From 4K HDR (High Dynamic Range) models that bristle with features and diddy action cams that go anywhere, to compact pocket rockets able to shoot blisteringly sharp HD, the world of camcorders is a cauldron of temptation for those that hanker after a dedicated video camera.
The choice can seem bewildering, which is why we’ve assembled this handy guide to the best of the best.
If you want to shoot in UHD (Ultra High Definition), we’ve a 4K camcorder that produces near broadcast-quality footage. Backpackers and adventures will want something rather lighter and rugged, so we’ve got their back too. Statistically, most camcorder buyers (either new to the hobby or returning to the fold after early adventures with 8mm and VHS-C) are simply keen to record holidays and family events. If that’s you, we’ve some suggestions that are both easy in the hand and gentle on the pocket.
All these camcorder crackers combine exceptional value and performance, so let’s get cracking. Here’s our guide to the best camcorders you can buy right now. As someone wise once said: Lights, camera, action!
1. Panasonic HC-X1000e
Powerful 4K camcorder for truly professional results
Max recording resolution: 4,096x2,160px | Image sensor: 1/2.3-type MOS Sensor | Total pixels: 18.91MP | Dimensions: 160(w) x 170(h) x 315(d)mm | Weight: 1,550g
If you want to shoot like a pro, then Panasonic’s HC-X1000e is a superb option. Able to record 2160p at 60fps, it’s designed for event videographers and enthusiasts. At 1.6kg it isn’t a casual option, and you’ll want to partner it was a decent tripod.
It features a large 3.5-inch colour touchscreen, has two XLR audio inputs, and dual SD card slots. Not only can it shoot 3,840x2,160 up to 60fps, but you can also record cinema-ratio 4,096x2,160 4K at 24fps.
The HC-X1000E employs an 18.9-megapixel, 1/2.3 MOS sensor and a LEICA Dicomar lens. A 20x optical zoom and 5-axis optical image stabilisation offer plenty of compositional opportunities. Image quality is excellent, in both HD and 4K. Detail is high and colour rendering excellent.
It's a superb semi-pro shooter, but understandably complex to use.
2. Sony FDR-AX700
High-spec but compact, the Sony FDR-AX700 is a capable 4K HDR camcorder
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px | Image sensor: 1.0-type Exmor RS CMOS sensor | Total pixels: 14.2MP | Dimensions: 169(w) x 89.5(h) x 196.5(d)mm | Weight: 600g
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 a solid choice for both upmarket videographers and even those that aspire to filmmaking. A standard SMPTE timecode can be included on recordings. Trick replay includes Super Slow Motion.
3. Sony FDR-AX33
A very portable 4K camcorder with Optical SteadyShot
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px | Image sensor: Exmor R CMOS sensor | Total pixels: 8.29MP | Dimensions: 71(w) x 78.5(h) x 149.5(d)mm | Weight: 935g
The FDR-AX33 may be compact but it doesn’t skimp on features. Fronted by a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T lens, niceties include a 10x 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 definitely one to shortlist.
4. Canon LEGRIA HF G26
Canon's go-to Prosumer Full HD camcorder
Max recording resolution: 1,920 x 1,080px | Image sensor: Advanced HD CMOS Pro | Total pixels: 3.09MP | Dimensions: 115(w) x 84(h) x 231(d)mm | Weight: 880g
If 4K isn’t a prerequisite, there are serious bargains to be had with high-spec Full HD models. The Canon LEGRIA HF G26 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 G26 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 stabilisation ensures smooth shooting.
5. GoPro Hero7 Black
GoPro has the ultimate 4K action camcorder
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px | Image sensor: 1-Chip CMOS | Total pixels: 12MP | Dimensions: 62(w) x 32(h) x 45(d)mm | Weight: 117g
The latest iteration of GoPro’s flagship action cam may look suspiciously like its predecessor, but it overflows with new goodness. HyperSmooth video stabilisation gives steady-cam style grace to footage, usable up to 60fps. There’s also TimeWarp (not a dance), which combines HyperSmooth image stabilisation with time-lapse. Another innovation is SuperPhoto, effectively an AI scene option.
The GoPro Hero7 Black shoots 4K with HDR to 60fps, and Full HD can be shot 240fps for slow-motion sequences. It’s waterproof down to 10m, without a dedicated housing. There’s also Voice Control; the camera recognises 12 separate commands, including ‘take a photo’. It's probably the best action cam in the world.
6. Sony FDR-X3000
A premium 4K action camcorder from Sony
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px | Image sensor: 1/2.5-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor | Total pixels: 8.29MP | Dimensions: 29.4(w) x 47(h) x 83(d)mm | Weight: 114g
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 the GoPro Hero5 Black.
7. JVC Everio GZ-RY980HEU
Rugged Quad-Proof 4K camcorder from veteran maker JVC
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px | Image sensor: 1/2.3-inch 1 Back-illuminated CMOS | Total pixels: 18.9MP | Dimensions: 79(w) x 76(h) x 162(d)mm | Weight: 620g
If you want a tough 4K camcorder with above-average build quality, this JVC is more than tough enough. The Everio GZ-RY980HEU 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 -10C. 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 stabilisation. 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.
Beneath the hood, there’s a 4K iteration of JVC’s FALCONBRID image processor. Special in-camera effects include time-lapse recording, and assorted filters.
Basically, this is the Indiana Jones of 4K camcorders.
8. JVC Everio GZ-R405BEU
JVC's high-spec pocket memory camcorder
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px | Image sensor: Super LoLux with Back-illuminated CMOS Sensor, 1/5.8-inch 2.5M pixel Back-illuminated CMOS | Total pixels: 18.9MP | Dimensions: 79(w) x 76(h) x 162(d)mm | Weight: 620g
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-R405BEU boasts a five-hour battery life and records 1080p to a 4GB 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 Stabiliser. It’ll even shoot stills (albeit only at 10MP).
9. Canon LEGRIA HF R86
The pocket camcorder for families
Max recording resolution: 1,920 x 1,080px | Image sensor: CMOS | Total pixels: 2.7MP | Dimensions: 53(w) x 58(h) x 116(d)mm | Weight: 240g
This palm-sized go-anywhere Canon LEGRIA HF R86 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 Stabiliser 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.
10. SONY HDR-CX405
A budget belter from Sony
Max recording resolution: 1,920 x 1,080px | Image sensor: Exmor R CMOS | Total pixels: 9.2MP | Dimensions: 54(w) x 59.5(h) x 128(d)mm | Weight: 190g
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 programmes.
Optical SteadyShot, with effective Intelligent Active mode technology, goes some way to combating handshake. There’s a 30x optical zoom, and Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar 26.8mm wide-angle lens. 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.