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.
There's plenty to consider if you're shopping for a camcorder, with the market ranging all the way from budget-friendly family models to professional pieces of kit that are almost good enough for broadcast productions.
How much resolution do you need? How big a camcorder can you tote around? Are you planning to mostly shoot out on location or in the studio? As you can imagine, there's a lot you need to think about.
That's why we're here. 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!
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.
The best camcorders in our guide are split into three broad categories. The best 4K camcorders cover models suitable for serious videomaking use, and our best family camcorders give features that are designed for those who want great features for a sensible price. And finally there is a guide to some of the best professional camcorders around. So let's get started!
The best camcorders in 2020
Best 4K camcorders
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.
The Legria HF G60 is the latest 4K model for serious enthusiasts and semi professional. It not only shoots 4K, but has a big 1in sensor and a nine-blade diaphragm that is going to give your footage a more cinematic look than smaller models. However, with its familiar layout, this is definitely a good step-up model for someone who has used more basic camcorders. There is a 15x zoom lens with five-axis image stabilization, and a flip-out 3in touchscreen - as well as a tiltable eyelevel finder. Another useful feature is that there are two SD card slots.
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 family camcorders
This palm-sized go-anywhere Canon Legria HF R80 is all about family fun. It records 1,080p to a 16GB of internal memory, expandable with an SD card. It boasts a huge 57x digital 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.
Able to shoot 4K at 30fps, this dinky action cam will bring welcome detail to your sports footage. Using a Zeiss Tessar wide-angle lens, the Sony FDR-X3000 uses the same BIONZ X image processor found in Sony's A7 camera range, aided by a Balanced Optical SteadyShot (aka B.O.SS) image stabiliser. It will shoot 4K in XAVC S, and HD at 30fps in MP4. The FDR-X3000 comes with an underwater housing, waterproof up to 60m. There’s also a rather cool watch-style remote monitor bundled, the RM-LVR3. This pairs wirelessly with the action cam over Wi-Fi. A capable, exciting alternative to a GoPro Hero or other action camera.
A veritable pocket rocket, this palm-sized go-anywhere Everio is a great choice for the perennially adventurous. In addition to its Quad Proof chassis (waterproof down to 5m, dust and freeze-proof, and shock resistant with drops up to 1.5m), the GZ-R495 boasts a five-hour battery life and records 1080p to a 4GB built-in flash memory, expandable with an SD card. It also offers easy upload to YouTube and Facebook. Other features include a 40x optical zoom and Advanced Image Stabilizer. It’ll even shoot stills (albeit only at 10MP).
Best professional camcorders
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 stabilisation 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 FS5 II is a great option here – using the same E-mount lenses used on Sony mirrorless cameras. Sony’s FS5 II is surprisingly small for a Super 35 cinema camera but has a spec that many of its bigger brothers struggle to meet. Although the internal codec is only 8-bit, by recording Raw to an external monitor you can unlock full ProResRAW files including shooting full HD at 240fps. Or you can record 120fps internally in HD with no buffering or 240fps in eight-second bursts. If you don’t mind a crop it will go up to 900fps.
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.