The 10 Best Camcorders - June 2017
Every week we analyse the technical specs, reviews and prices of every camcorder on the market in the US to determine our top 10 list.
In total we compared over 727 camcorders, 27,400 reviews and 5,310 prices. Last updated 20 June 2017.
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Finding the Right Camcorder for You
Although VHS players are long gone, everybody still wants to preserve their best memories. Pictures are great ways to do that, but for many occasions you really need a video to put yourself in the moment again. Or perhaps you are a film maker looking for a professional camera that is not too bulky? Do you post video diaries on YouTube during your trips? Whatever you like to do, there's a camcorder for that.
Of course, this isn't 1997 anymore, and your choices are not limited to Super 8 and VCR. Before buying a camcorder, you need to look at what kind of video camera and quality do you need, how often you will use it and how you plan to watch the videos.
By knowing your needs and matching them to the options available, you will be able to shoot your family videos, that great football match, the concert ever of your favourite band and your YouTube blog too!
Key Camcorder Features
The image resolution determines the number of pixels the image you shoot contains. In most cases, this is the most important factor to look at when choosing a camcorder. Today, a good camera will have a resolution between 1080p and 4K. These are also known as Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) and Ultra High Definition (3840 x 2160 pixels). Although a 4K camera sounds attractive, it is only worth the higher cost if you have the ability to view the result on a 4K screen. TVs and monitors that work at 4K UHD are becoming more widely available and 4K recording will become more widespread in the future too.
The larger the resolution on a camera, the larger the sensor needs to be in order to capture the video in good quality. While most cameras with the same output resolution will have a similar sensor size, sometimes there are differences. Some 4K cameras for example use 1” sensors but others used 1/2.3” sensors. While a smaller sensor will work for average recording conditions, a larger sensor will show its worth in low-light scenes as it allows it to capture more light.
In terms of image quality, the bit rate is usually the third item to look at when comparing two cameras that have the same resolution and sensor size. The bit rate describes the amount of data that is generated by the camera when it records. The more data it produces per second of film, the better the image quality will be. A difference between a 24 MBPS (megabytes per second) camera and a 28 MBPS one will be very subtle, but still noticeable. The bit rate is also important for another reason: file storage. At 25 MBPS it takes about one hour to fill up a 16GB card. Recording at a higher bit rate means your memory card will fill up more quickly. When recording at a higher bit rate it is usually a good idea to invest in a memory card with higher capacity or download the content onto a computer at regular intervals.
Unless you are filming from a tripod or have very steady hands, having a camera with good image stabilisation is essential to prevent your recordings turning blurry, particularly when using zoom. There are two main types: optical and digital image stabilisation. Optical Image Stabilisation is the most effective type to keep your videos sharp. Small gyro-sensors inside the lens shift moveable glass elements to offset the motion of the camcorder. Digital Image Stabilisation uses software to calculate the best way to avoid shaky images. It might mean that only certain pixels of the camcorder’s sensor are used for the final image. Digital stabilisation is not as effective as optical stabilisations and it is worth checking the type used before buying a camcorder that id not specific about the stabilisation type it uses.
A good optical zoom can make a big difference when you are recording. If you are shooting sports, wildlife, airplanes, concerts and anything else, which is a considerable distance away, a minimum of 25x optical zoom is recommended. Filming people only a few metres away can be done with 10x or even 5x zoom. Optical zoom is always preferred to digital zoom because it captures the full frame at the highest quality. Digital zoom simply crops and enlarges a portion of the image reducing the resolution of the result.
This is especially important if you are going to shoot in low-light environments like concert halls, caves and at night. The aperture of a camera defines how big the opening in the camera lens is which allows light in. The larger the opening, the more light is allowed in and the higher the quality of a low-light image will be. Aperture is measured in f-stops, with a smaller number representing a larger opening. For example, f1.8 is great for low-light settings whereas f5.6 and higher might result in an image that is too dark.
Good quality audio is essential to capture the atmosphere of a football match or the music of a concert. It is important to check the quality of the built in microphone when buying a camcorder. Most budget options will have a mono microphone, which records only one channel. This can make the audio feel lifeless and flat and a high quality stereo microphone will be a much better option. If you are after the highest sound quality, using an external microphone will give the best results.
Most cameras will offer a certain amount of internal memory. Some camcorders used to have and internal hard disk drive (HDD) but this is now becoming less common as flash memory has become cheaper and takes up less space. The internal memory can be extended by inserting an SD card. If you use your camera for short scenes or are downloading files to your computer frequently, a relatively small SD card will be sufficient. To shoot hours of video at a time will require a large SD card or even multiple cards that can be exchanged when full.
Being able to connect to your camcorder wirelessly opens up a lot of possibilities which you may or may not find useful. WiFi can allow some cameras to connect to a smartphone, which can then be used as a remote control.
If you plan to record for a long time, or be outside and away from a plug, a long battery life is essential. Battery life can vary between camcorders so it is worth checking the manufacturer’s specifications before making your decision. Batteries can be replaced on some camcorder models allowing to extend recording times. You can replace the camcorder battery with a spare one when it runs out and continue recording straight away.
Camcorder Types Explained
After checking the specifications, you probably have an idea of what you need in a camera. This brings us to the next step: finding the type of camera that has all the features you need. Most camcorders fall into one of four categories:
These are the workhorses of the family. Here you will find the camcorders that pack all the basic features, can record footage at good quality and will serve the regular home user very well. Examples here include the low-ends of the Canon VIXIA, Sony CX and Panasonic V ranges. Despite being relatively simple, most mainstream camcorders will work for sport events, concerts, family videos and much more while having a lower price tag than other options. These are the best choice unless you have more specific requirements.
Advanced & Professional Camcorders
At some point the good old family camera may not make the grade, and then comes the time to look for models that pack in some high-end features. You will only be in this situation if you have specific requirements for which the good old mainstream camcorder wasn't made for. This includes very low light capture, 4K capability, image stabilisation, HD audio and other specific features. Each advanced camcorder has a different range of features, but most will give you high end results that can benefit both professional and demanding amateur users.
These small camcorders allow you to take them with you wherever you go without having to take a bag, and they are usually very affordable too. One of the downsides are a usually a compromise in image quality. While you can still find good options in this range, there are physical limitations to the size of sensor that can be built into a small camera. For the usual blogger who just needs a basic camera with low-end HD options, this will do. If you need more options or features (including handles), look at mainstream camcorders instead.
If you are planning to attach your camera to something that will move, shake, turn or swim, you definitely need an action camera. The most popular and recognised camera in this niche is the GoPro series, but there are alternatives from Sony and other brands too. Most action cams are waterproof making them ideal for surfing, swimming, snowboading and diving.
Finding the Right Camcorder for Every Situation
Taking home videos of your children and family can be done in reasonable quality with a less expensive camcorder but you might still prefer Full HD resolution to less detailed alternatives.
If you like filming sports, particularly ones played in arenas and other settings where lighting may not be ideal, a camcorder with a good low-light performance is crucial. Look for a long zoom lens and optical image stabilsation to make sure you can capture the action without losing focus.
If you tend to record mostly at home, a pocket camcorder might be all you need. This is an inexpensive way to get started. You could even consider using a good quality webcam. If you plan to film outside you might require more features like a good optical zoom and image stabilisation.
Film & Documentaries
With YouTube, Vimeo and other online streaming services allowing Ultra High Definition Uploads, a 4K camcorder might be worth considering to make sure you achieve the highest possible quality and prepare for the future. For the best results, look for good image stabilisation, a big aperture and a large sensor that can handle low-light shots. A powerful zoom wouldn't go amiss either if the action is happening further out. Alternatively, if you are working on a set where you have the ability to adjust the lighting and prevent unexpected camera movement, a high-end 1080p camera on a stable mount might be adequate.
Camcorder Retailers, Prices and Features
We currently list 157 camcorders ranging from $26 to $14,475. The average price of a new camcorder is $1,316 and the 80% of video cameras are priced between $60 and $3,343. The cheapest video camera that we found is the Vivitar DVR508 at only $27, and the most expensive is the Sony PXW-FS7K at $14,475.
Video Camera Brands - Price Range
The average price of HTC camcorders is $9,999 which is the highest average price of all video camera brands. HTC camcorders range in price from $9,999 to $9,999.
Sony video cameras start at $29 and the most expensive Sony camcorder costs $14,475. The average price of Sony video cameras is $2,145 which is the second highest average price of all camcorder brands.
The average price of JVC video cameras is $1,893 which is the third highest average price of all camcorder brands. JVC video cameras range in price from $315 to $2,744.
Video Camera Brands - Average Ratings
We have analysed 974 expert reviews and 13,087 user reviews for camcorders written online and used this data to evaluate the average rating for each brand of camcorder. The top rated camcorder brand is Transcend with an average rating of 89%. The second best brand is GoPro with 89% and the third best brand is Panasonic with 86%.
Biggest Camcorder Retailers
The biggest camcorder retailer by number of products currently for sale is Walmart. We found 125 current camcorder offers from Walmart. The second biggest camcorder retailer is eBay with 96 offers. That means Walmart is significantly bigger than eBay when it comes to video cameras. Focus Camera is the third biggest retailer with 55 current offers.
When Are Most New Camcorders Released?
Over the last 3 years we couldn't see any clear pattern in the release month for new video cameras. In 2016 most new video cameras were released in January, with 22 new video cameras released that month. In September 2015 32 new camcorders were released making it the biggest month that year for new video camera releases. January was the biggest month in 2014 for new video cameras, with 32 new video cameras released that month.
How Fast Do Camcorder Prices Drop After Release?
New camcorders drop in price by an average of 0% in the first 6 months after they wer first released. On a typical new video camera costing $1,316, by waiting 6 months before buying you could save on average $1.
A megapixel (MP or Mpx) is one million pixels, and is a term used not only for the number of pixels in an image, but also to express the number of image sensor elements of digital cameras or the number of display elements of digital displays. For example, a camera that makes a 2048 1536 pixel image typically uses a few extra rows and columns of sensor elements and is commonly said to have "3.2 megapixels" or "3.4 megapixels", depending on whether the number reported is the "effective" or the "total" pixel count (as opposed to the 2048 1536 = 3,145,728 finished image pixels).
Comparing all video cameras, the total megapixels range from 0.3MP to 210MP. The total megapixels of the majority of video cameras range from 2.8MP to 5.3MP. The PanasonicAG-HPX500, which is available at $10,835.00, has the biggest total megapixels and is a 210MP sensor video camera. The PanasonicAG-HPX500, which can be purchased for $3,999.99, has the smallest total megapixels and is a 1.12MP sensor video camera.
A larger number of megapixels increases the sharpness of images and video.
Optical Sensor Sizes
1" is the most common optical sensor size amongst new camcorders. We found 448 camcorders that are camcorders that have a 1" optical sensor size. The second most popular optical sensor size amongst new video cameras is 1/2". We found 145 video cameras that are camcorders that have a 1/2" optical sensor size.
A full HD camcorder captures video with a minimum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
Full HD camcorders capture more pixels which make the recording appear sharper compared to camcorders with a lower resolution.
Weight of the camcorder including battery.
Comparing all camcorders, the weights range from 50g to 7.4kg. The weights of the majority of camcorders range from 50g to 340g. The SonyPDWF-800 has the heaviest weight. This camcorder is a 4.3kg weight video camera and sells for $49.95. The SonyPDWF-800, which is available at $149.99, has the lightest weight and is a 50g weight video camera.
A lighter camcorder is easier to handle when recording and to carry when travelling.
Biggest Video Camera Retailers
The biggest video camera retailer by number of products currently for sale is Walmart. We found 125 current video camera offers from Walmart. The second biggest video camera retailer is eBay with 96 offers. That means Walmart is significantly bigger than eBay when it comes to camcorders. Focus Camera is the third biggest retailer with 55 current offers.
Which Are the Cheapest Retailers for Video Cameras?
With the cheapest price on 73 camcorders, eBay is most frequently the cheapest video camera retailer.
Proportion of Camcorders for Which Each Retailer is Cheapest?
With the cheapest price on 76% of its camcorders, eBay is most frequently the cheapest video camera store.