2020 Was the Year of the Camera. Let's Rank Them

cinema camera
Let's take a look back at some of the cameras released this year. 

Pandemic aside, 2020 saw a surprising number of new cameras. It reminded us a lot of 2015 when it seemed like every manufacturer was releasing some form of an APS-C full-HD camera until the Sony a7S II came along in October. Now, when it comes to hybrid technology, 4K UHD is standard among other desired specs including full-frame, internal 10-bit 4:2:2, Log or RAW recording, dual card slots, autofocus, and in-body image stabilization. Frame rates vary, but 4K 60p is what users want alongside options for 120p and even 240p. 

And it wasn't just the mirrorless market that made a splash. We saw Sony, Canon, RED, Panasonic, and Blackmagic release dedicated video cameras that grabbed our attention, too. So let's rank them. 

But before we do, let's make it clear. Any camera on this list we'd love to own. You really can't go wrong when it comes to image quality. Some may have a slight advantage in autofocus, and others will perform well in low light. Some will have a slightly better dynamic range. Others will take better stills. But we're talking nominal differences. Especially when it comes to mirrorless cameras. A lot of what is available will boil down to personal preference and the lenses you already own. 

That said, we didn't rank them based on specs alone but considered the innovation behind them.

Meaning, how far did the company leave their comfort zone, for better or for worse? Did they do something different? Did they play it safe? All these types of ideas played into how we ranked them. But most importantly, we considered them based on their video capabilities. We love our fellow still shooters, but we focus on the moving image at No Film School. So if you're into video, this is the site you should be reading. 

One last note, if it isn't obvious. This ranking isn't dogma. No ranking is absolute fact. Besides Michael Jordan being THE GOAT, everything else is up for discussion.

But you know this already. This list is just a cognitive (and fun) way to look back and see what cameras we liked the most, and more importantly, start a conversation with you, the reader, about what cameras caught your eye. 

Let's dive in. 

17. GoPro HERO9 Black 

When GoPro released the HERO9 Black, it was a little surprising since they recently released the HERO8 not that long ago. But if you hadn't updated your HERO7 yet, you were in luck, because the HERO9 added 5K video at 30/24fps, 4K UHD at 60p, and 2.7K at 120fps. The action-cam company has been known to make a splash with its new products, and the HERO9 did just that. 

What will the HEROX bring? Wait a couple of months to find out. 

16. DJI Pocket 2 

While it's not a traditional video camera, the DJI Pocket 2 packs a surprising punch. The upgraded sensor from the original Pocket is capable of recording 4K UHD video up to 60fps using its fixed 20mm F1.8 lens. The lens is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal to help keep your footage smooth. It also features an 8x zoom option in 64MP mode, or a 4x lossless zoom shooting 1080p.

Autofocus has been revamped to use DJI's Hybrid 2.0 AF, which locks onto subjects pretty fast. It also has four microphones for better audio and new sonic-fused features. Directional Audio will allow you to pick up sound from specific microphones. SoundTrack will adjust the audio based on where the camera is facing, and Audio Zoom will narrow the sound field as you zoom in. HDR video will be coming to the Pocket 2 in the future. 

What we like most about the device is that you can throw it in a waterproof case and take it underwater. At the price point, it beats potentially ruining a more expensive camera. 

15. Sony ZV-1

If you're a vlogger, several compact cameras came out this year, including the Panasonic G100, but the Sony ZV-1 edges out the pack because of its fast autofocus—a must when you're vlogging. The sensor uses 315 phase-detection focusing points across a full 65% of the screen area to quickly switch between subjects without hunting. When taking a selfie, the camera can switch focus with just a touch from your face to the background and back again, so sharp and accurate focus comes easy.

The compact camera is built around a 20.1MP sensor that can record 4K HD. Even more surprising is that it can record S-Log2 and S-Log3, all for under $800 bucks. 

14. Z Cam E2-M4

Last year Z Cam introduced two full-frame models, the E2-F6 and E2-F8 6K. Both are solid but do require a rig to get them going. This year, Z Cam kept it going with a revamp of its Micro Four Third sensor in the E2-M4. A variant of the original E2, it has many of the features video shooters desire and removes the multi-cam synchronization. Because of that, it costs about $500 less. 

The MFT sensor has 10/12-bit color support and the ability to record 4K DCI and UHD up to 160fps as well as HD up to 240fps. The camera can also record internal ZRAW via partial debayer or ProRes RAW externally when used with a compatible recorder. There's not much in terms of innovation, but it's nice that Z Cam was able to cut the cost by removing a feature few people may use. 

13. Fujifilm X-T4

Fujifilm doesn't get a lot of attention from videographers, but it should, especially if you're fond of APS-C. The X-T4 has great color science straight out of the camera, offers solid autofocus, and has respectable in-body image stabilization. The biggest improvement over the X-T3 is its eye detection and subject tracking. When it comes to video, it records 4K UHD at 4:2:0 10-bit and offers full HD at 240fps. Both All-I and GOP are supported, and depending on the resolution and frame rate, bit rates max out at 400Mbps internally. 

We're not sure if Fujifilm will ever jump into full-frame, but if they do, it's something to keep an eye on. The GFX 100 medium format camera has a lot of video features we like. 

12. Nikon Z7 IIZ6 II

Nikon didn't grab too many headlines with their new full-frame Z7 II and Z6 II mirrorless cameras. Much of the refresh went into a new processor which improved autofocus and added 4K 60p. The Z7 II is a slightly better option because it will give you a higher megapixel count, but both cameras can record external RAW, including ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW.

There are not many cameras at the moment that offer both RAW formats besides the Sigma fp, so hopefully we start seeing more manufacturers team up with Blackmagic to include BRAW. It's hard to beat a program like DaVinci Resolve when it's free. So for the RAW alone, we like where Nikon is headed. 

11. Leica SL2-S

Similar to the Nikon refresh, Leica cameras are designed more for the photographer in mind, but the SL2-S has some beefier video features. Built around a 24.6MP CMOS-BSI sensor with a pixel pitch of 5.94 μm, it oversamples 6072 x 4056 pixels to produce its 4K images. The camera can capture 4:2:2 10-bit videos with Leica’s L-LOG gamma profile at frame rates up to 60fps, but there are some caveats. Depending on the frame rate, the camera will either use the full width of the sensor or crop down to APS-C. It tops out at 4K DCI 30p 4:2:2 10-bit in full frame—which is still very nice.  

10. Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

With such a crazy year, it's almost hard to remember that the EOS-1D X Mark III was released in January. The lineup is the go-to for many professional still photographers, but its video capabilities saw some big upgrades with this model. At the heart of the camera is a brand-spanking-new DIGIC X image processor that produces finely detailed images, thanks to a low pass filter. 

What stood out on the video side was its 12-bit 5.5K RAW recording option. Not only could it record the format to a CFexpress card internally, but it could simultaneously record a high-quality 4K MP4 video on a second CFexpress card. We'll start seeing cameras offering 12-bit color depth next year, along with 4:4:4 chroma sampling. While pricey, the EOS-1D X Mark III is already on that track. 

9. Panasonic BGH1

Micro Four Thirds is still alive. And we'll probably still see a Panasonic GH6 be released soon. The now Netflix-approved BGH1 was a completely new step in this direction for Panasonic. The box-styled form factor is very RED-esque and ideal for gimbals, sliders, and drones since the body alone weighs under 2 lbs. Under the hood, it can record 4K DCI at 10-bit 4:2:2 and has a V-Log L option with a very respectable dynamic range. The camera also has an L-mount so it can be used with any Sigma, Panasonic, or Leica lens, which makes it a pretty great setup when pairing it with a Sigma cine lens. 

8. Kinefinity MAVO Edge 8K

It was only a matter of time when Kinefinity was going to go 8K. They did so with the release of the MAVO Edge. But what stood out to us most, was its ability to record 8K ProRes RAW internally. It's one of the few cameras on the market that can record the format without needing an Atomos Ninja V, and the only camera capable of doing it at 8K. It also doesn't skimp on other eyed specs including oversampling, dual native ISO, and dual SSD media slots. Don't care about RAW? It can record ProRes 4444 XQ as well. 

7. Sony FX6

Sony made a splash with the FX6, a dedicated video camera that's now part of a newly branded Cinema Line. It's the full-frame version of the FS5 MK II with a newer sensor, better autofocus, and external RAW. It offers several codecs, including RAW, RAW and XAVC-I, XAVC-I, and XAVC-L with options in either full-frame or Super 35.

The FX6 can record 4K DCI up to 60p and has Slow & Quick modes that offer up to 4K UHD at 120p. When shooting faster frame rates in full-frame like 4K 120p, there will be a slight 10% crop. S-Log3 and external ProRes RAW give the FX6 a nice boost for those seeking more latitude. Besides moving to a full-frame sensor, Sony played it safe on the spec side, as it's a stepping stone to the FX9. 

What's interesting is how the Cinema Line will play out in the future. It seems like users will be seeing a blend of Alpha and Cinema Line features in their cameras going forward. 

6. Panasonic S5

The S5 would have been ranked differently if it weren't for the recent firmware update that added 5.9K ProRes RAW as a recording option.

Built around a 24.2MP 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor, the S5 can record 4K 4:2:2 10-bit internal video at 30p/25p and 4K 4:2:0 10-bit at 4K 60p/50p. The one caveat is that there's a 30-minute time limit when recording in those formats. That's one key difference when comparing it to the S1H. However, when recording 4K 4:2:0 8-bit at 30p, Panasonic promises there isn't one. Outside of docs and wedding videographers, many of us would be okay with hitting the record button again after the time runs out. 

What we like about Panasonic is they're always updating their cameras with great new features via firmware. This dates back to the GH series, and we absolutely love it. They don't make you buy a box, but instead give you what you want in the form of a firmware update for free. If the S5 had better autofocus, the price point alone would make us choose it over the next camera. 

5 1/2 Canon EOS 300 Mark III 

Update: In a glaring omission, we forgot to mention the C300 Mark III as pointed out by one of our readers. How could we forget about this stellar camera? The C300 Mark III is a game-changer for Canon as it cements itself in using the Dual Gain Output (DGO) sensor found on the EOS C500 Mark II.

We went into detail explaining the benefits of DGO and how it relates to image quality. It's a welcomed addition to the C300 Mark III, a Super 35 4K camera that will become the workhorse for many documentaries and films alike. 

5. Sony a7S III

Alpha shooters had to wait five long years for the a7S II update, and many were quite pleased. Under the hood, Sony included larger photosites for even better low light performance, re-organized the menu, improved image quality, added 4K 120p, and gave us dual card slots. Speaking of the Type A CFexpress cards Sony adopted, they are fantastic, as they share the same slot as the SD card.

If this ranking were the Best Mirrorless Camera of 2020, the a7S III would be at the top. In terms of innovation, Sony played it fairly safe, and that's completely fine for many of us. 

4. Canon C70

When we saw the first image of the C70, our first reaction was, "What the—?" The Super 35 4K EOS C70 is part of Canon's Cinema EOS lineup that includes the likes of the C300 Mark IIIC500 Mark II, and C700 FF, but it takes on a completely different body type. It's essentially a larger mirrorless camera body with the internals of a dedicated cinema camera. 

Under the hood, it has a Dual Gain Output (DGO) sensor, a new DIGIC DV 7 image processor, and offers 16 stops of dynamic range. It can record 4K DCI, 4K UHD, 2K DCI, as well as HD with frame rates of up to 180p. There's also a Super 16 crop mode and it supports XF-AVC in both Intra and Long GOP with an MXF file format. Essentially everything a 4K shooter would want today, but it is missing something: RAW. Instead, the C70 has Canon Log 2, Log 3, PQ, and HLG recording options. If Canon included RAW, spec-wise, the camera would be a no-brainer. 

What's interesting about it is the footprint. The C70 is effectively a stepping stone into their Cinema EOS line, but if someone coming from the Canon EOS R line to the C70 doesn't like it, they may not even consider the C-series later on. It's a gamble. And at NFS, we do like it when companies take risks to see how users react. 

3. RED Komodo 

When we first heard the rumors that Komodo would cost $6,000, we jokingly wondered if that was just the pre-order price. Turns out, that wasn't the case. With Komodo, RED jumped into new territory developing its first autofocus system. That's not easy. They also went with RF mount, showing that the future of Canon cinema will tow its mirrorless line in the coming years. 

Under the hood, Komodo is a 6K Super 35 camera with a tasty global shutter, which should start coming to compact cameras soon. Why we like Komodo more than, say, the Sony a7S III for this particular ranking is what the future holds. The $6,000 price point puts REDCODE RAW into the hands of more filmmakers, which is a very good thing. But it also stirs up the competition. It will be interesting to see what ARRI, Sony, Canon, and Panasonic offer next in terms of cinema cameras.

If this helps drive the price point down not only on cinema cameras but keeps mirrorless camera prices down, everyone benefits. 

2. Canon EOS R5

The R5 was the most highly debated and talked-about camera of the year. Need we say more? 

1. Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 12K

The URSA Mini Pro 12K was very unexpected. Blackmagic is known for having a tight lip on their product developments, but we were pleasantly surprised when they took a big leap forward. Resolution aside, we are more intrigued by the sensor design of the URSA Mini Pro 12K. 

The 79MP sensor took three years to make, and it's not a Bayer sensor. Instead, it uses a brand new custom filter array that has an equal number of red, green, and blue photosites, as well as clear or white photosites. So instead of a Bayer 2x2 grid of Green-Red-Blue-Green (GRBG), it has a 6x6 grid. Meaning six green, six blue, and six red, plus 18 white. The sensor, in some ways, is like having two 6K sensors, on top of each other. It combines roughly 2K red, 2K blue, and 2K green pixels, which is necessary to create the color image, with roughly 6K white or clear pixels that let all the light through without going through a color filter.

The sensor also has a very small pixel pitch of 2.2. microns. One of the primary difficulties in increasing resolution is losing low light sensitivity. The smaller the photosite on the sensor, the more light you need to retain detail. By removing the color filter from half the pixels, Blackmagic can have a sensor that's still good at low light imaging. That is since some light is lost to the filters in the CFA; by having no filters on the clear pixels, less light is needed to generate a signal.

Sensor tech aside, we love that another company besides RED (and now Canon) is pushing resolution. While resolution isn't everything when it comes to an image, there are a ton of advantages to more pixels including reframing and oversampling. Plus, you're getting all of it for $10,000. 

What do you think of our rankings? Let us know in the comments.      

Still feeling nostalgic about 2020? Then check out the rest of our Year in Review 2020 coverage for more of our top picks, industry trends, and end-of-year takes.

Your Comment

9 Comments

Interesting list...included GoPro Hero but not C300 mark iii?

December 31, 2020 at 3:50PM, Edited December 31, 3:50PM

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I'd put the Komodo at 1. Regular filmmakers on a low budget would never be able to afford a RED unless rented. Now you can own at least the body for $6000, the only problem is if you can get your hands on one. Wait list is huge and the only camera on this list you have to wait for, the other one's you can pick up from any distributor no wait needed.

January 2, 2021 at 8:58PM

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That is actually quite incorrect. I preordered the Sony FX6 the day it was announced, before it even hit
a dealer's website. I called my dealer and paid in full over the phone....I was first in line for the body only
FX6. It is now January 3 and I don't have it yet. My dealer says I 'might' get it by March. And you certainly
can not just go 'pick up' an FX6 at any distributor with no wait needed, I can tell you that for sure. Very
big waitlist and getting bigger, be prepared to wait if you want one. Supply chain disruptions from a factory
fire and Covid are probably all factors.

January 3, 2021 at 9:37PM, Edited January 3, 9:41PM

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A RED, in and of itself, means very little. They have quality control issues, software issues, customer service issues and that's with 50K+ cameras – I doubt they will do better with their budget option. The image is generally good, but for the last 3-4 years, not noticeably better than any other big manufacturer, and looking at the Komodo footage out there, it just looks, well, fine. Their biggest strength is the R3D RAW codec. What many internet DP's believe to be the biggest strength – prestigious brand recognition – is just not there when you arrive on a real film set. RED evokes mixed feelings in people who've worked with them, no better than Sony, Canon C-series or Varicam, and certainly not ARRI level of reverence.

January 4, 2021 at 2:23AM

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I knew the Blackmagic would be at the top spot, 12K is just an amazing step up from what everyone else is making. I am glad to see the R5 and the C70 made it into the top 5 though. I have been waiting for a Cinema body that can be mounted to a gimbal easier than my C100.

January 4, 2021 at 9:49AM

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Nick Straub
Videographer
1207

My favorite choice is Sony ZV-1. this is one of the best cameras out there.

January 4, 2021 at 11:00PM

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Reply

This is a nice List.

January 7, 2021 at 7:19AM

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Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2909

The Canon R5 still has the overheating problem when filming for an hour or longer. ( I often shoot live events where I might need to shoot for 3-4 hours straight )

You will have to void your warranty but YouTuber Matthew Perks came up with a solution that let you shoot with your R5 with no time limit. YT Search : "I watercooled my camera... (for a good reason!)"

January 7, 2021 at 12:27PM, Edited January 7, 12:43PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32891

Big fan of the BM URSA 12K, for all the reasons listed and the bit depth, sample rate, color rendition and more. Would not have guess it would come in at No. 1 as it takes a lot of guff (which seems unnecessary in my mind — no camera is ideal or perfect). Love shooting it... and posting it even more.

January 7, 2021 at 1:39PM

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Greg Anderson
Director | Producer | Writer
88

A camera not included in your list is the Canon EOS R6. I'm curious why. I realize your sub-head said "some" of the cameras released this year, but the R6 seemed to be a high-value offering. If it had been included in this review, where would it have been ranked, and why?

January 8, 2021 at 3:00PM

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Alvin E Rem
Photographer - Filmmaker
1