This post will review the top 5 best 4K cameras for live streaming. There are a lot of 4K, (also known as Ultra High Definition) cameras on the market, but not all of them are suitable to stream live video. So this post will bring you our selection in five categories, so there’s a camera here for everyone.
There are a few reasons we expect to see an explosion of 4K live streaming soon. The two biggest are AV1 and 5G. AV1 is a new free video codec that aims to resolve the licensing issues of HEVC. AV1 is progressing towards being production-ready and will provide the best alternative to H.264 and HEVC in the near future.
The second factor that makes 4K live streaming ready to shine is the rise of 5G internet. The coming 5G cell networks will provide speeds roughly 100 times faster than the best available 4G LTE networks. And they’re already rolling out to consumers.
Best 4K Cameras for Live Streaming
Looking at the best 4K cameras is challenging. How should we define “best?” Does best mean maximum quality, without considering cost? Our approach is to look at the best 4K camera in each category that will meet most people’s needs. In other words, we’re looking for the best average fit. But by breaking this up into categories, we can meet a lot of different needs. We’re going to look at the best 4K cameras for live streaming in these categories:
- Entry level
- Action camera
- Professional SDI camera
- PTZ camera
Let’s get started.
Entry-Level: Panasonic HC-VX981K
The best-selling entry-level 4K camera on B&H Photo Video is the Panasonic HC-VX981K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder. Currently priced at $647.99, this camera averages 4.5 stars from a couple dozen reviews. It features a Leica Dicomar lens with a 20x optimal zoom. In 35mm equivalent, the lens reaches 30.8mm on the wide end and will zoom in to more than 600mm.
- 1/2.3″ MOS, backside-illuminated 18.91 megapixel sensor
- Built-in 5-axis image stabilization
- HDR (High Dynamic Range) recording mode
- Records to SD cards
- Supports 49mm filters
- Micro-HDMI video out
- Support for external mic via 3.5mm jack
Check out some sample footage in this in-depth review.
Action Camera: GoPro HERO7 Black
An action camera is small, durable, and ready for sports and hard use. They tend to be easily portable and record surprisingly good quality video. Action cameras are incredibly useful whether you’re broadcasting from a studio, mounting a camera on a drone, or on a mountainside. They allow you to get shots that would simply be impossible with a full-size camera.
The best 4K camera for live streaming in this category is the GoPro HERO7 Black ($349). No surprise—they’ve been a leader in this market for a decade.
The HERO7 includes a lot of great features such as the following:
- 4K video at up to 60 fps
- Support for up to 240 fps in 1080p
- Built-in image stabilization (digital)
- Waterproof to 33ft.
- Touchscreen and voice controls
- Customizable ISO and other manual settings
- Preview via free smartphone app
- Type D Micro-HDMI output
- Supports external microphone via 3.5mm jack
DSLR: Sony Alpha a7 III
Choosing a DSLR live streaming camera for live streaming makes sense for some users. If you have to use unusual lenses, or already have a great lens collection, it can be a better option. Or maybe stills are your priority, but you want to be able to do 4K live streaming on the side. Either way, a DSLR is a great choice.
The best 4K camera with a DSLR form-factor is actually not a DSLR. It’s the Sony Alpha a7 III—a mirrorless camera. DigitalCameraWorld agrees that the a7 III is top tier for 4K video. The a7 III costs $1,998 (body-only), but includes a big range of features useful for live streaming.
- 24.2 megapixel backside illuminated CMOS sensor
- Full-frame 35mm equivalent
- ISO up to 204800
- 4K video up to 30 fps
- Silent autofocus
- Built-in 5-axis image stabilization
- Dual SD card slots
Professional SDI Camera: Panasonic AG-CX350
There are a huge range of professional cameras available. And different professionals will need different form factors and features. But by choosing two necessary features—support for SDI and XLR connections—we can provide a rock-solid choice in a mobile format suitable for most professional 4K live streaming.
Our pick is the Panasonic AG-CX350 4K Camcorder. With a price of $3,695, the AG-CX350 provides excellent image quality and expandability. Here are some of the highlights of the features of the AG-CX350.
- 4K recording up to 60fps
- 1″ MOS sensor
- 35mm-equivalent 24.5 to 490mm zoom lens, 20x optical zoom
- HEVC recording option
- 5-axis image stabilization
- Manual control rings for iris, focus, and zoom
- Two XLR mic connections
- 3G-SDI, HDMI, and Ethernet/NDI video outputs
- Intelligent autofocus setting
- Built-in live stream support, no need for an external encoder for one-camera streaming
PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom): Panasonic AW-UE150K
PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) cameras are designed to be permanently installed in concert halls, conference centers, churches, and similar venues. They can be remote controlled, allowing a single engineer to lead a complex multi-camera shoot from a central booth.
Features of the AW-UE150K include:
- 4K output at 60 fps
- 1″ MOS sensor
- 20x optical zoom, with support for 24x optical + digital zoom while retaining 4K quality
- 12G-SDI, HDMI, Fiber, and IP outputs
- Built-in optical image stabilization
- Built-in ND filters
- Power-Over-Ethernet compatible
Recommended Encoder Settings for 4K Live Streaming
Once you’ve chosen a 4K camera for live streaming, you’re ready for the next steps. To stream live on a website typically requires a bit more equipment, including an “encoder.” An encoder is a hardware or software tool that converts your 4K video signal into a streaming-compatible format. Then, it sends that video stream to your online video platform, which distributes it to your audience in real-time.
Setting up an encoder involves choosing a few different settings. These include video resolution (this one is easy: use 4K resolution). But other settings include video and audio bitrate, and codec settings. So what encoder settings should you use? Here are our recommended encoder settings for 4K, UHD live streaming via DaCast.
- Resolution: 3840 x 2160 pixels
- Video Bitrate: 13 – 34 Mbps (Megabits per second)
- Audio Bitrate: 256 Kbps (Kilobits per second)
- Video Codec: H.264 or x264
- Audio Channels: 2 (Stereo)
- Audio Codec: AAC
Video tech is moving forward rapidly. Just a few years ago, 4K was a blip on the horizon. Now the future is here, and it’s time to move to 4K workflows if you haven’t done so already. We all benefit from this, as video quality gets higher and higher and prices for cutting-edge technology fall.
Hopefully, this post has provided you with a good introduction to the five best 4K cameras available today for live streaming. But a good camera isn’t all you need for streaming. You also need a robust Online Video Platform (OVP) with support for 4K streaming. Here at DaCast, we support multi-bitrate streaming and deliver all content via the worlds-largest Tier 1 Content Delivery Network: Akamai. Plus, we offer a range of other advanced video hosting features at market-leading prices.
Ready to give DaCast’s streaming solutions a try? Just click the button below to sign up for our 30-day free trial (no credit card required). We’ll have you up and streaming in a matter of minutes!