Times have never been better for the best camcorders – with 4K cameras now being available at every price point. More and more people are realizing that having a device that is dedicated and designed for shooting movies – and have a big zoom built in – often means, when choosing the best camera for video, a camcorder a much better choice than a multi-purpose camera or smartphone.
But there's more than one type of camcorder. You might normally think of smaller, inexpensive all-in-one camcorders for casual and amateur use, but there's a growing professional broadcast market too, as demonstrated by the just-announced Canon XF605, for example.
There's plenty to consider if you're shopping for a camcorder, with the market ranging all the way from budget-friendly consumer camcorder to professional camcorders for TV broadcast journalism and documentary filmmaking.
We've put together a list of what we reckon to be the best camcorders available on the market right now. From small, self-contained shooters designed for holidays and day-to-day casual shooting, to the best and latest 4K camcorders that produce footage of superior quality, there should be something for all users – and all budgets!
Why get a camcorder?
If you're considering returning to the world of camcorders for the first time after adventures many years ago with 8mm and VHS-C tape, you may be wondering why you need one at all, when there's a perfectly functional camera built into a device that you have with you at all times. The key advantage of a camcorder over a camera phone is that you tend to get a big optical zoom lens built in, meaning you can get closer to your subjects without compromising the quality of your picture. This is particularly useful for shooting sports and wildlife, and is also something that sets camcorders apart from the best action cameras.
Of course, camcorders are not the only choice for videographers. The best 4K cameras for filmmaking have the advantage of not only providing a gorgeous picture, but also offering the capacity for the user to swap lenses. The best cinema cameras, meanwhile, are designed more for professionals and come with a price-tag to match; content creators working on their lonesome will likely be more interested in the best cameras for vlogging.
• See also: Best VHS to DVD converters
The best camcorders in 2021
Best budget camcorders
Not everyone wants or needs a 4K camcorder. If full HD resolution is all you need, then here are some choices that will deliver great-looking video at a rock-bottom price.
This palm-sized go-anywhere Canon Legria HF R806 is all about family fun. It records 1080p high-def video to an SD card. It boasts a huge 32x optical zoom, DIGIC DV4 image processing and an Intelligent Image Stabilizer with Zoom Framing assist. There’s even a decent parcel of filters, including assorted Cinema-Looks and an advanced Baby Mode, which lets you create albums for up to three children, automatically saving video footage to a designated album. It's inexpensive to buy and fun to use.
You don’t have to spend big to make great movies. Sony’s HDR-CX405 sells for under £200, but comes with a host of sophisticated tricks to help you make extremely polished movies. The camcorder records records simultaneously in XAVC S or AVCHD format and file-sharing friendly MP4 format, and you can edit in-camera using the onboard Highlight Movie Maker. You can even apply various visual effects without having to faff around with separate editing programs. Optical SteadyShot, with effective Intelligent Active mode technology, goes some way to combating handshake. There’s a Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 30x optical zoom, with an impressive 26.8mm wide-angle setting. The camcorder even has 5.1 audio capture. Usability is good. We particularly like the tethered USB cable, which makes it a doddle to recharge the camcorder and copy footage to a PC. Given the spec you might be hard pressed to justify spending more, making this one of the best camcorders for filmmakers on a budget.
If 4K isn’t a prerequisite, there are serious bargains to be had with high-spec Full HD models. The Vixia HF G21 (sold as the Canon Legria HF G26 outside North America) is one such creative tool. It boasts a 20x optical zoom, 8-blade aperture for focus blurring, and wide 28.8mm lens. You can record in AVCHD and economic MP4 formats to SD card (dual card slots offer double or serial recording), with images handled by Canon’s lauded DIGIC DV 4 processor. A high-sensitivity HD CMOS sensor promises above-average low-light video capture. The Canon HF G21 is literally a handful, but not so much that you wouldn’t want to take it on holiday. In addition to the 3.0-inch touchscreen, there’s a sharp, adjustable electronic viewfinder. Optical image stabilization ensures smooth shooting.
Best 4K camcorders
4K video has become the new standard for serious filmmaking. It doesn't just give you a step up in resolution, it gives you some scope for cropping and panning later while you're editing your videos. Here are some great 4K camcorders that let you step up the quality without overstretching your budget.
The FDR-AX43 may be compact but it doesn’t skimp on features. Fronted by a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T lens, the FDR-AX43's niceties include a 20x optical zoom, 4K shooting (with super-down-sampling for 1080p displays), a low noise Exmor R CMOS sensor, and dual-video recording in XAVC S or AVCHD, plus easy to share MP4. For those who want convincing surround sound when playing back their footage into a home cinema or soundbar, there’s also a multichannel 5.1 microphone. Expect limitations in low light, but if you’re looking for an easy-to-manage but capable 4K shooter, then this model is a fantastic choice, and that balance between functionality, portability and price is why it takes our #1 spot.
A superbly specified 4K camcorder, the FDR-AX700 has a one-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor, and shoots 4K video in both SDR and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) HDR. Features include a 12x zoom, big 3.5-inch viewfinder, dual SD card slots, and advanced phase detection AF. The FDR-AX700 uses XAVC S for both 4K and HD recording, with 100 Mbps for 4K, and 50 Mbps for 1080p. It will also shoot in 1080p at 120 fps. The brand’s BIONZ X image processor keeps images crisp. The FDR-AX700 is one of the best camcorders for keen videographers and even aspiring filmmakers. A standard SMPTE timecode can be included on recordings. Trick replay includes Super Slow Motion.
If you want a tough 4K camcorder with above-average build quality, this JVC is more than tough enough. The Everio GZ-RY980 has employed JVC’s Quad Proof chassis, which is shock-proof to survive drops up to 1.5m, waterproof down to 4.9m and freeze-proof to -10°C. If you fall down a crevice while running from the Abominable Snowman, your camera should be fine. The GZ-RY980HEU offers a 10x optical zoom, with advanced image stabilization. 4K is recorded in MOV format, at 70 Mb/s, plus 1080p to dual SD card slots giving simultaneous back-up. Alternatively you can use the dual slot for serial recording. Special in-camera effects include time-lapse recording, and assorted filters. Basically, this is the Indiana Jones of 4K camcorders, and it's the best camcorder for adventurers who need more quality, control and zoom capability than they can get from a GoPro.
Best professional camcorders
Mention 'camcorder' and most people think of affordable, consumer-friendly all-in-one video cameras, but there's also a growing market for professional camcorders that share the same broad design but are intended for professional news gathering and broadcasting, with underslung grips for low angle run and gun shooting or as shoulder mounted camcorders fitted to chest harnesses or rigs.
Canon's impressive XA40 is a pro-grade camcorder that not only produces excellent 4K footage but also uses oversampling to ensure its Full HD footage is peerless in quality. Its palm-sized build means it's easy to pack up and take wherever you need it to go, while the 20x zoom lens gives you real shooting versatility. Optical 5-axis image stabilization is also a boon, making it easier to capture professional-looking shots while you're shooting handheld. A camera for all seasons and all situations.
If you want to shoot like a pro, then Panasonic’s HC-X2000 is the best run-and-gun camcorder in our list. Able to record 2160p at 60fps, it’s designed for event videographers and enthusiasts. At 1.5kg it isn’t a casual option, but it is much lighter than its predecessor the HC-X1000 – and you can remove the handle with its built-in LED light and mic holder if you need to travel light. It features a large 3.5-inch color touchscreen, has two XLR professional microphone inputs, and dual SD card slots. Not only can it shoot 3,840x2,160 up to 60fps, but can shoot at 120fps at 1080p if you need slo-mo. The HC-X2000E employs an 18.9-megapixel, 1/2.5 MOS sensor and a Leica Dicomar lens. A 24x optical zoom and 5-axis hybrid optical image stabilization offer plenty of compositional opportunities. Image quality is excellent, in both HD and 4K. Detail is high and color rendering excellent. It's a superb semi-pro shooter, but understandably complex to use.
The some professional uses, a camcorder with interchangeable lenses is the next logical step up the pro video ladder. The Sony FX6 is a great option here – using the same E-mount lenses used on Sony mirrorless cameras. Sony’s FX6 is surprisingly small for a full-frame cinema camera but has a spec that many of its bigger brothers struggle to meet. It has an impressive internal codec, allowing 10bit 4K recording at up to 60fps. It can record onto either the all-new CFexpress Type A cards, or standard SDs - thanks to twin dual-format slots. If you want to get the ultimate in quality, though stick on an Atomos recorder, such as the Ninja V, and you can shoot 12-bit ProRes to the external drive.
The electronically variable ND filter system helps dial in precise exposure, and there are lots of gamma options like S-Log and HLG for HDR workflows. It has built in Wi-Fi for live streaming, too.