To help you find a great cheap 4K camera, we’ve tested 20 new and bestselling products. The result is a premium top pick and a great budget option, plus eight other products that offer excellent quality and value. Before we get into the real-world 4K camera reviews, let’s quickly cover what you should look for when buying yours. Here are the specs and features you need to know to buy your 4K camcorder. Knowing what to look for is half the battle, as any pro will tell you. And remember that right now, there’s no such thing as a truly budget 4K camera--any UHD camera worth having is an investment, but it’s worth it because of the amazing, future-proof videos you will be able to take.
Video Formats - Besides UHD resolution, most 4K camcorders offer additional video formats. Manufacturers like to describe these formats in different ways like offering “Full HD” and “HD,” but we’ve tried to simplify it by listing them by resolution. The main ones to know are 1080p, which is Full HD, and 720p, which is HD. Filming in these formats creates smaller files, which is convenient for getting high-quality video when 4K isn’t necessary. These HD formats also tend to have higher FPS options, ideal for slow-motion shots.
FPS - The frames per second show you how quickly a camera can record. You’ll see 120 FPS referenced for slow-motion video because it takes twice as many frames per second as the more standard 60 FPS that many cameras use. This 120 FPS rate provides more frames (meaning more detail) when the video is slowed down. More FPS is not necessarily better. 30 FPS is fine for most videos, especially when you don’t plan to slow it down, but you may want higher FPS if you want to use your 4K camcorder for professional use.
Zoom - Some 4K camcorders don’t come with optical zoom, although due to their intense resolution they have better digital or edited zoom than most standard cameras. If you want to use your 4K camera for action-packed scenes, zoom is an unnecessary feature, but zoom comes in handy for filming athletic events, people, and nature scenes. These zoom capabilities are generally around 5x or 10x optical, but can range as high as 20x or more. Digital zoom is especially extensive in some 4K cameras, given their large resolution, going up to over 100x in some cases.
Touchscreen - Since 4K camcorders are some of the newest technology around, many of them come with touchscreens for easy editing and settings adjustments. Touchscreens offer a point of vulnerability, however, so if you want to use your 4K camcorder in rough conditions, you may prefer one that has a more limited screen or just push-button operation. Otherwise, touchscreens can be helpful for casual filmers and professionals, especially for using in-camera editing tools.
Dimensions - New technology can be bulky. If you’re looking for the smallest 4K camera, you can find several here that fit in the palm of your hand. However, small 4K cameras tend to lack the features of ones with larger designs, like optical zoom, night modes, and flexible manual settings. If you want to hook up your equipment, big 4K cameras are more likely to have extensive setup options for shoes, mics, and a flash. If you just want to pick up your camera and go, a smaller camera makes sense.
Weight - Weight is another issue to consider when choosing the best 4K camcorder for you. Many of the full-featured 4K cameras that made our list are around two pounds, but more basic 4K cameras can be even lighter. Unless you’re going to be using a dolly or tripod most of the time, it’s important to pick a camera that you can carry for long shots as well as short videos, and that is easy to store away between uses. The ultra-small 4K cameras are often built for GoPro-style adventures and offer maximum portability. You can even attach them to your helmet, bike, and other objects for a first-person experience.
There are enough specs listed for any camera on the market to make your eyes cross, but we hope we’ve simplified it a little in our list of basic specs to look for and details about each camera’s capabilities. These 4K cameras held up very well in our reviews and, most importantly, produced stunning footage. Some, like the Panasonic HC-X1000 4K, perform especially well at night, while others, like the GoPro HERO5 Black, are made for rough-and-tumble adventures in and out of the water. You’ll find that most are Wi-Fi enabled and have touchscreens, and they can all shoot a range of video resolutions at different FPS. Our lightest full-featured 4K camera pick is the Panasonic HC-WXF991K, coming in at an impressive one pound despite a powerful 20x optical zoom, among other features. Whether you want a 4K camera for professional use, hobby videos, or documenting a family vacation, the odds are good that you’ll find one that suits you in our list. Happy filming!