Whether it’s creating content to support your brand on YouTube, flexing your own creative storytelling muscles, or offering video services for other companies, high-quality cameras for video have never been competitively available than now.
While you used to need incredibly specialized equipment to make high quality video, you can now use almost any modern camera (including smartphones) to get great results. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have become popular alternatives to cinema cameras and camcorders thanks to their relative affordability and the flexibility they offer to folks who shoot both photography and video.
Features to Look for in a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera for Video
If you’re looking for a DSLR or mirrorless camera to use for video, here are a few models that rise above the rest. But first, let’s start with what features to look for.
No matter what you’re shooting, achieving good focus on your subject is critical. So having a focusing system that works well for you should be a priority. You may choose to use manual focus for your own creative purposes (or to avoid an underwhelming autofocus system). You can achieve great results with manual focus but there’s a steep learning curve to getting the results you want. So most people getting into video will want a camera with a good autofocus option.
Traditionally, DSLRs have used one of two autofocus methods. The first method, phase detect autofocus, splits the image by projecting it onto two sensors. These two images are aligned when the camera is in focus. Phase detection is fast and accurate, but historically it has been limited to shooting through an optical viewfinder.
The second method, contrast detection, looks for areas of high contrast and adjusts the focus to make the transition areas as sharp as possible. Contrast detection, while slower than phase detection, can be more accurate (as long as the subject isn’t moving quickly) and can be done directly from the sensor, allowing focusing while in live view shooting.
More recently, though, hybrid systems have started showing up, starting with Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus, that allow cameras for video to have the performance of phase detection directly on the sensor, paving the way for vastly superior autofocus during video. All of the major DSLR and mirrorless makers have now developed such systems, though there are models still available that, while great for stills, have virtually useless video autofocus.
One more thing to keep an eye on is the number and positioning of autofocus points. Many cameras are offering enormous numbers of autofocus points. This can be helpful when tracking subjects, but it can make manually selecting a focus point cumbersome. A high number of autofocus points are sometimes more of a marketing tactic than they are advantageous in real world scenarios.
The better consideration for autofocus points, especially with video, is where on the sensor those autofocus points are located. Many cameras have most or all of those points clumped fairly close to the center of the sensor, leaving gaps along the edges where subjects can fall outside of the view of autofocus. More sensor coverage is generally going to be more helpful than just an increase in focus points.
It’s hard to hide instability when shooting video. So having good stabilization makes a huge impact. While there are many accessories available to help you stabilize your camera, having stabilization built-in can give you more flexibility, reduce the amount of equipment you need, or be combined with other gear to maximize the effect.
Image stabilization systems in lenses are helpful for video, but many video shooters prefer also having cameras with In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS). Most IBIS systems have historically been found only in mirrorless cameras, but we are starting to see more DSLRs adopt them.
Max Video Resolution
While there is still an argument to be made that Full HD is sufficient for most people, higher resolution monitors and TVs are becoming more common and the benefits of 4K are real. So it’s becoming increasingly common for new camera models to have at least 4K. 4K is typically offered in UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) or the wider-screen DCI 4K (4096 x 2160), which matches the aspect ratio used in movie theaters.
Even if you’re exporting in Full HD, having more pixels to work with gives you more flexibility for digitally cropping while editing. Plus, it lets you use effects like Warp Stabilizers (which introduce a degree of crop themselves). And even if you don’t need those tools, downsampling from 4K to 1080 generally looks better than shooting natively in 1080.
By the way, this doesn’t mean that we have reached the end point of resolution. While not yet common, we are already seeing some cameras in 6K and above, such as the RED MONSTRO 8K,the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, and the Canon EOS R5.
Size & Weight
A camera may not seem heavy when you first pick it up but after a long day of shooting, your hands and arms will feel it. That’s one of the biggest downsides of full frame DSLRs. If you are using a tripod, or even a shoulder rig, this may not be a big deal. But if you see long days behind the camera in your future, you may want to take size and weight into consideration.
Mirrorless cameras may be the best option for smaller videographers or those who want a lighter setup. However, some mirrorless cameras (for example, the Canon EOS R when paired with a fast RF mount lens) are still on the heavy side. It’s also worth noting that size and weight is one of the few places that crop sensor (APS-C) bodies have a leg up on their full frame counterparts. Crop sensor cameras are generally lighter and smaller.
Recording video eats up camera batteries quickly and other camera features, like LCD screens, GPS, bluetooth, and continuous autofocus, can drain batteries even faster. While most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have decent battery life, there is some variation across the models. You’ll likely need multiple backup batteries for recording a project. When deciding on a camera, make sure there is a multi-battery grip accessory option as well as a coupler available for continuous wall power. These are great backup solutions. This is one of the big benefits of larger camcorders since they often take bigger, broadcast-style batteries that last a lot longer.
DSLRs are either full frame (equivalent to a 35mm piece of film) or some kind of cropped factor, like APS-C or APS-H. A full frame sensor is larger, allowing it to capture more light (for better low light performance), achieve more shallow depth of field, and have a brighter viewfinder – generally speaking. But just because they’re the gold standard in photography doesn’t mean full frame cameras are without drawbacks, especially for videographers.
A few cameras that are directed specifically to videographers are using sensors the same size as Super 35, a standard video film stock used in motion pictures and television productions. Super 35 sensors are almost the same as APS-C, which is just a little smaller than a 35mm piece of standard photo film. Cameras using Super 35 sensors are great for those who want to achieve a classic film look.
It’s also important to know that the same lens will appear to have a longer reach, or narrower field of view, on an APS-C or Super 35mm camera than it does on a full frame. To learn more about this, check out What You Must Know About Full vs Crop Frame Sensors Before Choosing a Lens.
Input/Output (I/O) ports on DSLRs allow for greater flexibility in the way the camera interfaces with your computer, phone, and other external devices. Things like headphones, microphones, and USB ports can give you more options for how you use your camera and what you connect it to. Ideally, your camera should have ports for a microphone and pair of headphones as well as HDMI out (for connecting external monitors, etc). Keep in mind that there are different HDMI port sizes. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras that include one will likely have an HDMI mini or micro port.
If you want to slow down your footage during your edit, you need a camera that offers high enough frame rates to do so. Many cameras offer up to 60 frames per second (depending on the resolution), but some will shoot at 120 FPS or even higher.
Why might you need a high frame rate? Slowing down footage shot at 120 FPS is a trendy look right now (especially on YouTube), and you may want to have that capability in your toolbelt. Even if you don’t want the 120 FPS look, shooting B-roll in 60 FPS and slowing it down can help you get smooth footage that often doesn’t look unnaturally slowed down.
Slow motion effects are created by recording hundreds of frames per second and then playing them back at a slower rate. An example would be a bullet shattering a light bulb. It may only take a fraction of a second but if the camera records the light bulb a thousand times per second and then plays back at 24 FPS, the movie onscreen will take almost 40 times as long. If you shoot the bullet at 1000 FPS and then play it back at 24 FPS it will take nearly a minute to watch the video even though the scene only took a second to shoot (1000 FPS / 24 FPS = 41.6 seconds). This is why people seek out these high frame rates in the specs of cameras.
It is important to keep in mind that when you invest in a camera with interchangeable lenses you are also investing in an entire system. A Nikon camera cannot support Canon lenses and vice versa (without using adapters, that is, which can have AF and aperture drawbacks). If there is a specific focal length or type of lens that you want to use for your videos, be sure to choose a camera body that will support it. Now that Nikon and Canon have full frame mirrorless options, they also now have all new mounts to build lenses for, which is something to look out for if you already own a bunch of Nikon or Canon DSLR glass and want to switch to the mirrorless counterpart.
The Top 7 DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras for Video
The right camera for you is a very personal decision so it might be that none of these 7 cameras is the right one for you. However, they are the preferred cameras in the DSLR or mirrorless form factor according to the majority of our video customers. Let’s dive into their video-specific benefits…
Nikon Z6 (RAW Upgraded Version)
What is alluring about this camera for video users is the ability to pair this with an Atomos Ninja V 4K Monitor Recorder to get uncompressed 12-bit Raw footage. ProRes Raw combined with the Z6’s already high dynamic range will give you footage with the fullest spectrum of color. This is ideal for HDR content and maintaining a wide latitude at lower ISOs, all while delivering a smaller footprint with files that are easier to handle in post processing than standard Raw formats.
The video quality looks great in UHD 4K at 10-bit recording over HDMI as well. Internally, you are limited to UHD 4K in 4:2:0 8-bit. The camera also offers Full HD out up to 120 FPS in 4:2:2 10-bit (4:2:0 8-bit internally). Further enhancing the Z6 Raw for video is a touch-to-focus feature on the large 3.2″ tilting LCD, making focus transitions between subjects fast and easy. It can be used like a smartphone: touch to focus, pinch to zoom, tap to fire the shutter, swipe through images, and navigate settings.
Get all of the benefits of the 5D Mark IV but with a big bonus designed just for videographers: access to Canon Log. Canon Log pulls the very most out of the sensor so that you get more detail in the highlights, enhanced details in the shadows, and an overall more balanced image quality. A wider dynamic range is essential for post processing and makes it a lot easier to work with color saturation and tone to create a specific look or to match existing footage taken with another camera. With Canon Log you also get two Look Up Tables (LUTs) that correct the gamma and color space so that you get a better idea of what your footage should look like when viewing on an external monitor.
The camera itself is great for video. Movie Servo AF and Dual Pixel CMOS AF provide very smooth rack focusing abilities directly from the touchscreen LCD. You can record DCI 4K at up to 30 FPS and with USB-C, headphone/microphone jacks, and mini HDMI, the camera can accommodate a number of accessories. The 30.4MP sensor is ample, as is the extended 50-102,400 ISO. This is Canon’s top well-rounded workhorse DSLR.
Most known for their Micro Four Thirds GH series, Panasonic has embarked on full frame with a new line of S system cameras. Like the Nikon Z line and the Canon EOS R line, the S system offers a new, bigger, shorter-flange-distance mount. You’ll fine L mount lenses from not only Panasonic but Sigma and Leica as well – much like how you could find Micro Four Thirds lenses for the GH cameras from a variety of brands.
The S1H is designed entirely for video with 6K recording, unlimited internal 4K 24/25/30p recording, 4:2:2 10-bit sampling, Dual Native ISO, a full size HDMI port, and built-in stabilization. It is pre-installed with V-Log/V-Gamut, which has an ultra wide 14+ stop dynamic range similar to that of the much more expensive Panasonic Cinema VariCam. Its 5-axis in-body stabilization system calculates shake from not just the gyrosensor but also from the image and accelerometer sensors, making it extremely accurate. The touchscreen LCD is fully articulating and there is a second status LCD screen at the top of the camera body. All of the buttons illuminate in the dark for easy access, there are rear and front tally lights so you always know when you’re live, and the dual UHS-II (meaning support for speeds up to 324MB/s) SD card slots are compatible with V90 cards (the fastest in its class, with support up to 8K). This is an ideal camera for just about any videographer, the only caveats being its size and weight (it’s among the biggest in its class) and the probable investment in a whole new lens type, though adapters are available.
For the more casual shooter, this camera is appealing. Firstly, it is beautiful and fun to operate with its retro design and tactile dials. You can record internal DCI 4K30p video with the new quad-CPU X-Processor 4 which provides fast read speeds with reduced rolling shutter effect. Fuji also has its own flat picture profile, F-Log, that gives you a footage with wide latitude for easier color grading when editing. F-Log has been recently updated with a with a minimum sensitivity of ISO 640 to accommodate a broader range of scene types. You can use F-Log on any frame rate you need, including 120 FPS slow motion.
Fuji famously offers in-camera film simulations and the X-T30 is no exception. You get access to ETERNA, their popular cinematic film emulation. It has low color saturation and low contrast for a very analog look. This is all complemented by effortless touchscreen focusing, an 8-way joystick for intuitive navigation, and a pretty high megapixel point for its class – 26.1MP. There are some drawbacks with this camera. Your 4K recording is limited to 10 minute scenes. The mic-out port is a sub-mini, which is less common than the 3.5mm jack you’re probably more familiar with. But this camera is also very affordable and can be paired with practically an unlimited stockpile of X mount lenses.
This is currently the world’s smallest and lightest full frame mirrorless camera. It is highly modular with a large heat sink so that it can be used for long periods of time, even with a bunch of connected accessories. On top of having an oversized heat sink, this camera is equipped with a special coating that allows it to achieve very effective heat dissipation. One of the things that makes this camera unique, other than its form factor, is that it operates as a Director’s Viewfinder. This allows you to simulate different angles of view and the overall look of other cinema cameras, including the ARRI ALEXA Mini, the Sony Venice, and the RED MONSTRO.
Shoot 12-bit CinemaDNG 4K footage over HDMI or ProRes RAW when paired with the Atomos Ninja V. Capture in HDR, create Cinemagraphs, or record slow motion footage in Full HD 12-bit. The Sigma fp uses Dual Base ISO (also called Dual Native ISO or Dual Gain ISO), a feature normally found in more expensive cinema cameras like the Panasonic EVA1. This allows you to extract more dynamic range without image degradation by switching to a higher ISO gain amplifier where appropriate. Note that the S1H also has this feature. Also like the Panasonic S1H, this camera accepts L mount lenses – a growing new system for photographers and videographers alike.
Sony has long been a leader in full frame mirrorless video options but, as you can see in this list, they have more and more competition every year. The a7 III is a good all-around shooter for both photographers and videographers. It is equipped with S-Log3 and Hybrid Log-Gamma picture profiles, which support high dynamic range, prevent blocked shadows or blown highlights, and create very flexible footage. 4K recording is available in the XAVC S format at bitrates as high as 100Mbps and Fast Hybrid AF locks onto and smoothly tracks moving subjects.
Like the Panasonic S1H, the a7 III is equipped with dual SD cards lots but only one of them is UHS-II. It does have great 5-axis image stabilization, though, along with a massive expanded ISO range (50-204,800 for stills and 100-102,400 for video) plus 693 phase-detection points covering 93% of the image area, along with 425 densely-positioned contrast-detection points. It uses the same AF system found in the a9, excelling at tracking moving subjects, particularly for difficult depth movements where subjects are coming toward or moving away from you. It also is a speedy shooter, offering 10 frames per second. It’s difficult to pack this many useful features into one camera but Sony reliably does it year after year. With so many people using the platform and with so many more lenses coming onto the market for E mount, Sony is a safe brand to invest in.
Blackmagic has its own flavor of Raw that gives you visually lossless footage with extensive metadata support while remaining incredibly efficient on the encoding thanks, in part, to their advanced de-mosaic algorithm. This helpful when operating with a resolution as massive as 6144 x 3456. Record externally over full size HDMI or USB-C, or internally on CFast or UHS-II SD cards. Other practical benefits include its compact form factor, wrapped in carbon fiber so that it can be both durable and lightweight. The huge 5″ touchscreen monitor allows you to easily monitor footage as much as navigate the (improved) interface.
There are air intakes at the top of the body and a quiet fan to keep the whole thing cool. There are a host of front-facing controls to accommodate YouTubers. This also helps keep the menus more minimal than other systems. Thanks to consistent color processing, you can easily intercut footage between this camera and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. In what is becoming a standard for smaller-format video cameras, this camera is also equipped with Dual Native ISO. In fact, both the 6K and 4K models are optimized to minimize grain or noise while maintaining the full dynamic range of the sensor. With its high resolution and serious connection ports, the BMPCC 6K is ideal for those who are (or are becoming) dedicated to video.
More Cameras for Video Coming Soon
There is so much more where this list came from. For example, the Canon EOS R5 is newly available, offering 8K and a 45MP sensor! The now-available Fuji X-T4 lets you record 4K 10-bit footage internally and the long-awaited Sony a7S III is expected in September. With Canon recently announcing that the 5D Mark IV will not have a successor, it’s safe to say that the future of smaller-form-factor filmmaking belongs to the mirrorless.
This post has been updated to reflect recent camera recommendations.Tags: Best Camera for YouTube, BMPCC, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon Full Frame, Canon Low Light Camera, DCI 4K, Full Frame Canon DSLR, S-Log, UHD 4K Last modified: July 30, 2020