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The best video cameras for 2020

From camcorders to cinema cameras, there’s a reason that such a variety of video cameras exist. There is no one perfect model, and each type appeals to often wildly different customers and use cases. Therefore, it’s important to know exactly what you need a camera to do before you decide on one. You could, for example, spend tens of thousands of dollars on a Hollywood-caliber cinema camera — but I’m guessing that’s not why you’re here.

But there is a cinema camera that works for more realistic budgets: the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. It’s a couple years old, but it’s is still my favorite video camera, and it keeps getting better thanks to software updates. With its easy-to-use interface, high-quality filetypes, versatile lens mount, and professional connectivity, it’s the best video camera for the aspiring cinematographer or live TV director.

The PCC4K lacks a number of conveniences common to other cameras, however, like image stabilization and continuous autofocus. That means it’s not the best video camera for more casual shooters, like vloggers or other one-person-crews working in uncontrolled environments. If that’s you, don’t worry — there are plenty of other great video cameras worth considering.

At a glance:

Best video camera: Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: Professional cinema quality at an enthusiast-friendly price.

Who’s it for: Student, aspiring, and professional filmmakers.

Why we picked the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K:

The Pocket Cinema Camera 4K takes a lot of what makes Blackmagic Design’s professional Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K G2 camera special and serves it up at a fraction of the cost. Blackmagic Design is on a mission to lower the entry point for professional-quality film production, and the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is its biggest step in that direction yet. It is considerably more affordable than other cinema cameras and even cheaper than many hybrid mirrorless cameras that lack its video chops. It’s built around the Micro Four Thirds system and uses a very similar sensor to the one found in the Panasonic Lumix GH5S.

In early 2020, Blackmagic Design also added remote camera control through the ATEM Mini series of livestream-ready HDMI switchers. This lets you use a connected computer to adjust exposure, color correction, and even focus and zoom on supported lenses. It turns the PCC4K into a venerable studio camera, suitable for everything from professional livestream productions to a company Zoom meeting.

The camera features a gorgeous, 5-inch, Full HD display that is perhaps the best built-in monitor I’ve seen — although, it does not tilt or flip. The touch interface is also brilliantly designed, making the PCC4K a surprisingly simple camera to use. Add the advanced audio inputs and controls, including both 3.5mm and mini-XLR, and you’ve got everything you need to make your next blockbuster.

Beyond the hardware, what really sets this camera apart from others is in the software. It records high-quality, edit-friendly filetypes including 10-bit Apple ProRes and even 12-bit Blackmagic RAW. Compared to the compressed formats most video cameras use, this means more detail and greater flexibility for color grading footage in post. You also get more options for storing that footage, as the camera records to SD or CFast 2.0 memory cards, or directly to an external solid-state drive (SSD) over USB 3.

Designed for workflows that involve a crew, the Pocket Cinema Camera doesn’t offer the creature comforts of most modern cameras. Autofocus is slow and often inaccurate, and there is nothing like the face or eye-tracking autofocus found on mirrorless cameras from the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Nikon, and Canon. It’s also designed to be a single component within a larger rig, and many operators end up spending hundreds — if not thousands — more on accessories to fully kit it out.

Even so, no other camera provides such a good starting point as the PCC4K for filmmakers who want the best quality on tight budgets.

Blackmagic Design has since released the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, an upgrade over — but not a replacement of — the 4K version. In addition to the extra resolution, it offers a larger super 35 sensor and Canon EF lens mount. We still like the cheaper, smaller PCC4K, but the 6K is worth a look if you demand even higher-quality video.

Read our Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K review

Best 4K camcorder: Sony AX700

sony-ax700

Why should you buy this: Beautiful 4K footage from a large, 1-inch sensor and bright zoom lens.

Who’s it for: Those who aren’t afraid to drop some cash for great image quality.

Why we picked the Sony AX700:

I’m not a big fan of camcorders, and I think your smartphone is an adequate substitute for many situations. But, the Sony AX700 makes a strong case for itself with a good balance of portability and image quality. Camcorders are also a good choice for live events, from weddings to sports, where you need a camera that can keep shooting uninterrupted for a long period of time.

Sony’s 1-inch-type sensors have dominated the compact camera market for years, and while those same sensors are newer to video cameras, they are no less impressive here, where they offer superior image quality to the usual 1/2-inch or smaller sensors found in camcorders. The 1-inch sensor in the AX700 helps it gather more light, bringing a serious image quality boost. Combined with the S-Log flat color profile, you can preserve more dynamic range to push the exposure and color further in post, if you feel like getting that in-depth.

The larger a sensor is, the harder it is to put a long zoom lens in front of it, but Sony still managed to tack on a 12X zoom to the AX700. The f/2.8-4.5 aperture is bright for the category, working together with the larger sensor to improve image quality in low light scenes. On the flip side, a built-in neutral density filter will assist when the surroundings are too bright, helping to keep the shutter speed down so that video doesn’t look jittery.

The sensor and lens work together with a 273-point phase-detection autofocus for smoother focusing with more accurate subject tracking. 4K video is recorded at 100 megabits per second, not as high as the likes of the Blackmagic PCC4K, but higher than the average consumer-grade video camera. Additional capabilities like HDR (high dynamic range) mode, 960-frames-per-second super slow-motion, and a hot shoe connection round out the feature set.

On the exterior, the camera offers a handful of manual controls including a multi-function lens ring that can control focus or zoom. Dual SD card slots allow for plenty of storage and uninterrupted recording.

The price is a bit steep for many buyers, but right in line for the class. Canon’s competing Vixia HF G60 is a slightly more affordable alternative. It also offers a 1-inch sensor, but with an even longer 15X zoom and the same f/2.8-4.5 aperture. It lacks the super slow-motion mode and some other advanced features of the Sony, however.

The best video camera for YouTube: Sony A6600

Sony A6600 front with flip screen raised in selfie position

Why should you buy this: Excellent autofocus, good video quality, and 5-axis image stabilization.

Who’s it for: One-person crews who need a camera that’s reliable even when nobody is standing behind it.

Why we picked the Sony A6600:

There are many great options when it comes to choosing a video camera to help take your YouTube channel to the next level, but none that will make capturing great footage as easy as the Sony A6600. While this camera is loaded with tons of powerful features, there is one that really stands out when it comes to shooting video for YouTube. That’s Sony’s Real-Time Eye and Real-Time Tracking autofocus, which is hands-down the best continuous focusing tech we’ve ever seen. For YouTubers who need to be on-camera and don’t have the luxury of working with another person as a camera operator, Real-Time Eye AF will keep you in sharp focus even if you need to move around within the frame.

That’s not the only thing that makes the A6600 a great video camera. It also shoots oversampled 4K video from its APS-C sensor for detail-rich output. The LCD screen can flip up 180 degrees so you can monitor yourself while on camera. Dedicated microphone and headphone jacks allow you to upgrade the audio quality without any bulky accessories. The five-axis sensor-shift stabilization system keeps your videos smooth and steady when shooting handheld (think vlogging). The short flange-back distance of the Sony E mount also makes the A6600 very adaptable to other lenses, including those from Canon and Nikon DSLRs, which opens up a world of creative lens options.

On top of all of this, the A6600 is also a top-notch still camera and is compact enough for travel. For jobs that require photography and video, you can knock both tasks out with the same tool.

But let me address the elephant in the room, the Panasonic Lumix GH5. The GH5 offers higher-quality 10-bit video files and some other pro-level features the A6600 lacks. I think it’s an excellent choice — but, Panasonic’s contrast-detection autofocus simply doesn’t keep up with Sony’s better technology, and I think the average YouTuber will find the A6600 a bit easier to work with because of this.

Read our Sony A6600 hands-on review

Best video camera for travel: Sony RX100 VII

Why should you buy this: 4K video and excellent autofocus in a compact package

Who’s it for: Travel vloggers and anyone else who needs great video quality in a small form factor.

Why we picked the Sony RX100 VII:

While Sony recently announced a vlogger-oriented spinoff of the RX100 called the ZV-1, we haven’t had a chance to test it yet. For now, the RX100 VII remains listed here. Regardless of how good the ZV-1 turns out to be, the RX100 has at least one potential advantage for travel videos: a longer zoom lens.

The seventh iteration of Sony’s class-defining RX100 brings a wealth of advanced features to the compact camera. Not only does the RX100 VII offer the most impressive video feature set of the series, but it also happens to excel at still photos, giving you a one-size-fits-all device for travel. It uses a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor (the same physical size as the AX700 above) matched with a fast Bionz X processor for detailed images and fast performance. The 24-200mm, 8X zoom lens isn’t long compared to a camcorder, but it’s an impressive amount of range for a camera that can easily slide into a jacket pocket.

4K video can be recorded at either 30 or 24fps, Full HD 1080p up to 120fps, and super slow-motion as high as 960fps at lower resolutions. Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and S-Log profiles are also included for capturing more dynamic range and creating video suitable for playback on HDR televisions.

New to the Mark VII is Sony’s Real Time Tracking and Real Time Eye AF, the same focusing tech found in the A6600 mirrorless camera. This uses artificial intelligence to track moving subjects and keep them tack-sharp — in both still and video modes. Also new is a microphone jack (finally) that allows you to connect external microphones for better audio quality. All of these features mean the RX100 VII doesn’t come cheap, but unlike traditional point-and-shoot cameras, it is built to last and should be viewed as an investment.

The best full-frame video camera: Sigma Fp

Why should you buy this: Full-frame sensor, RAW video, impressive versatility

Who’s it for: Professional YouTubers, indie filmmakers, and anyone who needs a versatile video camera

Why we picked the Sigma Fp:

This is a controversial choice. I didn’t exactly love the Fp when I reviewed it as a still camera, but as a video camera? Well, it just keeps getting better. A firmware update in June 2020 expanded its RAW recording capabilities beyond Cinema DNG to support both Apple ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW when recording to external HDMI recorders. As far as I know, this is the first camera to support three different RAW video formats.

The Fp’s main selling point is its impressive quality-to-size ratio. It shoots DCI (4,096 x 2,160) or UHD (3,840 x 2,160) 4K video from a full-frame sensor, in a body that can just about fit in your pocket (at least, without a lens attached). Despite the small size, it has a smartly designed exterior that is fully weather sealed and incorporates an efficient heat sink that keeps the camera at optimum operating temperature, even when recording long takes of RAW video.

The pocketable nature of the Fp means it can scale to fill many different roles. From a gimbal cam to a crash cam to a full-on studio setup with a tripod, cinema lens, matte box, and more, its designed to fit the different needs of any given production. The relatively low cost makes it appropriate for indie and student films, too, although most filmmakers will likely need to add several accessories to make it fit their needs, like a monitor, SSD, and external power solution.

Working with RAW video is also a time-consuming (and hard-drive-consuming) task, but ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW do bring significant improvements here over Cinema DNG thanks to their efficient compression. But these formats both require an external recorder, whereas Cinema DNG can be recorded internally (limited to 8 bit) or directly into an SSD via the Fp’s USB-C port. Fortunately, the Fp can also shoot in compressed .MOV format at a high bitrate if you’d rather avoid RAW altogether.

Due to the lack of a mechanical shutter, we don’t recommend the Fp for still photography. But for video, it’s a truly special product with nothing else like it on the market, and Sigma has committed to keep it refreshed with firmware updates going forward.

Read our Sigma Fp review

The best mirrorless camera for video: Fujifilm X-T4

Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: 5-axis stabilization, great 4K quality, articulating monitor

Who’s it for: Aspiring, enthusiast, and even professional video shooters.

Why we picked the Fujifilm X-T4:

Yes, a Fujifilm has made the list of best video cameras — and for great reasons. After cultivating a rabid following of enthusiast still photographers with its retro designs and prime lenses, Fujifilm started turning its eyes to video around the time of the X-T2. Two generations later and it has all but perfected it in the awesome X-T4.

The X-T4 is the first X-T camera to feature 5-axis internal stabilization, which is a boon for videographers looking to smooth out those otherwise shaky handheld shots. The camera also introduces a fully-articulating LCD screen so that talent-operators (like vloggers and YouTubers) can actually see themselves as they shoot, while the effective face- and eye-detection autofocus does a great job of staying locked on to the subject

Beyond this, the X-T4 serves up some of the most advanced video features of any mirrorless camera, offering 10-bit 4K video at up to 400 megabits per second, well above the data rate of the Sony cameras mentioned above. 4K can be recorded at up to 60 frames per second, while Full HD is available at up to 240 fps for slow-motion playback. Fujifilm’s F-Log flat color profile is also available for both internal and external recording if you want capture the most dynamic range and don’t mind doing a little color correction in post.

Compared to previous Fujifilm X-series cameras, the X-T4 also uses a higher-capacity battery, extending 4K video record time up to 110 minutes.

Read our Fujifilm X-T4 hands-on review

Runner-up: Panasonic Lumix GH5

One thing the X-T4 lacks is time-limit-free recording. For most settings, clip length tops out at 20 minutes. This is where a camera like the Panasonic Lumix GH5 comes in. While several years old and with a smaller sensor than the X-T4, the GH5 remains a top contender in the video game, and one of the few cameras that puts no time limits on clip length. If you need a set-it-and-forget-it interview camera, or want to be able to go on a long-winded rant in your vlog, it’s the way to go.

The GH5 also offers 10-bit internal recording at 400 megabits per second, 5-axis stabilization, and a fully articulating screen.

Read our Panasonic Lumix GH5 review

The best DSLR for video: Nikon D780

Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: Professional 4K output and great autofocus.

Who’s it for: Photographers who need a capable one-camera solution for stills and video.

Why we picked the Nikon D780:

A DSLR wouldn’t be my first choice for shooting video. A DSLR’s optical viewfinder, beloved by many still photographers, is useless in live view mode, and therefore wasted on video. But that hasn’t stopped Nikon from giving its new D780 some serious video muscle. It’s not to the level of the the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III, but for a DSLR that doesn’t cost over six grand, you can’t beat the D780.

You’ll find an equally capable video camera in the smaller, cheaper, mirrorless Nikon Z 6, but if you’re a fan of DSLRs for photography and you know that’s the kind of camera you want, then the D780 is your best choice for a model that can also handle video. Well, at least one that doesn’t cost more than a used car.

Like any DSLR, the D780 is first and foremost a still camera and that’s the primary reason to buy it. With its 24-megapixel full-frame sensor, it isn’t the highest-resolution still camera out there, but it still shoots excellent photos with loads of dynamic range, beautiful colors, and great low light performance.

But if you need to shoot the occasional video, the D780 will get the job done with professional-quality results. The new on-chip phase-detection autofocus works great for video mode and includes a reliable face-detection feature (eye-detection is also available for still photography, but not video). This type of autofocus isn’t rare on mirrorless cameras, but this is the first Nikon DSLR to feature it.

The real benefits of the D780 come in the quality of its video. It shoots oversampled 4K from the full width of its sensor, leading to very detailed footage that looks great on any device, from a phone screen to the best 4K TVs.

You can even up your quality further by adding an Atomos Ninja V or similar HDMI video recorder. Internally, the D780 is limited to 8-bit 4:2:0 video, but it can output 10-bit 4:2:2 over HDMI, and doing so also opens up Nikon’s N-Log flat color profile which preserves more dynamic range. That gives you the features of a video-oriented mirrorless camera like the Lumix GH5, plus the benefits of a large full-frame sensor. Not too shabby.

One thing some customers will be disappointed with is the lack of a fully-articulating monitor. The D780’s LCD screen tilts up and down, but that’s it, making it poorly suited to vlog-style shooting.

The crop-sensor Canon EOS 90D is a good alternative at a cheaper price. It doesn’t offer a log profile or external 10-bit recording, but it features great autofocus and a fully-articulating monitor. That makes it a better camera for vlogging than the D780 (if vlogging with a DSLR is something you’d actually want to do). It’s also Canon’s first DSLR to record 4K from the full-width of the sensor, so your field of view w0n’t change between still and video modes.

Read our Nikon D780 review

The best action camera: GoPro Hero8 Black

GoPro Hero8 Black Review
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: Stunning image stabilization and a versatile feature set

Who’s it for: Anyone with a love for POV videos or who needs a camera small enough to go anywhere.

Why we picked the GoPro Hero8 Black:

Calling the Hero8 Black an “action camera” isn’t the most accurate way to label it. Yes, GoPro’s latest flagship is still the best action camera you can buy, but it does much more than provide the point-of-view perspective for extreme athletes. New “mods” turn it into a powerful vlogging tool, adding an LED light, mini shotgun microphone, and even a flip-up selfie screen.

The Hero8 Black is the first physical redesign since the Hero5 Black, incorporating a built-in mount that lets you forego a frame or case. This makes it faster and easier to set up, while also allowing you to swap batteries and memory cards while the camera is mounted to something. The camera is also thinner overall, making it more pocketable.

GoPro also turned up it’s impressive HyperSmooth stabilization in the Hero8 Black, offering gimbal-like steadiness that smooths out the roughest trail runs or mountain bike rides. It’s beyond impressive, and probably the number one reason I’d recommend the Hero8 over other action cameras.

It’s far from the only new feature, however. TimeWarp 2.0 offers new ways to create polished hyperlapse videos, automatically choosing the time-lapse speed based on camera movement and allowing you to slow down to real time at any point. New microphones and audio processing algorithms make voices easier to hear, even in windy and noisy conditions, and improvements to the interface make the camera even friendlier to use.

Read our full GoPro Hero8 Black review

Research and buying tips

Why should I buy a video camera instead of using my phone?

In truth, not everyone needs a dedicated video camera anymore; our phones have great cameras in them that are good enough most of the time. There are a few key reasons why you may want a standalone camera, however.

Zoom lens

Your phone may have two (or five) lenses built into it, but if you need the versatility or reach of a long zoom, a camcorder is your best bet. Not only does this give you the ability to film subjects that are farther away, but camcorders also use powered lens motors that provide a very smooth zooming action.

Alternately, interchangeable lens cameras will grant added creative control, even if their lenses don’t zoom as far or as smoothly.

Battery life and record time

If you need to film a long event — from a little league game to a wedding ceremony — you probably don’t want to risk running down your phone’s battery. Particularly with mid-range and high-end camcorders, video cameras often offer multiple different sizes of battery, with high-capacity options designed for such situations. Mirrorless cameras, like the GH5 above, have optional battery grips that can be attached to extend battery life, while cinema cameras can be powered by large external batteries.

Image quality

If you want to achieve a cinematic look, you can do that relatively affordably with any DSLR or mirrorless camera. The combination of a large imaging sensor and interchangeable lenses grants much more creative control over the look and feel of your video, letting you shoot with a shallow depth of field and vastly improving low light performance over your phone.

Audio quality

Let’s face it: Your phone kind of sucks at recording audio, especially in a noisy environment. A dedicated video camera will not only have better built-in microphones, but it will also allow you to attach an external mic to get the best results in any given situation, from a wireless lavalier mic for recording dialogue, to a shotgun mic for cutting through ambient noise, to a stereo mic for recording music.

What are the key features of video cameras?

Video cameras can be broken down into four categories, each of which has unique advantages.

Action cameras

These are small, lightweight, and mountable cameras designed for “set it and forget it” applications. Strap one to your chest, stick it to your helmet, or mount it to your bike frame and just press record. Typically, these cameras are waterproof and ruggedized and can survive a beating.

Camcorders

Although not as popular as they once were (you can thank smartphones for that), camcorders still come in handy when you need a compact, all-in-one solution for recording video. They are characterized by having a zoom lens that is integrated into the camera body. Entry-level models are generally quite compact and able to be used one-handed, while higher-end models are larger and often include professional audio inputs and more controls.

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras

These are photo cameras that can shoot video — and some models are very good at it. The benefits are a large sensor and interchangeable lenses, which improve video quality and creative versatility over the likes of camcorders and action cams. Because of the larger sensors, you won’t find any extremely long zoom lenses like you get on camcorders, but you will be able to choose from a wide selection of lenses that give you vastly different looks.

Cinema cameras

These cameras, like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera that took the top spot on this list, share much in common with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They have relatively large sensors and interchangeable lenses. What separates them is the user interface, video-specific features, and higher-quality filetypes. Whereas most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras recorded highly compressed video, cinema cameras often offer uncompressed RAW files or lightly compressed filetypes like Apple ProRes. The higher-quality filetype means more flexibility in postproduction.

Can video cameras take photos, or vice versa?

Yes. Today, most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are “hybrid” cameras, meaning they perform well for both stills and video, even if they are geared more toward still photography. Camcorders and cinema cameras can usually take photos, as well, but generally lack the resolution of a dedicated still camera. Whereas a mirrorless camera will easily have 20 or more megapixels, a camcorder or cinema camera tends to only have as many as it needs for video — for 4K resolution, that’s around 8MP.

What is a professional video camera?

While professional cameras tend to have better sensors and, likewise, better image quality, what really separates them from consumer models are the user interfaces and connectivity features. A professional video camera will have more direct access control — physical buttons and dials on the camera body — as well as a slew of input and output options for both audio and video. In the case of cinema cameras, these actually have fewer convenience features than consumer cameras — auto-focus and auto-exposure may be limited or nonexistent, for example.

Should I buy a 4K video camera?

The answer is probably yes, if for no other reason than 4K is quickly becoming the default. Even midrange mirrorless cameras now come equipped with 4K video. However, if you don’t have a 4K television or monitor, you won’t fully realize the benefits of a 4K video camera — and many people can’t see the difference, anyway. That said, shooting in 4K does allow you some flexibility to crop and reframe a shot in post, which can be a very welcome feature when you need it. It also does a much better job rendering fine patterns, like the threads in clothing, that may otherwise cause moiré at lower resolutions.

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