The best camcorders, aka video cameras, can help you capture a moment in clarity that means you'll never lose it. In an age of ever advancing smartphones the camcorder still boasts the very best image and audio quality to make sure all your footage is future-proofed for as long as possible.
Yes, you can get 4K video quality on a phone. But that's not everything. Much like in the world of photography, there is a lot more to good quality imagery. From sensor size and frame rates to lens quality and even processing. A decent camcorder will always get you the best video since that's the one job it's specifically made for.
But, since you're here, you may have already reached that conclusion – so how do you now find the best one for you? Depending on what you're filming, that should help to decide. If it's pro-grade movie making then you're going to want to go for the high end at over $2,000. But if it's family holiday videos or perhaps a workhorse you need there are lots of options under that price which are also more portable.
We've worked through the offerings out there right now to find you this up to date list of the very best camcorders you can buy. They each have their own specialism stated right there at the top, making it easy for you to find the perfect partner for all your videoing needs.
1. Panasonic HC-X2000: Best overall camcorder
The Panasonic HC-X2000 is the best camcorder out there right now. As such it's not cheap but that's because this is what's called a prosumer model – straddling the lines between professional quality and consumer usability. This does it all, from 4K image quality at 60 fps to 24x optical zoom. You can enjoy relatively easy use with the removable handle which comes with a really useful LED light that's diffused for a professional lighting finish, even in a rush.
You also get five axis hybrid optical image stabilization meaning this is a very forgiving camera even for those newer to this level of quality. The 1/2.5 MOS sensor works with a Leica Dicomer lens for optimal quality. When it comes to audio there is a microphone attachment option in the handle and two XLR pro mic inputs. You also get dual SD cards for continuous recording and a 3.5-inch color touchscreen to view and control recordings.
Expect impressive details with true to life color from this 18.9 megapixel camcorder that comes in at 3.31lbs which isn't bad when you consider all that this semi-pro video camera offers. Not cheap but this justifies every cent it's worth.
2. Sony HDR-CX405: Best budget camcorder
The Sony HDR-CX405 is a great budget option for anyone that is happy with 1080p video quality and wants a video camera that's super compact and portable. Despite the handheld form factor this camcorder offers 30x optical zoom with the Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens. You get intelligent features like optical SteadyShot and Intelligent Active mode to offer a smooth finish.
Onboard editing is even an option using the Highlight Movie Maker. This can be saved on the memory card with both XAVC S and AVCHD recorded simultaneously if you want. The USB cable is tethered for easy file transfer as well as recharging and you get 5.1 audio with the built-in microphone.
3. GoPro Hero8 Black: Best action camera
The GoPro Hero8 Black is the ultimate action camera with a tough build that can withstand water and knocks. Under that outer shell is a super powerful system that can capture up to 4K footage at 60fps. This comes with some of the best image stabilization out there and offers lots of pre-set modes to suit what you're filming.
Granted there is no front facing screen and despite having voice controls these aren't the most reliable. But with that super strong build that doesn't even require a case for underwater use, this does it all for the price. The supporting app is excellent for easy file transfer, video editing and sharing of footage. Onboard GPS, triple microphones and a 1220mAh battery all add up to a complete video solution in a very portable package that's amazing for the price. This will even let you live stream via the app.
4. Sony FDR-AX700: Best portable high-quality 4K HDR camcorder
The Sony FDR-AX700 takes a lot of high-end professional camera specs and crams them into a palm-sized camcorder. That means you get 4K resolution and HDR so that when played back on a top-end TV this will push it to its limit. And that's easily done thanks to built-in WiFi that makes exporting footage simple. In fact this is easy to use in general with clear menus, useful physical buttons, and ergonomics that are spot-on.
This highly portable camera still manages to cram in a 3.5-inch viewfinder, dual SD card slots and built-in microphone. The Sony FDR-AX700 can record both SDR and HDR using the HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) format thanks to its one-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor smarts backed by XAVC S. That means you get 100 Mbps at 4K and you can even shoot at 120fps when in 1080p quality.
Expect a sharp and crisp image thanks to Sony's BIONZ X image processing smarts paired with that 14.2 megapixel sensor.
5. Canon Vixia HF G60: Best pro features for less
The Canon Vixia HF G60 takes the form of a semi-professional camcorder but while keeping the price lower than a lot of the competition. Despite this you still get those pro-level features you'd expect from the top-end. That means a full 1-inch CMOS sensor for 4K at 150 Mbps, meaning 25p. But it's the nine-bladed circular aperture that really makes this stand out with a cinematic feels where the out of focus edges get a circular finish for a better look.
6. JVC GZ-560B: Best zoom palm sized tough camcorder
The JVC GZ-560B is a super tough palm sized camcorder that offers some serious zoom for its size. This gives a massive 40x optical zoom but can enhance that digitally to a whopping 60x zoom. This is limited to 1080p quality but for the money you get a super tough Quad Proof build that means waterproofing to five metres, dust proofing, shock resistance and cold toughness.
Battery life is impressive with five hours of constant video possible on a charge. The zoom microphone means you can get quality voice audio even from a distance. Image stabilization works to smooth out video quality while the LED light can be used to evenly light any situation more clearly.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been testing camcorders since 2008. Even though it seems like a lot of people are turning to their smartphones to record video, our extensive experience has made us familiar with the many ways HD camcorders are still useful today and what features to look for.
Kelly Johnson is a video editor for the North Dakota broadcasting company Prairie Public. He said people who don’t have a lot of experience with videography or photography should focus on getting a camcorder that is easy to use and practice using it often.
“You get what you pay for sometimes, and you get out of it the time you spend teaching yourself to use the camera,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to buy it and let it sit for a month and a half in a desk drawer, your video is going to look crappy because you didn’t spend time teaching yourself how to use it.”
Cory Erickson has about 10 years of photography and videography experience in the upper Midwest and said it’s important to make sure your camcorder works well in low light for when you’re filming indoor concerts or in the evening. The best way to do that is to get a camera with a large sensor size and small aperture, as the lower the aperture number, the more light gets into the lens to hit the sensor and create a video.
When it comes to a camera’s zoom capabilities, Erickson said to stick to optical zoom if you want a clear image.
“Don’t be lured in by the digital zoom numbers,” he said, noting digital zoom merely crops an image instead of magnifying it. “You’re sacrificing something for those numbers.”
Camcorders are a reliable, sturdy option for capturing memories. They don’t eat up your cell phone battery and offer a lot of extra features.
How Much Do HD Camcorders Cost?
The camcorders we tested cost an average of $400, mostly because the 4K camcorder we tested is very expensive. The average cost of the 1080p camcorders we tested was a little more affordable at $321. For storage, it’s easier to purchase an SD card for most camcorders to store your video on. SD cards with 64 GB of storage cost about $20 while cards with less storage space, like 16 GB, cost a mere $5.
A small aperture number, noted with an “f,” is better than a big one and should be paired with a large sensor, usually measured in a fraction of an inch. If you’re recording in ultra high definition, i.e. 4K, it’s going to eat up more space on your memory card. The lower resolution you’re recording in, the more video one memory card will be able to hold. If you’re going to be shooting in low light, you should also make sure the camera’s white balance function is easy to find. White balance allows you to focus on one area or object that is actually white and the camera will adjust the rest of the colors it takes in accordingly, correcting any overly yellow scenes.
If trying to figure out a camera’s aperture or white-balance function is too complicated, simply focus on its resolution. Most of the camcorders we tested have a maximum recording resolution of 1080p. These high-resolution cameras record an image 1920 pixels high and 1080 pixels wide.
A 4K camera is known as ultra-high-definition and shoots at 3840 x 2160 pixels. Mathematically, that’s four times the resolution though it won’t appear as a four-times-better image.
Most modern camcorders have optical image stabilization and some degree of in-camera editing so you can at least cut your videos before uploading them. Other features vary widely, so it’s up to you to decide what’s important and what you’re going to be using the camera for. Filming a family vacation might call for a second back-facing lens so you get not only a video of what’s happening, but a reaction shot of the videographer as well.
A touchscreen may or may not be ideal, and some cameras are shockproof and waterproof if you’re venturing into the wild. Determining your priorities will help you get a camera that is right for you.