Anyone can take a cheap video camera and get decent results. But if you’re looking to make serious, professional-grade movies, you need professional-grade equipment. First and foremost, that means a 4K video camera.
If you’re serious about buying the best camera for your needs, chances are you’re not just going to waltz into your neighborhood Best Buy and pick a model off the shelf. A 4K video camera is an investment of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
If you’re going to make that kind of investment, you need to know not just what you hope to get out of your camera, but also what kind of features will help you make the most of your purchase.
The Sony a7 III isn’t the most expensive 4K video camera on the market, but it offers awesome performance capabilities, stunning 4K video quality, competitive pricing and a number of lens options to choose from.
Remember, there is no one camera that is going to be perfect for everyone. We all have different requirements and expectations. As you read this, think about what kind of filming you intend to do, and which features are the most important to you.
What You Need to Know about 4K Video Cameras
Whether you’re a professional photographer or aspiring to be one, there are some things you just can’t do without. Most professionals will already be familiar with these points, but if you’re new and not sure what to expect, here are some things you need to consider before you make your purchase.
One of the most important features of a camera is the size of its sensor, as they help influence the quality of the video footage. While sensors are related to resolution, they are not one and the same. A 4K camera with a 1” sensor will have marginally better video quality than a 4K camera with a ½” sensor.
Sensors are especially important when filming in low-light conditions. If you’ve ever watched an old black-and-white movie, you’ll notice the film quality is often quite poor when shot at night. Low light levels affects the quality even of modern cameras, so if you plan or expect to film in low-light conditions on a regular basis, you’ll want a larger sensor.
If you’re a computer geek like me, you’re probably already familiar with bit rate. Bit rate refers to the rate at which a video or audio file is encoded, and is a good way to compare the video quality of two cameras with the same resolution.
Bit rate refers to how much a file is compressed. Highly compressed files take up less storage space but also tend to have a lower quality. Cameras that record at a higher bit rate will produce better-looking videos, especially when viewed on larger screens. The downside is that they will more quickly consume storage space, meaning less video files can be stored at any one time. This leads us to our next point.
Memory refers to the available storage space on your camera. Most cameras will have a certain amount of memory built in, and all of them have memory cartridges for SD or USB cards for additional memory. Cameras with large amounts of internal memory tend to be more expensive, but they also mean you won’t have to buy as many external memory cards, or forget to take them with you if you’re shooting somewhere.
Unless you’re filming from a tripod, it is impossible to keep your camera perfectly still. The types of shots you can obtain from a tripod are somewhat limited, however, and you want a camera that’s going to film well while you’re holding it as well. For this you need image stabilization.
All good professional 4K cameras have at least some degree of image stabilization. Image stabilization seeks to limit the visual effects of a shaky camera. There are two kinds of image stabilization: electrical and optical. Electrical image stabilization is often found in cheaper 4K cameras, and is not nearly as effective as optical stabilization, which actually adjusts the lens in your camera to compensate for movement.
Of course, there may be times when you don’t want to use image stabilization, so it can be helpful to be able to turn it off. Cameras are assigned an image stabilization rating, depending on how many types of movement the camera is rated to minimize.
Unless you’re filming a mime or a silent movie, you’re going to be recording audio. The more professional you want your videos to appear, the higher the audio quality needs to be. More expensive cameras are going to have better microphones, but to get the best audio, you’re going to need an external microphone.
While some cameras do come with external microphones mounted, you might want to buy your own and attach it. This will generally improve the quality of your audio even further. This brings me to one last, more general point.
Accessories and Compatibility
Sometimes professional video cameras are sold in a bundle with a variety of other accessories, such as a carrying case, tripod, XLR cables and a variety of other tools. One thing you want to consider is how compatible your camera is.
Does it use universal ports, or is it designed to work with a particular brand or product. In general, the greater the number of ports – and the greater variety of ports – your camera has, the better.
This list of features and capabilities to look for is far from exhaustive. There are a number of other features that you need to consider as well, including aperture, WiFi support, lenses, zoom, and other features. All of these things should be taken into consideration before you buy a video camera.
Who Should Buy a 4K Video Camera?
Right now, 4K cameras and televisions are still something of a novelty. While 4K resolution is certainly popular, there are a lot of people who simply haven’t upgraded to 4K from 1080p yet. Whether they’re waiting for the cost to go down or they’re simply can’t afford to upgrade, there are plenty of reasons.
If you just want a camcorder for personal use, to record ball games, birthday parties, classical concerts and cute videos of your cats, you might not need to invest in a 4K video camera. This is especially true if you haven’t upgraded your television or computer to 4K technology. If you can’t watch your videos in 4K, why record them that way?
If you have professional aims in mind, however, you absolutely need to shoot in 4K. Even if you can’t watch videos in 4K, you have to assume your audience can. So if you’re ready to find a great 4K camera, let’s take a look at our top picks.
The Best Professional 4k Video Cameras
The Sony a7 III isn’t the most expensive 4K video camera on the market, but it offers awesome performance capabilities, stunning 4K video quality, competitive pricing and a number of lens options to choose from. In a crowded market filled with stunning cameras, the a7 III is our recommendation.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $500
Panasonic Lumix FZ80
Generally speaking, if you want a high-quality, professional-grade video camera, you’re going to have to spend at least $1000. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend that kind of money on a camera, especially if you’re just starting out and are new at using cameras.
Fortunately, there are a few cameras that offer professional-looking 4K at a more affordable price. While it won’t match the performance of more expensive cameras, the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 is a great intro-level camera perfect for newcomers to video photography. While the FZ80 is mostly geared towards still photography, it does shoot 4K video as well.
With 18.1 MP sensor resolution, you get crisp, clear results whether you’re shooting or filming. The camera is able to shoot at 30 FPS, and it utilizes this in two modes. It offers a photo burst that shoots up to 30 still photos in a single second, letting you capture motion at exactly the right moment, and it can also shoot video at 30 FPS.
If you have rigorous video needs, the Lumix FZ80 isn’t going to do the trick. It’s limited frame rate isn’t suitable for a lot of filming needs. If you need a little bit more from a video camera, the GoPro Hero6 might be a better option.
GoPro HERO6 Black
When it comes to action cameras, GoPro is the biggest name in the business. Their action cameras are some of the only ones that can compete on a professional level, and they are a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts due to their small size and weight. The GoPro Hero6 Black is far and away the most popular action camera on the market, and is arguably the best video camera you can get for less than $500.
The most immediate improvement the Hero6 offers over the last-gen Hero5 is an all new GP1 chip specially optimized for GoPro cameras. This new chip offers twice the performance of the previous camera and provides superior image stabilization for crisper, cleaner photos even when you’re on the go.
The Hero6 offers both 4K and 1080p resolutions and shoots at 60fps for superior video footage. It also features touch zoom for easy zooming, and a large two-inch display to help you set up better shots.
The touchscreen interface makes it easy to zoom, change your shooting settings, review footage and more. The Hero6 is waterproof up to 33 feet, letting you take cool underwater shots as well – though if you want to go scuba diving, you’ll have to buy protective housing.
The Hero6 is also outfitted with 5.0 GHz WiFi, dramatically speeding up video transfer times to phones that support 5.0 GHz wireless signals. The camera even responds to basic voice commands, making it easier for you to take pictures even in the middle of the action. If you want take professional-grade photos and videos without spending a fortune on a camera, the GoPro Hero6 Black is a surefire bet.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $750
The GoPro isn’t for everyone, but neither is spending $2000 on a video camera. If you’re looking for something with a little more heft than the Hero6, the Panasonic HC-VX981K has some great features at a competitive price. It’s three-inch screen is larger than the GoPro 6, and it comes with bespoke video editing abilities.
With 20X optical zoom, the HC-VX981K gives you a lot of flexibility for your shooting, letting you capture distant shots as well as close ones. Five-axis hybrid optical image stabilization reduces the movement of your lens, dramatically improving the quality of your handheld shots. The camera has a focal length of 4.08 – 81.6 mm and a standard illumination of 1400 lx.
One of the best features of this camera are the in-camera editing tools that let newer filmmakers edit their videos without the aid of expensive video editing software. Tools such as panning, post-cropping and subject tracking give you more video options and makes it easier for you to take complex, professional-looking shoots.
The video camera offers built-in WiFi that allows for live streaming, and it also offers in-camera editing that lets you sample down your footage to 1080p for those who don’t have the ability to view in 4K. That gives this camera a lot of flexibility, as you can shoot videos in professional 4K or edit down to 1080p for family or friends without 4K capabilities.
While this is a solid camcorder, it does have some limitations. It’s in-camera editing software is convenient, but it can’t replace dedicated video software. And while it is capable of live streaming, there are other camcorders that do it better. This is an excellent value, however, and a great 4K video camera for anyone on a smaller budget.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $1000
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V
The Sony Cyber-shot has long been one of the most popular digital still cameras on the market. The new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 V combines powerful still photography tools with impressive 4K video technology, giving you a whole new arsenal of tools at your disposal.
For a compact camera weighing just 0.6 pounds, the DSC-RX100 has a lot going for it. It features a 20.1 MP sensor and boasts an incredible 0.05 second hybrid auto-focus system, making this a great camera for catching the action as it happens.
Whether you want to catch an exciting aerial ski jump at the perfect moment, photograph a hummingbird in flight or capture the moment your son hits a home run in Little League, this Cyber-shot is the way to do it. With 315 points of auto-focus detection, you’ll be sure to capture every breathtaking moment.
The DSC-RX100 has a number of other impressive features. At 24 FPS, it has the world’s fastest continuous shooting speed, letting you capture image after image in quick succession.
The 4K video camera mode with direct pixel reading offers stunning film pictures, and photo capture lets you extract 8 MP stills from your videos to highlight the best moments. The camera also offers super slow motion as slow as 960 FPS, letting you capture incredible slow-mo footage as well.
There is no one single camera ideal for every situation. The Cyber-shot is too small to function as a video camera for all situations. It lacks the same dedicated editing software found in dedicated camcorders, and its limited zoom (3.6X) and lens size limits your filming options.
But sometimes a bulky camera is only going to get in your way. If you’re looking for a compact camera for vlogging or other similar activities, the DSC-RX100 Cyber-shot is the perfect choice.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $2000
Panasonic Lumix GH5
Like the more budget-friendly Lumix FZ80, the Panasonic Lumix GH5 offers plenty of options for both still photography as well as shooting 4K video. But unlike the less expensive Lumix, the GH5 offers far more versatile support, giving filmmakers a lot more options when it comes to filming.
Housed in a durable magnesium alloy body, the GH5, measuring 5.8 x 7.6 x 6.1 inches and weighing 3.34 pounds, is small enough to be portable and large enough to present a lot of different options. It is outfitted with a 20.3 MP micro 4/3 sensor. It can record 4K video at 60FPS/50P and 30FPS/25P/24P. You also have the option to shoot at 1080p at up to 180FPS.
With 5-axis dual image stabilization and in-body support for non-optical image stabilization, your videos will look good whether you’re filming from a tripod or from the hand.
The image stabilization works to correct lenses of all sizes, eliminating blur and giving your videos the professional sheen they deserve. 10-bit internal recording works to capture subtle details often missed by 8-bit recording, working to further improve your videos.
The GH5 also comes with two SD card slots, giving you plenty of room to expand your camera for more storage, letting you film longer. You can choose to record on just one card, or you can use the second card as a backup, protecting your videos in case of accidental corruption. You can even choose to record on both cards simultaneously.
No matter what you’re looking for, the Lumix GH5 has an answer. It may not be the best 4k video camera on the market, but it stacks up nicely against the competition. To get the ost out of it in a professional setting, you’ll need to purchase additional accessories, but the camera itself is ready to perform.
Sony a7 III
The godfather of action cameras, the Sony a7 III Mirrorless Camera is one of the best compact cameras money can buy. Combining breathtaking still photography with exciting 4K camera footage, the Sony a7 III is everything you could ever want in a camera.
Let’s take a look at some of the features. It employs a stunning 24.2 MP image sensor, 15-stop dynamic range and ISO from 50 to 204,800, a mechanical shutter that moves at up to 10FPS, 425 AF contrast points and 93% image detection.
It features an interchangeable lens system, giving you enormous freedom with how you shoot videos and photographs, and 5-axis in-camera stabilization for crystal-clear movies and photographs.
The incredible features of the camera help bring movies to life when shooting in 4K as well. The a7 III uses full-pixel readout to more accurately capture footage, and its astounding ability to capture light and shadow helps to make movies that look more real than ever before. The camera uses 16-bit processing for improved image and video quality, further ensuring vivid image quality.
Due to its smaller size, the a7 III can’t support all of the accessories commonly used in filming, making it ill-suited for long, dedicated filming sessions. But if you’re looking to capture all the complexities of real life in the moment, you don’t have time to set up a professional video camera. For that, you need the a7 III.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $3000
A powerful, dedicated camcorder, the Sony PXW-Z150 opens up a world of possibilities. Featuring a powerful, innovative 1-inch stacked 20.0 MP camera sensor, the PXW-Z150 offers twice the readout speed of a standard sensor, resulting in cleaner, better-looking footage with less blur and superior quality.
The camera doesn’t just excel in 4K, either. It offers stunning Full Definition video, including impressive 5X slow motion, allowing you to capture fine details and observe life like never before. The camcorder supports 24X zoom in Full HD and 18x in 4K mode.
This is achieved by implementing a 12X zoom lens and utilizing Pixel Super Resolution Technology to increase the images to 18X or 24X, all while preserving the fidelity of the original footage.
The camcorder offers built-in WiFi so you can instantly connect to your laptop or smartphone, and it features a 3.5” LCD panel to give you a better view of the action and make it easier for you to take control of your filming. The camera also offers dual memory slots, so you can move on to another memory card when the first is filled, or you can shoot on both cards simultaneously.
Finally, the Multi-Interface (MI) Shoe gives you plenty of connections for all the accessories you need, such as external microphones and lights for filming in dark locations.
Weighing just 4.3 pounds, the PXW-Z150 is lightweight, fairly compact and surprisingly powerful. The camera lacks any touchscreen, which seems light a major oversight, especially considering the size of the screen, but that doesn’t diminish the camera’s capabilities; it only makes it harder to take advantage of them. The camera costs a pretty penny, but the performance is worth it.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Equipped with a 30.4 MP CMOS image sensor, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV takes photos like you wouldn’t believe. 61 points of AF cover an extensive area, and a DIGIC 6+ Image Processor ensures top-notch image and 4K video quality no matter the environment or lighting conditions. The camera features built-in WiFi, built-in GPS and an ISO from 100-32,000.
Despite the incredible sensor, however, the EOS 5D Mark IV feels lacking in certain key areas, a fact made all the more surprising because it is surpassed by less expensive cameras. Nowhere is this more evident than in its 4K video mode, as it can only shoot 4K at 24 or 30 FPS. This is still exceptional, and no worse than, say, the Sony a7 III – but the a7 has an ISO of 50-204,8000.
Nevertheless, this is a fantastic camera capable of taking absolutely stunning photography and magnificent 4K video. The 30.4 MP camera helps to bring out fascinating details while shooting, and a touch-screen display makes it easy to monitor and control your filming while in progress.
As far as 4K cameras are concerned, there are provably better, less expensive choices, but if you’re looking for a solid, high-performing camera that can also shoot brilliant 4K, this is a good bet. Even at 30 FPS, 4K will take your breath away.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $4000
Panasonic is one of the biggest names in the business, and the Panasonic AG-DVX200 is just one example of why this is so. This isn’t a simple camera to use – you’re liable to spend hours simply learning all of its functions. But once you get a handle on this camera, you will fall in love.
Capable of shooting 4K footage at 60FPS, outfitted with 13X zoom and laden with more features than I could possibly name, the AG-DVX200 is a beast of a camera. 2 SD card slots, a vast assortment of outputs for all types of accessories, thi camera has everything you need to take professional-quality 4K video.
The camera is quite heavy – it weighs 12 pounds – and the learning curve is steep, perhaps too steep for an inexperienced filmmaker. But for a season professional looking for the best camera in the business, this could give you a run for your money.
Best Professional 4K Video Cameras Under $6000
Canon EOS-1DX Mark II
There aren’t a lot of cameras yet that can shoot 4K video at 60FPS; none of them are cheap. The Canon EOS-1DX Mark II is certainly not a cheap camera, but it can run with the best of them.
A 20.2 megapixel camera, 61-point auto-focus, dual Digac6 image processors, and an ISO range of 100–51200 are just a small fraction of the features you’ll find on this camera. The ISO can be expanded to 409600, capturing a staggering amount of light for pictures that have to be seen to be believed.
The EOS-1DX Mark II comes at a hefty price, and its lack of zoom limits your filming possibilities to an extent, even with 4K at 60FPS. But the saying goes that seeing is believing, and once you’ve seen what this camera can do, you’ll be a believer too.
4K technology is still relatively new, and while there are a number of cameras that can support filming in 4K, there are fewer that do it well. I hope this helped you find what you were looking for, and if not, I wish you well on your search.
5 x 3.88 x 3 inches
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5 x 3.88 x 3 inches
4K UHD 2160p