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The best camcorders for video in 2021: which is the one for you?

Included in this guide:

 JVC GZ-RY980 Camcorder
(Image credit: JVC)

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

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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 recent 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 are 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.

(Image credit: Canon)

1. Canon Legria HF R806

The best camcorder for families

Max recording resolution: 1,920 x 1,080px
Image sensor: CMOS
Total pixels: 3.28MP
Dimensions: 53(w) x 58(h) x 116(d)mm
Weight: 235g
Reasons to buy
+Compact and lightweight+32x optical zoom+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Not for feature fanatics-Limited still image resolution

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.

(Image credit: Sony)

2. 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
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 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.

(Image credit: Canon)

3. 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
Reasons to buy
+Powerful raft of creative controls+Dual-slot Full HD and MP4 50P recording
Reasons to avoid
-Bigger than the usual palm-corder-Two-hour battery life

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.

(Image credit: Sony)

4. Sony FDR-AX43

Portable and affordable, this is a fantastic 4K camcorder

Max recording resolution: 3,840 x 2,160px
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 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.

(Image credit: Sony)

5. Sony FDR-AX700

High-spec but compact, the Sony 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
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 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. 

(Image credit: JVC)

6. JVC Everio GZ-RY980

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
Reasons to buy
+Rugged build quality+4K/HD simultaneous backup recording+Impressive image stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-No HDR option

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.

(Image credit: Canon)

7. Canon XA40

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

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

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.

(Image credit: Panasonic)

8. Panasonic HC-X2000

Powerful 4K camcorder for truly professional results

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 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.

(Image credit: Sony)

The most affordable full-frame cinema camcorder ever

Max recording resolution: 4096x2160
Image sensor: Full-frame CMOS
Lens: Interchangeable; Sony E-mount
Maximum frame rates: 4K @ 120p, 1080HD @ 240fps
Dimensions: 114x116x153mm
Weight: 890g (body only)
Reasons to buy
+Interchangeable lenses+Twin CFexpress/SD card slots+Fast frame rate options+XLR microphone sockets
Reasons to avoid
-Lenses cost extra-No internal RAW recording-No in-body stabilization

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 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.

Also read:
Best cameras for vlogging
The best 4K camera for serious filmmaking
Best 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.