Skip to main content

Best Camcorders

Best Camcorders - Reviews of HD Digital Video Cameras

At Top Ten Reviews, we’ve been evaluating and reviewing HD camcorders for years. As we made updates this time around, we tested nine camcorders for about 15 hours. We compiled a two-minute video from all of the footage we gathered – inside and outside – and had seven reviewers rank what they saw. After comparing factors such as color balance, resolution, zoom and durability, we decided the Panasonic HC-WXF991K is the best camcorder. With 4K resolution, an automatic lens cover, reverse camera and integrated Wi-Fi, this camera captures clear video and is easy to use. 

ProductPriceOverall RatingImage QualityDesignEditing & ExtrasRecordingVideo QualityResolutionColor BalanceLens CoverWaterproof & ShockproofReverse CameraWeight (oz.)Touch ScreenOptical ZoomIntegrated Wi-FiOn-Camera EditingInternal Memory (GB)SD Card Size
Panasonic HC-WXF991View Deal4.5/5108103.3A-4KB-Automatic-14.220x-Full
JVC Quad Proof GZ-R550 EverioRView Deal4/
JVC Quad Proof GZ-R440D EnvrioRView Deal4/578.88.510C1080pAAutomatic-10.240x-4Full
Nikon KeyMission 80View Deal3.5/58.8103.81.8A+1080pA-None2.70x--Micro
Panasonic HC-W580View Deal3.5/
Samsung HMX-F90View Deal3/
Sony HDR-CX440 HandycamView Deal3/
Canon Vixia HF R800View Deal2.5/
Sony HDR-CX405 HandycamView Deal2.5/

Best Overall

Panasonic HC-WXF991K

Panasonic HC-WXF991K

It has a reverse camera.
It has an automatic lens cover.
It shoots in the highest resolution of any camera we tested.
It is the largest camera we tested.
4K video eats up a lot of memory space.
It is expensive.

This camcorder makes you feel like a professional. With 4K resolution you never have to worry about your videos coming out pixelated or fuzzy.

As 4K resolution is the current gold standard in image capture, we wanted to ensure that ultra-high-definition cameras were well represented in our tests. The video we took both inside and outside was striking, earning an overall grade of A- from our reviewers, the second-highest of any camera we tested. The color balance was slightly blue, which made outdoor video taken on a sunny day look a little grey, so our videographers gave it a B- for color correctness.

This camera’s rotating LCD screen has a movable, back-facing camera, allowing you to capture not only what's happening around you, but your reaction as well. The LCD touchscreen smudges easily, but allows for simple navigation to the settings and editing functions. The lens cap is also automatic, so you never have to worry about forgetting to open it. There's nothing more disappointing than thinking you've captured a once-in-a-lifetime memory only to get home and realize your footage is all black.

The Panasonic is on the expensive end of the camcorders we tested, but it comes with a battery pack, USB cable, AC adapter, DC cable, HDMI micro cable, and lens hood for extra lens protection and better colorized video. It uses a full-size SD card and is WiFi compatible, so you can transfer your images without having to use a cord.

Best Budget

Sony HDR-CX440 Handycam

The Sony HDR-CX440 Handycam is one of the most affordable camcorders we reviewed and gets the job done.

The Sony HDR-CX440 Handycam films in 1080p and has a 30x optical zoom, allowing it to capture most scenes well. It includes integrated Wi-Fi for easy video transfer, especially if you have the PlayMemories Mobile app on your phone. Although our reviewers didn't love the quality of this camera's video footage, the camcorder's lower price means you don't have to be as concerned about accidentally dropping or breaking it. The camcorder includes image stabilization but lacks in-camera editing features, so you need to edit on your computer. You need a microSD card to store your footage, but you get 8GB of internal memory, which makes this affordable machine a great deal.

Best Action Cam

Nikon KeyMission 80

Nikon KeyMission 80

It is waterproof and shockproof.
It has integrated Wi-Fi.
The touchscreen is very responsive.
It uses a microSD card, which could be easily misplaced.
It doesn’t have a zoom function.
It’s very light and small and potentially easy to lose.

Don’t let its size fool you; this little camcorder works just as well as a traditional handheld unit, indeed better than most. It records high-definition 1080p video, has a very responsive touchscreen and can withstand getting wet and being dropped repeatedly.

In our tests, we filmed inside and outside of our lab and had seven reviewers rank what they saw. The KeyMission 80 earned an A+, the highest of any camera we tested. We also ran the footage through video editing software to look at the varying color levels in each clip; this little unit earned an A-, the second-highest grade of the camcorders we tested.

The KeyMission 80 both looks and acts a lot like a GoPro. It weighs a mere 2.7 ounces and passed our underwater tests and drop tests easily. While the video comes out very clear, you can’t zoom in at all with this camcorder and it doesn’t have a lens cover. It does, however, have a backward-facing camera for filming yourself as you record the action. The touchscreen on the back of the KeyMission 80 was the most responsive of any we tested and was reminiscent of an iPhone screen. With that screen, you can navigate to the camera’s integrated WiFi, a feature not all camcorders have.

This camera came with a camera holder that is easily attached to a backpack strap or article of clothing. The camera holder has a magnet built in so that the camera remains off while in the holster and automatically turns on when you take it out. A microSD card is required to save your videos. While those cards come already inserted in full-size SD cards, they’re still very small and therefore easy to misplace. The camera itself is so small that you might misplace the whole thing, so if you take it out on a hiking trail or whitewater rafting adventure, make sure it’s secured safely.

Best In-Camera Editing

Samsung HMX-F90

Samsung HMX-F90

It has the best zoom of the camcorders we tested.
The battery design is bulky.

The Samsung HMX-F90 has fun editing features built right into the camera.

It films in 1080p and allows you to overlay filters on your video like black and white, western, negative or sepia. You can add background music as well. The time-lapse film option is another fun way to capture memories with the Samsung HMX-F90. It also has an impressive 52x optical zoom, 70x intelligent zoom and 130x digital zoom. At 7.7 ounces, this camcorder doesn’t wear your arm out while you’re trying to film an important athletic event or family reunion. The ability to edit your footage without having to upload it to your computer makes this camcorder a compact all-in-one machine.

Most Built-In Memory

JVC Quad Proof GZ-R550 EverioR

JVC Quad Proof GZ-R550 EverioR

It’s waterproof and shockproof.
Our testers gave it a C for video quality.

This camcorder is rugged, easy-to-use and has more built-in memory than any other camcorder we tested.

The JVC Quad Proof GZ-R550 EverioR holds an impressive 32 GB of video, so you don’t need an SD card as the camera alone can hold 2.5 to 3.5 hours of footage depending on what resolution you film in. It’s also useful if you run out of room on the the SD card because footage simply saves directly to the camera. While this camcorder has a lot in common with the other JVC model we tested, it has much more internal storage. It is also waterproof and shockproof, so you can take it on adventures. It weighs 10.2 ounces though, making it one of the heavier camcorders we tested.

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 We Tested

We worked with nine camcorders for about 10 hours inside and outside the lab. To record footage, our savvy lab technicians built a unit out of PVC pipe that we strapped to the top of a car. Every camera was affixed to the rig and taken for a drive around town in their automatic setting. This was because we figure most people haven’t been trained as videographers and are going to likely use a new camcorder in the state it comes out of the box.

We also walked around inside our offices through well-lit spaces and dark corners to get footage in all kinds of light – both bright and dim. Then, all of the video was assembled into squares on one screen, which seven of our reviewers watched and ranked best to worst in overall quality. Our videographers also ran the footage through Adobe Premiere Pro and assigned each camera a grade for its color-correctness.

We stress-tested the camcorders that were waterproof and shockproof. This meant completely submerging them in a bowl of water for about 10 minutes and dropping the shockproof camcorders three times from a height of 5 feet. All the cameras advertised as waterproof and shockproof passed our tests.

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.

Technical Specifications

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.