The camera market has seen significant advancements over the last few years. So much so, even entry-level models are boasting more video features than the flagships of years prior. Now, with the rise of 4K as a keepsake, camera video capabilities are a feature we rarely overlook. And what once was a revolutionary addition to a flagship DSLR is long gone.
Right now, anyone can shoot high-resolution 4K and even 8K video in some cases. And the secrecy amongst many high-end camcorders and cinema cameras is now fully available for even beginners. Instead, the current market is dominated by mirrorless and DSLR cameras thanks to their impressive image quality, interchangeable lenses, and affordability. And these days, these cameras are the center point of video production.
But with so many powerful cameras available on the market today, picking the best camera for your next video production could be slightly tricky. Especially considering most have a smartphone at hand that is perfectly apt for the task. And it’s an endeavor that will require some research. But to help in that search, we’ve created a detailed guide on the factors to consider when looking at cameras for video. And we’ve also compiled a list of the best cameras for video on the present market.
Jump to a Section
- 5 – Panasonic S1H
- 4 – Canon EOS R5
- 3 – Sony A7S III
- 2 – Panasonic S5
- 1 – Fujifilm X-T4
- Buyers Guide
- Action Cameras
- DSLR and Mirrorless
- Cinema Cameras
- How to choose the best camera for video
- Sensor Size & Crop Factor
- Video Resolution
- 4K UHD or Cinema 4K
- Bit depth
- Color sampling
- Slow Motion
- Ports (I/O)
- Size & Weight
- Fixed or Interchangeable lenses
- Lens Mount
- Battery Life
5 – Panasonic S1H
The S1H revolutionized the Cine industry following its release. It has a 24.2MP sensor, 6K 24p, DCI 4K 60p, and 1080p 180p. It also features a 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen, dual card slots, a status LCD, a full-sized HDMI, image stabilization, a tally lamp, weather sealing, log profiles, and headphone and microphone ports.
The S1H remains one of few hybrid mirrorless cameras with dedicated fans to systematically cool the camera to prevent overheating during longer recordings. And its particular design allows you to record indefinitely without fear. It was also the first camera to debut 6K video. But it provides 52 different combinations of crops, resolutions, and codecs, giving you enormous flexibility if you don’t want 6K specifically. The S1H is also one of few cameras in this class providing vectorscopes and waveforms for more advanced monitoring. Thus, you can avoid using an external monitor for some projects and still capture well-exposed accurate footage.
Overall, Panasonic S1H has little competition, and it serves as a direct opponent to cinema cameras twice its price. It’s a revolution amongst mirrorless cameras and sets a new bar.
4 – Canon EOS R5
Canon’s EOS R5 is the current flagship in the RF lineup. It has a 45MP sensor, 8K DCI 30p, 4K DCI 120p, and 1080p 60p. It also features a 3.2-inch vari-angle touchscreen, image stabilization, a status LCD, HDR, zebras, log profiles, dual card slots, and headphone and microphone ports.
The R5 boasts Canon’s latest Dual Pixel CMOS AF II from the flagship 1DX Mark 3. This autofocusing system has 5,940 selectable points that cover the entire sensor. But, they’ve updated it with head-detect AF, which delivers confident autofocusing and blazing fast speeds of 0.05 seconds. Additionally, Canon redesigned the sensor by improving the scan rate to virtually remove rolling shutter. And they’ve upped the durability to match the 1DX series, but it remains incredibly lightweight and matches the lower-end EOS R.
Overall, Canon EOS R5 is a significant milestone in the RF lineup and changes their fate. It’s a camera that punches hard with several unseen features and remains their best release to date.
3 – Sony A7S III
Sony’s A7S Mark 3 is the long-awaited replacement to hit A7S II, but a worthwhile wait indeed. It has a 12.1MP sensor, 4K 120p and 1080p 240p. It also features a 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, dual card slots, a full-sized HDMI, image stabilization, weather sealing, log profiles, and headphone and microphone ports.
The A7S 3 obtains Sony’s latest Hybrid AF system from the flagship FX9 cinema camera. This autofocusing system brings 759 phase-detect points with 93% coverage over the sensor. But, it also brings real-time tracking for humans and animals. The result, well the best autofocusing performance the A7S series has seen yet. But, like its predecessor, it offers class-leading low light performance with usable footage up to ISO 51,200. Yet, it does so with 16-bit RAW output or in 10-bit for unlimited internal recording with the longest battery life of all Alpha cameras.
Overall, Sony A7S III redefines the lineup and it ups the real-world performance that pros demand. If you want an alternative to the pricer FX9, this is it.
2 – Panasonic S5
Panasonic’s S5 is their latest full-frame mirrorless camera. It has a 24MP sensor, 4K UHD 60p, and 1080p 180p. It also features a 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, image stabilization, weather sealing, log profiles, dual card slots, and headphone and microphone ports.
The S5 uses Panasonic’s long-standing 225-point contrast AF system with Depth from Defocus. But, they’ve updated the algorithms with this model with Body Detection so that the camera can focus on subjects turned away. Though, crucially the S5 is one of few full-frame cameras to provide unlimited 10-bit 4:2:2 recording internally. And it’s one of even less with waveforms for advanced monitoring and anamorphic recording.
Overall, Panasonic S5 is arguably their best hybrid camera ever released. It offers much of the class-leading features from the S1H, without its price. And it makes an excellent entry-point into the LUMIX S lineup.
1 – Fujifilm X-T4
Fujifilm’s X-T4 is their latest high-end flagship APS-C camera. It has a 26.1MP sensor, 4K DCI 60p, and 1080p 240p. It also features a 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, image stabilization, log profiles, dual card slots, weather sealing, and headphone and microphone ports.
With the X-T4, Fuji’s debut in-body stabilization to the line, fundamentally changing its use. But, this camera also obtains the Boost IS Mode, which creates a locked-off tripod effect by maximizing the stabilization. And it’s an interesting option that removes the need to use a tripod to film handheld static scenes. Fuji’s also added the new W-series battery, doubling the camera’s lifespan. And they’ve now supplied 10-bit oversampled video to HDMI along with 12 historic film simulations to add a unique flair.
Overall, Fujifilm X-T4 is their most comprehensive release to date. And one that matches several pricer Panasonic flagships. But, as a package, it provides virtually everything a budding filmmaker can ask for without being overly tough on the bank account. Sure, it lacks some of the genuinely high-end features its rivals possess. But, as a package, it delivers outstanding value for money.
Before considering a camera’s capabilities, you’ll first want to decide which type of camera is best. Below is a list of various types of video cameras available and their unique advantages.
Action Cameras are small, lightweight, and ideal for mounting on a subject or moving object. These cameras are also waterproof and shockproof, making them ideal for capturing dangerous angles where other cameras wouldn’t survive.
Camcorders are compact all-in-one video cameras with a fixed zoom lens. And as video cameras, they offer a wealth of advanced features such as XLR inputs, better codecs, zebras, waveforms, and much more. These cameras are a great choice if you want an all-in-one solution to record video that small and portable. And you don’t mind using a fixed optically stabilized lens.
DSLR and Mirrorless
These are photography cameras that also shoot video. And they post large full-frame sensors and interchangeable lenses, allowing you to tailor image quality to the creative demands. They don’t offer quite as much of an all-in-one solution as camcorders, but you have more flexibility over the image with interchangeable lenses.
These are the gold standard when it comes to recording video. And they share many similarities with mirrorless and DSLR cameras. They, too, have large sensors and interchangeable lenses. But they blend many of the advanced video-centric features of camcorders, such as higher-quality codecs, raw video, and professional interfaces. But their larger sensors make them the go-to option for filmmakers.
How to choose the best camera for video
Picking the best video camera requires many considerations since videographers have unique requirements that differ from photographers. And you’ll want to factor in whether the camera offers the right video-centric features, accessories, and controls you need. But, below is a list of the main factors to think about while shopping around.
Regardless of the medium, proper focus on your subject is critical. And having an autofocusing system that’s reliable and confident should be a top priority. Sure, many professional filmmaking lenses are strictly manual focus. But focusing manually isn’t without a steep learning curve and takes time to master. As such, for new videographers and content creators, autofocus reigns as king.
When it comes to video autofocusing systems, not every camera performs admirably. And some use contrast-detection-based systems for video that are virtually useless. Thankfully, with recent inventions such as on-sensor phase detection, most mirrorless and DSLR cameras can focus confidently in video. And today’s latest models provide 400 or more selectable AF points with comprehensive coverage across the sensor for excellent subject tracking performance. So if you’re thinking about getting a camera released since 2018, you can be confident its autofocusing performance in video is reliable.
Sensor Size & Crop Factor
You can find video cameras in a variety of different sensor sizes, ranging from 1/2.3 inches to full-frame. Full frame sensors are the largest around and capture the most amount of light. And they are the de facto gold standard in photography since they offer the best low light performance and the greatest depth of field.
But when it comes to video, the bar for a large sensor is Super 35 or APS-C. This sensor size matches the conventional video film stock frequently used in film and TV productions. And it’s the ideal size with a good balance of low light performance, depth of field, and lens versatility. However, if you want a camera with better low light performance, look for ones with a full-frame sensor. Otherwise, those with APS-C sensors are excellent.
Hiding camera shake during video is challenging. And a good stabilization system makes a world of difference.
There are plenty of accessories available to stabilize your camera. But having stabilization built-in, either sensor-based or an optically stabilized lens, reduces the burden of external equipment. And it’s something to consider if you plan on filming handheld rather than use a video tripod. Most creators prefer in-body sensor stabilization, as it offers greater versatility and stabilizes all lenses. But, in either case, be on the lookout for this feature.
While 1080p resolution remains sufficient for most creators, today’s market is flooded with high-resolution monitors and TVs. So stepping up your production to 4K provides real benefits. Most new camera models offer 4K UHD 30 FPS as standard. And many more are now supplying 60 FPS and higher frame rates.
As such, consider future-proofing your recordings by opting for a 4K capable camera. Even if you’re recording strictly in 1080p, 4K provides more flexibility for cropping, applying effects, and improves the quality by downsampling. And these benefits will help long-term.
4K UHD or Cinema 4K
4K is commonly debated amongst anyone new to 4K video. But, what most call 4K is actually 4K UHD, which measures 3840 x 2160 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio. And this is typically the standard resolution offered by most 4K capable cameras.
However, you can find many cameras offering Cinema 4K (C4K or DCI 4K) which has a slightly larger resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixel and a 17:9 aspect ratio. The difference between these two is subtle, but cinema 4K is somewhat wider and is the typical standard amongst the film industry, particularly widescreen films.
A video’s bit depth refers to the amount of color information each of its channels can provide. And it ranges from 8-bit to 10-bit and 12-bit. Increasing the bit depth causes an increase in file size since the camera will capture more data. However, the trade-off is that 10-bit provides substantially more flexibility for post-processing color grading than 8-bit. And you’ll have four times as much color information. As such, you won’t quickly run into color break-ups and posterization effects when editing. And you’ll have more room to grade the footage and apply LUTs. So if you plan on heavily post-processing your recordings, consider getting a camera that offers 10-bit color, whether internally or externally via HDMI. The added flexibility it will provide will significantly help you.
Bit rate is the amount of compression applied to the footage. The higher the bit rate, the less compression occurs to the video. And you’ll receive higher quality videos but substantially larger file sizes.
Conversely, a higher compression (a lower bitrate) produces smaller files. But it also reduces the quality of the video and creates fuzzy-looking footage.
Now, you’ll want to find the right balance between file size and video quality that works for your workflow. Typically, most cameras record 4K video at 100 Mb/s. And this provides a good compromise for most users. But, if you don’t mind large video files, 250-300 Mb/s is best. But, understand, recording at this rate will produce video files that are 25-30 GBs on average. In contrast, 100 Mb/s creates videos that are 5-15 GBs.
Color subsampling refers to the amount of compression to a video’s color data. Most cameras record 4K video internally with 4:2:0 subsampling. However, you can find some options providing 4K video internally with 4:2:2, which supplies slightly more color data with less compression. And this gives you more room for post-processing and color grading the footage. Color subsampling is critical if you plan to work the footage heavily in post-processing and apply color grades, corrections, or LUTs. Without shooting in 4:2:2 or higher, you’ll likely see banding in the colors and artifacts. As such, consider looking for a camera that shoots 4:2:2 internally or at least provides this externally via HDMI.
If you want to capture slow-motion footage, you’ll want a camera that offers a fast enough frame rate to do so. Most cameras provide 60 frames per second (FPS) as mostly standard. And most do so in 1080P Full HD resolution. However, plenty of cameras also shoot at 120 FPS and even higher. And many cameras are now filming at this speed in 4K Ultra HD resolution. But, shooting at a higher frame rate allows you to slow down the captured footage for super slow-motion effects and lush cinematic movements. It’s quite a trendy means to capture b-roll on YouTube these days. But, it’s also a great way to accentuate movement within a scene for filmmaking. So if you plan on capturing slow-motion, be on the lookout for a camera that offers at least 60 FPS.
The camera’s ports, both input and output, are critical considerations depending on your workflow. Connections such as headphones, microphones, and USB-C ports provide more flexibility on the devices you can connect to the camera. And the camera you select must have the ports let’s suit your workflow. In most cases, you’ll want a camera with both headphones and microphone ports, so you can attach an external microphone and monitor its capture. And you’ll also want a camera with an HDMI out with the appropriate size so you can connect an external monitor for larger viewing. And doing so also unlocks the capture full video capabilities. Some other considerations are AC adapters for unlimited continuous power and dual card slots for redundant recording.
Size & Weight
You may not think a camera is heavy upon first picking it up. But after shooting all day, your arms, shoulders, and hands will feel its strain. And the size and weight ultimately become the most notable downside of full-frame DSLRs. As such, if you plan on filming for prolonged periods or a full day’s worth, consider the camera’s size and weight. Even more so if you plan on also mounting additional accessories such as a gimbal, shoulder rig, or an external monitor.
In general, mirrorless cameras are the better option for videographers wanting a lightweight run and gun setup. But, even some flagship mirrorless cameras, when paired with fast lenses, do become heavy. So look for cameras that are around 1 lb (450g) when possible.
Fixed or Interchangeable lenses
You have one of two options when it comes to lens selection. You can either go with a fixed lens camera or an interchangeable lens one. Interchangeable lens cameras provide greater flexibility and offer a broader range of focal length or aspect ratios. However, acquiring a cache of lenses takes time and is quite expensive over the long run. So for new videographers, getting a fixed zoom lens with a focal length that matches your shooting style is the most inexpensive option. And it’s the best route initially.
If you do opt for an interchangeable lens camera, understand you’re investing in the camera ecosystem. And different manufacturers have proprietary lenses that don’t work natively with other manufacturers. The only way to use them is via adapters, which sometimes reduce their performance. As such, if you have a specific focal length or style of the lens in mind, be sure to choose a camera manufacturer and body that supports it.
Recording video on a mirrorless or DSLR camera in live view quickly eats batteries. Not to mention, features like touchscreen LCDs, wireless connectivity, and continuous autofocus with tracking cause even more strain. Most modern cameras offer decent battery life. But expect 90 minutes of constant recording on even the best models. As such, consider purchasing backup batteries for your next project. Or look into an AC power supply or USB charging support for the camera.