Best Camcorders of 2020
A camcorder gives you the opportunity to experience your most treasured memories over and over again. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best camcorder to capture your favorite life events.
Caught on Camera: Your Guide to the Best Camcorders
If you want to record all of life's most precious moments, nothing beats a decent camcorder. Sure, you could capture video on your cell phone or tablet, but it won't approach the quality a camcorder gives you.
The question is, how do you find the perfect camcorder to fit your needs? From basic camcorders to action cams to "prosumer" video cameras, which is right for you?
If you need a little help sorting through the options, the staff at BestReviews is here to help. Our mission is to create fair, thorough reviews that help you find the best products. To do so, we test items in our labs, consult experts, gather feedback from existing customers, and perform piles of product research.
Read on for our full guide to camcorders, and you'll soon be giving Tarantino a run for his money.
Types of Camcorders
Basic Consumer Camcorders
Basic consumer camcorders are budget or midrange camcorders; they're definitely not part of the "prosumer" camera category. This type of camcorder should suit most users, bar those who want to shoot professional-level footage.
- Most shoot in standard HD
- Affordable compared to higher-end models
- Generally simple to use
- Good "auto" settings
- Don't shoot in 4K/Ultra HD
- May feel bulky or awkward to hold
Price: Basic consumer-grade camcorders range in price from $100 to $500.
Made famous by the GoPro brand, action camcorders are compact, durable video cameras designed for use on the go.
- Can capture video hands-free
- Durable; often waterproof and shockproof
- Perfect for shooting action you're also involved in—skydiving, skiing
- No zoom
- May lack a display screen
- Questionable sound quality
Price: Action camcorders range in price from $50 to $500.
Prosumer (that's a portmanteau of "professional" and "consumer") camcorders capture amazingly high-quality footage that could even be used in a professional capacity.
- Can capture footage in 4K
- Suitable for serious videographers
- Simpler to use than pro-grade video cameras
- Not basic; too much for some
Price: Prosumer camcorders range in price from $800 to more than $4,000.
A New Resolution
It wasn't that long ago that high definition (HD) was new and exciting. But today, camcorders can shoot at even higher resolutions to render super-realistic footage.
Resolution refers to the quantity of pixels captured by your camcorder and subsequently displayed on screen. A higher resolution renders a sharper image.
These are the different resolutions your camcorder may shoot in.
- 4K or "Ultra HD" = 3840 x 2160 pixels
- HD = 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) or 1280 x 720 pixels (720p)
- Standard Definition = 720 x 480 pixels
Frames Per Second: Can You Have Too Many?
While video appears to our eyes as one continuous moving picture, it's actually a series of still images, or frames, taken in quick succession and played one after another.
The number of frames per second (FPS) a camera can record refers to how many images it captures in one second of footage. The average movie uses footage captured at a rate of 24 FPS. However, some modern camcorders can capture up to 120 FPS.
But is a higher FPS better? Maybe not. Since we're used to seeing video displayed at around 24 FPS, most people find footage shot at 120 FPS looks too smooth and unnatural—more like a video game than real life.
Cameras that can shoot a large number of FPS do have an excellent use, however: They're perfect for creating slow-motion footage. Since they capture four times the average amount of FPS, you can slow the footage down by four times and still have the same detail you'd expect.
Let's Hear It for Sound Quality
Creating a quality video isn't just about the images on screen; sound is important too. Whether you're trying your hand a filmmaking or you simply want to preserve family moments, you don't want crackly or inaudible sound. Look for a camcorder that has decent sound quality. If in doubt, check reviews from existing customers. Some higher-end camcorders can even record audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 for a surround-sound effect.
Time for Your Close-Up: All About Zoom
A camcorder's zoom function allows you to film scenes or objects from afar, making it look like you're closer to the action than you really are. This is useful for filming wildlife that might run away if you were to get too close. It's also excellent for recording sporting events and concerts.
When choosing a camcorder, you should look not only at the amount a camcorder can zoom but also the type of zoom it offers. Optical zoom is provided by the camera's lens, whereas digital zoom is provided by software. Digital zoom is usually larger than optical zoom, but digital zoom can give you blurry results.
Other Camcorder Features to Consider
- Image Stabilization: If you'll be filming by hand rather than using a tripod or similar mount, look for a camcorder with effective image stabilization to avoid shaky footage.
- Size and Weight: Check out the size and weight of any camcorder you're considering, and decide whether it would be comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
- Digital Display: Most camcorders have a digital display that allows you to see what you're recording on the screen rather than having to look through the viewfinder.
- Durability: A durable camcorder withstands the test of time. If you want an extremely hard-wearing model, we recommend an action camcorder.
Tips for Using Your Camcorder
- Decide whether you want manual settings in addition to automatic settings. Basic camcorders may only offer automatic settings, but prosumer models should have a manual option too. With a manual option, you can choose to control aspects such as focus and white balance yourself.
- Pack a spare battery. If you're recording something that you don't want to miss, a spare battery could end up being a lifesaver.
- Determine how you'll transfer your files before you buy the camera. Different camcorders have different ways to transfer files onto a computer or other device. HDMI output, Wi-Fi, and memory cards are common options.
- Consider buying a tripod. Even with decent image stabilization, you still won't get a perfectly smooth video without using a tripod or similar stabilizing device.
Q. What type of image sensor is best?
A. Camcorders typically have one of two types of image sensors: a charge coupled device (CCD) or a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS). Neither type seems to produce a better image than the other, so it really doesn't matter which type of image sensor your camcorder has.
Q. Can I shoot video on my camcorder in low light?
A. If you regularly want to shoot video in low light, opt for a camcorder that has a low-light compensation feature.
Q. How long is the battery life of a camcorder?
A. This can vary. For instance, since action camcorders are stripped back on extras, they tend to have long battery lives. But feature-rich camcorders are likely to last a shorter amount of time between charges.