It is an exciting time to be an amateur cinematographer, as the emerging trend of 4k quality recording is now fully accessible via the consumer market.
While many of the available models at this time are full professional quality rigs costing over $10,000, this year has shown enormous promise for a new crossbreed of “pro-sumer” level film equipment.
Check out the top 10 list below for the best 4K quality video cameras, and be on the lookout for updates as more 4K cameras show up on the horizon.
As traditional camcorders have not yet hit the consumer market en masse, we’ve included several action cams and DSLR cameras that also offer 4K video capture amongst the traditional camcorders. This keeps your options diverse and affordable.
What are the best 4K camcorders?
- Sony FDR-AX100/B | Check it out on Amazon – $1,398.00
- Sony FDR-AX33 | Check it out on Amazon – $698.00
- Panasonic HC-VX870 | Check it out on Amazon – $1,047.69
- Blackmagic Design Production Camera | Check it out on Amazon – $1,599.99
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 | Check it out on Amazon – $997.99
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 | Check it out on Amazon – $797.99
- Leica D-Lux Digital Type 109 | Check it out on Amazon – $1,095.00
- Sony Alpha α7S Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera | Check it out on Amazon – $1,998.00
- GoPro HERO4 BLACK | Check it out on Amazon – $224.00
- Sony FDR-X3000W 4K Action Cam | Check it out on Amazon – $229.95
1. Sony FDR-AX100/B – $1,398.00
As one of the first Handycam-style 4K camcorders to come out for under $2,000, Sony’s competitively priced FDR-AX100 is a true game changer. That also makes this a fantastic entry-level camcorder for professional-quality 4K shooting.
Unlike other cameras in its price range, it features a superior 1 inch backlight-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor, which is a much larger censor than one would find in a camera at this price.
The sensor doubles light sensitivity and combines with Sony’s Column A/D Conversion to reduce noise by half, which means excellent low light performance. Its impressive Ultra HD resolution (3840 x 2160) records in Sony’s new XAVC S format at 30p.
The XAVC S codec is efficient and versatile, recording at 60 Mbps into SDXC memory cards, and the AX100 also records regular HD in AVCHD. Cooler yet, it can even dual record in both normal 4K quality and the compact MP4 file size (a light 3Mbps) for direct streaming to the web.
Another great feature is the BIONZ X image processor’s over crank mode, which enables high-speed 120p recording at 720p for unreal slow motion. The FDR-AX100 records 14MP resolution video and 20MP still image capture. All of this is shot through a 12x Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with optical image stabilization. In 4K quality, you can get up to 18x Clear Image digital zoom (up to 24x in HD), which looks just like analog zoom thanks to the camera’s next-gen resolution.
Its 29 mm wide-angle lens could be wider, but for what it is can still capture grand landscapes, and the built-in ND filter ensures you can do so in varying lighting conditions.
Between NFC, microHDMI out, WiFi, its 3.5 inch Xtra Fine touch LCD screen, and its high-contrast OLED Electronic View Finder, there are countless ways to play back or monitor your footage. You also have professional grade control with a multi-function dial that controls aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.
And the features the AX100 offer grow from there, with a Multi Interface Shoe on the top, allowing users to attach accessories including an external EFV, a powerful external flash, or a stereo microphone.
An additional microphone is nice for professional shoots, but the average user will also be quite pleased by the built-in Dolby Digital 5.1 channel recording, which captures active sounds coming from all directions.
The battery supports about 3 hours of recording time. All in all, the FDR-AX100 is a fantastic first pass at prosumer 4K camcorders, and there is little reason to dislike it.
2. Sony FDR-AX33 – $698.00
Sony’s FDR-AX33 offers some features that threaten to dethrone Sony’s flagship FDR-AX100 as their most affordable, feature-packed UltraHD 4K camcorder.
Though some more premium features are omitted to keep the price low, the AX33 offers many of the same features as its previous model, including the Multi Interface Shoe for accessories, the control dial for manual settings, the ND filter, and the excellent Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* lens technology (now 29.8 mm wide).
The lens has a slightly lower 10x optical zoom, but still gets 18x clear image zoom in 4K, and 20x clear image zoom in regular HD. And he AX33 sports a 1/2.3 inch Exmor R CMOS sensor, which is disappointingly smaller than the AX100’s 1 inch sensor. However, the smaller sensor does mean faster autofocus, which is a nice feature in a camcorder.
This model supports an adequate full night mode, and of course achieves 4K Ultra HD resolution in the proprietary XAVC S format at 30p — now at 100Mbps recording speed thanks to its high speed sensor readout.
Dolby Digital 5.1 channel recording also returns, offering more faithful sound recreation. The dual format recording is also still be present, as will the new ability to grab a lifelike 8MP still shot while performing uninterrupted 4K recording.
The AX33’s BIONZ X image processor makes this possible with ease, as with slow motion recording. The AX33 also comes equipped for playback either via NFC, microHDMI out, WiFi, its 3 inch LCD, or its OLED Electronic View Finder.
A fantastic addition is Sony’s new and improved Balanced Optical SteadyShot (B.O.SS), which uses a single “shift lens” in the optical block to reduce shake and distortion in videos and still photos. This feature is a huge asset for 4K recording, as the high resolution shots can sometimes enhance the shakiness of an unsteady hand recording, especially when zoomed in.
All new Sony camcorders get a couple less exciting features too, including the Highlight Movie Maker. This internal software makes small MP4 clip compilations with automatic transitions and background music, ready to load straight onto social media.
You can also use WiFi to connect multiple Sony cameras to one master unit that controls recording, zoom, and setting adjustments for all units, meaning multiple angle shots without your own film crew will be easier than ever.
3. Panasonic HC-VX870 – $1,047.69
Panasonic HC-VX870 and HC-WX970 represent the company’s first UltraHD 4K camcorders. The reason both of these cameras share a slot in this list is because they are exactly the same camera down to one detail, which will be discussed further on. Either one is a solid contender for the best 4k camcorder.
Previously, Panasonic only offered 4K recording in its fully-loaded HC-X1000 camcorder, which comes at a price tag only feasible for professional cinematographers. Comparing both the price and features of the HC-VX870 and HC-WX970 against the HC-X1000, you will find just how much more accesible 4k quality recording is becoming for consumers.
This quality comes from the cameras’ 8.29M back-illuminated sensor (BSI), which utilizes an impressive Crystal Engine 4K processor. Both are fitted with a premium 30.8 mm wide angle Leica Dicomar Lens, which uses four independently driven lens groups to achieve an impressive 20x optical zoom, or a digitally boosted 25x smart zoom.
The cameras are capable of shooting in any lighting conditions, even sporting a full night mode. This is because instead of using graduated ND filters like Sony cameras, the HC-VX870 and HC-WX970 use HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology which can automatically capture video at two different exposure times to optimize shots for any lighting conditions. Even in glary or backlit scenes, lighting is a breeze.
Slow motion is also possible, as they will record regular HD (1920 x 1080) slow motion at 120p. The Crystal Engine can also use Intelligent Frame Creation to ramp slo-mo shots up to 240p.
In 4K however, recording maxes out at 25p, which still looks excellent even though those seeking the most professional shot would probably have appreciated 60p. That’s probably another generation off for consumer 4K equipment though.
In terms of physical features, these camcorders also have a Multi Manual dial for focus, white balance mode, white balance fine, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, color saturation, and brightness, giving an amazing range of precise control functions. For image stabilization, the cameras sport HYBRID O.I.S. +, which uses five-axis correction to suppress blurring.
The stabilization system even has a Level Shot feature that automatically detects and corrects tilting in images. This means that you can get a steady, level shot without even connecting a tripod. Both also have a Multi Interface Shoe for additional accessories that complete a professional shot.
The only feature that distinguishes the HC-WX970 from this from the less expensive HC-VX870 is the Twin Camera feature, which utilizes a second, rotating camera placed to the left of the flip-out display for a picture in picture shot that creates a wide variety of creative options.
Even with this difference considered, this does not make for a large reason to opt for the HC-WX970, as a similar effect can be achieved on the HC-VX870 with a wirelessly connected smart phone that can act as your second camera.
And somewhat of a weird feature for such high-end cameras, the two camcorders also offer extra features for prospective or current parents, like a thumbnail baby calendar for tracking important dates and a baby monitor feature that works wirelessly with a smart phone. Parenting tools aside, it is hard to lose track of the true value point of the Panasonic camcorders, their fantastic 4K quality.
4. Blackmagic Design Production Camera – $1,599.99
Blackmagic saw a troubling release of their earliest Production Cameras due to some troubling sensor issues with early shipments. Now after taking time work out some firmware kinks and adopt a new, better image sensor, Blackmagic has proven itself a force to be reckoned with in the cinematography world.
The grand appeal of the BMPC is now its large Super 35 size sensor allows it to take shots that are on par with cameras ten times its price. It’s still not necessarily cheap, but that’s the price you have to pay if you want what may be the best 4K camcorder.
The BMPC comes with one of two professional lens mounts, either PL or EF. Since EF is an active mount and gives you access to a larger range of lenses (including top models from Panavision, ARRI, and Zeiss), we’ve focused in on that model, but both models capture incredibly sharp 4K picture at film-like quality.
Files are recorded either in the Ultra HD ProRes 422(HQ) codec at 880 Mbps, or in 4K at uncompressed CinemaDNG RAW format at a whopping 1Gbps. Shooting in RAW is the way to go for quality, as you get every single bit of data direct from the sensor in this setting.
But because of the heavy data requirements of uncompressed footage, you will need at least a 240GB SSD if you plan on recording more than a few minutes, as 1Gbps adds up incredibly fast. Recording in ProRes will downsample the image to full HD, which for the user means more recording time, but lower resolution.
The internal SSD bay does make it easy to swap between multiple storage drives, so although not having access to normal SD memory might be tough for some users, Blackmagic makes direct recording to SSD doable, and again, it is all in pursuit of the highest quality output possible. Blackmagic has taken additional measures to ensure this, by including an updated global shutter, which prevents the rolling shutter issues found in early models of the BMPC.
The camera also sports 13 stops of High dynamic range, which allows for exponential control over ISO settings. All of these features considered, the Production Camera has a lot going for its picture, and it is a clear inclusion on this list because of that.
Physical features, however, are where the camera can fall somewhat short, as the ports it features are somewhat unconventional (though manageable). In terms of its body, the Black Magic Production Camera weighs about 3 pounds without a lens, and is very compact.
Ergonomically speaking, however, its shape can be a little challenging. This is easily solved with a mount or tripod, but not everyone’s budget will include wiggle room for these sort of accessories.
Your professional audio accessories might not be compatible either, as the BMPC has two 1/4 inch microphone jacks for microphones rather than a more commonly used XLR jack. For the record, there are adapters out there to remedy this, so the 1/4 inch jacks are serviceable.
And likewise, the choice of Thunderbolt out for external playback over HDMI is something that might also irk certain users, but for the most part, it is still a fairly useful port.
Although the camera gets a pretty excellent 90 minutes of battery life, the battery is not removable so you need to connect an external battery pack through its power-in jack, such as a Switronix PB70 Power Pack. This is probably the biggest issue with the camera.
The high battery use of the camera also means no phantom power, so accessories needing power cannot be charged by plugging in. One thing that you will not need an external accessory for, however, is the screen, as the BMPC has a huge 5 inch touch screen display that makes camera settings easy to adjust.
Another nice feature is that all models of the BMPC come with a copy of DaVinci Resolve 11, a software which allows easy editing of RAW format video. Note that this software is very CPU-intensive though, and may not work on low-end machines.
But even discounting the added value of the software, there is no denying that the Blackmagic Production Camera is one of the most competitively-priced pieces of cinematography equipment out there, as the quality on this camera goes absolutely leagues beyond the competition in its price bracket.
If you are able to work around its minor quirks, the BMPC is a fantastic prosumer camcorder, and will surely be a source of inspiration for future 4K camcorders.
5. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 – $997.99
The Lumix DMC-GH4 is Panasonic’s flagship Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera, and is one that turns heads with its True 4K (4096×2160) 24p cinematic video. With the forthcoming Panasonic camcorders that will offer a more convenient form factor for those trying to film, some may not consider a DSLM camera a comparable option for filming, but being able to take vivid still images as well as dazzling 4K video offers a valuable hybrid shooting option for those who might benefit from it.
However, since these reviews are for camcorder capabilities, we will focus specifically on its recording quality. The GH4 shoots DCI Cinematic 4K (4096×2160) at 24p and Ultra HD 4K (3840×2160) at 30p.
The video writes onto SDXC memory into MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive, and AVCHD at 200Mbps or 100Mbps, which means a very diverse range of output formats. It is powered by a 4/3 inch Live MOS Sensor and the Venus Engine IX, which together capture a very sharp picture that handles color grading well, but is somewhat limited in dynamic range, as you will get a fair amount of noise in low light shots.
There is also a Micro Four Thirds mount at your disposal to attach lenses that further refine your shots. That said, one issue many users note is that the sharpness of 4K makes the footage seem very video-like, as compared to some cameras whose shots come out almost film-like.
However, considering that this is a digital camera, this is to be expected, and considering that video is only half of this camera’s appeal, it is a noteworthy value for 4K shooting. The battery life is above average, but no one has yet given an estimate of how much video time you can get from one charge.
The body itself is built with sturdy magnesium alloy, and shows many ergonomic improvements from the beloved GH3, such as a lock mechanism for the thumb wheel. It is weather-sealed against water and dust, has high-speed dual OLED displays, and many other improvements over its previous GH3 model which suggest all-around upgrades.
In terms of ports, you have one headphone and microphone jack, MicroHDMI out, AV outputs, a flash sync terminal, and a 2.5mm jack for a remote control. The microphone jack supports XLR input for full level adjustment and monitoring, sealing the deal on this great video camera.
6. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 – $797.99
While the aforementioned Panasonic camcorders, or maybe even the GH4 above, might seem like easy picks over Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ1000, its lower price point and up-to-par UltraHD 4K resolution still make it a great option for those who might prefer 4K recording out of a lightweight bridge camera body.
Something to consider about the FZ1000: it is the first 4K recording camera of any form factor to hit the market, and it still holds up against newer models in terms of quality and features. For a bridge camera, its hunky body makes it seem almost closer to a DSLR minus the interchangeable lens system, but is still one of the more attractive options on this list in terms of overall size.
Though additional lenses are not an option, the FZ1000 does have a powerful built-in LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens that at a range of 25-400 mm, pushes close to the definition of an ultra zoom lens.
It also sports HYBRID O.I.S. + 5-axis image stabilization, which means assurance against shaking, blurring, and tilting in moving shots. And while it does not quite measure up to the GH4 in resolution, the camera’s specs show that the FZ1000 is still made to be a powerful cinematic tool.
It has a 1 inch High Sensitivity MOS Sensor that shoots UltraHD 4K (3840×2160) 30p footage, as well as Full HD in 60p, and is also powered by a Venus Engine. It records in MP4 at 100 Mbps with AAC lossless audio, and AVCHD in Full HD 60p at 100Mbps onto a Class 3 SDXC card.
Note that there will be some cropping in 4K resolution, as the camera’s deep-zooming lens offers a much wider picture than the image sensor can capture at 4K quality. But this will be the case for any still camera with a wide angle lens. The 16x optical zoom is worth this trade-off, however, if you aren’t trying to shoot wide angle scenes.
As a hybrid camera, it can capture excellent 8MP stills post capture, though for comparison it gets up to 20.1MP in regular still shot mode. However, for the incredible price of this camera, it does have a few shortcomings that will either not matter or be the end of the world to you, but they are definitely not weak points considering what you usually expect out of a camera under $1,000.
Across this list, the FZ1000’s low light capabilities can be considered average at best, with a little bit of grain in the lowest light settings. Aperture also changes in large, noticeable steps — there is no ND filter to be found here. Video recording is strangely limited to 29 minutes clips, which is supposedly a by-product of how European tax laws differentiate cameras from camcorders.
This can be a problem as well for certain shoots. Additionally, there is no way to monitor audio, but the camera’s motor will make a noticeable refocusing sound when recording anyway, so recording audio separate would be recommended regardless.
All in all, understanding this camera’s limitations means it can still function as an excellent video recorder for 4K, and it has a full set of physical features to enhance its value. It has a nice articulating display and clear OLED viewfinder, plus WiFi and NFC compatibility, allowing you to quickly share shots and even control the camera via a smart phone.
It has HDMI out, AV out, external flash support, and is rounded out with a solid battery life. So as far as affordable DSLR form factor options for shooting 4K, the FZ1000 earns a nod of approval.
7. Leica D-Lux Digital Type 109 – $1,095.00
The Leica D-Lux Type 109, a collaboration of sorts between Leica and Panasonic, offers the best of both worlds in compact camera that provides major portability with a large sensor capable of shooting UHD 4K video. The Type 109 is the most portable option besides the actioncams below, which is fantastic considering it packs a 4/3 inch MOS censor and a complimentary fixed Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9–34 mm lens.
For a camera its size, it has great light-gathering capabilties, and a surprising depth of field. It records UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) in MP4 format at 30p, and yes, it is optically stabilized, so no need to worry about shaky shots.
The simpler form of the Type 109 means much greater ease of use, whether working in automatic mode for point-and-shoot capture, or doing setting tweaking in manual mode, which is an enjoyable experience thanks to the tactile controls to adjust ISO, shutter speed, and zoom.
It has a nice LCD display on the back, plus the ability to send shots via WiFi or NFC. There is a flash mount, but surprisingly, no external mic input, which limits you to the less than ideal internal mic.
For a camera with less features than some of the others on the list, the price tag is somewhat high, but you are still getting what you pay for in performance out of this small and stylish camera. Plus, the Type 109 includes a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for editing as an added bonus.
8. Sony Alpha α7S Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera – $1,998.00
That latest in Sony’s Alpha series of Digital Single Mirror cameras is the α7S, which offers a couple key upgrades from its previous model, including a full range sensor and 4K video recording. Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, the other mirrorless camera on this list, the α7S manages to fit enormous picture power into a small package, albeit more sensor in an even smaller package than the GH4.
The α7S features a full size 35mm pixel sensor that features direct pixel readout, and is backed by the latest Bionz X Image Processor. This large sensor nicely complements the α7S’ video capabilities, as it can output uncompressed QFHD 4K video (3840 x 2160) with 8-bit color in XAVC S video mode. 120 fps shooting is also capable at 720p quality, so slow motion is a go as well.
A tricky downside for video recording is that the camera can only output 4K quality to an external SSD via HDMI out, such as the Atmos Shogun 4K, limiting your mobility when using this otherwise lightweight camera. This is, however, a small setback when you consider the raw power of the camera. Its sensor offers 15.3-stops dynamic range, which means it handles both bright and low light brilliantly (pun intended).
This camera can make night shots look like mid-day without effort, and with very low noise levels. It’s high-ISO capability is so outstanding that it can be used for high-quality astrophotography without issue. One Amazon reviewer shares an experience with high ISO shooting (up to 409600) and how simple it makes night time shots with this video below.
Its auto focus system is sharp and quick, but because of the light weight of the camera, you can sometimes get blurry shots from being a little too loose with how you hold it. Its silent mode can be an invaluable feature, as even in low light settings the camera’s inner mechanisms are completely inaudible with minimal effect on performance. On top of this, you also get a great EVF and LCD screen, as well as WiFi and NFC for many different sharing options.
External battery charger and USB charging are present, enhancing the camera’s already good 2 hours of recording time, which is another plus for those planning to take this on the move. And, of course, you get a multi-terminal interface shoe for added accessories.
Though 4K recording on this camera may mean the purchase of some extra accessories, the end result will be well worth it in the end, and is still one of the best options available right now for 4K filming.
9. GoPro HERO4 BLACK – $224.00
As the GoPro is the camera that started the actioncam craze, it is now as common of a household name as Sony and Panasonic are. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as recognized of a name in the professional videographer community, though it does have its niche and could certainly grow bigger.
The minuscule size of this actioncam means it has obvious downsides when weighed against full-size cameras like the rest on this list, but regardless, it remains one of the few strong contenders for 4K video recording available within the foreseeable future. Before even getting into the camera’s performance, some limitations need to be covered.
As an actioncam, the GoPro is not going to be loaded with nearly as many features as other cameras, as its main feature is being small enough to film action from a first-person perspective without being intrusive. This also means that there is no LCD screen for playback.
However, you can connect a smart phone to use a screen display with only a small amount of delay. Changing settings is also challenging with the two button interface, but it is doable after some getting used to, especially considering they can be adjusted from the phone app as well.
There are no direct ports for accessories, though GoPro does offer a slew of different mounts, casings, and accessories that support certain production equipment if necessary. Know that they all have their limitations, though, as the GoPro external mic adapter only supports mono output, as one example.
With these issues out of the way, we can focus on what the Hero4 Black does have going for it, which is also quite a lot. This most current iteration of the GoPro now features Protune settings that allow manual control of color, ISO limit, exposure and more, which is a nice feature for a camera trying to be taken seriously.
It is durable and able to withstand harsh weather conditions, even including a waterproof case that can be submerged up to 131 feet underwater. Although it lacks a full LCD screen for playback, it does have a display at the front that allows you to fiddle with settings, monitor battery life, and see clip length. The Hero 4 only gets about 1 hour of 4K footage on one battery, so you will need a second battery or charging solution if you plan to do a lot of shooting.
However, most importantly, it shoots UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at up to 30p and Full HD (180×1920) at up to high speed 120p (for slow motion). These are written onto a Class 10 MicroSD that maxes out at 64GB in H.264 MP4 format. It would be a big improvement if the Hero4 supported 128GB SD cards, but the battery life is the limiting factor anyway. For what you do record, the Hero 4’s improved image processor really smooths out the recordings, and you get an awesome auto low-light feature when shooting in 4K.
The downside of fitting all these new features into the same package is that there is now a higher risk for overheating. It is not a rampant issue yet, but if you push this small device to its limits it may simply fry itself out. At the end of the day, when you consider the price tag on the GoPro 4, there is no wonder why its so popular.
4K quality at about $500 is incredible, and sure its form factor can limit its uses, but with some creativity and accessory support, this can be a fantastic tool for shooting anything from YouTube videos to short films.
10. Sony FDR-X3000W 4K Action Cam – $229.95
While Sony has offered competitive actioncams to GoPro for quite a while, they are onlyoinly now making a true splash in the actioncam market with their new FDR-X3000V model, which was announced at CES 2015 and is currently slated for release at the end of March. To streamline this review somewhat, it should be noted that all the same limitations the GoPro has as an actioncam apply to the X3000W.
It offers many similar things as well, such as a waterproof housing, strong accessory support, and smart phone control. Sony, of course, offers some new features as well, such as their signature ZEISS Tessar lens, now with a 170° curve to capture more action, and their powerful BIONZ X image processor. Their camera also features SteadyShot image stabilization, which is crucial for the type of use this camera can expect to get.
The body of the camera is splashproof outside of the waterproof housing too, suggesting it may be of more durable build than than the GoPro 4. It also has an audio in jack if you aren’t satisfied with the wind-resistant stereo speaker built-in, and a MicroHDMI out to share footage easily. On top of that it supports live Ustreaming as well.
Talking quality, the new Action Cam shoots in UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 30p, plus up to 240p in normal HD for high speed slo-mo. For 4K, it will write at 60Mbps into XAVC S onto a Class 10 SDXC card, par for Sony products. Like the GoPro, the battery life will be a limiting 1 hour of shooting, which is to be expected for the camera’s compact size, but still inhibits usage without extra batteries.