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The best camcorders in 2021: which type do you need, and what are the best buys?

Included in this guide:

 The best camcorder in 2021: JVC GZ-RY980 Camcorder
(Image credit: JVC)

The best camcorders can compete with mirrorless cameras but with the convenience of a built in lens. With 4K cameras now being available at every price point, more and more people are realizing that having a device that is designed solely for shooting movies often means that when choosing the best camera for video, a camcorder can be a much better choice than a multi-purpose camera or smartphone

But there's more than one type of camcorder. Normally you will think of smaller, inexpensive all-in-one camcorders for casual and amateur use however, there's a growing professional broadcast market too, as demonstrated by the recent Canon XF605, for example.

There is plenty to consider if you're shopping for a camcorder, with the market ranging all the way from friendly consumer camcorders to professional camcorders used for TV broadcast journalism or documentary filmmaking. 

We've put together a list of what we think are be the best camcorders available on the market right now. From small and self-contained styles, designed for holidays and day-to-day casual shooting, to the latest and greatest 4K camcorders that produce stunning footage of superior quality, there should be something for everyone and all budgets!

The best camcorders: what to look for

If you're considering returning to the world of camcorders for the first time after adventures many years ago with 8mm or VHS-C tape, you might be wondering why you need one at all? The key advantage of owning a camcorder over a camera phone is that you to get a vast optical zoom lens built in, meaning you can get closer to your subjects without compromising the quality of your image. This is particularly useful when 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 prosumers and professionals, but come with a price-tag to match; whilst content creators working on their own 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 requires a 4K camcorder, and if Full HD resolution is all you need, then here are some great choices that will deliver great-looking video at a rock-bottom price.

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony HDR-CX405

Equipped with a Carl Zeiss 30x optical zoom, this is a great option to capture all the action when it happens.

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Irresistible price+Seriously compact
Reasons to avoid
-Expect some noise from the small sensor-SDXC card required for 1080p

You don’t need to spend big to make great movies – Sony’s HDR-CX405 sells for well under $300, but also comes with a host of sophisticated tricks to help you make extremely polished films. The camcorder can record simultaneously in XAVC S, AVCHD and friendly file-sharing MP4 format. You can edit in-camera using the onboard Highlight Movie Maker and can even apply various visual effects without having to faff around with separate editing programs, which is a real bonus for those that want a simple solution. 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 extremely easy to recharge the camcorder and copy footage to a PC/MAC. Given the spec, you might be hard pressed to justify spending more, making this one of the best camcorders for filmmakers on a budget.

Recommended

(Image credit: B&H)

2. Canon Vixia HF R800

The best camcorder for families

Specifications
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: 305g
Reasons to buy
+Compact and lightweight+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Not for feature fanatics-Limited still image resolution

This small palm-sized and go-anywhere Canon Vixia HF R800 is all about family fun. It records at 1080p to SD cards and boasts a huge 57x advanced zoom, DIGIC DV4 image processor along with an Intelligent Image Stabilizer with Framing assist. There’s even a decent parcel of filters, including assorted Cinema-Looks. This is an inexpensive to buy and a lot of fun to use.

Best 4K camcorders

4K video has become the new normal for serious filmmaking. It doesn't just give you the step up in resolution either, it gives you great cope for cropping, tracking and panning, whilst editing your videos later. Here are some great 4K camcorders that let you step up the quality without compromizing your budget.

(Image credit: Sony)

3. Sony FDR-AX43

Portable and affordable, this is a fantastic 4K camcorder

Specifications
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160 pixels
Image sensor: Exmor R CMOS sensor
Total pixels: 8.29MP
Dimensions: 173 x 80.5 x 73mm
Weight: 625g
Reasons to buy
+4K recording+Light and compact+5.1 channel microphone+20x zoom
Reasons to avoid
-No HDR-Low-light performance can be noisy

The FDR-AX43 may be compact, but it doesn’t skimp on its features. Fronted by a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T lens, which includes 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 formats, plus easy to share MP4. For those who want as if you where there surround sound when viewing their footage on a home cinema or soundbar, there’s also a multichannel 5.1 microphone. However, expect limitations in low light, but if you’re in the market for an easy-to-manage
camcorder, capable of 4K video, then this model is a fantastic choice, and that balance between functionality, portability and price is why it takes our #1 spot.

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony FDR-AX700

High-spec but compact, the Sony AX700 is a capable 4K HDR camcorder

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+4K video quality+Built-in Wi-Fi
Reasons to avoid
-Big for a palm-sized camcorder-Probably not for casual hobbyists

A superbly spec'd 4K camcorder, the Sony FDR-AX700 has a one-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor that 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 recording speeds of 100 Mbps for 4K, and 50 Mbps for 1080p. It will also shoot Full HD 1080p slow-motion at 120 fps. The brand’s BIONZ X image processor keeps images crisp and makes the FDR-AX700 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. 

(Image credit: Canon)

5. Canon Vixia HF G60

A great 4K camcorder designed for serious videomakers

Specifications
Max recording resolution: 4K
Image sensor: Dual-pixel CMOS 13.4MP
Total pixels: 3.09MP
Dimensions: 125 x 91 x 265mm
Weight: 1135g
Reasons to buy
+4K shooting+Large one-inch sensor+Dual memory card slot
Reasons to avoid
-A relatively bulky option, best suited to semi-professional use

The Vixia HF G60 is the latest 4K model from Canon for serious enthusiasts and semi professionals. This model only shoots 4K, however, has a big 1 inch sensor and a nine-blade diaphragm that's going to give your footage a more cinematic look than smaller models. With its familiar layout, this is definitely a good step-up model for anyone who has used more basic camcorders. The Vixia HF G60 has a 15x zoom lens with five-axis image stabilization, flip-out 3 inch touchscreen, as well as a tiltable eyelevel viewfinder. Another useful feature is that there are two SD card slots.

(Image credit: Canon)

6. Canon Vixia HF G50

A more affordable Canon 4K camcorder option

Specifications
Max recording resolution: 4K
Image sensor: CMOS 21.1MP
Total pixels: 8.2MP
Dimensions: 114 x 84 x 231 mm
Weight: 953g
Reasons to buy
+4K shooting+20x zoom+Dual memory card slot
Reasons to avoid
-Smaller sensor than Vixia HF G60-No Dual Pixel AF

By its looks and the model name, it's easy to think that this is a small step down from the Canon Vixia HF G50. however, in fact this less expensive model has a more significant difference at its core. This camcorder uses a significantly smaller 1/2.3 inch sensor, which makes this not only more affordable, but also a more suitable model for everyday use, as it will give more depth of field and allow it to focus easier. The smaller sensor also means you get a wider 20x zoom lens, but there is still plenty of serious features on offer here, including twin memory card slots, which is a great feature loved by all video makers.

Best professional camcorders

Mention 'camcorder' to anyone and most will think of an affordable, consumer-friendly, all-in-one video camera, but there's also a growing market for professional camcorders that share the same broad design, but are intended to be used 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.

(Image credit: Canon)

7. Canon XA40

A 4K camcorder from one of the best in the business

Specifications
Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px
Image sensor: 1/2.3" type CMOS Sensor
Total pixels: 8.29MP
Dimensions: 182.9 x 109.2 x 83.8 mm
Weight: 726g
Reasons to buy
+Generous 20x lens+Professional-quality 4K video+1200x slow motion mode
Reasons to avoid
-Price puts it in pro realm

The  impressive XA40 from Canon is a pro-grade camcorder that not only produces stunning 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 with you wherever you want it to go, while the 20x zoom lens gives you real shooting versatility in a number of scenarios. An optical 5-axis image stabilisation is also a bonus, making it easier to capture professional-looking shots while you're shooting handheld. This is a camera for all seasons and all situations.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

8. Panasonic HC-X2000

A powerful 4K camcorder for truly professional results

Specifications
Max recording resolution: 3840 x 2160px
Image sensor: 1/2.5-type MOS Sensor
Total pixels: 8.29MP
Dimensions: 129 x 159 x 257mm (5.08 x 6.26 x 10.1in)
Weight: 1.5kg / 3.31 lb (with battery and handle)
Reasons to buy
+Prosumer form factor+Superb image quality+Incredibly versatile+Detachable handle with built-in light
Reasons to avoid
-Can be unwieldy for the unwary

If you're wanting to shoot like a pro, then  this Panasonic’ HC-X2000 is the best run-and-gun camcorder in our list. Capable of recording 2160p at 60fps, it’s designed for event videographers and enthusiasts. Weighing in 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 for professional audio options and dual SD card slots. Not only can it shoot 3,840x2,160 up to 60fps, but can also shoot slow motion at 120fps in Full HD 1080p. 

Read More:
The best 4K camera for serious filmmaking
Best paid-for video editing software for vloggers and filmmakers
Best cameras for streaming
Best video tripods

Chris George

Chris George has worked on Digital Camera World since its launch in 2017. He has been writing about photography, mobile phones, video making and technology for over 30 years – and has edited numerous magazines including PhotoPlus, N-Photo, Digital Camera, Video Camera, and Professional Photography. 


His first serious camera was the iconic Olympus OM10, with which he won the title of Young Photographer of the Year - long before the advent of autofocus and memory cards. Today he uses a Nikon D800, a Fujifilm X-T1, a Sony A7, and his iPhone 11 Pro.


He has written about technology for countless publications and websites including The Sunday Times Magazine, The Daily Telegraph, Dorling Kindersley, What Cellphone, T3 and Techradar.