The Buyers guide to...Which cameras shoot 4K at 120fps

From smartphones to mirrorless masterpieces, these are the current cameras that shoot 4K video at 120fps

Buyers Guide

The best cameras for shooting 4K @ 120fps video

Which cameras can shoot 4K video at 120fps? From interchangeable lens cameras like the Canon EOS R5 to smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra to 360 VR options from Kandao, we’ve rounded up the best consumer cameras for 4K 120p footage to help with your filmmaking.

But first, let’s take a look at why you would want to shoot 4K at higher frame rates.

Why shoot video at high frame rates?

In recent years many photographers and filmmakers have sought out cameras that shoot 4K video at 60fps. As technology has advanced, some are now seeking out cameras that shoot 4K at 120fps. Why do people want these higher frame rates?

Let’s begin first by examining the benefits of shooting 4K at 60fps. Shooting at 60fps simply gives you the ability to slow down footage to half speed so you can get that scene-setting slow-motion effect.

You can also output that footage at 29.7fps, which is the standard playback frame rate. This way, 60fps footage can easily be mixed with 29.7fps footage. But while it can, and is commonly, it’s not ideal and we’ll tackle that in a bit.

Starting with the obvious benefits. Footage shot at 60fps that is slowed to 29.7fps enables you to stretch 1 second of footage over 2 seconds. This is perfect for the visual effect of scene-setting. Think Reservoir Dogs.

If you try the same with footage shot at 30fps and slow it down to half speed, then you have to stretch 29.7 frames over 2 seconds – essentially 15 frames per second. That’s not enough, especially at 4K, so you end up with everything looking kind of staccato – to borrow a musical term.

Using this line of thought you’d think that always filming at 60fps would be a good idea, as you can halve its playback speed and mix it with standard 29.7fps footage as needed. However, shooting at 60fps all the time is far from ideal.

Before we go into why, it’s worth pointing out that you should always film at the frame rate you need. If the footage you’re shooting is going to played back at a standard 29.7fps then film at that standard fps. If you want slow motion, then increase the fps to cover the number of frames that you need.

For normal playback at 29.7fps, half-speed you will need 60fps, quarter speed you’ll need 120fps etc. Now we begin to understand why you would film 4K at 120fps.

Using the 180-degree shutter rule

Let’s move on to why you shouldn’t always film at 60fps – even though looking at the basics it would seem sensible.

This is where the technical aspect comes in. You need to think about the 180-degree shutter rule. This dictates that the fps should always be half of the shutter speed. At 29.7fps it’s relatively easy to find a balance of gain (ISO) and IRIS (Aperture) to enable that all-important 1/60th shutter speed.

But, crank that to 60fps and you suddenly need a shutter speed of 1/120th – and that’s quite a jump.

Shooting a frame at 1/120th of second is going to eliminate any motion blur, whereas shooting at 1/60th will give motion blur in the frame. Motion blur is important for video as it helps with that all-important persistence of vision. The blur actually helps with smoothness of playback.

That 4K footage shot at 60fps and 1/120th of a second played back at 60fps will look fine. There’s enough content there for the motion to look silky smooth. Stretch that footage out over 2 seconds and the optical illusion and lack of blur still fools the eye, but, reduce it to 30fps, and you start to break the 180-dgree shutter rule.

The effect is admittedly slight, but it is noticeable. Break the 180-degree shutter rule with faster shutter speeds and you get the action-packed 300 gladiator-style look. Slow it right down and it all becomes a bit romantic.

Ultimately 60fps is a sought-after feature as it enables you to shoot smooth slow motion, and these days it’s an effect that you as a filmmaker can’t be without, but do be careful as using it wrongly can have a dramatic effect.

Why shoot 4K at 120fps

Recording at 4K at 120fps is pretty niche, but it’s still a fantastic feature to have in a camera.

There are a few points to take into consideration when looking at a camera that shoots 4K at 120fps, such as the amount of data recorded. This is usually measured as 100mb/s (megabits per second) rather than 100mb per frame.

Most cameras, especially mirrorless and DSLR, will therefore split the bit rate across frames as vbr (variable bit rate). If the bit rate was fixed, then at 30fps 100mb/s, each frame would be 3.3Mbs.

Crank it to 60fps and that drops to 1.6Mbs.

This isn’t the way it works due to vbr. The more frames you have, the less change you have between frames and the less data needs recording.

So one frame may max out at 3.3mbs where there’s tonnes of movement, and the next may be 1mbs where there’s less change in the frame.

Shoot at 30fps and the likelihood is that more will change within the frame so the data recorded will be greater.

Still, as the frame rate increases even with that flexibility of variable bitrate, it can still push the limits of the camera’s max 100mb/s.

Take the GoPro as an example. You’d be hard pushed to see the difference in 1080p action footage shot at 30 or 60fps, but push it to 120fps and you start to see some pixelation. At 240fps you really start to see the drop.

Use the same settings for a static scene and the quality of the high fps footage will still look good. Less has changed in the frame so less data needs to be recorded.

Likewise you’ll often see cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV that will record 1080p at 60fps, but you need to drop the resolution to 720p to record at 120fps.

It’s probably limited by Canon as the 4K mb/s is 500mb/s, which seems insanely high.

4K at 120fps is amazing, but can the camera actually cope? What’s the mb/s at 4K? Is there enough scope to capture decent footage?

The Sony RXO can shoot at 1000fps in 1080p, for instance, which seems impressive until you see the quality of the footage in normal lighting conditions.

Then there’s the heat issue. All that processing can come at a price.

Finally, there’s shutter speed. Shooting 4K at 120fps, the shutter speed needs to be set at 1/250th of a second (there’s no 1/240th so you round to closest).

That’s all well and good but then lighting really becomes an issue.

You also need to consider file size and processing power. 4K already consumes storage, but slow-motion footage requires rendering and processing. This is where you really need to start looking at Nvme M.2 hard drives.

Canon EOS R5

Canon EOS R5 review

Price when reviewed

£4199

$3899
Website: Canon

For

  • 45Mp full-frame sensor with full AF coverage
  • 12fps/20fps continuous shooting with continuous AF
  • Uncropped internal 8K video recording for up to 20 minutes

Against

  • 8K video will require lots of storage capacity
  • Camera Type: Mirrorless
  • Announced: 9th July 2020
  • Sensor: 45Mp Full-frame Dual Pixel CMOS AF II
  • Processor: Digic X
  • Lens mount: RF
  • Sensitivity range: Stills: ISO 100-51,200 expandable to ISO 50-102,400, Movies: ISO 100-25600, expandable to ISO ISO 51,200
  • File formats: Raw + Jpeg/HEIF, MP4
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: Mechanical shutter: 12fps, Electronic shutter: 20fps
  • Maximum video resolution: Uncropped, internal raw recording 8K video at up to 29.97fps in 4:2:2 10-bit in Canon Log (H.265) or 4:2:2 10-bit HDR PQ (H.265), Uncropped internal recording 4K video at up to 119.88fps in 4:2:2 10-bit in Canon Log (H.265) or 4:2:2 10-bit HDR PQ (H.265) 4:2:2 10-bit in Canon Log or 4:2:2 10-bit HDR PQ, 4K output over HDMI at up to 59.94fps
  • Autofocus system: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II phase detection with 5940 points in stills and 4500 points in movie mode
  • Viewfinder: 0.5-inch 5.76million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 120fps display and 0.76x magnification
  • Screen: 3.15-inch 2.1-million dot vari-angle touchscreen
  • Autofocus: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II with Advanced Animal AF (recognising dogs, cats and birds) supported in all video modes with 100% coverage and up to 1053 'AF segments'
  • Stabilisation: In-body image stabilisation (IBIS) that works with lens IS and enables up to 8-stops of shutter speed compensation
  • Storage: Dual slots, 1x CFexpress, 1x SDXC UHS-II
  • Dimensions: 135.8 x 97.5 x 88mm
  • Weight: 650 g / 738 g with card and battery

Price when reviewed

£529

$589 / €600
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Website:

For

  • Superb image quality
  • Excellent video features
  • 3.5mm mic port
  • 6-axis stabilisation

Against

  • Short battery life
  • Loud fan as body heats up
  • Video: 8K at 30p, 4K at 120p
  • Sensor: 1/1.7-inch
  • Screen: 2.4-inch OLED touchscreen
  • Storage: 64GB internal, microSD card slot

The Kandao QooCam 8K spec sheet is pretty impressive. Inside the camera is a 1/1.7-inch sensor, which can provide 8K video recording and 12-bit Raw capture.

As well as 8K, the new QooCam can record 360 videos in 4K at 120fps for slow motion playback. It also supports H.264 /H.265. video coding formats.

When it comes to editing your 360 footage, stitching is done in-camera. Then via the QooCam App you can use the 8K Express Edit tool to fine tune your videos.

Spherical stills can be captured at 30-megapixel resolution, and the QooCam 8K also offers a built-in automated image stacking tool for raw files called Kandao Raw+. This increases the dynamic range and reduces noise.

Kandao has also included its Super Steady stabilisation technology, which uses 6-axis gyro and IMU for electronic stabilisation.

Other features include a 2.4-inch OLED touchscreen for accessing key camera functions, live-streaming capability, a QooCam S vlog mode, 64GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot.

Vloggers will also appreciate the QooCam 8K’s 3.5mm mic port, making it one of the few 360 cameras to offer one.

You’ll also find many of the 360 effects, called SmartClips, which are now common in 360 cameras, such as tiny planet, Inception mode, Hyperlapse, Rabbit Hole and more.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera review
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  • Video Resolution: 8K at 30fps, 4K at 120fps
  • Zoom: 100x Space Zoom
  • Audio: Zoom-in mic

The Galaxy S20 Ultra is not short on features, beginning with its camera. The quad camera array on the rear of the S20 Ultra comprises a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, 108-megapixel wide-angle camera, 48-megapixel telephoto camera and a depth vision camera.

What’s more, the S20 Ultra’s pixels capture more light thanks to nona-binning technology. This effectively combines nine pixels into one creating larger photosites that capture more light.

On the front of the Ultra is a 40-megapixel selfie camera. Photo mode now offers what is called Single Take. In this mode, when you press the shutter the S20 Ultra records a short clip of video, and then AI selects your best frames.

Quick Take sees the Galaxy S20 Ultra employ all of its cameras at the same time. It then provides you with a selection of your best shots at different focal lengths.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra also adds 8K video recording at 30fps from the 108MP camera, as well as 4K at 120fps, Full HD and HD. 8K videos can be cast on Samsung’s 8K-ready TVs, or you can upload footage directly to YouTube.

Galaxy S20 Ultra users can also now film in Pro Mode. This means you have all of the same controls that you would were you filming with a DSLR.

Another interesting feature that proved very clever in my initial tests was the zoom-in mic. The Galaxy S20 Ultra’s microphone will effectively zoom in 6x to seek audio, and then follow that sound. This might be useful, for instance, if you were filming a live band or a speech at a wedding, and wanted to eliminate the background noise around you.

Space Zoom is the other big feature Samsung has introduced to its Galaxy S20 family. This is a new combination of hybrid optical zoom and AI-powered digital zoom. With the S20 Ultra you get 100x Space Zoom (the S20+ and S20 each extend 30x).

Z Cam E2

Z Cam E2 Micro Four Thirds cinema camera records 4K at 120fps
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  • Video Resolution: 4K at 120fps
  • Sensor: 10.2MP Four Thirds CMOS (same as in the Panasonic GH5S)

Z Cam’s Micro Four Thirds cinema camera can record 4K video at 120fps and capture 10-bit colour.

As well as 4K at 120fps, 10-bit colour, H.264 & H.265 (10 bit), the Z Cam E2 can record 4K at 60fps HDMI 2.0 4K 60fps (10-bit) and 4K at 60fps SDI 12G (optional accessory required). You can also record Full HD at up to 240fps.

Inside the Z Cam E2 is a 4/3 Sony CMOS sensor with a pixel size of pixel size = 4.63m. It also uses what Z Cam calls a ‘Deep Learning Engine built in with SDK.’

The E2’s small body measures 91mm x 98mm x 80mm without the lens, is made of aluminium alloy and uses CFast 2.0 memory cards. The body design also features microphone-in and audio-out ports, USB Type C 3.0 and HDMI ports and a 10-pin LEMO port for synchronization.

Kandao Obsidian S

Kandao Obsidian S
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  • Video Resolution: 6K at 50fps, 4K at 120fps
  • Livestreaming: 4K 3D Livestreaming

Kandao’s Obsidian S is a professional 3D 360 VR camera that can record immersive video in 6K at 50fps or 3D 4K at 120fps. You can also purchase the separate Kandao Live license for 4K livestreaming capability.

The Obsidian S has six 190-degree lenses that each records content to individual microSD cards. Six microphones also record PCM-format audio.

Other features include an audio input jack, an ethernet port and GigE connectivity for transferring files or providing power.

Recording options include log mode, time-lapse and DNG-format still capture. Inside is a 12-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor providing 10 stops of dynamic range in video, and 12 stops for stills.

Insta360 Pro 2

Insta360 Pro 2 boasts six lenses for 8K 3D video
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  • Video Resolution: 4K at 120fps, 8K at 30fps (3D), 8K at 60fps (2D)
  • Log Mode: i-log mode for colour grading
  • Livestreaming: 4K livestream capability

The Insta360 Pro 2 can shoot 8K 3D at 30fps, iK monoscopic footage at 60fps, 6K 3D at 60fps and 4K 3D at 120fps.

There’s also new in-camera HDR that promises a wider, more natural-looking dynamic range.

A new i-Log mode also gives users the opportunity to grade colour in post-production.

Insta360 announced its FlowState stabilisation technology earlier this year as a firmware update, but it comes already embedded in the Pro 2. FlowState uses a gyroscope to track motion on nine axes. Then, when it’s paired with Insta360’s software, it allows users to stabilise their footage automatically.

Other features include 4K live-streaming in both 3D and monoscopic formats. There’s also the option to save 8K versions of your live-stream footage at the same time as your broadcast, meaning you can polish it up later.

There’s also a built-in GPS module, allowing you to append GPS data to your captures and contribute to Google Maps Street View.

The Insta360 Pro 2’s new Farsight technology is a 360-degree live monitoring system that promises a high-definition, low-latency video stream for long-distance preview.

This helps to eliminate the problem some 360 videographers have where WiFi connections between the camera and device can get disconnected.

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