- 1 Best for under $1000: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 (Panasonic FZ300 as a best value)
- 2 Best for $1000: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 (Sony A6300 as a runner-up)
- 3 Best for under $1500: Panasonic Lumix GH4
- 4 Ultimately best (~$3000): Sony A7S/A7S II (A7R II as best of two worlds)
- 5 Best action camera: GoPro Hero 4 Black
- 6 Best budget action camera: Xiaomi Yi
In the modern world almost any device can record a video: be it your smartphone or 5-year old point-and-shoot camera. But the videos produced by either of these methods likely will not give you the quality required be broadcast on TV or sold as a footage on stock agencies.
But video capability is not everything and in today's world you have all the right to expect the best of two worlds – photo and video – in one body. We’ve already touched the subject of best cameras for photography; both big robust DSLRs and compact and lightweight mirrorless systems, so today we will take a look at the marketplace and determine what the most capable cameras for video available on the market are that also will not fall short when it comes to capturing a photo. Let’s begin!
|Sony A5100||APS-C||24MP||1920x1080 60p||6 fps||12.7 EVs||1349||$400|
|Samsung NX500||APS-C||28MP||4096x2160 24p|
|9 fps||13.9 Evs||1379||$450|
|Panasonic FZ300||1/2.3"||12MP||3840x2160 30p|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7||Micro 4/3||16MP||3840x2160 30p|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8||Micro 4/3||20MP||3840x2160 30p|
|10 fps||12.6 EVs||806||$1200|
|Sony A6300||APS-C||24MP||3840x2160 30p|
|Panasonic Lumix GH4||Micro 4/3||16MP||4096x2160 24p|
|12 fps||12.8 EVs||791||$1500|
|Sony A7S||Full Frame||12MP||1920x1080 60p||5 fps||13.2 EVs||3702||$2100|
|Sony A7S II||Full Frame||12MP||3840x2160 30p|
|5 fps||13.3 EVs||2993||$3000|
|Sony A7R II||Full Frame||42MP||3840x2160 30p|
|5 fps||13.9 EVs||3434||$3000|
|GoPro Hero 4 Black||1/2.3"||12MP||3840x2160 30p|
|Xiaomi Yi||1/4"||16MP||1920x1080 60p|
Best for $500: Samsung NX500 (Also consider: Sony A5100)
Samsung NX500 is a fantastic value today. For roughly $500 you’ll get a very capable camera with a world-leading autofocus system that incorporates 205 phase-detect points, 153 of which are cross type, meaning that they are able to find enough detail to focus even in challenging light with low contrast scenes. Keep also in mind, that all those points are on image sensor, which means greater accuracy than what you can expect from DSLR, which have to rely on an additional PDAF sensor.
The sensor is also an award winning one. It has one of the best overall performances on the market among APS-C sensors and easily can rival full-frame sensors in terms of dynamic range and color reproduction. In fact, because of this NX500 is one of the best (and absolutely best in terms of value) cameras on the market for still images as well.
The camera features a flip-out screen, which allows you to see yourself while recording video which is great for "Youtube vloggers" as you will know instantly if your camera has ran off the battery or your head has gotten out of the frame, so you will save time re-doing the whole episode which would happen if you have discovered this disappointing fact on your computer during the post-processing.
Ergonomics is also great. It’s one of the few mirrorless cameras that have two dials for controlling both aspects of exposure: aperture and shutter speed. And it has touchscreen which really comes in handy when you need to switch the focus from one subject to another during the recording. And since autofocus is blazing fast with this camera (in fact it’s so fast that the rapid change actually started to become a problem, ruining the smoothness of footage), Samsung has added the option to adjust the speed of focus, so now you can adjust the speed of focus change and get that cinema-like smooth transition.
The body design itself is also very nice, featuring a metal top and bottom with comfortable grip and all necessary ports on the side.
But let’s move to the main feature: video. It’s amazing that today in a camera for less than $500 together with a lens you get the ability to capture 4K video, both in DCI (4096x2160 24p) and UHD (3840x2160 30p) resolutions. Albeit, unlike senior NX1, NX500 does not offer a full-sensor read-out that gets downscaled to 4K resolution afterwards. Instead, it uses a crop mode which only makes use of the central 8MP part of the sensor and records video already with native resolution. The downsides of this are increased noise at hight ISOs and, more importantly, huge crop factor. And I mean huge: it’s 1.6x crop from camera’s APS-C sensor or 2.4x crop relative to full frame. That means that even if you have wide 16mm lens on, it will affectively become 38mm. So, if you need wide-angle 4K footage you can forget about this camera just now and continue searching for something appropriate among more expensive alternatives.
But this is pretty much the only downside that this camera has and for <$500 you cannot hope for more. The only additional note, Samsung’s lens selection is pretty narrow compared to other systems, even more so for really sharp lenses which you can count with fingers of two hands here. But there are some adapters available that allow you to use Canon and Nikon lenses in manual focus mode.
Before recently, when Samsung dropped the price of NX500 from its conventional $700, Sony A5100 was a fantastic value and best camera for video you could get for this kind of money. Just like with NX500 you’ll get a very capable camera with great phase-detect autofocus system covering about 92% of the sensor and class-leading face recognition algorithms which will make sure to follow your subject of interest no matter where it moves, although it still lags behind NX500’s but only for a hair. It also has a good bitrate of 50 megabytes per second and the ability to capture full HD video at 60 frames per second. No 4K though.
But fully tilting screen and good lens selection are present. Video is also encoded with more conventional h.264 codex, unlike h.265 used by Samsung NX500.
When it comes down to still photos, A5100 doesn’t fall short either. It has the same superb sensor as more expensive A6000, which is considered one of the best APS-C sensors in the world (but again, a hair worse than NX500’s).
Where Sony A5100 outperforms NX500 it is in lens selection. Sony E-mount has about twice as many lenses made for it and with certain adapters you can even make use of Canon lenses and retain the autofocus ability (!) which is great news if you happen to have collection of Canon lenses laying around.
Best for under $1000: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 (Panasonic FZ300 as a best value)
A step up from NX500 is Panasonic FZ300. It is also one of the cheapest decent 4K video capable camera you can find. Although more expensive than NX500, it doesn’t use a crop when recording video, which allows you to get wide angle video. And it shoots 4k 30p video with 100Mbps bitrate to conventional SDXC card, not requiring super expensive CFast 2.0 cards, like some Canon cameras do. Again, it has articulating screen, so you will be able to see yourself during recording. It also has a good 27-748mm f/2.8 (35-mm equivalent) built-in lens covering all range from wide to super telephoto. And to help you shoot on the longer end of that spectrum of focal lengths this camera features optical image stabilization, which works really well. But the good stuff doesn’t stop there: the lens also has macro focusing mode, and camera itself offers such great features for video as touchscreen, decently performing AF tracking, focus peaking and magnifying assist, zebra pattern for displaying highlights, monochrome screen and customizable picture processing profile, which with the right tweaking will produce very flat image output from which you’ll be able to get as much details as you can ever expect of 1/2.3” sensor.
One more step up is Panasonic G-7. It has all the goods of FZ300 but offers considerably bigger micro four-thirds sensor and interchangeable lenses. And you will want interchangeable lenses in some point of your video carrier, be it for macro, ultra-wide or just sharper video. And a good value lens to pair with this camera will be Panasonic 14-42 (28-84mm in 35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6. Or in case you’d like just a little more reach for run and gun shooting (when you’re doing sightseeing on vacation for instance) you might consider Panasonic 14-140mm (28-280mm in 35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6.
The video quality from this Micro 4/3 sensor will truly amaze you, especially in low light, and it will not be an outsider when it comes to taking a picture either. The ease of use is amazing; it’s probably the easiest to use 4k camera out there. Also, unlike Samsung NX500 it has no crop factor when shooting 4K footage. The only downside for already such capable video camera is the fact that it doesn’t have a headphone jack for audio monitoring while recording.
Best for $1000: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 (Sony A6300 as a runner-up)
GX8 is another step up from G7. It has all the best features from G7 but also incorporates a new highest resolution Micro 4/3 sensor ever made (20MP), dual image stabilization system, large electronic viewfinder, great ergonomics and weather sealing. It definitely has been developed as a camera capable of high-end video capture.
The only thing that would have been good to have in this camera is an HDMI output option and a standard 3.5-mm jack instead of smaller 2.5-mm. But other than that everything is more than good, and its robust body with plenty of control buttons and dials will make it a joy to use
The only other camera worth your attention at this price point is Sony A6300. It won’t beat GX8 in terms of professional video features such as zebra exposure warnings, headphone jack or even ergonomics. And neither does it have full weather-sealing or sensor stabilization. But sensor itself and autofocus system are amazing. Sensor houses 24 megapixels, out of which it utilizes 20 for 4K video capture. So, the level of details will be the same as that of GX8 but due to the bigger size of APS-C sensor you will most likely get 0.5-1 stop of advantage in terms of noise. Also, it has 425 on-sensor AF points (against just 49 in GX8) and promises to become the most advanced autofocus system in the world when it starts selling, beating even currently best Samsung NX500.
Plus, should it come to still images A6300 will be unbeatable by anything but full-time cameras and perhaps Nikon D7200.
But perhaps the main reason why you should consider this camera over any other is Sony’s ecosystem of lenses or rather availability of adapters. Sony’s cinema lenses ecosystem is second to only Panasonic’s, plus with the right adapter you can use almost any lens ever made! And, just like the case was with A5100, for Canon lenses you will even keep the ability to autofocus. This makes A6300 pretty much unbeatable to a current Canon owner who wishes to upgrade to a camera capable of recording 4K but not to break the budget on new lenses when doing so.
Best for under $1500: Panasonic Lumix GH4
No jokes here. The GH4 is a very serious camera engineered with professional use in mind. It has video output of mind-blowing quality and autofocus is quite impressive too. In fact, it probably has the speediest autofocus of all Micro Four-Thirds cameras and that alone says a lot. Still, even though it comes close, it’s not as impressive as in the very best cameras for video in this price segment which have phase-detecting autofocus (such as Canon 7D). Alas, it won’t be the best choice for professional sport recordings, but other than that it can cope with everything thrown at it.
As for the still image quality of Lumix GH4, it also deserves to be noted. Not only is the GH4 an extremely capable video machine but image quality is amazing and can even compete with such tough competitors as the Canon 7D and the Nikon 7200, especially when comparing the out-of-camera JPEGs.
Still, it is the video where this camera really excels. With it being capable of 10-bit 4:2:2 HDMI output the intentions of its creators become crystal clear. Add to this a tough, magnesium alloy body, touchscreen articulating display, with clever interface layout and you will get a camera that won’t scare a video novice but with which even a renowned filmmaker will feel at home.
Long story short, despite extremely ferocious competition at this price point, the Panasonic Lumix GH4 comes out as the best hybrid still/video camera.
Ultimately best (~$3000): Sony A7S/A7S II (A7R II as best of two worlds)
It doesn’t get any better than this. Sony A7S II is unbeatable in terms of video capture among consumer cameras, especially in low light. Indeed, it offers footage on a level similar to (and in certain scenarios even better than) professional $5000+ RED cameras. It has all the features to assist you with the filming process such as zebra warnings, audio level monitoring, and uncompressed 4:2:2 8-bit 4K or 1080p video output via HDMI. It also has articulating screen and a best-in-the-world sensor when it comes to low-light performance. It allows it's operator to capture footage that is virtually non-noise degraded up to ISO 3000 and keeps producing mind-blowing output (although with some visible noise) all the way up to a final ISO 102400. Dynamic range of 13.3 EVs and color depth of 23.6 bits are also on level that is second to only the very best cameras, but none of those offer full sensor read-out and other video-specific tools. Like all cameras from the A7 second generation, it features sensor-shift image stabilization that pushes the boundaries of smooth and high-quality video footage even further, especially in occasions when having huge (and expensive) stabilizers is not an option.
And since it’s Sony you will not be left without some high quality cinema-oriented lenses. Including arguably the best in the world Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 OSS. Plus, via different adapters, you can make use of all kinds of legacy and modern lenses.
Alternatively, in order to save some money, you can consider the first generation of A7S. Especially considering the fact that now you can find them used and save an additional 30% on top of the one grand you’re already saving compared to A7S II. And it offers all the same sweet goodness as a second generation, except for sensor image stabilization, internal 4k capture and 120fps for full HD video. Whether those features are worth an additional $1000 depends on your budget and the situations you’ll use this camera in. Besides, in terms of high ISO performance it is even slightly better than A7S II, especially in color sensitivity showing the same result at ISO 3702 as second generation camera does at ISO 2993 (that’s about 0.25 stop advantage).
But if you want the best of two worlds – photo and video – then you ought to take a look at A7R II. It goes for the same whooping $3000 as A7S II, but offers much better still image quality due to its best-in- the-world Full Frame stabilized sensor with crazy resolution of 42.4 MP and one of the best autofocus systems.
On the video side, it’s capable of internal 4K recording as well as uncompressed 4:2:2 8-bit video output to an external recording device via HDMI, like both generations of A7S. But unlike A7S II it cannot record 1080p footage at 120fps being limited by more conventional 60 fps. It also doesn't offer full sensor sampling for video as both the A7S and the A7S II do in full frame mode, but instead uses a pixel-binning technique which renders better results then line skipping (but is still far from optimal). However, not everything’s hopeless here. You can switch to Super 35 mode, which will use the central part of the sensor identical in size to professional cameras for video. And in this mode you will get that much desired full readout of a cropped sensor and consecutively much better video quality, but will have to deal with a 1.4 crop factor.
Best action camera: GoPro Hero 4 Black
You really needn’t to look any further. The most popular brand in action video also happens to be the best one. GoPro offers several cameras but among them all Hero 4 Black is the best.
In it’s little plastic case it can withstand harshest of conditions and is used – it seems – everywhere; be it Hollywood or another NASA space mission. It can record 4K video at 30fps and 1080p at 120fps. But of course due to its tiny 1/2.3 sensor it cannot keep up with bigger cameras for video mentioned in this review. But it’ll beat any smartphone and you may be surprised how close it comes to Sony A5100 in terms of video.
Best budget action camera: Xiaomi Yi
If you want to be able to capture decent action videos and be sure your camera will survive but don’t want to splash out $200+ on entry-level GoPro models, do not despair. There’s a great option for you from the Chinese brand Xiaomi. If you haven’t heard of them do not be alarmed. Even though they are base in China, this company has a good reputation and name in inner Chinese market. Furthermore, all their devices (they also sell phones and tablets) are assembled on the same Foxconn factories that Apple uses to have iPhones assembled.
So, the camera is called Yi and you can get it for about $80. You read it right, eighty dollars. Now you probably think that the video footage from it must suck. Wrong. It’s actually pretty good. Amazingly good, actually, beating all GoPros junior to Hero 3. And when compared to Hero 3 directly, Xiaomi Yi is 80% as good in terms of video quality. And don’t forget that Hero 3 is 250 dollar camera.
It doesn’t have any kind of display so all the setting changes will need to be done via companion Android or iPhone app but you always can start recording or capture 16MP photo with a physical release button on the camera.
Now, of course there are some shortcomings when compared to GoPro. You won’t have amazing ecosystem of mounts and accessories, but the basics are covered. Performance is good but not outstanding by the standards of the modern techie world. Thus it can capture 1080p footage only at 60fps tops and 720p at 120fps. But hey, if something gets out of hand and your camera experiences unplanned forces and gets damaged in the process, you will always be able to get a new one without breaking the bank.
|Dimensions||60.4 × 42.0 × 21.2 mm (2.4x1.7x0.83")|
|Weight||72g (2.54 oz)|
|Photo resolution||4608 x 3456 (16MP)|
|Video resolution||1920x1080 60p|
|Video bitrate||25 Mbps|
|Full sensor readout||Yes|
|Focal lenghts||5 mm|