The definition of the term “video camera” has changed substantially since the first consumer-level 8mm cameras debuted in the 1960s. Instead of carrying heavy equipment, worrying about how much time was left on your tape, and constantly changing batteries, you can now use your smartphone to record, edit, and share 4K videos to virtually anyone in the world. For most people, the camera built into your smartphone will be sufficient, especially if you’ve upgraded in the past couple of years. That camera will automatically balance your colors, set your white balance, auto-focus on your target, and stabilize (reduce jitter when you move) your footage.
That said, if you take videography very seriously, or need equipment for professional use, getting a dedicated video camera makes sense. A video camera’s optical sensor is large, which means it can let in more light to produce better recordings in low light. You can typically swap out its lens, so you can choose one that allows you to zoom in further, or getting better results when recording a subject that’s really close to the camera. For these reasons, videos recorded on a video camera will look better than smartphone footage when blown up on a big screen.
Most modern video cameras are actually photo cameras with a video setting, which means you can use them for taking sharp stills, too. Others are purpose-built for a single task, like recording video while you’re highly active (think surfing or snowboarding). This guide is dedicated to highlighting the best video cameras overall, which means we’ll touch on all of these different styles. If you’ve become dissatisfied with the limitations of your smartphone camera, these are the video cameras you should consider upgrading to.
— Best Overall: Sony Alpha 7 IV
— Best For Vloggers: Sony Alpha A6600
— Best DSLR For Video Recording: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
— Best For Handheld Filming: Fujifilm X-T4
— Best Action Cam: GoPro HERO10 Black
How We Picked the Best Video Cameras
Because smartphones have made video cameras kind of niche, we decided to research options that excelled in a specific scenario, or catered to the needs of a specific group of videographers. Vloggers, for instance, would typically use a video camera with a display that can be flipped over the top of the camera, so they can perfectly frame their shots. Athletes who want to film practices or trial runs, on the other hand, need a camera that’s ultra durable, and easily mounted onto their body or equipment.
Naturally, we also thought about common features that all video cameras need to stand out, which boils down to any tech spec that impacts video quality. We prioritized cameras that could record the highest-quality video under the most circumstances, even if that means having to keep a handful of accessories on you at all times — or at least during challenging shoots.
Maximum resolution: It’s a common misconception that video resolution is the number-one feature you should look at when choosing a video camera, but that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, 4K footage can look better than HD recordings, but factors like the lens you’re using, and a scene’s lighting conditions can have a bigger impact on video quality.
All of the cameras in this guide can record 4K footage because the increased pixel count gives you more flexibility when cropping your video during post production. It’s easy to import 4K footage, and use video editing software to zoom and crop the image to frame your video if you notice unwanted elements (people, animals, buildings) around the edges of your shot.
Cropping an HD video is a lot more noticeable because zooming in will result in recordings that look stretched out or grainier when played back on a 1080P or 4K TV. Ultimately, we don’t consider resolution to be a definitive signifier of a high-quality video camera, but it does have its benefits.
Size: Like all technology, video cameras have gotten smaller over the years, but this is one area of technology where bigger means better, at least most of the time. Action cameras and smartphone cameras have proven you can get incredible-looking recordings from pocket-friendly devices, but nothing will replace a full-sized camera with a giant lens. As we mentioned earlier, big lenses can let in more light, which leads to better-looking video. We understand that you may not always have a lot of room when traveling, so all of the video cameras we’re recommending can fit comfortably in a foot-long bag.
Swappable lenses: As we mentioned earlier, high-end video cameras allow you to swap their lens to one that’s purpose-built for a specific task like zooming or taking up-close (macro) video. Having three or four lenses in your kit will turn your video camera into a Swiss Army knife that has just the tool for the current job.
Storage: Until the late 2000s, video cameras all recorded to tape. Nowadays, video is recorded onto an SD or microSD card. These memory cards are small, but can hold a surprising amount of footage. If you plan on shooting in 4K, we recommend getting a memory card with at least 512GB of storage. That may sound like a lot, but 4K footage can eat up 5.3 gigabytes of space per minute. How much storage you need will also depend on the format you’re shooting in. Uncompressed video (the highest possible quality) will take up more space than video that’s been compressed to sacrifice some video quality to save space without dropping the resolution from 4K to 1080P. We recommend shooting in the best possible quality because it’ll give you the best starting material when you head into the editing room.
Support for accessories: It’s possible to spend more money on video camera accessories than the body (a camera without a lens attached) itself. We wanted to choose video cameras that could work easily with lighting accessories like a flash, or microphone for better audio recording. We recommend picking up a couple of spare batteries and an extra charger for your video camera. In our experience, keeping a charger and battery in your camera bag at all times means never having to worry about whether you left them at home. You should also keep a space SD card reader on hand at all times if your computer doesn’t have one built in.
Best Overall: Sony Alpha 7 IV
Why It Made The Cut: Sony spared no expense with the Alpha 7 IV; its custom hardware and software all but guarantee flawless results each time you hit record.
— Resolution: 4K
— Swappable lens: Yes
— Weight: 1.4 pounds
— Speedy custom processor
— Ultra-fast autofocus system
— Advanced object detection
One of the biggest hurdles you’ll have to face when using a video camera is navigating all of its settings to get the best results. It’s easy to get lost in the different video settings and modes, and to worry about whether you’ve got them all dialed in. Sony’s Alpha 7 IV changes that.
Yes, there are a bunch of settings, but the company developed a custom processor called the BIONZ XR that improves its autofocus, image recognition, and image quality performance. This camera isn’t quite point-and-shoot, but it’s a lot closer than most other video cameras. That same processor is what enables the Alpha 7 IV to support S-Cinetone, an image profile with balanced skin tones and accurate-looking skin tones.
The Alpha 7 IV’s best feature has to be its advanced auto-focus system, which has 425 distinct points, which allows the camera to find and follow a subject with extreme precision. That same system is sophisticated enough to track certain features on a subject, like their eyes. If you’re looking for a camera to capture subtitles in your videos, this feature will become invaluable.
While the tech inside of the Alpha 7 IV is impressive, Sony sweated the details when selecting materials for the camera. Its chassis is made out of magnesium, which dissipates heat and offers improved durability when exposed to water or dust. Our favorite little touch is that you can charge the camera’s battery by plugging it into a USB-C charger instead of ejecting the battery and sticking it in a separate power adapter. Camera makers have had to adjust to the technology inside smartphones, as their image processing is advanced enough to produce excellent video recordings despite the technical limitations of a small lens. Sony has answered that call with the Alpha 7 IV, which carries many of the same ease-of-use features while offering significantly better video recordings. If we could only recommend one video camera, this would be it.
Best for Vloggers: Sony Alpha A6600
Why It Made The Cut: Sony’s Alpha A6600 holds its own against significantly more expensive video cameras without sacrificing must-have features.
— Resolution: 4K
— Swappable lens: Yes
— Weight: 1.8 pounds
— Flexible display
— Standard headphone and microphone jack
— Fewer autofocus points
Sony took many of the features we liked in the Alpha 7 IV, and managed to squeeze them into a far less expensive camera without a lot of concessions.
The A6600 has the same autofocusing system as its more powerful sibling, including real-time eye tracking, but only has 425 autofocus points. Your subject shouldn’t look blurry, even when moving around, but there’s less of a cushion if you want the camera to focus on an ultra-specific place, or follow a smaller subject around (key for nature photography like birding.) But that shouldn’t be too much of an issue because that’s not what the A6600 is designed for; this is a video camera for vloggers.
We say that because it has two must-have features for anyone looking to shoot videos for YouTube: An articulating display that can flip up over the top of the camera, and standard microphone and headphone jacks. That first feature allows you to see what’s in frame at all times, so you can position yourself perfectly against a backdrop, or ensure there’s enough space between you and your subject when conducting an interview. This is key if you’re a one-person-only channel, since you won’t have an editor behind the camera checking your zoom level, or whether you’re in focus.
If you do have someone behind the camera, or want to check your audio levels before you start recording, the built-in headphone jack is a lifesaver. Ditto for the microphone jack, which allows you to plug in a lavalier mic or boom mic directly to the camera without buying an adapter. Audio adapters aren’t necessarily expensive, but it’s one more piece of camera gear to worry about when you travel for shoots.
Another feature designed for vloggers is the A6600’s ability to wirelessly connect to your smartphone, and use the phone as a conduit to transfer videos directly to social media, no cable required. Doing this will put additional strain on the A6600’s battery (and your phone), but it’s a nice feature to have in a pinch. One thing to keep in mind: 4K video files are far larger than HD video files, so it may not be tenable to transfer big, high-resolution videos wirelessly. In that case, we still recommend plugging the phone into a computer.
Still, the fact that the A6600 is even capable of a feature like wireless video transfer puts it far ahead of most video cameras. While we can recommend Sony’s A6600 for any type of video recording, vloggers will get the most out of it.
Best DSLR for Video Recording: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Why It Made The Cut: DSLR cameras are falling out of favor because of their larger size, but the EOS 5D Mark IV uses the extra space for its most impressive feature.
— Resolution: 4K
— Swappable lens: Yes
— Weight: 1.96 pounds
— Excellent low light performance
— Top screen shows vital information
— Fast shooting speed for stills
— Fewer autofocus zones
When shooting video, most of your focus should be on the subject, so you get the right shot. In a perfect world, you’d always be able to do a couple of test recordings, review them, and then move on, but that’s rarely the case (especially if you’re trying to get shots of a sunrise, sunset, or other time-sensitive events.) Canon solved this problem on its EOS 5D Mark IV by designing the camera with an informational screen near the shutter button.
At a glance, you’ll be able to tell whether your camera is balanced, its current ISO (light setting), battery life, the type of memory card in use, which mode is currently enabled, whether you’re using autofocus, and how much storage you have left. You’ll still need to frame your shot, use the viewfinder to confirm you’ve got the right angle and zoom level, and hit record, but this ancillary information can help a lot.
For instance, you may realize that your battery is on the verge of conking out right before you begin to shoot a scene. Yes, a battery indicator usually flashes on a video camera’s screen, but it can be easy to miss if you’re speaking to a subject after framing your shot, or working on a time crunch.
This feature helps to compensate for the EOS 5D Mark IV’s relative heft, and the fact that it only has a 61-point autofocus system. DSLR cameras are falling out of favor because of their bulk, but this one from Canon is well worth a look if you mainly intend to shoot using a tripod.
Best For Handheld Video Recording: Fujifilm X-T4
Why It Made The Cut: The X-T4’s robust image-stabilization system will allow you to get smooth-looking recordings in challenging environments like moving vehicles or uneven terrain.
— Resolution: 4K
— Swappable lens: Yes
— Weight: 1.3 pounds
— Five-axis image stabilization
— Light weight
— Film Simulation Modes
— Less robust auto-focus system.
With the X-T4, Fujifilm’s aim was to reduce the possibility of wasting footage because of jittery video created when you accidentally move the camera. Some level of jitter is inevitable when you record handheld video, which is why the X-T4 has five-axis image stabilization, which will compensate for your movements to ensure your video looks smooth. Good image stabilization — which, again, is a feature found in all modern smartphone camera systems — can save video that would previously have been unusable.
The X-T4 has physical image stabilization, which means a sensor inside the lens will move slightly as you move the camera body, and digital image stabilization to smooth out video even more. If you plan on shooting a lot of video without a tripod, this makes the X-T4 the ideal camera for you. But Fujifilm didn’t stop there, it complemented this stable of stabilization hardware and software with a host of other great features.
The company has specifically called out its mechanical shutter system, which allows it to snap up to 15 photos every second. The X-T4’s movie mode is robust, and allows you to apply digital filters called “Film Simulations” that can give the video you record a specific look. If you find one you like during pre-production, you can record your entire video using a filter, and save yourself time in the editing room. The X-T4 also supports digital effects like slow-motion video, which can also save you editing time by reducing the amount of post-processing effects you have to apply to your video.
If you’re going to be recording video in environments where you’ll be moving around a lot, Fujifilm’s X-T4 can help you get the most usable footage with the least amount of effort.
Best Action: GoPro HERO10 Black
Why It Made The Cut: GoPro’s most advanced action camera can record extremely high-resolution video under the most demanding circumstances, and handle the elements without getting damaged.
— Resolution: 5.3K
— Swappable lens: No
— Weight: 1 pound
— Light weight
— Top notch video stabilization
— Built-in effects modes (like slow motion)
— No swappable lens
— Digital viewfinder
Action cameras are arguably the most useful type of video camera for most people because they can handle situations a smartphone can’t. GoPro popularized the action camera, and it’ll keep its lead thanks to its HERO10 Black.
The camera is smaller than a deck of cards, but can record video at resolutions up to 5.7K. GoPro designed a custom processor called the GP2 to process video of that quality, and developed a proprietary image stabilization system that produces smooth footage, even in low-light situations. GoPro made the HERO10 Black’s outer case waterproof and able to repel dust, and added an additional water-shedding coating to its lens to reduce the risk of lens flares. The HERO10 Black doesn’t have interchangeable lenses, but that’s the price you pay when using an action camera. The lens system is integrated directly into the camera’s body to prevent dirt particles from getting inside. The GoPro HERO10 Black’s hardware is so good, though, that you shouldn’t miss this feature too much.
One hardware feature GoPro did include (which was absent on many previous models) is a front-facing LED screen, so you can frame shots when the camera is facing toward you. This will allow you to use the HERO Black10 as a vlogging camera as well as an action cam. Another new hardware feature present in the GoPro Hero10 Black is the ability to wirelessly transfer video to your phone or a cloud service. You’ll also be able to transfer files over USB. If you need a video camera to capture your next visit to the skatepark, or a vacation that includes snorkeling and watering, GoPro’s Hero10 BLACK is the best option available today.
Things To Consider Before Buying A Video Camera
Micro 4/3 vs DSLR
Until recently, the best video cameras were all DSLRs (Digital Single-Lens), which have the same shape and size as an analog still photography camera. However, Micro 4/3 (also known as full-frame or mirrorless) cameras have become more popular. This style of camera is smaller than a DSLR, but supports many of the same features, most notably swappable lenses and support for a lot of accessories. In fact, Micro 4/3 cameras have become so popular that Nikon and Canon no longer make DSLRs. There’s still a place for DSLR cameras, but we generally recommend going with a Micro 4/3 model because the photography industry has moved in that direction.
First vs. Third-Party Accessories
Both camera manufacturers and third-party companies offer the same basic accessories (tripods, selfie sticks, flashes, lenses) that look similar, and work with the same cameras, so finding the right ones can be tough. In general, we recommend getting video camera batteries from the manufacturer because cheap batteries can explode or combust (this is unlikely, but we don’t like taking the risk). We feel comfortable recommending gear from third-party accessory makers in every other case, even lenses.
SD Card Write Speed
If you’ve searched for SD cards, you may have noticed that the same companies make models with the same amount of storage, but at dramatically different prices. Those higher-end cards have faster write speeds, which means they can handle writing large amounts of data at a consistent rate without getting overwhelmed. In many cases, an SD Card’s write speed isn’t very important, but video cameras are a notable exception. If you plan on recording several minutes of continuous 4K video on a regular basis, we recommend getting a fast CD card from Prograde, which has data writing speeds up to 250 megabytes per second. For reference, a standard SD card can only write data at up to 120 megabytes per second.
Q: Will these cameras work with a PC and Mac?
Yes, the footage recorded on these video cameras can be connected to either a PC or Mac. You can edit your footage on either platform, and even move a project between them if you use a cross-compatible video editor like Adobe Premiere.
Q: Will the accessories I buy for one camera work if I upgrade to a new one?
Not necessarily. If you stick to buying cameras from the same company, there’s a greater likelihood that your accessories will be compatible. Some accessories, like memory cards, external microphones, and flash tend to be more compatible than lenses.
Q: How long do video cameras typically last?
Video cameras don’t depend on software as much as computers or smartphones, which means their life cycle is closer to that of an appliance rather than a gadget. SD cards are popular enough that you’ll be able to transfer data from your camera to a computer for years to come, and you can always swap out your camera’s battery if it’s lost most of its charge.
If you buy a high-end video camera today, it should easily last a decade. Keep in mind that each generation of video camera will get new features, like a faster shutter speed to more easily capture fast-moving subjects, 8K video recording, better autofocus, and face or object detection, so you may be inclined to upgrade sooner.
Final Thoughts on Video Cameras
Smartphones have brought high-resolution video cameras to the masses, and social media has made it easier to share your recordings with millions of people (or even your friends and family). But a dedicated video camera still has its place in your tech life. Having the highest-quality recordings of your most impressive moments (life events like the birth of a child, weddings, graduations, family reunions) will allow you to relive them for years to come, or share them with future generations who weren’t there at the time. This tech tool can also help your dreams of making a short film, professional vlog, or YouTube career a reality.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.