Try to remember how you felt the first time you saw a full HD TV. It was an eye opening experience, one which made you aware of just how beautiful images could really be, right? Photographers and film directors share the same dream: to frame the world around us in a way which tells a story, and as we’ll explain later, there really is nothing that gives you more freedom to do this than a 4K camera.
But which one should you choose? A good camera is like an old friend, after all, and you’ll be getting very well acquainted with it, so it pays to make sure the one you pick is up to the task. Have no fear, though, we’ve put together a list of the best 4K cameras on the market so that you can begin capturing Pulitzer worthy shots as soon as possible.
Best 4K Camera 2018 – Compared
Below, you’ll find a table which provides the name of each camera we’ll be reviewing, as well as a handful of important specifications. This should give you a feel for the kind of cameras in our list and who knows, maybe you’ve even had your eye on one of them, in which case, feel free to skip right to it.
|Product Name||Megapixels||Maximum Shutter Speed|
|YI 4K Action Camera||12||1/4096|
|Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G7KS||16||1/16000|
|Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX400V||20.4||1/4000|
|Canon EOS Rebel T6||18||1/4000|
Now that you’ve had a quick look at our most highly recommended cameras, we’d like to take a closer look at each of them to see how well they perform, what features they include, where they could use some improvement, things like that. Firstly, we’re going to examine the YI 4K Action Camera.
YI 4K Action Camera – Best Compact 4K Camera
YI 4K Action Camera – Best Compact 4K Camera
If you’re the type of photographer who likes their camera to look as slick as their photos do, then the YI 4K Action Camera will be right up your street. The good news is that it’s not just pretty; rather, its minimalistic aesthetic only masks the high tech gadgetry inside, it doesn’t replace it entirely.
Let’s start with the simple stuff: this camera can record 4K video at 30 frames per second, or 120 frames per second at 1080p, so no matter which resolution you choose to shoot in, you’re guaranteed silky smooth motion. When used to take photographs, you can choose utilise a resolution of up to 12 megapixels, which offers the potential for a more detailed and better defined scene than a camera with a lower resolution.
However, more megapixels is no guarantee of higher image quality. As we’re sure you’re aware, it’s important to look at the rest of a camera’s hardware before you commit to it. Take the sensor, for example. It’s a 1/2.3” Sony IMX377 which, whilst on the smaller end of the spectrum is still more than capable of providing vibrant and accurate output to the camera’s screen.
This model comes with a built in tri-axial gyroscope and accelerometer which compensates for motion and stabilises your image to reduce blur in the final picture. The built in battery charges via a standard 5V micro-USB cable (the same kind you might use to charge a cell phone), and lasts for up to two and a half hours, although this is obviously affected by the various settings you’re using. Even with WiFi on, though, you can still expect at least an hour and a half of shooting 4K video.
Speaking of WiFi, this camera supports both 2.4 and 5GHz bands and can use this to take commands from a wireless controller or stream directly to your computer. Additionally, it features Bluetooth support which allows you to use accessories like a remote shutter, even when you’re out in the field.
Unfortunately, you can’t change the lens on this model, but luckily, it’s capable of producing very high quality images as is, thanks to its 155o wide angle lens and F2.8 aperture. This means you get a very wide frame by default (although this can of course, be narrowed), and a large amount of light which allows for sharper, more defined image subjects. There’s also a pretty large range of shutter speeds, going from 1/4096 of a second to 30 seconds. As usual, there’s more customisation below one second than there is above, with incremented speeds which are greater than one second at 2, 5, 10, 20 and 30 seconds. This allows for both long exposure shots and shots where very fast movement must be captured, like at sporting events or in wildlife photography.
The LED screen is 2.19” in size and is viewable from a 160o angle. Further, its resolution is 640×360, which, whilst a significant step down from your picture’s quality, is more than adequate to see if you got the shot right or not. The screen is made from Gorilla Glass, which is specially toughened to protect it from any damage, scratches or scrapes that might occur in the course of your search for the perfect picture. Some people say wear and tear adds character, but if we were to spend this amount of money on something, we’d want to make sure it was well protected.
The camera itself is a little over two and a half inches long and 1.7” tall, so it’s nothing if not portable. On top of this, it weighs just 3.4 ounces, so it’s ultra lightweight and won’t tire you out if you end up holding it for extended periods of time. If you do find yourself recording for a while, the specialist heat management system will kick in and keep your camera cool, which is great, since there’s nothing worse than an expensive product with a fried processor.
All things considered, this camera is actually pretty good. We were a little concerned that it might be geared more towards style than substance, but happily, we found this not to be the case. When you buy this camera, you get everything you’d expect: high quality videos and photos, with a variety of shutter speeds and a nice, long battery life. We would have liked to have been able to change the lenses, but for a small form camera like this, that might be a bit too much to ask. Nevertheless, for under $250, this is a fantastic camera and is well worth your time.
- Long battery life
- Very small and lightweight
- Built in image stabilisation
- Sleek design
- Can't change the lens
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G7KS – Best Camera for Nature Photography
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G7KS – Best Camera for Nature Photography
A lot of people assume that photography is an expensive hobby, but the fact is it doesn’t have to be. You might spend thousands of dollars fixing up an old car, or building yourself a home theatre. The advantages that photography offer are that usually, a camera is a one off purchase (unless you want to buy different lenses), and once you have one, you’re more inclined to travel in search of great photographs. We’re pleased to say that if you let it, the LUMIX DMC-G7KS would make a fantastic companion, for a few reasons.
This is a small frame camera, although it is on the chunkier side, measuring at 3.39” tall, 4.92” across and a little over 3” deep. Despite this, it’s still light enough to carry around, since it weighs just under one pound. It has a more vintage styled aesthetic than the YI 4K and comes in all black or black with a silver trim (which, personally, we liked better).
You also have the option to change the lens if you want to, so this camera gives you room to grow professionally. Additionally, if you find yourself using specific modes often, you can assign them to one of the six buttons on the body for faster access in future.
Panasonic claim that the battery life lasts for around 350 photos, but we found that if you forego the flash, it’s actually closer to 600, even at the highest quality setting. Unfortunately, you can’t charge the battery whilst using the camera, as it has to be removed and charged via either USB or AC adaptor. If you know you’ll be recording a lot of 4K video, it might be worth keeping a few spare batteries on hand, but that’s good advice for any photographer.
The maximum resolution is pretty high at 16 megapixels, and the sensor is a 4/3 which usually means you’d struggle to track moving objects, however, this camera comes with intelligent auto focusing technology which ensures that moving subjects come out blur free in the end product. As if to reinforce this point, Panasonic have ensured that this camera has a ridiculously fast maximum shutter speed: 1/16000 of a second. For context, this is fast enough to capture a blur free image of a hummingbird’s wings mid-flight, so we don’t think you’ll run into anything too fast to capture. This speed can of course be changed in incremental steps all the way up to 60 seconds.
One feature that we really liked was the pre-burst mode. This takes 60 shots both before and after you press the shutter button, so even if you’re caught off guard, there’s a good chance you’ll have a decent photo in the end. We also loved the low light auto focus mode, which ensures that you can capture image subjects even when the only light source you have is the moon. If you do a lot of wildlife photography, this is an invaluable feature, since a lot of animals will be spooked by the flash and night vision shots just aren’t the same. Further reinforcing this point, the autofocus is very fast, and there’s no shutter noise at all.
The maximum recording time is 29 minutes and 59 seconds, after which a new clip begins, which is slightly annoying, especially if you’re recording a time-lapse, however these clips can be stitched together in post, so it’s not a massive deal. You can shoot in a variety of different aspect ratios, however, which is always a bonus.
Another potential issue is that the operating temperature ranges from 32F to 104F, meaning it shouldn’t be used in very cold or very hot environments. This feels like a bit of a waste, since it has such great night photography credentials, yet many locations will drop below 32F at night. You can buy various camera cases to help keep some heat in, but we’d have liked to see a little more versatility as standard.
Whilst this camera is a pretty significant initial investment, it comes with a slew of features that make it an invaluable addition to a professional photographer’s arsenal. From its excellent low light performance to its customisable quick access buttons, there’s a lot to like in this model. It seems to be specifically targeted towards nature photography, but the same features utilised in that field can also be applied to various others, like sports photography or noir styled pictures. All in all, this is a great camera which punches above its weight and will remain relevant for a very long time.
- Capable of shooting by the light of the moon
- Intelligent autofocus
- Pre burst mode offers additional chance of capturing usable images
- Interchangeable lens
- Maximum recording time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds
- Can't be charged and used at the same time
Sony DSCWX350 – Best Budget 4K Camera
Sony DSCWX350 – Best Budget 4K Camera
If you’re new to the world of photography, or are looking for an occasional use camera, it’s understandable that you might not want to spend a whole lot of money on one. Luckily, Sony have created the DSCWX350 to prove that you don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars to get a high quality compact camera.
Now, we said compact, and we meant it. This camera measures less than 4” across and is a little over 2” tall. It’s absolutely tiny, and a result, any space for dials or buttons comes at a premium. As such, most of the controls are mounted on the top of the camera, with most of the the back face giving way to a 3” LCD screen. The controls on the back face are a little on the small side, and as a result can be difficult to hit in those frantic moments, but are well spaced enough that you’ll never accidently hit the wrong one. The screen does have some glare when used in very bright environments, although as a matte coating could distort your display, that’s understandable.
Pictures are taken at a resolution of up to 18.2 megapixels and look vibrant, crisp and true to life. Additionally, the CMOS image sensor allows you to take fantastic photos even in low light conditions, without resorting to mood killing flash photography. Also included is a sweep panorama mode, which allows you to take a very wide shot or even spin full circle and have the camera stitch together multiple images into one panoramic shot. This works by using the camera’s own burst mode, which takes ten frames per second at maximum quality and can be used on its own, too.
A lot of people hate optical zoom, but the truth is that it’s a useful tool to have in a variety of situations. This camera has up to 20x optical zoom, plus 40x digital zoom, but it’s considerably higher quality than a lot of others for one reason: usually, the more digital zoom you have, the worse your image looks in the end, but this camera uses its processor to compare patterns and reduce noise and distortion, resulting in a clearer, more realistic photograph. Even better, it also uses its on-board technology to minimise camera shake, so would be ideal for taking long distance pictures from a vehicle.
The DSCWX350 offers quick and easy connectivity with mobile devices, too. Not only does it come with a WiFi access point, but it can be connected with one touch using NFC as well (assuming your phone or tablet has an NFC chip). You will have to download Sony’s PlayMemories app first, but after that, you can transfer images or even take pictures remotely. If you’re doing this, you won’t be able to change any images settings, but the good news is that the lock-on autofocus allows you to specify specific areas of an image to concentrate on, which ensures a clean image, even if the subject is moving.
The battery is charged via Micro USB cable and lasts for a pretty long time: around 230 minutes of recording or 470 images per charge. Like the LUMIX DMC-G7KS, it has a maximum recording time of 29 minutes and offers 30 fps at 4K resolution, 60 fps at 1080p. Considering this camera costs significantly less, that’s an attractive proposition assuming you don’t care about switching lenses. You can also connect your camera directly to a TV or external monitor using its HDMI port, which is a nice touch and even allows you to use this as a security camera, if that’s your thing.
As expected, there are a range of built in filters to choose from, including: red eye reduction, high contrast and watercolour, as well as a grid display which can be toggled on or off. It also has a specific mode which can automatically take a picture when it detects a smile. Aww.
For less than $200, the Sony DSCWX350 is a steal. It comes packed with useful features and functions, and honestly, some of them, like the advanced digital zoom correction are rare, even in more expensive models. 18.2 megapixels is an impressive number when you take into account the low price, and the camera itself is both portable and attractive enough to take just about anywhere. This camera is fantastic for both new photographers and seasoned pros alike, and if you’re on a tight budget, we can’t recommend it enough.
- High quality images
- Long battery life
- Intelligent digital zoom compensation
- Panoramic mode works great
- 29 minutes max recording time
- Rear LCD has some glare in bright settings
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX400V – Most User Friendly Camera
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX400V – Most User Friendly Camera
With a larger price tag comes a larger range of features, and Sony’s Cyber-Shot DSC-HX400V doesn’t disappoint. There are a few minor issues which we’ll mention a little further down, but it turns out that this is a camera which is really focused on producing gorgeous, high quality images with minimal effort from the photographer.
First things first, this is the camera with the largest number of megapixels on our list. Now, this is no magic specification and image quality relies on other factors too, but it really helps. Images come out looking vibrant and true to life, with a nice amount of saturation, and the Bionz X processor ensures that focusing and shooting are quick and fluid.
The DSC-HX400V comes with a wide range of features like lock on autofocus, multi-area noise reduction and a selection of filters, but unfortunately it is incapable of shooting raw. This will be a disappointment to a lot of veteran photographers, we know, but it does help ensure that a novice always has a decent image one shutter click away. Still, this does prevent the camera from taking the best photo possible at times: if you’re trying to take a photo of the clouds, for example, you might find them a little overexposed with detail lost as a result.
This camera uses the same menu that Sony has used for all their other cameras, which is great news if you’re upgrading. Even if you’re not though, it’s okay since the menu is simple and easy to navigate using the directional buttons on the back of the camera. All of the main functions are roughly where you’d expect them to be and there are a sensible number of submenus: enough to provide customisation, but not enough to get lost in.
Whilst the DSCWX350 had a pretty average level of zoom, the DSC-HX400V goes all out. It boasts 50x optical zoom and all the way up to 100x digital. Have you seen those videos online where people point their cameras at the moon and zoom all the way in? With 100x digital zoom you can take a crisp, clear photo of the craters on the moon; if that’s not a selling point, we don’t know what is. Fans of astronomy or nature photography will be glad that your pictures can be tagged with GPS data which allows you to pinpoint the location the photo was taken. This means that if you find a great spot for night sky shots or a gorgeous overlook, you can find it again easily (just be sure to remove the GPS metadata before you publish your pictures online, or the next time you go, it might be a tourist attraction).
The camera itself is 5.1” wide, 4.1” tall and 3.7” deep, so it’s a little on the chunky side, but is by no means cumbersome or awkward to carry. It weighs just 1.5 pounds and gives you the ability to change the stock lens for something a little more specialised, should you so choose. The casing has a textured coating which helps to improve your grip on it during those panicked moments. The rear face has a 3” LCD screen, which is pretty standard, but this one pops out and can be tilted up or down to allow for different shooting positions.
The battery has a decent life: up to 300 shots or around 150 minutes of recording. Ideally, we’d have liked it to match the less expensive DSCWX350, but the upgraded processor requires more power, so we think that’s a fair compromise. We liked that you can use the camera whilst charging – since the input is only a 5V Micro USB, this allows you to use a powerbank or long cable attached to your car’s cigarette lighter to shoot indefinitely.
You can also connect your phone or tablet directly with either WiFi or NFC, which allows you to remotely control your camera using the PlayMemories app, and there’s the option to connect directly to a monitor via the HDMI port on the camera itself too, which is nice.
We’re aware that the lack of raw shooting will function as a deterrent to seasoned photographers, but honestly, this model feels like it’s designed to be a novice’s first “real” camera, and when you take that into account, it’s actually pretty good. The myriad of features are user friendly and simple to use – just point and click, and you have so many options that you never feel constrained or resigned to hours of processing in post. Award winning? Maybe not, but it’ll certainly show you the ropes.
- Very simple to use
- More than ample amount of zoom
- Interchangeable lens
- GPS tagged images allow you to easily find the spot the photo was taken
- Cannot shoot raw footage
- Battery life could be longer
Canon EOS Rebel T6 – Best Value 4K Camera
Canon EOS Rebel T6 – Best Value 4K Camera
All too often, you’ll find yourself buying a camera and having to pay extra money for all of the little accessories like SD cards, a carry case, a tripod or UV filters. Thankfully, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 is not only a great camera, but it comes with all of these things included, so you can rest easy knowing you’ll never be caught short without a crucial piece of equipment.
This model allows you to take pictures with resolutions up to 18 megapixels and unlike the Cyber-Shot DSC-HX400V, it has no problems shooting raw footage. In fact, we found that raw images taken with this camera were actually more suited to someone who likes to process their photos in post, since the contrast is a touch lower than expected and as such allows for a greater range of enhancements.
We were surprised by the standard of photo quality provided by this camera, especially when you take into account that it’s pretty small – just 5” wide and 4” tall and weighing just over one pound. This qualifies it as a compact camera, albeit one with the power and potential of a larger model. The casing has a textured coating to help reduce the chance of you dropping it, which is great.
The rear screen is a 3” LCD which unfortunately isn’t a touch screen; rather it relies upon physical buttons to navigate through the menus. There is a quick menu button that we found to be very useful – it allows you to store modes or filters that you use often for speedy access and will be invaluable if you know the kind of environment you’ll be shooting in ahead of time since you can tailor your modes to your surroundings.
You can use WiFi to connect this camera to a mobile phone or tablet, which is handy and frankly, to be expected from a camera in this price range, but it also includes NFC support for easier connections. You can also plug directly into your PC or TV using the USB or HDMI ports on the camera itself. A slight issue is that it uses an AC adaptor to charge directly from the mains, so charging it on the go is a bit of a nuisance and you’ll need either a plug socket or cigarette lighter adaptor in order to recharge the battery at all. The silver lining of the higher power requirement is that the battery lasts for around 500 shots on a single charge, though, so that offsets the inconvenience a bit.
There are a couple of really interesting features on this camera, the first of which is a dust deletion filter. The processor runs a low pass filter over the image and marks the location of any dust it finds, before using the pixels around the dust to compensate for the colour loss and any distortion that may occur. The second is photo erase protection: you can mark photos either individually or in groups that absolutely cannot be deleted until you unmark them. If you have a fear of accidentally deleting important photographs, this will give you some peace of mind and once you’ve backed the images up, you can always unmark them to save space on your SD card.
Now, there are a couple of issues we’d have liked to see improved upon. The viewfinder shows just 95% of the actual image when you push the shutter button. It may sound strange to say “just 95%”, but if there’s photographic data that we can’t see, it’s difficult to be sure of what exactly will be in the final image. If this bothers you, you could always just crop the resulting photo to the viewfinder, so it’s not a deal breaker but still, it’s something to be aware of.
The only other real problem with this camera is its burst mode. Realistically, you’d expect a burst mode to snap between 10 and 60 images a second, which is why it’s so disappointing that this camera only takes 3. It’s better than no burst mode, but only just, and it seems a shame that Canon have neglected this crucial feature in an otherwise fantastic camera.
We really like that this camera is a one-time cost. It comes with just about every accessory you’ll ever need, even additional lenses to accommodate various different photographic needs, so it really is great value for money. The pictures it produces are high quality and offer a lot of room for enhancements or post-processing work, which in turn means you have more freedom in how your image looks, and although its burst mode is lacking, we feel that this camera is good enough to warrant a place on this list thanks to its small size and high performance.
- Comes with every accessory you'll ever need
- Dust deletion filter
- High image quality
- Raw footage provides lots of room for post-processing
- 95% viewfinder
- Burst mode is too slow to be useful
Best 4K Camera - Buyer's Guide
Cameras are complicated machines to buy. There are a million and one different specifications and not all of them are really relevant to how good the pictures you’ll produce will look. To help clear things up, we’ve taken some time to write about some of the most important things you should look for before you spend your hard earned money.
The majority of cameras you’ll encounter when shopping around fit into two types. The first is called a “compact” or “point and shoot” camera. These are small, lightweight cameras with a fixed lens that can’t be replaced and as such, they’re usually less expensive than their more advanced counterparts. It’s absolutely possible to take great photographs with a compact camera, however it’s important to consider whether you might want to try a new lens down the road. If so, you might want to try the second type: DSLR.
DSLR cameras are the ones you think of when you picture a professional photographer. They’re often bigger and heavier (not to mention more expensive), but generally offer more flexibility in terms of features like optical zoom, longer battery life and on-board image processing. They also allow you to fit different lenses and often have a higher image quality due to their larger sensors.
You’ll need to consider how you plan to use your camera in order to decide which type is best for you, since they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to take your time and weigh up the various features of the different cameras you like though, since it could save you a lot of money.
The first decision any photographer has to make is between manual and automatic focusing. Automatic tends to produce decent photographs, but manual offers more control over the final image, whilst being a little trickier to get right. As with all skills, it’ll take some practise.
Another crucial element is your chosen ISO speed. This is the speed at which your sensor picks up external light, faster speeds mean more light but also more distortion and a grainier image, whereas slower speeds mean darker pictures with less grain. Until you get more comfortable with your camera, you’ll probably want to leave this at its default setting.
When we turn off all of the camera’s automatic features, this is called shooting “raw”. This might sound counterintuitive, but there are a number of situations when it’s actually best to do this. When you’re mixing lots of shadowed and bright areas or when there’s the chance that your highlights will be overexposed, you’re going to want to shoot raw. This will allow you easier processing later on and it’s a lot easier to fix a raw image than an image which is different from how you imagined it.
Obviously, there’s a lot of important settings to look up, so we’ve found a handy guide which we think you’ll find informative here.
So you already know that cameras come in different sizes and weights, but you should also consider the conditions you plan to shoot in. If you plan to use the camera for hours at a time, you might want to invest in a tripod, since heavy cameras can cause muscle strain when used for too long. You should also consider battery life – prolonged use with drain the battery pretty quickly, so make sure you can charge whilst shooting, or spend a little on a second battery.
We also recommend considering how you’re going to store your photos. Most cameras will have a slot for a USB stick or an SD card, and you’ll want to ensure that your storage is large enough. 4K images can be around 8MB in size, so your 1GB flash drive will only hold 128 images. If you’re interested in uploading images to cloud storage, you’ll want a camera with WiFi too, which can help you reduce your on-board storage and provide you with some peace of mind to boot.
Optical VS Digital Zoom
There are two kinds of zoom a camera can have: optical or digital. Optical zoom works by adjusting the focal length of a lens, this is what is happening when you see a camera’s lens come forward. Optical zoom provides higher image quality than digital zoom since it actually changes the way the camera processes the image.
Digital zoom is less important: it works by enlarging the pixels that your camera sees. This means that whilst your image does appear to be larger, the more zoom you give it, the more distorting the image becomes. This makes digital zoom impractical at high levels, and compounds the difficulty of processing your photos in post.
Try not to pay too much attention to the high digital zoom numbers that premium cameras will attempt to sell you on. The only zoom you should care about on is the optical kind.
Well, there you have it, five incredible cameras, any of which would be a great addition to any photographer’s toolkit. Whilst all of these products have their own strengths and weaknesses, we’ve come to the decision that our favourite is the Sony DSCWX350. It’s inexpensive and produces crisp, high quality images whilst being small enough to take just about anywhere.
We hope that this article has been helpful to you, and with some luck, you’ve found a camera that you like. If so, we’d like to encourage you to leave a comment or a rating – it’d really help us out and we appreciate every single one. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and remember us when you become the next Ansel Adams. Happy snapping!