Sure, your phone probably shoots great home movies, but many of us still have a need for a dedicated video camera, whether we’re an aspiring Hollywood director or on our way to becoming the next YouTube sensation.
For the aspiring filmmaker, the best video camera is the blew us away with its outstanding 4K video, RAW and ProRes recording options, gorgeous 5-inch touchscreen, and brilliant user interface that’s simply the easiest to use of any camera out there.. Blackmagic Design is well known in the professional filmmaking world, but the PCC4K, as it’s colloquially known, is all about Hollywood quality on a student film budget. It
Not aiming for a red carpet premiere? Then a simple camcorder, mirrorless camera, or action cam is the best choice. Here are a few of our favorites.
At a glance:
- Best video camera overall: Blackmagic PCC4K
- Best 4K camcorder: Sony AX700
- Best video camera for YouTube: Sony A6600
- Best video camera for travel: Sony RX100 VII
- Best mirrorless camera for video: Panasonic Lumix GH5S
- Best DSLR for video: Canon EOS 90D
- Best action camera: GoPro Hero8 Black
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:
Blackmagic Design is on a mission to democratize 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 (a camera you’ll also find on this list, but which costs quite a bit more).
The camera features a gorgeous, 5-inch, Full HD display that is perhaps the best built-in monitor we’ve ever seen. The touch interface is also brilliantly designed and offers a surprisingly simple interface for such an advanced camera. Add to this 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 professional movie workflows, 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 Sony and other brands. 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. At $2,495, it’s more expensive, but it offers a larger Super 35 sensor and Canon EF lens mount. We still like the cheaper, smaller version, but the 6K is worth a look if you demand even higher quality video.
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:
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, offering superior image quality to the usual 1/2-inch or smaller sensors found in camcorders. The larger sensor in the AX700 gathers more light than camcorders with smaller sensors, bringing a serious image quality boost. Combined with the S-Log flat color profile, serious shooters can preserve more dynamic range to push the exposure and color further in post.
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 competingis 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.
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. 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.
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:
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 any compact camera, 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 the camcorders on this list, 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 focusing technology. First introduced in the company’s high-end mirrorless cameras, 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.
Why should you buy this: Professional 4K video with a familiar user experience
Who’s it for: Aspiring, enthusiast, or professional filmmakers.
Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GH5S:
Built around a 10-megapixel Four Thirds sensor, the Lumix GH5S is a bit of an oddball in the modern camera world. That’s roughly half the resolution of the less-expensive Lumix GH5 (sans S), but it’s also a physically larger sensor that offers exactly the number of pixels needed for shooting 4K video without any additional scaling, binning, or line skipping, leading to sharper video. Each individual pixel is also larger, which gives the GH5S excellent performance in low light. One downside of that larger sensor is that the GH5S has to do without the sensor-shift stabilization system of the standard GH5.
The GH5S may not have the Sony A6600’s unbeatable autofocus, but it makes up for it with a higher-quality filetype and more advanced video options that will appeal to aspiring and professional filmmakers. Those include 10-bit 4:2:2 video in either DCI 4K (4,096 x 2,160) or Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) resolutions at up to 400 megabits per second. (By contrast, the Sony A6600 shoots 8-bit 4:2:0 video at a maximum of 100mbps.) Most other hybrid cameras need an external recorder to even get close to that, but the GH5S can do it right to an SD card.
What’s more, unlike most mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, the GH5S places no time limit on how long you can record; want to go on a long-winded rant for your rabid YouTube fans? You can do that. Need to record an hour-long interview for your feature documentary? No problem.
Rounding out the list of features is a 180-degree articulating monitor, headphone and microphone ports, high-quality preamps for professional-grade audio, and dual SD memory card slots. For an even higher-end hybrid mirrorless option, check out the full-frame Lumix S1H.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix GH5S review
Why should you buy this: Excellent live view autofocus from a DSLR.
Who’s it for: Family documentarians and still photographers who need to shoot video.
Why we picked the Canon EOS 90D:
A DSLR wouldn’t be our first choice for shooting video, but that hasn’t stopped Canon from ramping up its DSLRs to meet the increasing demands of the modern videographer (the new flagship 1D X Mark III takes it to a whole other level). A DSLR’s optical viewfinder, beloved by many still photographers, is useless in live view mode, and therefore wasted on video. But if you’re a fan of DSLRs for photography and you know that’s the kind of camera you want, then the 90D is your best choice for a model that can also handle video — and doesn’t carry a $6,500 price tag, à la the 1D X Mark III.
With its 32-megapixel sensor, the EOS 90D is the highest-resolution crop-sensor camera available (tied with its sister model, the mirrorless EOS M6 Mark II). First and foremost, it is an excellent still camera and that’s the primary reason to buy it. But if you need to shoot the occasional video, the 90D will get the job done with less fuss than any other DSLR. That’s largely thanks to Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus (DPAF) technology that allows for fast phase-detection autofocus when in live view mode. Live view phase-detection isn’t rare on mirrorless cameras, but it’s one reason why Canon DSLRs will outperform those from Nikon when it comes to video autofocus.
Additionally, the 90D can shoot UltraHD 4K video from the full width of its sensor, something that can’t be said about Canon’s previous 4K-capable DSLRs, which had to significantly crop the sensor in 4K mode. That means your field of view won’t change regardless of whether you’re shooting 4K or 1080p, and your lenses will look the same in video mode as they do for still photography.
While the 90D doesn’t offer all the advanced features or high bitrate codecs of the GH5S, it does have microphone and headphone jacks and a fully articulating monitor, making it a strong vlogging camera. If you’re a diehard DSLR fan, particularly a Canon EOS customer with an existing collection of EF-mount lenses, the 90D is likely the camera for you.
Read our full Canon EOS 90D review
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, with new “mod” accessories that turn it into a powerful vlogging tool. Add 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 to 2.0 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 to buy 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?
- What are the key features of a video camera?
- Can video cameras take photos, and vice versa?
- What is a professional video camera?
- Should I buy a 4K video camera?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Video cameras can be broken down into four categories, each of which has unique advantages.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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