Over the past several years, mirrorless cameras have catapulted into in the market and are now ranking closer and closer with top DSLRs. Now more than ever, they demand attention among the videography community. How? They are smaller, more lightweight, and offer many of the same features as DSLRs, if not more. Software features such as focus peaking, waveform monitoring, and exposure zebras are also included. The best mirrorless cameras are pushing the boundaries and are highly capable of creating rich video content.
As the name suggests, mirrorless cameras are cameras that operate without mirrors, unlike traditional DSLRs. Light travels directly through the lens and onto the image sensor, it is translated then displayed by the electronic viewfinder. This is the same camera technology found on smartphones and point and shoot cameras. Only recently have manufacturers been able to produce these components at a premium level for professional use. Mirrorless cameras also offer interchangeable lenses for the full creative experience.
Let’s dive in and take a look at which qualities make a great mirrorless camera for video work.
7 of the Best Mirrorless Cameras for Video*
Sensor Sizes and Mirrorless Cameras
The same sensor sizes found in DSLRs also exist in mirrorless cameras. Starting with the smallest there are Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and Full Frame sensors. Larger sensors capture more light and reduce the amount ISO compensation required to properly expose a scene. Full frame sensors also give more creative freedom to isolate your subject from the background. As expected, larger sensors come with a larger the price tag. With that said, APS-C and Micro Four Thirds sensors are still no slouch and can still produce pixel-dense content with professional results.
Recording Formats and Mirrorless Cameras
4K content and recording devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous as technology moves forward. Even the smallest cameras on the market offer this capability (such as action cams like GoPros). Even if you don’t plan on exporting your video footage in 4K, the extra pixels can afford to be cropped without losing out on the final HD project.
Video processing power can be further differentiated by its bitrate, picture profile, codec and frame rate abilities. Recording in a higher bitrate allows for more video and audio data written into the file, which affects the quality and file size. Codecs dictate the image quality by controlling the amount of compression in a digital video. Frame rate can help determine the look and feel of your video footage. High frame rates are ideal for smooth slow-motion sequences, which can help create dramatic scenes in your projects.
If all of that wasn’t enough, you should also consider the type of picture profiles offered within each camera. LOG picture profiles can be a great tool for videographers who want to maximize the dynamic range in their footage. These flat color profiles also allow more flexibility for colorists to add a specific aesthetic to the footage. However, some may not like the extra work required in post-production when shooting in LOG, but it is surely a nice feature to have.
Interchangeable Lenses and Lens Selection
Most of the cameras we’ll be looking at have interchangeable lenses, giving more control to the videographer. Different lenses will affect focal range, depth of field, and light management. Go wide or zoom in, you can decide how to build your story.
There are many adapters on the market that allow other systems to mount non-native lenses. This provides great flexibility for lenses especially if you are in between systems or simply like having options! Aside from your common photo lenses from the likes of Canon, Nikon, shooters can use cine lenses which are video specific. They offer better optical abilities, construction, and functionality, but at a higher price point.
Arguably one of the best video features in mirrorless cameras is the emergence of 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Previously, video shooters invested in lenses with image stabilization to achieve stable handheld shots. With IBIS, it doesn’t matter what lens you use, every shot will gain stabilization. Fast prime lenses generally don’t include image stabilization, so this feature makes the impossible possible.
Camera Size and Weight
One of the main reasons people to turn to mirrorless cameras is for their size and weight. Any opportunity to lighten the load while not compromising quality is a welcomed one, especially for event and wedding shooters. Carrying loads of gear around all day can be extremely exhausting. Going small can also come with its limitations, though. Some mirrorless cameras offer poor battery performance because of the slim size and some people simply prefer the ergonomics of larger DSLR.
For event and outdoor shooters, battery stamina can be one of the most important features. The hassle of carrying extra batteries and swapping them out can put a wrinkle in your workflow. Wall outlets are the last thing you want to worry about when thinking about shot composition.
When shooting on the go, you never know what nature has in store. Weatherproofing allows video shooters to prepare for the unpredictable. Not only does it improve the longevity of your gear, but more importantly it offers peace of mind.
Unlike photographers, videographers heavily rely on the quality of their electronic viewfinder and LCD screen for pulling manual focus. LCD screens generally come in several iterations, fixed, tilt and swivel screen. Swivel screens have the most articulating range and are the most functional. Some cameras will also allow for an external monitor to boost the screen size and yield higher sampling frequency for 10-bit recording.
External recording is sometimes a better option than internal recording because the files are less compressed, and the color bitrate is usually higher, which means the general quality of your overall image is usually more impressive. This is a great way to upgrade your rig for more demanding projects that you might have down the road.
|Camera||Panasonic GH5||Sony a7SII||Sony a6500||Sony a9||Panasonic G7||Fuji X-T2||BMPCC|
|Type||Micro Four Thirds||Full Frame||APS-C||Full Frame||Micro Four Thirds||APS-C||Micro Four Thirds|
|Resolution||20.3 MP||12.2 MP||24 MP||24.2 MP||16 MP||24.3 MP||Up to 1920×1080 (HD)|
|ISO Range||200-25600||100-102400||100-25600||100-51200||200-25600||200-12800||800 (Native)|
|Extended ISO Range||100-25600||100-40960||100-51200||50-204800||100-25600||100-51200||200-1600|
|Display Screen||3″ tilting LCD||3″ flip screen||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD||3″ tilting LCD|
|4K Frame Rate||Up to 60 FPS||Up to 30 FPS||Up to 30 FPS||Up to 30 FPS||Up to 30 FPS||Up to 30 FPS||Up to 30 FPS|
|HD Frame Rate||Up to 180 FPS||Up to 120 FPS||Up to 120 FPS||Up to 120 FPS||Up to 60 FPS||Up to 60 FPS||Up to 30 FPS|
|19.2 oz||22.1 oz||16.0 oz||23.9 oz||19.1 oz||25.2 oz||52.8 oz|
|In-Body Image Stabilization||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Recording Limit||150 min (settings and media dependent)||29 min (settings and media dependent)||29 min (settings and media dependent)||5 min (4K), 29 min HD (settings and media dependent)||29 min (settings and media dependent)||10 min (30 min with battery grip)||N/A|
|Weather Sealed||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Weather Resistant||No|
|Log Gamma Profiles||V-Log L||S-Log||S-Log||N/A||N/A||F-Log||BM Log|
|Movie Formats||MOV, MP4||MP4||MP4, MPEG-4||MP4, MPEG-4||MP4||MP4, MPEG-4||RAW, ProRes|
|Bitrate||Up to 200mbps||Up to 100mbps||Up to 100mbps||Up to 100mbps||Up to 100mbps||Up to 100mbps||Up to 100mbps|
|Codec||AVCHD||XAVC-S, AVCHD 2.0||XAVC S, AVCHD 2.0||XAVC S, AVCHD 2.0||AVCHD||H.264||H.264|
($124 weekly rental – $1,997.99 MSRP**)
The Panasonic Lumix GH5 is one of the most feature-rich mirrorless cameras on the market. This Micro Four Thirds sensor camera can crank out 60 fps at 4K and up to 180 fps at 1080p. Panasonic also includes the ability to shoot DCI 4K (4096 × 2160, 1:1:9 aspect ratio), which no other camera in its class can claim. This high-resolution feature pushes the GH4 to utilize the full sensor to push out more pixels. DCI 4K also offers true 24p, unlike the more common 23.976p frequency found in most cameras. If you are shooting with multiple cameras, make sure the frequencies and aspect ratios match up to avoid undesirable artifacts.
The swivel screen is a standout feature and helps video shooters have a direct line of sight of the LCD screen to check framing and pull focus. The larger body of the GH4 adds a familiar feel of a DSLR. With the added size, this camera has a great large long-lasting battery.
This camera comes equipped with professional tools such as focus peaking, zebras, and waveform monitoring. The GH5 also conforms slow motion footages within the camera for immediate slow motion playback. Users can also separately purchase Panasonic’s V-Log profile to give even more flexibility in post-production. The profile 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.
5-axis internal stabilization ensures that your image will be crystal clear with minimal shaking, despite some potential interruption on the filmmaker’s end. This camera also boasts an amazing 10-bit color profile, which gives images a crazy color boost and beautiful image quality.
Unfortunately, the low light performance is lower than some of the others on this list; that’s not to say it’s totally incapable, however. The GH5 is a professional camera with great performance and value as long you understand its limitations.
($146 weekly rental – $2,998 MSRP)
There is a lot to love with the a7S II, especially for video shooters who want top-of-the-line quality, small portable form factor, and monstrous low light performance. This camera takes the crown for low light performance with not much else on the market coming close at this price point. This Sony full frame mirrorless camera can shoot 4K at 24 FPS and a silky 120 FPS at 1080p. With 5-axis in-camera image stabilization, any mounted lens will be ready for steady handheld shots.
Battery life is underwhelming at around one hour of continuous shooting. Some users have also reported an overheating issue with this device. This isn’t consistent with all units, but you should certainly test your unit before taking it out in the field for paid work. With that said, the a7SII is probably the best video camera on the market right now with its low light performance alone. The in-camera image stabilization and 120 FPS recording are a bonus.
Finally, the a7S II offers 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.
($88 weekly rental – $1,389 MSRP)
This APS-C camera from Sony is a great video shooter with lots of the same features found in their a7 full frame series, such as S-Log profiles and 5-axis image stabilization, but at a much lower price. It can shoot up to 120 FPS in 1080p and 24p in 4K. The a6500 rocks 24 megapixels, making it a great hybrid photo and video camera. Its autofocusing mechanics are impressive with 425 phase detection points, as compared to the 169 contrast detection points in the a7SII. It is one of the few reliable AF implementations for video we’ve seen.
The a6500 is less than half the price of it’s bigger brothers, so what gives? 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 and professionals who need a reliable B camera. It is one of the lightest cameras in our lineup and with many top-end specs.
($249 weekly rental – $4,498 MSRP)
The price of the Sony Alpha a9 may raise some eyebrows, but rest assured that this camera is well worth the hit to your budget. This camera is a serious workhorse, with some of the most impressive mirrorless camera footage we’ve seen. The robust 24.2 MP CMOS captures some truly beautiful 4K footage, which, as you can see in the video above, speaks for itself in terms of both color and clarity. It features powerful in-camera stabilization, and its rapid BIONZ X image processor matched with a 693-point phase detection AF system covers 93% of the image area for accurate and quick subject tracking in a variety of lighting conditions.
The body of the Sony Alpha a9 is nearly as robust as its internal mechanisms, featuring strong weatherproofing and a heavier overall weight, comprising of just over a pound and a half. The battery life on this camera is also impressive, allowing for continuous shooting without worry of draining the battery life or needing to stop shooting to charge up. Overall, this camera is a serious powerhouse that you should consider if you plan on doing high-level video recording with a mirrorless camera, ideal for major projects such as weddings and events.
($48 weekly rental – $548 MSRP)
The Lumix G7 is a slimmed down version of the GH4. The button layout, software, and image quality are all very similar to it’s older sibling. It is a powerful 4K video shooter with a fully articulating LCD screen, while still being pocket-friendly. For half of the price of a GH4 this camera offers incredible value.
Panasonic cut corners by excluding top-tier features like 200mbps recording (found in the GH5), fast frame rates, headphone jack for audio monitoring, and V-Log gamma profile. The camera body is also made of plastic instead of magnesium alloy and the buttons are not quite as sturdy. Users will also be missing out on weather sealing in this camera. With that out of the way, the G7 is a marvelous camera in many respects. If you’re just getting into 4K recording or need a superb B camera with similar image quality to the GH4, this will should be the one.
If the G7 looks great, but you’re willing to pay a little more for in-camera image stabilization and weather sealing, look no further than the Panasonic Lumix G85. The successor to the G7 features of all of the same internal recording specifications, but adds a few key features often sought after by video shooters.
6. Fuji X-T2
($104 weekly rental – $1,700 MSRP)
If you are hybrid photo and video shooter, the Fuji X-T2 is worth a serious look. 4K video on this camera is actually recorded in 5k; this is called oversampling. When the higher resolution file is conformed to the lesser format, it creates an ever richer and more beautiful image. One of the main design features of this camera are the separate tactile controls for the ISO, shutter speed, EV compensation, aperture and more.
The X-T2 is also one of the first mirrorless cameras to include dual SD card slots. Having a backup SD card in case one fails is invaluable for professionals. They also include the F-Log gamma profile for more dynamic range and control over footages. Fuji also takes color accuracy and reproduction to the next level with Film Emulsion Simulation, an in-camera image color processing feature. There are five presets that create a nice blend of color and contrast that emulates
We would have liked to see in-camera image stabilization, but the X-T2 has plenty to be proud of. All things considered, the X-T2 is a marvelous camera with top of the line craftsmanship.
($60 weekly rental – $995 MSRP)
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera series is popular among professionals and novices alike. With a sleek, slimmed-down design, this particular camera looks as stylish as the clips it produces. High-def ProRes (422) footage from this camera looks seriously professional, even for entry-level film work. It’s a highly capable piece of equipment.
This camera is very compact, hence the name “pocket cinema.” Its automatic settings are not as powerful as that of its predecessors, which can make it a bit harder to use. Specifically, the autofocus is very slow. It also has a fairly high crop factor, and does not fare very well in low light situations – when the ISO is higher than 800, it can make the image pretty grainy. That being said, the images this camera captures are crystal clear and extraordinarily high-quality. Some of the specs don’t measure up, but the final product is quite beautiful.
From professionals to hobbyists, mirrorless cameras look to be the future for video makers. Whether it be the small form factor, in-camera image stabilization or other video-assist features, mirrorless cameras are starting to win the hearts of many.
Choosing the right camera for your application is only half the battle. Lighting, composition, and storytelling are still the main pillars of great video content. Having the right tools will help get you there, but telling great stories is up to you.
If we’ve piqued your interest with mirrorless cameras but the choices still feel overwhelming, renting a camera is a great way to get hands-on experience before buying. Committing to a new camera system is a serious investment, but no one ever said you couldn’t have fun in the process. Try it out, run it through its paces and buy with confidence.
*Gear recommendations in this post are based on what was available at the time of this writing.
**Pricing as of August 2nd, 2017 and subject to change or be different than what’s listed here.