- Resolution & Frame Rate
- 4K UHD or Cinema 4K
- Bit Depth
- Color Sampling
- Slow-Motion Video
- Image Analysis Tools
- Inputs & Outputs (I/O)
- Focal length
- Image Stabilization
10 – Canon HF G60
Canon’s HF-G60 marks the latest entry in the Vixia compact consumer lineup and Canon’s next generation of budget-friendly 4K equipped camcorders. Initially released in the spring of 2019 alongside the lower-end HF-G50, it replaces the older HF-G40 model released in 2016.
It features a 1″ CMOS sensor, a 25.5-382.5mm lens, a 3″ articulating touchscreen, a tilting viewfinder, optical stabilization, DC in, dual card slots, ND filters, timelapse, microphone, and headphone inputs. For video, it shoots 4K UHD up to 30 fps at 150 Mbps and 1080p FHD up to 60 fps at 35 Mbps. And it uses the MPEG-4 codec, which supplies footage in the highly-compatible MP4 format. While, for stills, it provides 8.29MP photos.
Canon’s camcorders are known for delivering excellent image quality and lenses. But, Canon’s also known for its outstanding phase-detection AF system. Thanks to the G60’s powerful new Digic DV6 image processor, it also obtains Canon’s legendary Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, a feature found on high-end EOS DSLRs. Dual Pixel AF delivers superior autofocusing, in both speed and accuracy, compared to traditional Hybrid AF systems. And the camera provides excellent subject tracking performance, making it particularly strong for filming movement where manually focusing is challenging.
In the end, the HF-G60 is a strong run-and-gun solution that delivers excellent 4K quality in a small compact design with an AF that leads the class at this price point.
9 – Sony FDR-AX700
Sony’s AX-700, initially released in the fall of 2017, replaces the outgoing AX100 flagship. And it now takes the helm as Sony’s newest high-performing Handycam model aimed at the prosumer market.
It features 1″ stacked Exmor RS CMOS sensor, 29.0-348.0 mm Zeiss lens, 3.5″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, optical stabilization, HDR, DC in, dual card slots, ND filters, time-lapse, wireless connectivity, headphone and microphone inputs. In video capabilities, this camera supplies 4K UHD video up to 30 fps at 100 Mbps in the MPEG-4 codec to the XAVC S and AVCHD formats. And it shoots 1080p FHD video up to 120 fps at 100 Mbps.
For stills, it provides 12MP images in the 3:2 ratio. Sony’s equipped the camera with the Slow & Quick mode, which provides super slow-motion HD videos up to a whopping 960 fps. This creates videos that are 32x slower than real-time, and it’s a rare feature in this class. But, it’s one that delivers an enormous amount of control for a consumer camera. Sony has also equipped the camera with S-Log, S-Gamut, and HLG profiles, increasing the camera’s dynamic range.
This camera also marks the first Handycam camcorder to incorporate Sony’s 273 point hybrid phase-detection AF system from their Alpha mirrorless lineup. This system employs phase-detection combined with conventional contrast detection to deliver more precise, accurate, and steadfast focusing. The camera offers seven focusing speeds, ranging from super slow to fast, giving users immense flexibility over the AF transition speed as well. In the end, the AX-700 is a notable improvement over the predecessor and delivers excellent quality at an approachable price.
8 – Panasonic UX90
Initially released in the fall of 2016 alongside the higher-end UX180, Panasonic’s UX90 is the slightly lower-end option in the UX professional camcorder lineup. And this new series is the long-awaited replacement to the AVCCAM camcorder lineup. Both cameras share many of the core underlying features and capabilities, with a few key differences that make this the better choice for budget-conscious shooters.
It features a 1″ MOS sensor, 24.0-480 mm Leica lens, 3.5″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, optical stabilization, DC in, dual card slots, ND filters, dual XLR inputs, and headphone input. For video, it shoots 4K UHD up 30 fps at 100 Mbps and 1080p FHD 60 fps at 50 Mbps. It shoots using the LongGOP compression method to either the MOV or MP4 formats. And for stills, it produces 8.6MP images.
Panasonic has equipped the camera with eight selectable gamma modes, including their Cine-Like D and V profiles from the flagship VariCam. These profiles increase the camera’s dynamic range or contrast, preserving details in the footage. The camera also offers a helpful Pre Record function, which continually records 4 seconds of video and audio before pressing record, perfect for capturing critical action. In the end, the UX90 is a camcorder that meets the needs of professional productions.
It offers the same level of agility as conventional handheld camcorders but with the addition of the inputs a pro demands. And it holds steady in an ever-demanding 4K market.
7 – Canon XC15
Initially released in the fall of 2016, Canon’s XC15 is the follow-up to the earlier XC10 released one year prior. It’s a camera Canon aims to bridge the gap as a hybrid cinematic shooter that’s suited to both stills and videos. And it delivers notable upgrades over the predecessor with added capabilities a pro demands.
It features a 1″ CMOS sensor, 27.3-273mm lens, 3″ articulating touchscreen, optical stabilization, an ND filter, dual card slots, DC in, wireless connectivity, headphone, and microphone inputs. Like the XC10, it supports both CFast and SD cards, which allow the camera to deliver incredibly high data rates, which quickly outcompete the competition. In this case, that’s 4K UHD up to 30 fps at 305 Mbps using the MPEG-4 codec to the MXF format. It’s also one of the few cameras which offers 4:2:2 internally, albeit 8-bit like the competition. For 1080p FHD, it shoots 60 fps at 50 Mbps.
The camera also now features Highlight Priority, a gamma mode that offers HDR-like effects. Plus, it also inherits Canon’s C-log and EOS standard from its Cinema counterparts. Canon’s also installed a built-in Waveform Monitor display tool for better calibration between devices. Alternatively, for stills, it provides 12MP resolution files.
And it also offers a mechanical shutter, which combines to create a strong stills camera and a distinct selling point over competitors. The XC15 also provides a unique form factor in comparison to the competition. Most notably, it’s 90º rotating handgrip, which provides added flexibility when filming at awkward angles. And it’s compact DSLR-inspired design makes it particularly optimized for handheld use.
In the end, it’s a good option for both advanced amateurs or professional videographers looking for a cost-effective 4K B camera. It builds on the proven strengths of the XC10 and makes an excellent second angle to Canon’s EOS Cinema cameras. It’s also a reliable and lightweight journalistic tool for handheld editorial or news mediums looking for a run and gun solution. When discretion is required, its size and form factor make it the best option around.
6 – Canon XA50
Initially released in the summer of 2019 alongside the XA55, Canon’s XA50 marks the latest entry into the 4K prosumer camcorder space. The AX50 is the slightly more affordable of the two offerings, with their main difference ultimately coming down to an SDI terminal. Nevertheless, both cameras are largely identical and are the first in the XA lineup to feature a larger 1″ CMOS sensor than the earlier XA30 model.
Outside of its large 1″ sensor, it also features a 25.5-382.5 mm lens, optical stabilization, 3″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, dual card slots, dual XLR, ND filters, DC in, and headphone and microphone inputs.
Like the HF-G60, it inherits Canon’s acclaimed Dual Pixel CMOS AF from their DSLR lineup, allowing the camera to deliver extraordinary continuous AF and subject tracking. But, unlike that camera, this camera obtains dual XLR inputs, allowing the camera to interface with professional audio devices. And it also obtains Face Priority and Face-Only modes, which specifically focus on the faces of subjects.
For video, it shoots 4K UHD up to 30 fps at 160 Mbps in the MPEG-4 codec to the MP4 or XF-AVC formats. While for 1080p FHD, it shoots up to 60 fps at 45 Mbps. Canon has also installed the Wide DR Gamma, for increased dynamic range and seamless gradations. On the other hand, for stills, it produces 8.29MP images.
In the end, the XA50 is a feature-rich and portable option ideally suited for on the go newsgathering and documentary production. While it’s mostly similar to the G60, it does provide the detachable handle, which supplies XLR inputs along with other added functionality. And for that reason, it is the stronger option.
5 – Sony PXW-Z150
Initially released in the spring of 2016, Sony’s Z150 is the next tier in Sony’s camcorder lineup, stepping up from the more prosumer-oriented AX series. It replaces the Z100, released three years prior, and the next installment into their XDCAM series.
It features a 1″ Exmor RS CMOS sensor, 29.0-348.0 Sony G mm lens, 3.5″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, optical stabilization, ND filters, DC in, SDI out, dual XLR, wireless connectivity, and a headphone input. For videos, it shoots 4K UHD up to 30 fps at 100 Mbps in the MPEG-4 codec to XAVC and AVCHD formats while 1080p FHD shoots up to 60 fps at 50 Mbps. For stills, it produces 14.2MP images.
Sony equipped this camera with the Slow & Quick mode, allowing shoot at 120 fps in FHD. It’s also one of the few cameras in this class with full networking capabilities, allowing FTP transfers and full live streaming or broadcasting without any accessories. And the camera supports full remote control via smartphone or tablet, providing a key selling point over rivals that lack this capability natively.
In the end, Sony’s experience in design and manufacturing shows with the Z150. It’s packed with features that will excite enthusiasts and pro’s alike. And it delivers broadcast level performance, with its advanced Long GOP codec, and footage free of compromises. Overall, it’s a strong option for documentary filmmakers, broadcasts, and ENG shooters looking for a grab and go solution.
4 – Sony NX80
Initially released in the fall of 2017 alongside the Z90, Sony’s NX80 is their mid-tier 4K camcorder, sitting between the AX and Z series. At first glance, it appears similar to the lower-end AX700. However, it’s a camera oriented more towards professional applications and offers notable additions.
It features a 1″ Exmor RS sensor, 29.0-348.0 Zeiss mm, 3.5″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, dual XLR, ND filter, DC in, and wireless connectivity. For video, it shoots 4K UHD up to 30 fps at 100 Mbps in the MPEG-4 codec to the XAVC S and AVCHD formats while 1080p FHD shoots at 120 fps at 100 Mbps. For stills, it provides 14.2MP photos.
Unlike the Z150, this camera shoots at 120 fps natively, without the need for the Slow & Quick mode, a key selling point. However, the camera still offers this mode, and it now allows it to deliver super slow-motion video up to 960 fps. The camera also inherits wireless connectivity, allowing it to stream and support remote control without additional accessories. But, what sets this camera apart is its 273-point Hybrid AF system, with face detection and lock-on AF for excellent subject tracking.
The system is also fully customizable and fully suited for anything from smooth cinematics to sports. The camera also supports HDR recording in HLG in addition to Sony’s Log profiles.
In the end, Sony’s NX80 offers strong broadcast quality with a high-speed autofocus system and streaming capabilities. It also combines an excellent feature set in a more portable form factor than much of the competition. Not to mention, it’s the first palm-sized NX camcorder to deliver 4K HDR content and Sony’s HLG profiles.
3 – Canon XF400
Released alongside the XF405 in the fall of 2017, the XF400 is Canon’s latest 4K UHD 60p camcorder for ENG and documentary productions. And the newest entry in the XF detachable handle series of professional cameras.
It features 1″ CMOS sensor, 25.5-382.5mm lens, optical stabilization, 3.5″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, dual card slots, dual XLR, DC in, ND filters, wireless connectivity, headphone, and microphone inputs. For video, it shoots 4K UHD up to 60 fps at 150 Mbps in the MPEG-4 codec to the MP4 format. And it shoots 1080p FHD up to 60 fps at 35 Mbps. Alternatively, for stills, it provides 8.29 MP photos.
Canon’s equipped the camera with Slow and Fast motion recording, allowing the camera to supply super-slow motion videos up to 120 fps in FHD at an impressive 175 Mbps. It also obtains Wide DR gamma support, for seamless gradations and smooth details.
Like the XA50, the camera also obtains Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF for confident tracking and continuous AF performance. This system also comes with Face Priority and Face Only AF, providing precise flexibility over the autofocusing. However, since the camera’s Wi-Fi is enabled, it offers wireless transfers via FTP for editing or live streaming as well as full remote operation.
In the end, the XF400 is a camera suited for broadcast and event work. And it’s a compact, highly-versatile option that’ll meet the needs of professionals across a wide range of recording situations.
2 – Panasonic UX180
Initially released in the fall of 2016, Panasonic’s UX180 was released alongside the UX90 as the premium model to replace the AG-160. It’s a camera that takes much of the core features from its lower-cost counterpart but adds extras to make it more oriented towards working professionals.
It features a 1″ MOS sensor, 25-508mm Leica lens, 3.5″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, ND filters, optical stabilization, DC in, dual XLR, dual card slots, and a headphone input. It records DCI 4K up to 24 fps, 4K UHD up to 60 fps, and 1080p FHD up to 60 fps. And it provides footage using the MPEG-4 codec at 150 Mbps to the MOV, MP4, or AVCHD formats. The camera also offers super slow motion recording up to 120 fps in FHD. For stills, it produces 8.8MP photos.
Unlike competitors, it’s one of the rare cameras to offer Cinema 4K recording, the slightly wider 17:9 aspect ratio. And it’s also one of few cameras to provide an SDI output, a standard interface for monitoring. Not to mention, its 25.4mm angle of view makes it the widest of any fixed-lens camcorder in its price point. And it also inherits the Cine-like gammas from Panasonic’s flagship VariCam.
In the end, the UX180 delivers enormous upgrades in imaging, connectivity, and versatility over its lower-end counterpart. And it’s an excellent choice for professionals needing performance and control in multi-camera environments.
1 – Panasonic DVX200
Initially released in the fall of 2015, the Panasonic DVX200 offers the greatest features set of all of its rivals.
It features a 4/3 MOS sensor, 30.6-398.7 mm Leica lens, a 4.3″ articulating touchscreen, tilting viewfinder, optical stabilization, DC in, ND filters, dual card slots, dual XLR, SDI out, headphone and microphone inputs. For video, it shoots DCI 4K up 24 fps, 4K UHD up to 60 fps, and 1080p FHD up to 60 fps. And it does so in the MPEG-4 codec at 100 Mbps to the MOV, MP4 and AVCHD formats. Like the UX180, it supports variable frame rate recording in FHD up to 120 fps. And, for stills, it supplies 8.9MP photos.
However, its sensor is the key selling point over rivals. It’s the world’s first 4/3 large format camcorder with integrated zoom lenses. This addition allows the camera to offer the best low light performance and greatest depth of field in its class. It also obtains full V-log and Cine-like support, allowing the camera to boast 12-stops of dynamic range. And it obtains advanced recording functionality, such as background recording and pre-recording, both ensuring you never miss a moment.
In the end, Panasonic’s DVX200 is an impressive and innovative release that brings an artistic design to an otherwise stale market. It makes the best camera in its class and provides excellent value for money. It’s the ideal choice for documentary filmmakers looking for the benefits of a larger sensor without the limitations of traditional cameras.
4k Camcorder Buying Guide
In the coming sections, you’ll find a detailed guide describing all relevant factors to research when looking at options. There’s a lot to consider with these devices. So we’ve done our best to rank each factor based on importance and we’ll cover each in great detail. But, in the end, you’ll find some of these factors more important than others. So, use this guide as a baseline to continue the search from there.
You’ll find these devices with varying sensor sizes. And you can find models with anything from 1/2.6-inch sensors to Super35 (APS-C). Either way, sensor size is arguably the most important factor above anything else. The reasoning is that this element ultimately determines image quality. And considering most videographers likely want quality footage, it’s fair to say this should be the top priority. Most agree, though, that the bar for “large” sensors is 1-inch and Super35. And anything smaller in size is generally regarded as small. But, Super35 is the de facto standard across the industry. And it’s the size that matches the conventional film stock used in films and TV production.
But, it’s important to highlight that there are accompanying trade-offs with sensor size. Let’s cover these in order of importance.
First, larger sensors deliver better dynamic range, low light performance, and general image quality. The larger pixel sizes improve their signal-to-noise ratio, which inevitably results in better images. So if you’re after image quality, a larger sensor is best.
Second, smaller sensors allow manufacturers to install longer telephoto zoom lenses, usually reaching 30x. Comparatively, most large sensor devices only provide a 15-20x optical zoom. The reasoning is that installing an equivalent zoom lens results in a substantially larger lens. So much so, the camera loses most of its portability. And it ultimately defeats the entire purpose of these devices. So if you’re after optical zoom and reach, a small sensor is best.
And lastly, but importantly for many, smaller sensor devices are more affordable. From a manufacturing perspective, they’re easier to create, as they’re smaller in physical size. And that, in turn, results in a 25% cost saving compared to a large sensor device.
Overall, pay close attention to what the manufacturer lists for this specification. All of the above factors are key considerations on whether a large or small sensor is best. But, if you also plan on shooting in low light often, a large sensor is best. Most 1/2.3-inch or similar devices will become grainy at a gain of 10 dB or ISO of 1,600. And it’s difficult to get immediately usable images from them in these situations. But, if you’re not planning on filming in low light, you should be great with these devices, especially if you want something affordable with outstanding zoom.
Resolution & Frame Rate
You have two main options on today’s market for resolution, 1080p FHD, and 4K. And of course, while you can opt for a 1080p-only device, it’s wise to go for one with 4K instead. Upgrading your production to 4K will offer several key benefits. Firstly, you’ll have more flexibility to reframe and crop the footage in post-processing. Secondly, you’ll also have more detailed videos when downsampling or outputting to 1080p. Not to mention, you’ll also protect your setup as 4K gradually continues to become the standard. But, whether these benefits are worthwhile to you will come down to your workflow. There are many excellent FDH-only devices on the market. So it isn’t the end of the world either way.
But, if you do opt for a 4K equipped device, the frame rates and resolutions vary. Right now, the standard for frame rate is 4K 30 FPS. But, you can also find many options with 4K UHD 60 FPS. Even so, 4K 30 FPS is sufficient in most situations, unless you want to shoot high-end slow-motion video.
4K UHD or Cinema 4K
4K video has two variants, C4K (Cinema 4K) and UHD (Ultra HD). By default, when most refer to 4K video, they’re actually talking about 4K UHD (3840 × 2160), which is the current standard resolution. But, you can also find some devices with the slighter wider 17:9 aspect ratio C4K (4096 x 2160) resolution. The difference between these two resolutions is subtle. And it’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker. But, C4K is the standard amongst the film industry, particularly in widescreen films. So if that’s your output medium, it’s important to get this particular feature. Otherwise, 4K UHD is sufficient.
Bit depth describes the amount of color each channel of a video produces. And this value ranges from 8-bit to 16-bit. Increasing the bit depth captures more data over the course of the video. And, while it increases file size, it offers substantially more room for color grading. Moving between each bit depth value provides extra color information. And the jump from 8 to 10-bit alone results in a 4x bump in data, which is why videographers get a video camera in the first place. And this change results in less color banding and posterization effects. So if you plan on color grading your footage, getting a device with 10-bit color is a must.
Bitrate describes the amount of compression applied to a recording. The higher the bitrate, the less compression occurs and the higher the video quality. While lower bitrates yield less detailed videos. But, a higher bitrate does produce larger file sizes in the process. So it’s important to find a device with a good balance between quality and file size. Thankfully, most options record videos at 100 Mb/s, which is perfect. However, if you want better latitude for post-processing, look for options that record closer to 300 Mb/s.
Color sampling and subsampling refer to the compression of a video’s color data. Most devices record video with 4:2:0 subsampling internally. But, you can also find devices with 4:2:2 subsampling. The benefit of the added subsampling is that you get more color data with less compression. And this, in turn, gives you more room to color grade the footage. But, it’s important to know that subsampling isn’t as important as bit depth. You get far more by opting for a camera with a higher bit depth than better color sampling. Even so, it’s something to consider if you enjoy post-processing footage. And with 4:2:2 color, you’ll get images with less color banding and artifacts.
If you plan to shoot slow-motion, you’ll want a device offering a frame rate of 60 FPS or higher. Thankfully 60 FPS is mostly standard. And you find plenty of options with this frame in 1080p. But, as mentioned above, you can also find some options doing so at 4K UHD resolution. Plus, some models even have 1080p 120 FPS video, delivering a slow-motion video at 1/4th the speed. But, in most cases, 60 FPS is sufficient to create a noticeable slow-motion effect. Either way, though, look out for this frame rate if you want to record slow-motion.
Image Analysis Tools
Scopes, zebras, waveforms, false colors, and RGB parades are vital reasons many videographers opt for these devices. These image analysis tools help you monitor the color accuracy and exposure to fine-tune the image. But, their customization and visual fidelity do vary. So consider researching this beforehand if these interest you.
Inputs & Outputs (I/O)
The I/O offered will be of critical importance to some. And it’s something you’ll want to know beforehand. Firstly, you’ll want to decide whether you’ll use HDMI or SDI. HDMI connectors come in several sizes. But most devices have a full-size or mini-jack, where full-size is most common. But, you can also find devices with SDI connections. And this connection is the standard amongst professional applications. SDI connections provide an even more robust connection between external accessories. And the 12G-SDI connection, in particular, also offers the highest bandwidth of 12 GB/s. So for this, it’s important to know if you’ll be using an external monitor. And if you do, most would recommend SDI connections are best.
These devices all have an integrated optical zoom lens. But, the focal lengths and zooms do vary. So consider checking the focal length beforehand, as it’ll ultimately determine your framing. And the last thing you want is a device with the incorrect lens for your use case.
All these devices have optical image stabilization, which works well at shorter focal lengths. But not every model provides a digital stabilizer to improve the results even further. So, if you plan on filming handheld, it’s wise to research whether the device has a combination of optical and digital IS. Together, you’ll get noticeably better stabilization. And you can save you some of the need for a Steadicam or other dedicated stabilizer.
You may also want to know the connectivity options on offer. Not all of these devices include built-in connectivity options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or NFC. But, if they do, you can wirelessly connect to them using a smartphone or tablet. And it’s an excellent option for remotely monitoring their recordings.
Sure, most filmmakers use manual focus in professional environments. But reliable autofocus will make things easier. However, not all of these devices offer confident autofocusing systems. And the accuracy of each varies. Right now, Sony and Canon are the only manufacturers that are reliable enough. Even so, this may not be a deal-breaker as most devices have a full complement of manual focusing aids like focus peaking and magnification. So focusing manually isn’t particularly difficult to begin with.
Most of these devices use large format batteries, ready to record 3 hours or more on a single charge. Most also have a DC-in socket so that you can connect them to mains power for indefinite use. So the main consideration here is whether they also support USB-C charging, letting you charge them on the go. It’s a nice bonus. But camcorders generally have excellent battery life. So either way, it shouldn’t be a huge issue, just a small consideration.