Over the past several years, mirrorless cameras have catapulted into in the market and are now ranking closer – if not surpassing – top DSLRs. They are smaller, more lightweight, and offer many of the same features as DSLRs, if not more. The best mirrorless cameras are pushing the boundaries and are highly capable of creating rich video content.
With mirrorless cameras, light travels directly through the lens and onto the image sensor where it is translated then displayed by the electronic viewfinder. This is the same camera technology found on smartphones and point and shoot cameras. Only fairly recently have manufacturers been able to produce these components at a premium level for professional use. The same sensor sizes found in DSLRs also exist in mirrorless cameras. 4K+ is becoming increasingly ubiquitous as technology moves forward. Even the smallest cameras on the market offer this. More and more mirrorless systems are sporting higher bitrates, more efficient compression, and a variety of picture profiles.
Let’s dive in and take a look at some of my favorite mirrorless systems on the market today.
7 Favorite Mirrorless Cameras for Video in 2020
The Panasonic Lumix GH5S is one of the most feature-rich mirrorless cameras on the market. This micro four thirds sensor camera can crank out a max frame rate of 240 FPS, and Cinema 4K up to 50/60p. Panasonic also changed the sensor’s megapixel count from 20.3 in the GH5 to just 10.2. It did this to give those pixels more “room” – bigger pixels provides more opportunity for exposure latitude. It also allows the GH5S to shoot at multiple aspect ratios while keeping the same field of view. This new sensor helps you in low light situations, providing a much higher maximum ISO of 51,200 (up from the 25,600 ceiling on the GH5). Further, Panasonic added Dual Native ISO. This gives the two-part sensor the ability to minimize noise in the image with a native base ISO of 300 and 2,500. Decreased megapixel counts also can produce faster readout speeds, allowing for better suppression of rolling shutter.
The camera comes equipped with professional tools such as Focus Peaking, Zebras, Waveform Monitoring, and Timcode In/Out. The GH5S also comes with V-Log Profile, something you had to purchase separately in the past. The profile is extremely flat to help colorists add their own style to the footage. V-Log also claims to provide two extra stops of dynamic range, great for pulling down highlights or boosting shadows while retaining good detail. Other notable features are an articulating flip-out screen, no time limit on video recording time.
The biggest drawback of this camera is that it does not include the 5-axis stabilization the GH5 has. It sacrifices the space in order to help the cooling of the camera’s internals. It is assumed since this is a more video-centric camera that some type of gimbal will be used (the DJI Ronin-S works really well with this body size). Better anamorphic shooting, IBIS, and the lower cost make the GH5 a tempting choice over the GH5S here. However, I think the improved color space, higher variable frame rate and Dual Native ISO gives the GH5S the nudge here. Another similar option is the much-larger SL1H – a full framed counterpart to the GH5S. Also worth looking into is the smaller GX9, which is much more affordable.
There is a lot to love about the a7R IV. It’s one the best all-around cameras on this list. It’s hard to talk about this camera without talking about the 61 megapixel sensor. Everybody loves improved resolution and low light capability. However, this Sony beast does little to improve for video compared the a7S II. It offers the same 4K at 24 FPS and 120 FPS at 1080p, with 5-axis in-camera image stabilization. Sony did add in powerful “real-time auto focus”. which is a great help to any run-and-gun filmmakers or anybody doing live event coverage. The camera also uses the bigger NP-FZ100 battery, giving you 170 minutes of continuous shooting, plus it offers a really sharp 5.76M-dot OLED viewfinder.
Like the a7S II, it is equipped with three S-Log Profiles that will allow filmmakers flexibility in post-production. This profile also matches the ones seen in larger cinema cameras, such as the Sony F5 or FS7. All in all, this camera has very few improvements on the actual performance over the a7S II. I eagerly await an a7S III release. But the AF system, improved battery life, new viewfinder and sensor all make this camera really top-of-the-line, especially for multidisciplinaries. It is easy to expect more because we see so many Sony mirrorless camera releases, but this one is very powerful, even for video shooters who need quality but in a portable form factor.
This APS-C (crop frame sensor) camera from Sony is a great video shooter with lots of the same features found in the a7 full frame series, such as S-Log and 5-axis image stabilization – but at a much lower price. It can shoot up to 120 FPS in 1080p and 30/25/24p in 4K. The a6600 rocks 24.2 megapixels, making it a great hybrid photo and video camera. It also has unlimited 4K recording and real time eye tracking. Its autofocusing mechanics are impressive, with 425 phase detection points (as compared to the 169 contrast detection points in the a7S II). It is one of the few reliable AF implementations for video we’ve seen.
The a6600 is less than half the price of its bigger brothers, so what gives? Well, its APS-C sensor lacks the benefits of a full frame sensor in both low light and focal range. This camera is recommended for enthusiasts or professionals who need a reliable B camera. Like the a7R IV, it is equipped with the bigger NP-FZ100 battery – a boon for longer days or vacations. This camera is popular with vloggers, too. It is one of the best-value cameras in my lineup.
Sony and Panasonic take up a lot of space in this field but I wanted to give a Nikon option and the Z6 is likely the best Nikon has given us in terms of video quality. This Z6, along with the Z7, were the first full frame mirrorless cameras we have seen from Nikon – and the Z6 is the better option among the two for video. Like with Panasonic’s choice to provide fewer overall megapixels in the GH5S vs the GHS, the Z6 also rocks a lower-MP sensor compared to the Z7. Again, this allows the camera to succeed in the low light category – but much is the same otherwise between the Z6 and Z7. This is also the cheaper of the two.
What is alluring for video users is the ability to match this camera up with an external recorder to get a 10-bit recording in N-Log. Bit rate can be seen as the processing power to input and decode data coming in, and often what this means for us is more information in the color space, making editing creative choices easier to implement. The drawbacks I see here is 10-bit N-Log being available only with a recorder. Sony does not yet offer a bit rate this high but you can still use S-Log while Panasonic offers 10-bit recording and has V-Log readily available. Note, also, that for 12-bit you can now rent upgraded versions of this camera – check out the Nikon Z6 ProRes RAW Upgraded Mirrorless Camera.
This all being said, the video quality looks great at 4K with 8-bit recording as well. The camera offers 120 FPS at 1080 and 30p at 4K with good sharpness and contrast to the video. The camera has an improved battery, with life falling just short of the of the Sony a7 III. The monitor on the camera flips up to give you the ability to shoot from the waist down and the controls are pretty nice, too. This camera even comes with good 5-axis stabilization and responsive AF during video. Overall, this Nikon is a fun camera in a light body and the recording capabilities are impressive. I like it for video and it is a great choice for its price point.
This is one of the larger and heavier mirrorless bodies available right now – automatically a big drawback. But there are reasons for its size. Loosely seen as a full frame GH5, it does share a lot of its characteristics. The camera has a full frame sensor so it required a larger image stabilizer. The IBIS on this camera is quite powerful, making it the best “in camera” stabilization currently available in this class. What’s better is that it can stack up with stabilization in lenses, adding to the smoothness in tracking. Another reason for the large frame is the battery. It has a large battery that can keep the video rolling longer than any other camera mentioned here. The camera also comes with a large ports section on the side, equipped with full-size HDMI, USB-C, plus a headphone and a microphone jack.
It follows the same pattern of the others in this list as far as megapixels go: it is more video-focused and has fewer megapixels than its sibling model, the S1R, which has a lot more megapixels and is more suited to photography. This camera handles 4K in low light really well and its only real competition in low light is the Sony a7 series. Panasonic really never falls short when it comes to processing power. The camera records in 4K 8-bit and can even reach 150-180 FPS in cropped mode. The camera can also do 10-bit 4K30p internally and 60p externally with a paid software upgrade (Upgrade Software Key DMW-SFU2). Other small observations is that it has a good menu that’s similar to GH5 and a screen that tilts, though I would have liked to see a fully articulating screen. The features of this camera are great, from the IBIS to its powerful processing. Its drawbacks for me are the price and its autofocus is not as strong as its competitors. I also dislike that the V-Log and higher bit rate are available only as a paid upgrade. If money is less a concern, I’d look into the S1H instead.
This is a bit of a cheat because the X-T4 is being released in May 2020 and I haven’t personally used it, but I felt this could not be left out of my list. The X-series consists of hybrid crop sensor mirrorless cameras capable of quality photo and video and Fuji really made some great improvements on the video end with the X-T4 – most notably the addition of IBIS, a first for this series. The video I have seen of this stabilization in action is impressive and will surely help lure people into upgrading from the X-T3. Most impressively, Fuji added IBIS without negatively affecting the portable size of the X-T4.
This camera shoots 1080 with an impressive ceiling of 240 FPS plus 10-bit 4K up to 400Mbps. Another helpful upgrade for video is the new larger battery. This helps fuel this camera’s fully articulating touchscreen. A feature that also helps with battery life is the ability to pass-through charge while recording.
While it maintains a standard 3.5mm mic jack, Fuji took a page from smartphones and made the USB-C port double as the headphone jack. You will need a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone dongle now for monitoring unless you opt to just monitor through an external recorder anyway. The X-T4 is otherwise looking to be a really fun camera to shoot on, especially with its new ETERNA Bleach Bypass simulation.
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera series is popular among professionals and novices alike. The 6K full frame EF version of this camera is also spectacular but for the purpose of evening-out this list, I’m going with another small-sensor camera. With a sleek, slimmed-down design, this particular camera looks as stylish as the clips it produces. High-def ProRes (4:2:2) 4K footage from this camera looks seriously professional.
This camera is also very compact, hence the name “pocket cinema”. It is the only one on this list that is specifically a video only camera, and it is easy to see why it dominates in that area. On previous versions, the idea of the pocket camera was great but almost just as a novelty. It looked great, had a small body, and was priced really well compared to any other cinema camera at the time. The issue was the menu system and, simply put, the performance was not there yet. However, that is precisely what works for this camera. The touchscreen does not come out or articulate but it is the largest of all the cameras mentioned on this list. The menu system is so simple that one can control most actions from the main screen alone.
What I think makes this a true cinema camera is simply all the in/outputs it is equipped with. It allows you to plug in full HDMI and USB-C and it sports a mini-XLR jack. The ability to record straight to an SSD from the USB-C port is much better than recording to the card slots (though the card slots are nice – CFast 2.0 and UHS-II SD). This is an extremely convenient feature.
10-bit HD, a very impressive 12-bit Pro Res, Dual Native ISO, 4K at 60p, and carbon fiber build all make this my pick above the rest if you don’t also need a robust photography system. That’s not to say there aren’t drawbacks. The battery life is not very good and uses a lot of processing with physical fans to cool it down. For continuous power, you have to get a separate AC adapter, as the USB-C cable is not enough. The battery grip is kind of a must here, which cuts into the portability. This camera also uses an (active) Micro Four Thirds mount, which is great if you’re already invested in glass from Panasonic’s GH series but may feel limiting if you’re just diving in. Despite all of that, I think the Blackmagic Pocket 4K is a fantastic cinema system, especially for being so relatively inexpensive (under $2,000).
A New Mirrorless Camera is Not Required for Filmmaking
This was not a particularly easy list to make since it feels like new cameras are coming out more quickly than ever (with the exception of the highly-anticipated a7S III, which feels like forever). Mirrorless is clearly the future for videographers and photographers alike. Choosing the right camera is really only half the battle. Lighting, composition, and storytelling are still the main pillars of great video content. Having the right tools help get you there, but telling great stories is up to you and that can be done with nearly any camera on the market today – including your smartphone.
I encourage you to try before you commit, though. This is where renting mirrorless cameras is particularly handy. There is just no way to know what camera “speaks” to you through a blog post alone. You have to get it in your hands. Feel free to shoot me any questions you may have about a particular model and I’ll do my best to address it.
This post has been updated to reflect recent mirrorless recommendations.Tags: DCI 4K, UHD 4K Last modified: September 18, 2020