The best video cameras of 2019

From 4K powerhouses to tiny action cams, here are the best video cameras

Best overall

blackmagic-design-pocket-cinema-camera-4k-review

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

For all walks of filmmakers, you won’t find a better price to performance ratio.

Best 4K camcorder

sony-ax700

Sony AX700

The large 1-inch sensor in the AX700 gives it an image quality edge over other 4K camcorders.

Best for travel

best video cameras beste camera panasonic hc vx1 lifestyle

Panasonic HC-VX1

The VX1 packs in both 4K and a 24x zoom lens making it a good bridge between cheaper HD and $1,000-plus 4K models.

The best video camera in 2019 is the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K.

We’ve spent over a decade reviewing hundreds of cameras — from DSLRs to cinema cameras to action cameras, over 325 reviews in all — and our experience has left us hard to impress. Yet the Blackmagic PCC4K blew us away. It offers outstanding 4K video quality, can shoot in RAW or ProRes, and has a gorgeous 5-inch touchscreen, all for just $1,300. That’s thousands less than other cinema cameras, and inexpensive enough to give amateur filmmakers a chance to dabble in high-quality, professional 4K video production.

Looking for something even more affordable, or simpler? We’ve got you covered there, too. Here are our picks for the best video camera in several popular categories.

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:

Blackmagic Design is on a mission to democratize professional quality film production and the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is its most effective weapon in that fight yet. It costs just $1,300 but includes features normally reserved for cinema cameras that are thousands of dollars more. It’s built around the Micro Four Thirds system and uses a very similar sensor to the one found in the Panasonic GH5S mirrorless camera. And Blackmagic has taken things several steps further by including professional filetypes like ProRes and RAW video. They can be recorded straight to SD or CFast 2.0 cards, or directly to an external solid state drive (SSD) over USB.

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 advanced audio inputs and controls, including both 3.5mm and mini-XLR, and you’ve got everything you need to make your next blockbuster.

Designed for professional movie workflows, the Pocket Cinema Camera doesn’t offer the creature comforts of a modern hybrid camera. 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 and Panasonic. If you’re comfortable doing things manually, though, it doesn’t get better than this. No other camera brings this much value to the table.

Read our Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K review

Best 4K video camera: 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:

Sony’s 1-inch-type sensors have dominated the compact camera market for years. And while those same sensors are new to video, they show great promise for video quality that’s way above the average camcorder. The 14.2-megapixel, 1-inch sensor in the AX700 gathers more light than traditional 1/2-inch and 1/3-inch sensors common to camcorders, bringing a serious image quality boost over the typical consumer model. 4K is recorded at 30 frames per second at a bitrate of 100 megabits per second.

The larger a sensor is, the harder it is to put a long zoom lens in front of it. Fortunately, Sony still managed to tack on a 12x zoom to the AX700. The f/2.8-4.5 aperture is bright for the category, but 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. Advanced features like HDR, 960 fps super slow-motion mode, hot shoe connection, and S-Gamut and S-log color grading give the AX700 professional-level features.

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 $1,800 price tag is steep for most buyers, but most video cameras with similar features sit at even higher prices. Canon also has a video camera series with a 1-inch sensor and 4K, but it starts at $2,500. For a compact, high-resolution fixed lens video camera, the AX700 is the one to beat.

Best video camera for travel: Panasonic HC-VX1

best video cameras beste camera panasonic hc vx1 lifestyle

Why should you buy this: 4K resolution without the four-figure price.

Who’s it for: The serious consumer that wants solid video quality without spending a fortune.

Why we picked the Panasonic HC-VX1:

The Panasonic VX1 packs in both 4K/30 fps video and a solid 24x zoom lens, so the video camera earns big points for versatility. The 1/2.5-inch sensor is smaller than the one-inch sensors on the market, but better than the average smartphone. The lens, besides the wide zoom range, also has a bright f/1.8-4 aperture. And if zoom is more important than resolution, a 48x intelligent optical-digital zoom combo crops the 4K down to plain old HD.

Besides the high resolution sensor and bright zoom lens, the VX1 also boasts three different types of stabilization for smoother handheld shots. Two shooting modes are designed specifically for tougher high-contrast scenes, with Active Contrast and HDR Movie options.

Those features are wrapped up in a standard camcorder body, with a 3-inch, touch-enabled screen. The VX1 is a good bridge between cheaper HD options and $1,000-plus 4K models.

Best video camera for sports: Canon Vixia HF R800

best video cameras canon vixia hf r800 2

Why should you buy this: Record an entire little league game with enough zoom to get up close to your favorite player.

Who’s it for: Consumers who want the zoom and long recording times that they can’t find on a smartphone.

Why we picked the Canon Vixia HF R800:

The Canon Vixia HF R800 may not have 4K or a huge sensor, but it plops a 32x zoom lens on the front that can be expanded all the way to 57x using the advanced digital zoom option hidden in the manual settings. Its 1080p HD at 60 fps video isn’t going to win any contests for image quality, but it’s a good video camera for recording family memories and outings.

Despite the price point, the HF R800 brings a lot to the table. Dynamic image stabilization controls camera shake on three different axes, slow and fast-motion options can create slow-motion or time-lapse sequences, and the Highlight Priority Mode will keep clear skies and other bright objects properly exposed.

The HF R800 also uses a touch screen and stores video to SD cards, but if you want built-in storage, look at the slightly pricier Canon Vixia R82 or R80. Arguably, the best part about the R800 is its low price.

The best action camera: GoPro Hero7 Black

gopro hero7 black prd

Why should you buy this: Great image stabilization and 4K/60p video.

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

Why we picked the GoPro Hero7 Black:

Action camera is becoming a misleading title. These tiny cameras can be used in a much wider variety of settings than the name entails, from nabbing extreme sports shots to recording Netflix-level movies. The GoPro Hero7 Black can handle anything you can ask of a tiny camera.

While GoPro is seeing more competition than ever before, its newest flagship maintains the edge thanks to incredible electronic image stabilization that is simply the best we have ever seen. The camera also features a new TimeWarp mode that creates smooth time-lapses similar to Instagram’s Hyperlapse app.

Built around the same GP1 custom processor introduced in the Hero6, the Hero7 Black records 4K video at up to 60 frames per second or 1080p up to 240 for slow-motion playback. The user interface, which was already one of our favorites, has been redesigned to make it more user-friendly. GoPro also added native live-streaming so users can share their adventures in real time with friends and fans around the world, something that previously required third-party tools.

Read more on the GoPro Hero7.

The best video camera for YouTube: Panasonic Lumix GH5

Panasonic Lumix GH5 Review
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: Excellent video quality and audio quality, great stabilization.

Who’s it for: Serious videographers that want the flexibility of multiple lenses and high-quality 4K video.

Why we picked the Panasonic Lumix GH5:

In the world of hybrid still and video cameras, no name is better known than Panasonic Lumix. The GH5 is the latest model in the highly lauded GH line that brings professional filmmaking features to a recognizable mirrorless camera body. What separates the GH5 from would-be competitors is its video quality: 10-bit 4:2:2 video in 4K resolution at up to 400 megabits per second. Most other cameras need an external recorder to get close to that, but the GH5 can do it right to an SD card.

What’s more, unlike most mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, the GH5 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 on your podcast? No problem.

Rounding out the feature set is a great 5-axis internal stabilization system that keeps your handheld footage smooth. A 180-degree articulating monitor also means you can keep track of your framing for those “walk and talk” shots. High-quality preamps also keep audio crisp and clear when using an external microphone. If you don’t need stabilization and want even more emphasis on video quality, check out the more advanced GH5S.

Read our full Panasonic Lumix GH5 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 may 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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