Sure, several cameras are now offering 8K video, albeit at a mostly unapproachable price point. And 8K is now the class-leading specification on the market. But, 4K video is the norm these days. And if you want to upgrade your production with the very best, you’ll still want a 4K-capable device.
But, given the advancements over the past four years, roughly 100 devices now offer this feature. And they live in quite a broad spectrum, ranging from entry-level beginner models to professional cinema cameras boasting Netflix approval. So, in this post, we’ve compiled the best cameras in each of their segments, offering not only high-quality video but also a well-rounded feature set. And each is ideal for the indented target demographic, be they beginners all the way to seasoned filmmakers. We’ve also included a guide outlining all of the factors to keep in mind beforehand, which you can find below.
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|Panasonic GH5 II|
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|Sony A7S III|
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5 – Sony FX6
Released in 2020, Sony’s FX6 is their latest cinema camera to flush out the lineup. And one that shares many high-end features from the FX9 and flagship VENICE. It features a 10.2MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor and the BIONZ XR processor recording DCI 4K 60p or 120p and 1080p 240p via the S&Q mode. It also features a 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD, weather sealing, dual card slots, time-lapse, a full-sized HDMI, built-in tally lights, proxy recording, a headphone output, and wireless connectivity.
But, as a full-blown cinema camera, the FX6 offers several high-end features other formats lack. Namely, it provides a timecode input to sync multiple cameras using the internal generator. But, it also has a BNC input, with a selectable range from 3G-12G-SDI to interface with professional monitors. You also get several high-end video signal monitors, including vectorscopes, waveforms, and custom LUT support for easy color grading and exposure monitoring.
Yet, the FX6 also obtains the same excellent 627-point hybrid AF system from the A7S Mark III, with real-time face and eye detection for accurate focusing. And it’s among the best in class in this regard. Plus, it delivers 15+ stops of working dynamic range, the outstanding S-Cinetone profile, and a built-in electronic ND filter.
Overall, the feature list on this particular device is quite long. And it’s an editor’s choice for a good reason. The FX6 is among the best cinema cameras at this price point and is undoubtedly an excellent tool for aspiring filmmakers looking at this format.
4 – Sony A7S III
Released in 2020, Sony’s A7S III is their long-awaited replacement to a fan favorite. It features a 12.1 MP BSI CMOS sensor and BIONZ X processor recording 4K UHD 120p and 1080p 240p video. It also features a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, a full-sized HDMI port, dual card slots, image stabilization, weather sealing, a microphone input, a headphone output, and wireless connectivity.
This model debuts with the latest Hybrid AF system, initially taken from the flagship FX9. And it now features 759 phase-detect AF points, delivering 93% sensor coverage for precise, near-perfect focusing on humans and animals. But, thankfully, it maintains its predecessors’ video-optimized full-frame sensor, which still delivers class-leading low light performance. In this case, you can capture usable videos up to ISO 51,200 with ease. However, the A7S III now brings 16-bit RAW output, unlimited 10-bit video recording, and the longest battery life of any Sony mirrorless camera.
Overall, Sony’s A7S III redefines the A7S lineup and ups the real-world performance. And it’s a powerful alternative to their cinema lineup, especially if you prefer the more compact design.
3 – Fujifilm X-T4
Released in 2020, Fujifilm’s X-T4 is the company’s latest flagship camera. It features a 26.1MP BSI APS-C CMOS sensor and X-Processor 4 recording 4K DCI 60p and 1080p 240p video. It also features a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD, image stabilization, dual card slots, weather sealing, a microphone input, a headphone output, and wireless connectivity.
This new model debuts with in-body stabilization, which dramatically alters its usability. Now, it can compensate for up to 6.5 stops of shake, letting you record in most low-light scenes without worrying about ISO. But, it also obtains Fuji’s Boost IS Mode, creating a locked-off tripod effect through maximizing the stabilization. And it’s a valuable option that removes some of the need for a dedicated video tripod or monopod when filming. The X-T4 also brings a new W-series battery, which doubled its lifespan. Plus, it now supplies 10-bit oversampled footage via HDMI and 12 unique film simulations to add a historic flair.
Overall, Fujifilm’s X-T4 takes the reign as their most comprehensive release to date. And it’s a device that surprisingly punches above its weight into the full-frame crowd. Yet, it remains budget-friendly, considering what’s offered and delivers excellent value.
2 – Panasonic GH5 II
Released in 2021, the GH5 II is Panasonic’s latest flagship Micro-Four-Thirds camera. It features a 20.3MP MOS sensor and Venus Engine processor recording DCI 4K 60p and 1080p 180p video. It also features a 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD, dual card slots, time-lapse, weather sealing, a full-sized HDMI, image stabilization, vertical video, a headphone output, and wireless connectivity.
With the Mark II, Panasonic has refined the 225-area contrast AF system using the same iteration as the S5. Now, it offers confident face, eye, and body detection, with twice the speed of the original model. Panasonic has also refined the Dual I.S functionality, yielding 6.5 stops of shake reduction with compatible lenses. But, crucially, this update brings unlimited 10-bit 4:2:0 60p video with V-Log L included to match the footage to their flagship VariCam series. And this is a substantial upgrade over its predecessor, which only offered 8-bit footage at this frame rate.
Overall, Panasonic’s GH5 II continues the groundbreaking traditions known to the line. And it brings refinements that further rival professional broadcast cameras.
1 – Sony ZV-1
Released in 2020, Sony’s ZV-1 created a brand new lineup amongst their CyberShot series. It features a 20.1MP 1-inch CMOS sensor and the BIONZ X processor recording 4K UHD 30p and 1080p 120p video. It also has a 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD, time-lapse, a tally lamp, optical stabilization, built-in ND filters, vertical video, and wireless connectivity.
The ZV-1 uses a 425-point hybrid AF system. But, it receives Sony’s acclaimed real-time functionality for both stills and videos. And this updated iteration delivers AI and machine learning algorithms that give it a class-leading focusing time of 0.03 seconds. Sony’s also added a three-capsule microphone that’s designed explicitly for vlogging. And they’ve added the Product Showcase Mode, creating smooth transitions to objects held in front of the device. And together, these features make it the perfect suit for on-the-go creators.
Overall, Sony’s ZV-1 ups the standards amongst compact cameras and remains the leader of its class. Not only does it deliver a large sensor, but it also provides virtually unfailing AF, log profiles, and unlimited video. And it remains quite a slam dunk considering its feature set.
4K Cameras Buyers Guide
Below you’ll find all of the relevant factors to consider when looking at 4K-capable devices.
Why shoot 4K video?
But, first, why even shoot 4K, especially if you don’t own a 4K capable TV or monitor. Well, the main reason is that downsampling or reducing the resolution to 1080p full HD will create more detailed videos. And the images will look more crisp, sharp, and vibrant. And given 4K offers 4x the resolution of 1080p, you have plenty of leeway for creative reframing and cropping without losing detail. Or you can apply aggressive digital stabilization to reduce shake.
The only real downside of 4K is the file size, which is often 5x or more that of a similar 1080p video. So you’ll want to get a 64 GB SD card to ensure you have enough storage space. Shooting at this resolution also does highlight more blemishes and imperfections in the skin. And those aren’t as visible at lower resolutions. So you may have to readjust your lighting to hide these details if you find them problematic.
The first consideration, though, above all else, is sensor size, as it ultimately determines image quality. And if all things are equal, a larger sensor will always outperform a smaller one. So if you want the best image quality available, it’s important to look for a device using a full-frame sensor. There you’ll get the best low light performance, a shallow depth of field, and a better signal-to-noise ratio. Otherwise, for many videographers, an APS-C sensor would be plenty sufficient.
Resolution & Frame Rate
You’ll find most devices offering 4K UHD 30 FPS as their standard maximum. But, you can find plenty of options with the wider 17:9 aspect 4K DCI resolution. And if you look at the higher-end market, you’ll also find some models offer 60 FPS or higher, too. Even so, for most users, 4K UHD 30 FPS is sufficient. And the only real reason to opt for a higher frame rate is if you specifically want to shoot oversampled slow-motion video. Otherwise, there’s no reason to opt for such models as you’ll be paying quite a premium for this capability. So save the money and invest in other accessories instead.
Note: Several devices shoot 4K 60 FPS or higher using the HFR (High Frame Rate) or SNQ (Slow & Quick) Mode. Doing so lets them capture slow-motion video rendered internally. The problem is that these modes only last a few seconds before buffering, so proper timing is key. And they generally result in a loss of image quality and fine detail, as they have low bit rates. Finding a device that records at this frame rate natively will provide better image quality. And it’s something to consider if you want the highest quality recording available and better flexibility.
Bit rate is how much data is encoded or writen per second. The higher the bit rate, the better the final video, so long as all else is equal. Thus, a higher bit rate device will produce better images than one with a lower bit rate. Generally, though, most devices record using 100 Mb/s as standard. Thankfully, you can find plenty of models recording with 400 Mb/s or higher, giving you higher quality footage. Even so, 100 Mb/s is a good balance between image quality and file size. And for most applications, you won’t see the benefit of a higher bit rate, as the differences are subtle.
You can find these devices recording with either 8 or 10-bit. But, 8-bit is the most common. Bit depth is the video’s color range and how many colors are possible in a single image. The higher the bit depth, the more colors are possible and the more nuanced the rendering. For this reason, 10-bit will capture better color shades and hues than 8-bit. So if color grading is an important part of your workflow, look for devices recording with 10-bit color. Otherwise, 8-bit will be enough for most applications.
It’s important to know whether the device you’re considering records at full sensor width or has a crop in 4K. Not all devices create 4K video the same way. And the last thing you want is to have an unwanted magnification when switching from 1080p, as it’ll directly affect framing.
Some devices don’t offer confident autofocusing when recording in 4K. So investigate how the particular device performs when recording at this resolution beforehand.
You may also want to consider opting for a device with a fully articulating screen, as it’ll make framing your video easier.
Flat Picture Profile
Flat color profiles or log profiles capture more data and improve the dynamic range and color fidelity. Doing so gives you more freedom to edit and color grade, bypassing some of the internal limitations. And it’s a good option to look out for if you plan on editing the footage heavily in post-processing.