Three best camcorders

Jaime Vazquez

All digital camcorders can take still images as well as video.

Online videos have proven that all of us can be movie directors -- with the right gear. If you take movies with your smartphone, but you want to level-up your production quality, you're going to need a camcorder with the right technical chops that's still easy to use.

Camcorders are perfect for everything from capturing family moments in high-quality video to shooting your next masterpiece for Sundance. Here's everything you need to know before you wade through the jungle of specifications, features, and marketing hoopla.

Considerations when choosing camcorders

Camcorders include all kinds of functionality, ranging from the innovative to the unnecessary. When it comes down to it, there are four key features that are most important: resolution, image stabilization, audio quality, and connectivity.

Resolution: The resolution refers to how sharp the image quality will be. For example, a 1080p camcorder will produce videos at a 1920 x 1080 resolution, otherwise known as high-definition (HD) video. A 4K camcorder will shoot at a resolution of 3840 x 2160, also known as ultra-high-definition (UHD) or 4K video. It's worth it to get a 4K camcorder if you can afford it because it captures four times as many pixels, making the resulting footage look incredibly detailed.

Image stabilization: Most camcorders have built-in image stabilization so that the video doesn't look jumpy or hard to watch. As you're comparing different camcorder models, watch sample videos from other users online -- the videos that are the most steady are those with the best image stabilizers.

Audio quality: If you're shooting video, you're also recording audio, so it's important to think about what kind of audio you want to record. For example, if you'll mostly be using your camcorder to record music, a camcorder that records two-channel stereo audio will do fine. On the other hand, if you want to make movies with surround sound, you'll need to buy a camcorder that supports multichannel formats.

Connectivity: You'll need to download videos from your camcorder to a computer periodically, so it's important to think about the most convenient way to do that. Budget camcorders require you to physically move a micro SD card from the camera to your computer. Luxury models often include WiFi, so you can transfer files without having to risk damaging your memory card.


Q. If my phone already records 4K video, is it worth it to buy a 4K camcorder?

A. Yes. While many smartphones can record video in 4K resolution, a camcorder is built to capture video in much higher quality through the use of specific lenses and image processing. Smartphone 4K video looks good and is great for casual videos and capturing moments, but if you're serious about capturing video that looks professional, you'll need a proper camcorder.

Q. What software do I need to edit videos from a camcorder?

A. All camcorder manufacturers include software with their cameras so that users can download and edit recordings. That said, most manufacturer software is pretty clunky, so it's better to explore third-party options. If you use a Windows computer, try the free application Windows Movie Maker, included with Windows 10. If you're a Mac user, consider using iMovie, the video-editing application included with the OS X operating system.

Q. How long do camcorder batteries typically last?

A. It depends. Most camcorders deliver anywhere between two and four hours on a single charge, so we recommend buying at least one extra battery as a precaution. To maximize the battery life of a camcorder, close the LCD screen as often as possible (powering the built-in display is typically the biggest drain on battery life).

Camcorders we recommend

Best of the best: Sony FDRAX33 Handycam Camcorder 

Our take: Sony's handheld 4K camera brings pro-level features to consumers with an easy-to-use interface and a feature set that's practically future-proof. This is the camera to get if you need granular control of specific settings or just want to make movies that look fantastic.

What we like: Image stabilization is perfect for videographers with less than steady hands. The 4K videos are stunning, and the fact that it can natively record to surround sound formats like Dolby Digital 5.1 means they'll also sound as good as they look.

What we dislike: Understanding the different settings takes a lot of time and experimentation. Image quality is highly dependent on lighting conditions, which can make shooting indoors a challenge.

Best bang for your buck: GoPro HERO5 Digital Action Camera 

Our take: GoPro has raised the bar for portable camcorder technology. They're built to go anywhere and film anything. The HERO5 earns its place in the GoPro family: it shoots incredible 4K video and it's waterproof to 33 feet. Nothing comes close to the HERO5 in terms of value at this price point.

What we like: Affordable. Designed for nonprofessionals. Incredibly rugged. Captures above-average video.

What we dislike: Customer service has a reputation for being especially unhelpful. The two-inch touch display is cumbersome to use.

Choice 3: Panasonic HC-V770 Camcorder 

Our take: A high-quality 1080p camcorder that has a lot of innovative onboard tech, including audio filters for windy days and WiFi for easy file transfers. If you're looking for the best 1080p camcorder around (and you're not yet ready to make the leap to 4K), this is the one to get.

What we like: Films video in HDR, making movies that look especially good on a TV that supports HDR. "Wireless Twin" feature allows you to use a smartphone as a second camera for shooting multi-camera video or using picture-in-picture.

What we dislike: It's a 1080p camera, so it doesn't shoot video in 4K, making its price a little tough to justify.

Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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