5 Affordable 4K Video Cameras [Updated]
JULY 24, 2015
By Greg Scoblete & Dan Havlik
This article was originally published in September 2014 and was updated on July 24, 2015.
You no longer have to spend an arm and a leg to shoot 4K video. In an earlier issue of PDN, we recommended six cameras to help you ease your way into shooting 4K video, which offers approximately four times the resolution of HD. Now, here are five new models that are not only less expensive than last year’s crop, they’re also smaller, more rich in features, and, for the most part, they look and feel like “traditional” digital cameras—not heavy, cinema-style rigs. Note: we've excluded action cameras from this list, but both the GoPro Hero4 and Sony X1000V record in 4K and cost around $500.
PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-GH4
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 (pictured above) was the world’s first mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera with 4K video capture, offering pro-level video tools in a small camera body for a reasonable price. The GH4 features a newly developed 16MP Digital Live MOS sensor designed to reduce the wobbly “rolling shutter” effect you can get when you pan too aggressively with a CMOS-based camera (which typically becomes more pronounced in crisp Ultra HD). For the ultimate in detail, crank the GH4 to Cinema 4K mode (4096 x 2160). You’ll hit bit rates of 100Mbps for both Cinema 4K and the more standard 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) using IPB compression, so video quality will look clean with little artifacting. You can also shoot full 1080p HD with an ultra high bit rate of 200Mbps in ALL-Intra compression, or 100Mbps with no recording time limit. Other handy video features include the ability to choose between MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive and AVCHD video formats at a variety of frame rates according to the usage; and options for VFR (Variable Frame Rate) or Time Lapse/Stop Motion Animation without postproduction processing. Panasonic’s also selling an optional Interface Unit (DMW-YAGH) for the GH4 that enables more powerful video transmission. The Interface Unit ($2,000) complies with Full HD (4:2:2 / 10-bit) offering four parallel output, which can be used for 4K (4:2:2 / 10-bit) output, both with time code. New firmware, announced in January, have given the GH4 the ability to output timecode directly via HDMI and more.
Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini
We were impressed with the Ursa when we reviewed it in the April issue, but one beef we had was the size and weight—the word “tank” sprang readily to mind when describing the Ursa’s substantial build. With the Mini, Blackmagic has taken pity on the shoulders and forearms of filmmakers everywhere with a camera that retains many of the valuable features of the original but at a little more than a third the weight (don’t worry Ursa fans, the original isn’t going anywhere). The new Mini weighs just 5 pounds though it has to shed the Ursa’s three monitors to get there. Instead, you’ll have a single, 5-inch touch screen HD monitor for framing and focus confirmation. The Mini records 4K footage to a pair of CFast 2.0 cards in Apple ProRes (up to 4444 XQ) or Cinema DNG 12-bit RAW. It has dual XLR inputs with phantom power, a built-in stereo mic, and a 12G-SDI connection.
The Ursa Mini is sold with either Blackmagic’s new 4.6K Super 35mm-sized image sensor or an updated 4K sensor with slightly less resolution and 12 stops of dynamic range. The 4.6K (4608x2592) sensor boasts 15 stops of dynamic range and delivers 4K recording at 60 fps with rolling shutter or 4K at 30 fps with a global shutter. If you opt for the less expensive Ursa Mini with the 4K sensor, you’ll enjoy 4K frame rates of 60 fps with a global shutter. Both versions of the Mini clock in at a motion-slowing 120fps when shooting at 1920x1080.
Price: $4,995 (4.6K sensor, EF mount); $5,495 (4.6K, PL mount); $2,995 (4K, EF mount); $3,495 (4K, PL mount)
While the world waits for Canon to add 4K to its DSLRs, the company has taken a step toward the future with a new video camera. The XC10 delivers 3840x2160 (8-bit, 422) recording via a 1-inch, 13-megapixel CMOS sensor. Footage is saved internally to a CFast 2.0 memory card using a newly developed Canon codec dubbed XF-AVC. As the name implies, the codec is derived from H.264 and uses intra-frame compression to deliver a maximum bit rate of 305Mbps. You can also output a 4K Canon Log file at 30 fps with 12-stops of dynamic range to an external recorder via HDMI. HD video, plus 12-megapixel still photos, can be saved to an SD card. The XC10 strikes a boxy figure, the better for mounting on gimbals, but its rotating hand grip also gives run-and-gunners something to hang onto. And the XC10 is definitely easy to carry, measuring in at 4.9 x 4 x 4.8 inches and weighing a scant 2.3 pounds with battery and memory cards loaded.
There’s a built-in 10X zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27.3mm-273mm for video and 24.1mm-241mm for stills. The lens features a three-mode optical stabilizer (dynamic, standard and powered) to combat camera shake during a variety of use cases. It features a maximum aperture of f/2.8 when shooting wide and stops down to f/5.6 at full telephoto. There’s a three-step ND filter built in plus dedicated zoom and focus rings for manual operation. You’ll enjoy a native ISO range of 160-20,000 and a 3-inch vari-angle display for framing your scene.
Price: $2,499 (64GB SanDisk CFast 2.0 card and reader included).
The flagship of JVC’s new 4KCAM video lineup, the LS300 boasts a Super 35mm-sized 4K sensor and an active Micro Four Thirds lens mount. The sensor is capable of capturing 3840x2160p30 video with a bitrate up to 150Mbps and 12-stops of dynamic range. Footage is saved internally to a pair of SD cards in the H.264 codec (MOV files). While the LS300 can’t output a 4K signal for external recording, it does support 4K monitoring via HDMI and will downconvert 4K footage to HD for recording out of the HDMI or SDI connection.
If you just need to shoot HD, the camera supports 1920x1080p60 recording (422) at 50Mbps. There are two SD card slots with relay recording and hot-swapping capability so you can pull out memory cards while the LS300 is still recording. You’ll find a three-position ND filter and a two-channel XLR input with phantom power. The LS300 is very customizable, with 10 function buttons on the exterior that you can program to your heart’s desire. You frame your scene with a 3.5-inch display or a .24-inch viewfinder. Depending on where you purchase your LS300, it will come with either a free Rokinon prime lens or a Metabones lens adapter, so shop around. A shotgun mic is also included with the purchase.
Price: $4,395 (Rokinon bundle)
The NX1 is the only 4K camera (as of this writing) to use the new HEVC video codec to compress footage for easier storage on SD cards. While the codec is more efficient, support for it is far from universal among software programs and graphics card makers. (You can read more about the NX1 in our review.) The NX1 will record compressed 4K (4096 x 2160) direct to an SD memory card at 24fps and compressed UltraHD (3840 x 2160) footage at 24 or 30fps. You can also record uncompressed footage to an external recorder via the NX1′s HDMI 1.4 output.
The NX1 boasts a full compliment of professional video features, including adjustable ISO during video capture, adjustable audio levels during shooting, C and D gamma curves, luminance level limiting and the ability to output timecode over HDMI.
The NX1 is built around a 28-megapixel backside illuminated, APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor (23.5 x 15.7mm). It’s a sensor of Samsung’s own design and is the first of its size to feature backside illumination. While it offers roughly 8 million more pixels than Samsung’s NX30, the photo diodes are the same size—a space-saving consequence of the BSI sensor. This endows the NX1 with better low light performance, up to ISO 51200.
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