For nearly a century, cameras had a mirror to send light up to a viewfinder, but with the advent of digital, that mirror has become largely unnecessary. Camera makers smartly realized this and took the mirror out, saving room and enabling newer, more flexible lens mount designs starting a wave of mirrorless cameras.
With multiple companies competing fiercely over the mirrorless market, there's now a wide variety of affordable options for a filmmaker who wants to get their hands on a camera that can produce truly stellar images, affordably.
Any mirrorless camera you invest in is also an investment in a platform, since you'll end up purchasing lenses to go with it that might not move over to another camera maker. The most popular sensor sizes at the moment for mirrorless are APS-C and full-frame.
For our $2,000 budget limit, we're going to be looking at cameras that produce great images straight out of the camera but also have flexibility in post, perform well handheld, and support the newest image capture formats.
Best RAW: Sigma fp
The fp is the smallest and lightest full-frame mirrorless camera on the market yet packs in 4K UHD video, RAW capabilities, and autofocus features.
- 4K UHD
- ProRes RAW, BRAW, CinemaDNG
- Face/Eye Detection AF
- Compact Size
- No Headphone Jack
- Single Card Slot
- Only Electronic Stabilization
While it's marketed as being a still and video camera, it falls distinctly more on the video side of things than the rest of the cameras at this price point, all of which are capable still shooters first that also happen to record beautiful video. The fp is definitely a video camera that also shoots stills, but its still performance lags a bit behind the competition.
Its video performance, however, is stellar, and by sacrificing a bit of design and features that benefit the stills market, it can offer features no other mirrorless camera it competes against can reach.
It offers a full-frame sensor using the open L-mount shared with Leica and Panasonic. The use of the L-mount means that there is already an array of lenses available and a commitment from multiple vendors to a robust array of lenses in the future. Sigma itself obviously is no slouch in the lens department and is rolling out a great variety of options.
It also offers internal RAW recording, though limited to CinemaDNG. If you really want a solid workflow it does 12-bit RAW via either ProRes Raw to an Atomos Ninja V or Blackmagic RAW to the Blackmagic Video Assist. That 12-bit depth video is going to give you the most room in color grading manipulation of anything we look at today, and both of those formats offer better flexibility for post workflows. But you can always record straight to CinemaDNG internally in a pinch.
It also offers a great director's viewfinder mode that allows you to preview the precise field of view of your lens when working with different sensors. While phone applications like Artemis are wonderful, using the lens on your phone doesn't always match the right field of view as precisely as you want to really board out your scene. It really is a beautiful thing to mount up your actual shooting lenses on a camera the size of a deck of cards and block out your coverage.
Hopefully, in the future, this will come with more robust metadata so you can easily record what lens and lens settings were used, so if you take it on a scout you can use it to create photo boards with rich data. Right now that data doesn't get saved, and without that and framelines getting saved to the file, the feature is less useful than it could be.
The images are also quite impressive with a very high usable dynamic range, solid low-light production, and good color response. This is a camera that is aiming to be not just a good C-camera, but a good A or B camera for a lot of productions. It's new enough we haven't seen many yet, but we absolutely will see some impressive projects shot on this camera soon. That it manages to do all that in a package that weighs 422 grams and is only 4.43 x 2.75 x 1.78" is quite impressive.
There are a few limits to the camera. Image stabilization is electronic, instead of physical, which means there is some crop on the sensor, and it's not as aggressive as physical sensor stabilization. If you aren't doing a lot of handheld, that isn't going to be something you notice. It uses an SD card internally instead of the newer, faster CFexpress card format that is beginning to take off. It still manages to shoot a host of internal formats, and you probably already own a bunch of SD cards, so it's not terrible, but we do wish it were more forward-facing, and we suspect if there is an fp 2 in the future it will move to CFexpress.
Since you can also shoot straight to an SSD via USB-C, the internal SD card might not even matter at all. You'll also not be blown away by the slow-motion settings, only going to 30fps in 4K and 120fps in 1080p. If you do a lot of action sports and want higher frame rates, there are other options to consider below.
Table of Contents
- Best RAW: Sigma fp
- How We Picked
- Best Autofocus: Sony a7 III
- Best MFT: Panasonic GH5s
- Best Color: Fujifilm X-T4
- Best Budget: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K/4K
- Best Under the Radar: Panasonic S5
- Final Thoughts
How We Picked
We've been lucky enough to consistently get our hands on and shoot most of the major mirrorless cameras over the last decade. In addition to our hands-on experience, we also looked at the specs, read reviews, and viewed footage generated from various cameras.
We weighted first-person reviews, both from professional reviewers and from typical users sharing their thoughts, to keep abreast of what camera will make most users happy at this price point.
Best Autofocus: Sony a7 III
Built around a 24.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processing engine, the a7 III performs exceptionally well in low light with fast autofocus.
- 15-stop Dynamic Range
- 8-bit video
The first major competitor you have to consider is the Sony a7 III. At this price point, it will probably be the hybrid camera you hear most about. It's an affordable and very capable entry in the Sony Alpha lineup of cameras, and it delivers a full-frame sensor, amazing low-light reproduction, IBIS, and 4K resolution without much compromise.
The caveat is that it only records 8-bit both internally or externally. It doesn't support H.265, and its slow-motion is limited to 1080p, where it goes only to 120fps, and 4K tops out at 30p.
Considering the competition, the trade-off of getting a full-frame sensor may not feel worth it.
Best MFT: Panasonic GH5s
The LUMIX GH5s mirrorless camera is one of the best MFT cameras on the market equipped with autofocus. With high resolution recording and beefy bit-depth, the image packs a punch.
- 4K DCI at 60p
- Unlimited Recording
- Anamorphic Modes
- Dual Native ISO
- No RAW video
The other camera worth serious consideration is the Panasonic GH5s. Released in 2018, it's the more video focused sibling to the original GH5, though the GH line has been popular with filmmakers for many revisions even without the filmmaker specific benefits of the S mode.
Built around the popular MFT mount, lens choices are wide and flexible. It shoots up to 60fps in 4K and 240fps in 1080p and records 4:2:2 10-bit internally. It supports H.265 for smaller file sizes of equivalent quality.
It really packs a punch. However, there may be a replacement coming. There have been rumors of a GH6, and it's clear that Panasonic is putting more of their energy into the full-frame, and pricier, S series at the moment.
Best Color: Fujifilm X-T4
Combing outstanding video capabilities and stills with improved workflow and functionality features, the compact mirrorless camera has an APS-C-format 26.1MP X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor and a wide native sensitivity range of ISO 160-12800 for better low-light performance.
- 4K DCI or UHD
- External 10-bit 4:2:2
- Picture Profiles
- Lacks RAW video
The Fujifilm X-T4 probably came as close as any other camera to earning the top spot. Combining stellar image quality straight out of the camera with great flexibility in post, a wide array of amazing lenses including the cinema targeted MK primes, and great in-camera image stabilization, the X-T4 is a strong choice at this price point.
In the end, it's the lack of robust RAW video options that is disappointing. RAW is just too useful to too many filmmakers to live without it, even at this price point. If you don't feel that RAW is that important to you, give the X-T4 a serious look.
Who knows, maybe Atomos is working on adding ProRes RAW to the camera as an external recording option.
Best Budget: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K/4K
With a Super 35 HDR image sensor the Pocket Cinema Camera can record 6K video at up to 50 fps or 6K (2.4:1) video at 60 fps.
- 6K Resolution
- Dual Native ISO
- 5" Touchscreen Display
- Battery Life
- Limited Mounts
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera line. Built around the same MFT mount as the GH5s, it brought RAW recording to the masses via the Blackmagic RAW. With innovative and much-copied features such as shooting straight to SSD, and having real audio connectors (a rarity at this price point), it has been a huge, massive hit.
On top of its early success, Blackmagic has continued to roll out firmware updates that have brought higher slow-motion speeds and other features that have satisfied users.
Where it suffers, however, is in some features that filmmakers now depend on. The lack of image stabilization is a frustration for a camera that will be handheld so often. It's physically very wide, making rigging difficult on some of the most common stabilizers. There's no autofocus, which is key for a lot of creators at this price point. And its battery life is truly abysmal. It basically requires working with an external battery system, often hanging off the tripod.
Best Under the Radar: Panasonic S5
This hybrid mirrorless camera features a full frame image sensor, 10-bit 4K 60p recording, 14 stops of V-Log, and more–all in a compact, incredibly lightweight body.
- 5.9K, 4K 60p
- Internal 4:2:2 10-bit
- ProRes RAW
- Internal 4:2:2 10-bit
- AF Performance
The Panasonic S5 also sneaks in right under our price limit. With a full-frame sensor, up to 6.5 stops of image stabilization, decent autofocus, and dynamite image quality, the S5 is hard to beat. Plus, a recent firmware update added 5.9K ProRes RAW at 30p, 4K at 60p, and 3.5K anamorphic at 50p. It's become one of our favorite under-the-radar cameras of the year. So much so, we'd suggest buying it over the S1H, though where the S1H shines is in post, where it provides key metadata to control the RAW image in non-linear editors.
The one drawback with the S series cameras, in general, is the L-mount. If you've invested in them you essentially can't adapt an L-mount lens to another camera body, as in taking an L-mount lens and putting it on a Canon RF or Sony E-mount body. You're essentially stuck using L-mount cameras, which does include Sigma, Panasonic, and Leica cameras. On the flip side, you can easily adapt PL, EF, and other lens mounts to the L-mount body.
This is a highly competitive market at this price point. Maybe the most fiercely contested playing field in cinema right now. The Panasonic S5, the Sigma fp, the Sony a7 III, the Blackmagic cameras, and the Fujifilm X-T4 all have strengths that can make them the right camera for you.
You certainly won't regret purchasing any of them.