Your phone delivers 4K footage and it’s always in your pocket, so why on earth would you buy a dedicated video camera? Because image resolution isn’t everything and you’ll eventually run up against the phone’s inherent limitations, like tiny sensors, static lenses, and limited controls. Among other features, video cameras often have larger 4K and 6K sensors for better color, contrast, and low-light performance; an ability to use a variety of lenses to help capture a more cinematic look; and audio inputs for professional microphones. What’s more, they do so at price points that open up creative opportunities to everyone from enthusiastic amateurs to professionals. Whether you want to shoot your first indie feature, a hard-hitting documentary, or your kid’s graduation, here are four of the best cameras to make you feel like an Oscar-winner.
A large sensor and E-mount for Sony lenses or adapters. Amazon
The Sony PXW FS7M2 XDCAM is Sony’s professional work-horse, perfect for shooting documentaries, corporate events, commercials, sports, weddings, or educational programs thanks to a 4K Super 35 sensor and 14 stops of dynamic range. A locking E-mount holds a wide variety of Sony lenses or adapters securely in place, while the electronic variable neutral density filter lets you compensate for changes in lighting without adjusting the lens’s aperture and sacrificing cinematic depth of field. Dual balanced XLR audio inputs connect to a full-range of professional microphones, and the camera can output its signal to external monitors or a live broadcast booth via both HDMI and SDI jacks. The shoulder-mounted FX7 has a magnesium body and weighs only four pounds, making it great in the field or in the studio.
Small and lightweight carbon body and EF-mount for professional lenses. Amazon
Small and lightweight, and with a price-point to match, Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera 6K uses a 6K APS-C super 35 sensor to professional results. The camera can record 6K, 4K, or HD footage in both raw and ProRes formats, and it features an impressive 13 stops of dynamic range. The five-inch monitor is touch-sensitive, while buttons near the camera’s handle provide quick access to the most important functions. The EF-mount is compatible with a wide range of third-party consumer and cinema lenses, and the mini-XLR and 1/8-inch jack make it easy to capture professional audio. This is a camera that definitely punches above its weight class.
The Leica Dicomar lens has 20x optical zoom. Amazon
The HC-VX981 Camcorder is a small, all-in-one video camera from Panasonic that delivers 4K recording for high-resolution images, and has a 1/2.3” backside-illuminated MOS sensor. It shoots 30 frames per second, or switch to 24 fps for a more cinematic look. When shooting handheld, the five-axis optical image stabilization will keep down the shakes so every shot is smooth. The camera doesn’t skimp on its glass, either, with a Leica Dicomar lens that features a 20x optical zoom. Panasonic also included 4K editing tools for cropping, zooming, panning, and further stabilizing your footage, so you can start putting together your masterpiece on the fly.
Small and light, with a 57x zoom lens. Amazon
This all-in-one, budget-oriented Canon VIXIA HF R800 captures 1920 x 1080p footage with its CMOS image sensor, which features on-chip noise reduction. The camera has a 57x Advanced Zoom that goes from 32.5mm all the way up to 1853mm, so even if you’re in the back of the room, you’ll still get the close-up when the wedding couple kisses. Optical image stabilization helps keep your shot still even when you don’t have a tripod. The camera’s functions are controlled by the three-inch capacitive touch panel LCD screen, and camera modes like slow- and fast-motion recording, Highlight Priority Mode, and Zoom Framing Assist help make every shot a keeper.