Investing in a 4K camera means you can create amazingly high-quality videos, and consumer interest in 4K is steadily increasing as more manufacturers develop the technology to produce these cameras. Since the tech for this type of camera is newer than regular digital cameras and camcorders, you will not find an affordable 4K camera that fully meets the performance of a top of the line 4k camera and is considered an off-brand. Our brand pick is the Sony FDR-AX100/B, which is one of the best 4K DSLR options on the market right now. However, despite the limited market our team managed to find another, cheaper alternative: the Panasonic HC-VX981K. This is one of the least expensive 4k camcorder models that still maintains all the marks of quality we look for, so you can save money and make a smart purchase.
The Sony FDR-AX100/B 4K is one of the best 4K camera models we tested. It shoots video in a range of resolutions all the way up to rich 4K ultra high definition. Unlike other similar models it has a 120fps slow motion option to get those hilarious or dramatic popular slow mo shots. Lastly, it has an exceptionally large 1’’ image sensor for amazing low light filming. While you are getting a feature-rich device, it’s not going to be the cheapest 4k camera around. But if you want a big, high-resolution LCD touchscreen and a range of FPS shooting options, the Sony FDR-AX100/B 4K has it all.
For an affordable 4K camera that’s still from a quality brand, take a look at the Panasonic HC-VX981K 4K. Ease into the wonderful world of 4K without making your bank account cry. It offers many of the same features as the Sony FDR-AX100/B, but they have a few key differences. The Panasonic 4K camera has higher resolution stills, a longer focal length, and is lighter and smaller than the Sony 4K camera. However, it lacks slow motion abilities and has a smaller image sensor. These aren’t issues for people that don’t often shoot in serious darkness or spend a lot of time on action scenes.
The Sony 4K camera shoots UltraHD 4K video at 3840 x 2160p, at 30 fps or 24 fps for incredible detail and clarity.
The Panasonic 4K camera shoots UltraHD 4K video at the same resolution and fps options as the Sony camera.
The Sony 4K camcorder can take HD video at 1080p in 24, 30, or 60 fps. You can shoot in XAVC S, AVCHD, or MP4 codecs. XAVC S is a format created by Sony and is not used as much as some other formats, so you may have compatibility issues if your trusted editing applications don’t understand it. AVCHD is a little more widely used, while MP4 is compatible with most programs.
The Panasonic 4K camcorder can also take 1080p HD video at 60 or 24 fps. The codecs available are MP4, AVCHD, and iFrame. Though iFrame doesn’t offer as much detail as AVCHD, it simplifies video editing since you don’t have to convert the video into an intermediate format to edit it. If you like the iFrame option for quick lower-quality videos and don’t mind the lack of XAVC S, the Panasonic HC-VX981K will work just as well as the Sony 4K camcorder.
Pick out stills from your film shoots at 20MP resolution--photos that can be blown up to billboard size or 30 by 40 inch prints. The Sony 4K camera has slightly fewer megapixels than the Panasonic 4K, but it wasn’t significant enough for our team to notice a difference in still quality.
The Panasonic 4K camera takes 25.9MP resolution stills. If you want as many megapixels as you can get for large, high-definition prints and other displays, the extra 5.9MP the Panasonic can offer, combined with the low price, might be worth the investment.
The Sony 4K’s 1" back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS Sensor reduces noise in low-light environments. Larger sensors can capture more light, and the Sony 4K might be the best 4K camcorder for you if you want access to one of the largest sensors on the market.
The Panasonic 4K’s 18.91 Megapixel 1/2.3" MOS Sensor is also back-illuminated. A MOS sensor essentially the same as a CMOS sensor, so no worries there. If you don’t mind a more average sensor size, the Panasonic 4K is a great choice and helps make it one of the cheapest 4K video camera options.
The Sony 4K camcorder includes 12x optical zoom, 18k clear zoom in 4K and 24x clear zoom in HD, and 160x digital zoom. Clear zoom is a proprietary digital zoom technology unique to Sony, but it’s still digital zoom. Optical zoom generally produces higher quality images.
The Panasonic 4K camera has 20x optical zoom, 25x intelligent zoom in 4K and 40x in HD, and digital zoom in 60x and 1500x. If you’re looking for a higher optical zoom level for better image quality, you may prefer the Panasonic 4K camera.
The Sony 4K camera has wireless connectivity for 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. This is an excellent way to backup or share files on the go or for when you just don’t feel like digging through a pile of cables to find the right one to plug in.
The Panasonic 4K camera has the same wireless connectivity as the Sony 4K camera. 802.11n is a more advanced Wi-Fi technology that will allow for faster file sharing with other devices enabled for Wireless-N.
The Sony 4K camera has a 3.5’’ touchscreen made up of 931,000 pixels. The Sony’s screen is larger and has 470,200 more pixels than the Panasonic’s. If you value screen size and clarity for easier manipulation of menus and clips, you may prefer the Sony 4K camera, especially if you rely on the screen for shot composition.
The Panasonic 4K camera comes close to the Sony with a 3’’ touchscreen and 460,800 pixels. This is about half the number of pixels that the Sony 4K has, and might not quite seem like HD quality for the discerning eye. If you do most of your shot composition by feel, this might not bother you.
The Sony 4K camera achieves a 29 to 348mm focal length. This means the Sony 4K can capture landscapes as well as closeups very well.
The Panasonic 4K camera can reach a 30.8 to 626mm focal length. That’s a 278mm difference between the Sony’s and Panasonic’s maximum length.
The Sony 4k camera comes with standard audio input and output jacks, 1 Micro HDMI, 1 CV, 1 USB 2.0, and 1 Bravia Sync. The Bravia Sync is for HDMI cables that support “control for HDMI.” This means you can use the TV’s remote control to control the camera when they’re connected. The Sony 4K package comes with a power cord, micro HDMI cable, USB cable, and RMT-835 remote commander.
The Panasonic 4k camera has standard audio input and output jacks, 1 HDMI D (Micro), 1 AV, and 1 USB 2.0. Micro-HDMI is a smaller version of HDMI that won’t affect video display quality. If you really want the Bravia Sync function, you may prefer the Sony 4K camera. The Panasonic 4K package comes with an AC adaptor, DC cable, micro HDMI cable, and USB cable.
The Sony 4K camcorder can shoot slow motion video at 120 fps thanks to a BIONZ X image processor. The slow motion option can also produce a greater variety of still images within the same shot. Slo-mo will produce larger files as a tradeoff for the HD playback.
The Panasonic 4K camera does not have slow motion capabilities. It can shoot a maximum of 60 fps. If slow motion video is an absolute necessity, the Panasonic 4K may not satisfy you.
The Sony 4K camera is the larger option, measuring 3.5 x 3.3 x 8.8". If you have larger hands or find a heftier build reassuring, you might prefer the Sony 4K camera.
The Panasonic 4K camcorder measures 2.6 x 2.9 x 5.5", so it’s more compact than the Sony 4K camera. This is the better option for people looking for a compact option.
The Sony 4K camera weighs a little over 2 lbs with the battery.
The Panasonic 4K camera weighs about 1.5 lbs with the battery.