Buying Guide: Cheapest 4K Cameras in 2016


Cheap 4k Camera Introduction

With the popularity of home videos and new 4k capable playback devices being released – from TV’s, Smartphones and Home Entertainment systems – it’s only natural that the market for affordable 4K, or Ultra HD cameras is also expanding.

But with 4k cameras being relatively new to the market, prices are still high compared to similar models which can’t shoot in 4k. We review the current market to find if it’s possible to buy an affordable 4K camera for $500-$1,000.

As new models are released – we’ll update our list so its always up to date.

 Sony FDRAX33Panasonic G7Sony FDR-X1000V/W
Sony 4K HD Video Recording FDRAX33 Handycam Review100-panasonic_lumix_dmc-g7ks_dslm_mirrorless_4k_camera_review100_sony_fdr-x1000v-w_4k_action_cam_review
Our Rating4.4 Stars (4.4 / 5)4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)4.4 Stars (4.4 / 5)
FormfactorCamcorderMirrorlessAction Camera
Video
3840x2160p/30 fps (100 Mbps)3840 × 2160p/30 fps (100 Mbps)3840 x 2160p/30 fps (100 Mbps)
Microphone
Built-in 5.1 mic, Optional ExternalBuilt-in stereo mic, Optional ExternalBuilt-in stereo mic

Best 4K Mirrorless Camera

sony_alpha_a6300_mirrorless_digital_camera_with_16-50mm_lensSony’s Alpha a6300 was only released in March 2016 but has already received DP Reviews Gold award and reached #1 Best Seller status on Amazon.

What makes this one of the best 4k camera’s on the market? For starters there’s the world’s fastest Auto Focus speed (0.05 sec.) so you won’t ever miss that perfect shot again.

Forget about external 4k the a6300 support for internal UHD 4K30 & 1080p120 functionality. The a6300 uses the full 6K width of its sensor to sample video, which is then downsized to 4K. The quality is excellent, as are the supporting tools. The 1080p footage isn’t particularly special but the 100mbps 4K footage in XAVC S is very good.

4K Daylight Sample Recording

With its mirrorless chassis owners have the option to choose whichever lens suits their still photography preference.

Its Weather-Sealed Magnesium Alloy Body is a nice improvement over the previous a6000 chassis.

Our only complaint is the slightly ‘clunky’ user interface with no touchscreen display – but considering the 4k recording quality, auto focus capability and live feed bursts at 8 fps that’s something we can live with quite easily.


Second Choice – 4K Mirrorless

panasonic_lumix_dmc-g7ks_dslm_mirrorless_4k_camera_review

If you are looking to do buy one of the best 4k cameras, we highly recommend the ¾ inch chassis Panasonic’s. Not only are their models capable of producing brilliant quality videos, they are also very affordable compared to the top range Sony units.

Panasonic have very high ratings across the buyer review sites like Digital Photography Review and Amazon. With their highly rated G7 model priced in the $500 range – they make a great family video camera without breaking the bank.

Panasonic’s G7 model is a popular micro-four-thirds still camera design, offers solid still-photography as well as 4K and HD video options.

Without question, the G7’s stand-out feature is its video capability. It’s not just that it offers 4K but that it also offers a good range of support tools and features to make it easier to shoot video (even if you stick to 1080p). In addition to focus peaking and zebra, the G7 also offers a flip-out screen with on-screen touch controls (to avoid the sound and vibration of using the camera’s control dials), and a mic socket for recording better quality sound.

This footage is taken from a crop of the sensor, just as happens with the more expensive Panasonic GH4.

The G7 offers full exposure control during video shooting, though Auto ISO is only available in P,A and S modes, meaning you can’t set aperture and shutter speed then let the camera maintain brightness. It can autofocus during recording and is generally pretty good at not wobbling too much, and destroying the resultant footage, but you still tend to get better results with manually-focused footage.



Best 4K Action Cam

sony_fdr-x1000v-w_4k_action_cam_review

If you’re looking for an affordable 4k action cam, the Sony FDR-X1000V/W 4K Action Cam narrowly pips the GoPro Hero4, and it’s usually $100 cheaper.

  • Professional 4K (3840 x 2160) video recording with up to 240p HD / 120p HD
  • SteadyShot(TM) image stabilization works from bikes to aerial shot and more
  • Control up to 5 Action Cam via phone1 or LiveView(TM) Remote (Sold Separately)
  • Splash proof body with universal tripod mount
  • Built-in stereo mic for quality sound with wind noise reduction
  • Automatically creates highlight video in MP4 from multiple clips
  • Loop recording prevents running out of memory card
  • Live stream your video via Ustream
  • Advanced manual control allows flexibility in movie expression
  • Ultra wide up to 170° pro quality f/2.8 bright ZEISS® lens

Sony FDR-X1000V/W Sample video

We rate the Sony X1000V higher than the GoPro Hero4 for a few reasons.

  • No time limit on 4K shooting and no issues overheating causing the device to shutdown.
  • Reviews stating better image quality (although, maybe only marginally)
  • Sony have also developed a better menu system to that of the GoPro Hero.

Only drawbacks for the Sony.

  • Biggest issue is battery life at maybe 25 minutes of recording with a fully charged battery. On the plus side the Sony will accept a USB battery pack for extended run time, but must be able to supply 1.5 amps minimum.
  • Also the Sony has a built in tripod socket, as does the UW housing.

Best 4K Camcorder

Sony 4K HD Video Recording FDRAX33 Handycam Review

Sony’s FDRAX33 camcorder is really a video camera with photography as an add-on. For the best still image performance, it would be better to buy one of Panasonic’s highly rated G7 series.

  • Capture 4k/24p/30p video that far exceeds HD resolution
  • ZEISS® lens w/ Balanced Optical SteadyShotTM image stabilization
  • Direct Pixel Read Out for smooth edges and color gradation
  • Versatile shooting w/ XAVC STM3, AVCHD® and MP4 codecs
  • 0.27″ EVF (201K) and touch screen 3″ Xtra Fine LCDTM (921K)
  • 5.1ch surround sound mic w/ manual audio controls
  • Automatically creates highlight7 video in MP4 from multiple clips
  • Connect, control, backup and share wirelessly with NFC2/Wi-Fi®

Sony FDRAX33 Sample 4K Video

Sony FDRAX33 Sample 1080p Video

Build construction and design is beautiful and as usual for Sony very high quality. It’s pretty heavy for its size, but for the footage is phenomenal.

If you’re used to older HDV cams, it won’t bother you. The 3.0 LCD is beautiful, the OLED viewfinder is gorgeous, it has every possible manual control you could want (all of them being independent).

The Wi-Fi function is pretty handy. Either stream direct from your Handycam whilst recording. Otherwise transfer files via Wi-Fi to your laptop and upload to your storage facility. It’s very easy to shoot with Sony’s well designed auto mode.

I also really like that besides the touch screen LCD, it has MANY physical buttons for manual controls!

Sony hasn’t included an AC power adapter to bring the price down. Charging with the FDRAX33 base package needs to be done with the battery in your Handycam. Look for the battery pack upgrade model if this will be an issue for you.

If you want to record at 4K 100Mbps you’ll need to buy a UHS-I U3 or higher SDXC memory card. Shooting at 4K 60Mbps requires a Class 10 or higher SDXC memory card.


Best 4K Smartphone

apple iphone 6s

Apple’s powerful duo of iPhone 6S Plus and 6S phones represent the latest in the company’s iPhone product line. Holding position as Apple’s ‘flagship’ phones both models include 4K ultra HD video recording in addition to a 12 MP photo sensor.

Of course it’s also expected the new iPhone 7 will be released in late 2016, so currently the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus pairing are the only IOS platform smartphones with native 4K video shooting capability.

Check out the beautiful 4K video shot on an Apple iPhone 6S to see the video quality possible via a phone.

Furthermore, they can record 4K UHD video at 30 frames per second, 1080p video recording at 120 fps and 720p HD video recording at an impressive 240 fps. It’s also worth mentioning that these smartphones have already been by videographers to film documentaries in 4K UHD. So it’s safe to say they’ve proven their place as a reliable 4K recording device.


How To Choose an Affordable 4K Camera

When planning an upgrade to a 4K capable camera, the first question to ask yourself is: “Will you also need to take still images?”. If the answer is ‘yes’, go for a mirrorless or DSLR camera. If you only intend to record video, with occasional still photography – a 4K camcorder will be your ideal (and cheapest) option.

In our guide of the cheapest 4K cameras – we break the list of available devices into three categories – Camcorders, Mirrorless and Action cams.

If you want to skip our analysis, and get straight to which model is best for your 4k video camera – check out each category in the table.

Mirrorless cameras are one of the cheapest ways to buy a 4K camera. Generally priced between $500 – $1500, they take high quality pictures and 4K video recording is excellent. Camcorders are priced in the $1500 range, and still offer one of the cheapest ways to get a 4K camera – albeit with limited still image capability. We recommend mirrorless cameras unless you are a keen photographer. The fact they don’t include a viewfinder or interchangeable lens won’t affect most buyers. Our pick for the best affordable action cam, the Sony FDR-X1000V/W 4K  is another option under $500, but the battery life shooting 4K is limited in comparison to the others.

A DSLR allows a camera with interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder (entry-level mirrorless cameras don’t have viewfinders) and, at the other end of the scale, almost all professional sports, press and wildlife photographers choose full-frame DSLRs over every other camera type. We haven’t included any DSLR cameras in out top list due to the cost, even the cheapest versions are $2,000.