To record in 4K or not to record in 4K, that is the (admittedly awkward) question many photographers and videographers are grappling with. As momentum continues to build behind the new format, you might find yourself grappling with it, too.
At a minimum, recording in 4K (or “Ultra HD,” its updated moniker) provides a future-proof “master copy” of your footage should 4K truly take off as a mass-market phenomenon (in a way that 3D has not). Even if you deliver the final video in HD, dealing with a higher resolution 4K master file gives you greater latitude to reframe, zoom and manipulate your footage without degrading video quality in much the same way that high-resolution still cameras enable tight cropping while still preserving enough resolution for a usable image.
If you’re considering the jump to 4K, we’ve selected six video cameras that deliver it in a package that’s affordable, preserves your ability to shoot in HD and is relatively easy to use if you know your way around an HD digital SLR. Workflows for 4K are still maturing, so some solutions require proprietary memory formats and/or software for post-processing, but hey, no pain, no gain, right?
Blackmagic Design Production Camera for 4K videoBlackmagic Design Production Camera 4K
The straightforwardly named Production Camera 4K from Blackmagic features a Super-35-sized image sensor capable of both 4K and 1080p recording. The camera supports multiple frame rates including 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30 frames per second (fps) and is capable of capturing up to 12 stops of dynamic range. It also supports the 6G-SDI video connection, enabling the Production Camera 4K to be used on live productions. You’ll adjust camera settings, enter metadata and frame your shot through a 5-inch touch screen display. The Production Camera promises approximately 90 minutes worth of filming on the internal, rechargeable battery and there’s an 11V-30V DC port on hand as well for connecting external battery sources.
Thanks to its EF lens mount, the Production Camera 4K is compatible with a range of Canon EF lenses. It offers a dedicated focus button on the rear of the camera for turning on peaking (the function that highlights the area that’s in focus) plus an iris button that automatically adjusts the lens iris setting to avoid pixel clipping. It records to 2.5-inch solid-state drives (SSD) with audio and video captured and synchronized in the ProRes 422 format. You can also record in the compressed CinemaDNG RAW file format. On the audio side, the Production Camera only offers an integrated mono mic and mono speaker, though you’ll find a pair of 1/4-inch jacks for analogue audio, switchable between mic and line levels. There is a 3.5mm stereo headphone output for audio monitoring as well.
GoPro Hero3 4K video cameraGoPro Hero3 Black Edition
Everyone’s favorite rugged action camera has hit its third generation with a surprising twist: It’s now able to record 4K video. The Hero3 only supports 4K recording at 12 or 15 fps, so it would need to be intercut sparingly into footage using the traditional 24 or 30 fps rates. Still, for those looking for a low-cost segue into 4K, the Hero3 is worth considering. GoPro promises about 90 minutes worth of battery life on the Hero3’s rechargeable, internal battery when filming in 4K at 15 fps. Free CineForm Studio software lets you convert your GoPro’s H.264 files into AVI or MOV files for nonlinear editors. The Hero3 also records 1080p HD at 24, 30, 48, and 60 fps with options to capture slow-motion video at 720p at 120 fps, 1280 x 960 at 100 fps and 848 x 480 at 240 fps.
The Hero3 is 30 percent smaller and 25 percent lighter than its popular predecessor and also has built-in Wi-Fi so it can be controlled via an included remote if you’re too nervous about following the Hero into danger. The wireless remote is waterproof, wearable, has a range of 600 feet and is able to command up to 50 Wi-Fi-enabled GoPros at a time. Footage from the Hero3 can also be wirelessly previewed on iPhones and iPads using a free app.
The Black Edition includes a waterproof housing that allows the Hero3 to be submerged in up to 60 meters of water. The 12-megapixel camera can capture bursts at 30 fps in addition to slower (3, 5 or 10 fps) bursts up to a total of 30 images. The fixed focal length glass lens offers a wide-angle field of view (170 degrees) and an aperture of f/2.8. Finally, audio is recorded via a mono microphone with a 3.5mm stereo mic pin for adding accessory mics.
Sony PMW-F5 4K video cameraSony PMW-F5
The PMW-F5 fills a gap for those not quite ready for a full-blown motion picture camera but in need of something more robust than an SLR hybrid. The PMW-F5 records 4096 x 2160 4K video via an 11.6-megapixel, 35mm-sized sensor at a maximum frame rate of 120 fps. You’ll enjoy your choice of codec formats including Sony’s new XAVC HD, MPEG2 HD, SR and XDCAM 50Mbps 4:2:2. User-installable firmware updates promised in September and December will bring additional frame rate and recording options, so the PMW-F5’s capabilities will only grow.
Boasting 14 stops of dynamic range, the PMW-F5 is rated at ISO 2000 for low-light recording. It’s also capable of 16-bit linear RAW recording so that you can post-process all the data captured by Sony’s sensor. The PMW-F5 uses PL mount lenses via an included adapter, or FZ lenses using the built-in mount. Out of the box, the PMW-F5 records HD resolution video to Sony’s SxS memory cards (available in 64-GB and 128-GB capacities) and 4K to the optional AXSM memory card recorder. It employs a new battery pack that replaces the previous lithium iron phosphate-based batteries for lithium ion olivine, which Sony claims “substantially” increases the longevity of the battery, speeds recharging and delivers 150 minutes of continuous shooting.
Canon EOS-1D C 4K video cameraCanon EOS-1D C
Canon helped blur the line between cinema cameras and DSLRs when it added HD recording to the EOS 5D Mark II DSLR. While they now offer bona fide cinema cameras (such as the EOS C500), Canon continues to provide still photographers an entree into advanced video with its high-end SLRs. Enter the EOS-1D C, a variant of Canon’s flagship EOS-1D X still camera with some cinema-grade enhancements such as the ability to record 4K video.
The 1D C is capable of recording 4K at 4096 x 2160 in addition to full HD (1920 x 1080). The 1D C features an 18.1-megapixel, full-frame (24mm x 36mm) CMOS sensor capable of recording eight-bit 4:2:2 Motion JPEG 4K video to the camera’s dual memory cards (CF). When shooting 4K, you’ll only have the option of a single 24 fps rate using a cropped portion of the sensor (equivalent to APS-H size). You’ll get additional frame rates when dropping to 1920 x 1080, including 24, 30 and 60 fps. The 1D C also supports 1280 x 720 at 60 fps and 640 x 480 at 30 fps. You’ll have access to the entire sensor when shooting in 1080p, though there is an option to crop to Super 35mm to match cinema standards. Video can be monitored from either the 3.2-inch LCD or output in HD resolution via HDMI for proxy editing (when outputting via HDMI, the time code will be embedded into the footage).
The 1D C offers an ISO range of 100 to 51200 (expandable to 204800) and a pair of DIGIC 5+ Image Processors is on hand to tackle noise reduction as you crank up the sensitivity. The processors also perform real-time correction to chromatic aberration and other optical defects. You’ll have access to the full array of Canon EF lenses and EF Cinema Lenses when shooting with the 1D C (however when shooting with Cinema zoom lenses, the camera must be set to 35mm crop mode—prime lenses will not require a sensor crop). On the audio front, the 1D C offers a headphone jack for audio monitoring as well as a 3.5mm mic jack for external microphones.
JVC GY-HMQ10 4K video cameraJVC GY-HMQ10
The GY-HMQ10 is modeled closely after JVC’s GY-HM150U, so documentarians and news-gatherers looking to make the jump to 4K should find a familiar layout with the same suite of controls, including manual or auto control of focus, iris, gain, shutter, gamma level, color matrix and white balance.
The GY-HMQ10 delivers 3840 x 2160 recording via an eight-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor. It features a 10x optical zoom lens (f/2.8, 42.4mm) with built-in optical image stabilization. The GY-HMQ10 supports several frame rates (24p, 50p and 60p) that can be output live to an external monitor while simultaneously being compressed and saved to the camera’s four SD memory cards. You can store up to two hours of 4K footage onto four 32-GB SDHC cards. These cards each contain a “quadrant” of the 4K video which are later merged into a single 4K ProRes file on a computer using a supplied software utility. The GY-HMQ10 can also play back 4K video in-camera, accessing all four SD cards in sync. The camera records 4K video at a rate of up to 144 megabits per second (MB/s)—each quadrant clocks in at 36 MB/s—using H.264 encoding.
In addition to the .24-inch viewfinder (260K pixels), the GY-HMQ10 offers a 3.5-inch, high-resolution touch panel display for framing your scene or reviewing camera settings. It features two XLR inputs for adding accessory mics, a 3.5mm jack for headphone monitoring and a four-pin, 3.5mm jack for adding remote controls. There are manual audio level controls with an audio meter to monitor performance. When it’s time to offload your video, the camera can connect to a 4K monitor via four HDMI outputs or it can down-convert 4K video into HD to output via a single HDMI connection to an HD monitor.
The GY-HMQ10 can also serve as a full-HD camcorder capable of recording 1920 x 1080 at 50/60p or 50/60i onto a single memory card in the AVCHD format.
Red Scarlet-X 4K video cameraRed Scarlet-X
Red can rightly lay claim to jumping on the 4K bandwagon relatively early with its line of cameras (and just as you acclimate to 4K, they’re out stumping a 6K camera in the Epic Dragon). Still, the Scarlet-X is the place to get your start among Red’s offerings. It’s a hybrid DSLR/video camera body capable of simultaneously filming 4K video and snapping 5K stills. Like the Canon EOS-1D C, the Scarlet-X offers DSLR shooters a somewhat familiar bridge to cinematography in terms of form factor, although the modular Red system may be a bit more daunting initially (it is, however, easier to outfit with needed cinema accessories).
It features the company’s HDRx (high dynamic range) technology which Red claims can deliver up to 18 stops worth of dynamic range—four more than full-frame DSLRs—although the boosted range is only available at the reduced 4K frame rate of 12 fps. Otherwise dynamic range is available in 13.5 stops. With Canon EF and PL mount options you can outfit the Scarlet with a range of high-quality lenses. The Scarlet offers a 14-megapixel Mysterium-X image sensor capable of recording at resolutions up to 5120 x 2700 in the Redcode RAW format. Standard 4K video at 30 fps down to 1080p high definition and 1K video resolution settings are also available. Footage is stored to the company’s Redmag solid state drives (available in capacities up to 512 GB).
There’s also an option to update the Scarlet X to the Scarlet Dragon. Essentially, you’ll trade the Mysterium-X sensor for the 19-megapixel Red Dragon sensor, which gives you 5K video as well as 4K at faster frames rates (up to 75 fps) than the Mysterium-X sensor can cope with. Existing Scarlet-X owners can mail-in their camera to get the sensor replaced for a cool $9,750. (There is no option, as of this writing, to get a Scarlet Dragon directly, but the Dragon sensor is available on other Red cameras such as the aforementioned Epic Dragon.)
Price: $7,950 (body only)