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It’s hard to match the image quality and low-light capabilities of mirrorless or DSLR cameras, but camcorders are the most practical choice for consumers looking for dedicated video recording. Among them, Panasonic’s HC-WXF991 is one of the best options. It can shoot 4K-resolution video and achieves excellent low-light performance from its 1/2.3-inch sensor (8.29 million effective pixels for 4K video) and fast lens, which ranges from a wide f/1.8 to f/3.6. It also includes a Night Mode that uses a built-in infrared (IR) light to give you “night vision” in the darkness. But, for serious night vision users, having a separate IR light source is recommended.
Overall, the HC-WXF991 packs a strong set of video features that both complement low-light shooting and make it a worthwhile high-end camcorder overall. You’ll get five-axis image stabilization and a 20x optical zoom that outpowers most competitors. A second “twin camera,” on the flip-out display, can capture other angles — including one that is user-facing (like a selfie) — and show the footage in a picture-in-picture box. Several 4K in-camera editing tools and effects are available too, along with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity.
Sony created the a7S II camera specifically for its ultra-high light sensitivity. Add to that its top-end 4K resolution video performance, and you'll understand why it has become the standard for low-light video capture. All the elements of this premium mirrorless camera come together to make it shine in even the darkest settings. The full-frame 35mm Exmor CMOS sensor can take in plenty of light and also handles that light with minimal noise, since its 12.2 megapixels (MP) are fewer in quantity but larger in size than comparable devices. It's more than capable enough to record 4K video at 30 frames per second (fps), and 1080p footage at up to 120fps.
Although the maximum aperture size of your lens (not included) will play a role, the ISO settings of the a7S II make a big difference in how it handles light and darkness. It has a native ISO range of 100-102,400, digitally expandable to 50-409,600. The more extreme ISO ranges will naturally bring more noise and graininess; however, the picture quality holds up better at higher ISO levels than almost any other camera.
Other features include five-axis image stabilization to keep the shot still and 169-point autofocus that works quickly and accurately, even in dark Exposure Values (EV) as low as -4. For a touch of convenience, built-in Wi-Fi and near-field communication (NFC) can connect to mobile devices, control the camera, and upload/share your footage in a snap.
With the Lumix GH5S, Panasonic prioritized both video and low-light performance. The results pay off, with some of the best-looking raw video footage we've ever seen from a mirrorless camera. At 4K, it shoots at up to 60fps and, at 1080p, up to 240fps (for super slow motion). Impressively, it also supports High-Dynamic Range (HDR) and rich 10-bit color depth with 4:2:2 subsampling, rare technologies for mirrorless or DSLR cameras.
Besides capturing crisp, high-quality footage, the Lumix GH5S’s 10.2MP sensor takes in a lot of light, even with its smaller micro four-thirds sensor. This results in great low-light image quality, with its Dual Native ISO feature reducing noise even further at high ISO ranges. ISO 6,400, for example, still looks clean, though it maxes out at ISO 51,200 (expandable to ISO 204,800).
One downside is a lack of internal image stabilization, which may affect still photography more than video work. By relying on videographers for the physical camera stabilization, the Lumix GH5S benefits from a locked-down sensor instead of making it "float."
Sony’s FDR-AX33 Handycam isn’t most the high-end product, nor is it the cheapest, but it represents a solid value for a 4K camcorder. At 4K, it can record video at 24 and 30fps. Meanwhile, at 1080p, it can capture 60fps or downsampled 4K content. The FDR-AX33 tackles low-light situations with ease, thanks to a 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated sensor and an f/1.8 Carl Zeiss wide-angle lens. Plus, with its IR lamp and NightShot infrared system, you can get great-looking 4K shots even in complete darkness.
To help such high-resolution footage hold up, Sony includes its high-end Balanced Optical SteadyShot (BOSS) image stabilization method, which moves the entire block of optical elements instead of a single lens. This cuts back on camera shake more effectively than most other systems out there. Taking into accounts its low-light performance and portability, it’s easy to find a lot of versatile uses for the AX33.
Being able to record 4K video may be more cutting-edge and future-proof, but 1080p (or Full HD) video is all most people need. The Panasonic HC-V770 is a 1080p camcorder with a backside illumination sensor large and high-quality enough for the price range. Its pixels are bigger than most 4K cameras due to the lower effective resolution (6.03MP for video), and the max aperture of the lens is wide at f/1.8. Therefore, image noise is reduced in dark footage. A powerful 20x optical zoom, fast autofocus, and strong image stabilization also contribute to keeping the picture clear and steady in the low light.
Overall, the 12.5-ounce HC-V770 boasts many of the same practical features as Panasonic’s 4K-capable HC-WXF991. One difference is in how the “twin camera” feature is executed. Rather than including a second built-in lens, the HC-V770 can connect wirelessly to your smartphone and use it as a secondary camera, incorporating its footage as a picture-in-picture box in your video.
Nikon’s D7500 DSLR is loaded with a lot of overall premium features while falling below the price range most would consider premium. While it does record 4K video at 24, 25, or 30fps, its APS-C sensor crops that footage by 1.5x. Nevertheless, the D7500’s the 20.9MP sensor still brings out stellar footage at just about any type of environment. Its native ISO range reaches 51,200, expandable to a sky-high 1,640,000. The noise you get at the highest levels make them mostly impractical, but the camera’s low-light performance as a whole (such as at ISO 1,600 and 3,200) appears to be clean.
Other standout features of the D7500 include a speedy 51-point autofocus system and a nice 3.2-inch tiltable LCD touchscreen that lets you tap where you want to focus. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity options are integrated as well.
Sony and Panasonic might have the edge when it comes to video, but Canon DSLRs can more than hold their own. The EOS 7D Mark II records 1080p Full HD footage at up to 60fps to better capture sports and other fast action. The camera’s APS-C crop sensor isn’t as large as a full-frame sensor, but combined with the dual image processors, it still manages excellent, low-noise light sensitivity that maxes out at a native ISO 16,000 (expandable to ISO 51,200).
Another highlight of the 7D Mark II is its top-of-the-line autofocus. The powerful dual-pixel autofocus system provides fast, smooth, and precise focusing during video recording, so it feels like you’re using a camcorder, even though you're not. In low-light conditions, its 65 points of cross-type autofocus can focus even down to -3 EV. If you don’t have need for 4K video or a full-frame sensor, the 7D Mark II is equipped to keep pace with what you’re trying to capture.
For many professional photographers and videographers, getting clear and usable shots in low lighting is an important part of the job. In these cases, investing in the most powerful (and most expensive) tools makes a lot of sense. Nikon’s D5 comes at a pro-level cost, and it’s not the easiest to carry at a fairly bulky three pounds. But as the brand’s flagship full-frame DSLR, it’s a trusted product in the industry, and exceptional low-light performance plays an important role. Its native ISO range already reaches ISO 102,400, and it’s expandable to a mind-blowing ISO 3,280,000.
The numbers are backed up by equally impressive results, with clear, high-quality video quality even around ISO 6,400. Unfortunately, its 4K video has a 1.5x crop, giving footage the look of an APS-C sensor. That said, you can shoot full-frame at 60fps if you drop to 1080p or 720p resolution. Its 20.8MP CMOS sensor and 153-point autofocus, excellent features for any type of photography, also serve to support the D5’s low-light video quality.