The best camcorders are the perfect way to capture your most precious moments, offering superior video and audio quality when compared to your smartphone camera. They’re ideal for capturing high quality videos of your adventures, whether you’re taking them on holiday, filming your baby's first steps or making a skate video to show off your skills.
Compared with smartphones, the best camcorders have a few distinct advantages. They’re larger, which means they can accommodate bigger lenses, better external sensors, and higher video quality - some even go up to 8K. Some models also offer extra features like dual memory card slots, external microphone support, and powerful optical zoom with manual controls.
Price will be the main limiting factor for most people when choosing the best camcorder, so it pays to know what you’re looking for, and what capabilities you expect. A 4K camcorder offers superior video quality, but it adds to the cost too. If you’re happy with 1080p footage, then you can find some great cheap camcorders that will suit your needs.
Whatever you’re going to be capturing, one of the best camcorders in our rankings will be perfect for you. We’ve covered top-end premium camcorders that can be used to film your latest media project, cheap camcorders that are ideal for families and action cameras like the GoPro Hero8 which are perfectly suited to filming extreme sports and action-packed videos. The best camcorders are also great for recording YouTube videos and live-streaming - they’re more versatile than a webcam, as they also let you go out into the world and film exciting videos for your viewers.
1. Panasonic HC-X2000: Best camcorder overall
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 cheap pro camcorder
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.
Why get a camcorder?
There is no getting around that fact that smartphones have eaten up a lot of the market that camcorders once used to occupy. Most people don’t need the fancy extra features that the best camcorders offer and being able to record great quality 4K video on a device that fits in your pocket is a dream come true for casual videographers.
But there are still plenty of reasons to consider a dedicated camcorder. Like any jack of all trades device, a smartphone camera will never compete with a specialised device. Camcorders offer features that are simply impossible to achieve with modern smartphones. Optical zoom lenses are the big one here - smartphones have to be thin, which means there just isn’t room for a great optical zoom lens, so they usually rely on digital zoom, which is nowhere near as good. You can also replace and upgrade the lenses in most camcorders, which means you can get even higher quality shots from your device.
Finally, removable storage is a big plus when it comes to camcorders. Most camcorders use SD memory cards which can be swapped out when they get full, meaning you can keep recording without having to worry about running out of storage space. Some smartphones have the option for extra memory cards, but they’re becoming rarer and they can be very fiddly to swap, which isn’t ideal when you’re out and about.
What type of camcorder should you get?
We spoke to a few experts in the field to find out what people should be looking for in a camcorder, and as always it comes down to your experience and what you want to get out of the device. 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.”
If you’re going to be using your camcorder in the great outdoors, then you’ll also want something rugged and built to last. This also applies to people looking to film things like skateboarding and biking videos - one fall or crash could easily smash a fragile camera or smartphone. In this case, we’d recommend something like a GoPro. These devices are often also called action cameras, largely to disassociate themselves with the aging reputation of camcorders. But make no mistake, these are still camcorders, just wearing a new suit.
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.