As seen in:
Sony
4K Handycam
Panasonic
HD w/Wireless Smartphone Twin Video Capture
GoPro
HERO4 SILVER
Samsung
F90
Canon
VIXIA
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Good

Feature-rich: image stabilization, manual mode, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Easy for amateurs and professionals alike.

Excellent video and audio detail. Records up to 25 hours of footage.

Simple, "one button" operation. LCD touch screen. Durable and waterproof.

Portable w/budget price. Better quality than a smartphone. 52X optical zoom.

Vibrant high-def images. Customizeable dial and buttons. App-less WiFi remote. Easy operation.

Bad

Few accessories. Will not record 5.1 surround sound when you record in 4K or if you are recording in HD.

WiFi can be a bit slow.

Mediocre audio. Humming noise when WiFi is enabled.

Auto focus is a bit slow. No WiFi.

Placement of customizable dial is a bit awkward, according to some. No XLR input.

Bottom Line

Pro-grade, "prosumer" video and stills for a price well below the pro level. The best there is.

A mid-range, "consumer" tier camcorder for a decent price. The very best in its class.

An action-oriented camera for on-the-go adventurers.

A simple budget camcorder for consumers who want something slightly better than a smartphone.

This entry-level "prosumer" camcorder is is just one step below the Sony, our Best of Best, in terms of quality.

How we decide
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Products received from manufacturers
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Models Considered
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Hours Spent
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Experts Interviewed
158
Consumers Consulted

Best Camcorders

Today's marketplace offers an exorbitant number of quality camcorders. Several tiers have emerged among the mix, including the "budget," "action," "consumer," and "prosumer" categories. We've analyzed hundreds of camcorders and narrowed the field to the top five. Whether you want to record a child's baseball game, a skydive, or a dramatic film, we'll show you the perfect product for your budget and needs.

Products we Considered

Sony
4K Handycam
Panasonic
HD w/Wireless Smartphone Twin Video Capture
GoPro
HERO4 SILVER
Samsung
F90
Canon
VIXIA

Considerations

Quality

Image quality is an important aspect of any camera. How good will your final product look? Our thorough evaluation identifies camcorders that provide the very best picture within their respective tiers.

Functionality

In this section, we discuss the functionality of each device on our shortlist: manual controls, durability, high frame rates, and so on. Each of our contenders goes well beyond the essentials in an unobtrusive way.

Features

Development in the camcorder arena has come far in recent years. From WiFi capability to on-board editing, color-grading to one-touch YouTube uploading, it's amazing what these devices can do.

Purpose

When it comes to determining which camcorder is right for you, price is a key factor. In this section, we evaluate exactly what you get for your money.

Considerations

Quality

Sony 4K Handycam

Comfortably sitting at the top of the “prosumer” category, Sony’s camcorder is a flat-out beast. Owners love its gorgeous HD. Imagery is on par with the best DSLRs and is actually better than most. In fact, many professional videographers have switched from their standard DSLR to the Sony! A major advantage the Handycam holds over traditional DSLRs: its image stabilization produces amazingly smooth video whether the camera is still or moving. Sony earns top grades for its on-board audio system (which records in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound) as well; this feature is simply incredible for a market that traditionally treats sound as an afterthought. Bottom line: consumers who invest in the Sony get professional quality at a cost that is well below the standard professional price.

Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder

Simply put, the Panasonic HC-V770's image quality is stunning for its cost. As a mid-range camcorder, it's our favorite product in the “consumer” tier. Incredible images, vibrant colors, and the ability to record in low light -- we give the Panasonic top marks for its incredible image detail. Audio has always been a weak spot for camcorders, but the Panasonic makes it a focus area. You can record in 5.1-channel sound, and there are automatic "smart functions" built in that determine your audio source and isolate it. (If you're recording a school play, for example, you'll hear the kids on stage instead of the audience murmuring around you.) Indeed, you'd need to spend hundreds of dollars more to beat the HC-V770 HD’s audio/video quality. Unless you’re a professional, there is no need to spend those extra dollars. If you're an everyday user who wants the highest quality in the "consumer" range, this could be the perfect camcorder for you.

GoPro HERO4 SILVER Music Bundle

The video you can capture with the GoPro HERO4 is absolutely amazing. Due to its relatively low-quality lens (when compared to full-body cameras), you aren’t going to get the cinematic looks that some of our other contenders provide. However, the Hero4 Silver has the capability of shooting in 4K, and it has a 12MP sensor. It’s certainly beautiful, and it's by far the most durable camera on our shortlist. Owners can take the GoPro skiing, scuba diving (yes, it’s waterproof), and even on wind-suit flights. The audio isn’t anything to write home about; in fact, some people experience a humming noise when WiFi is enabled. If you're filming a scripted movie, the GoPro HERO4 won't be the best option for you. If you're filming personal adventures, however, there is no other option that rivals its beauty.

Samsung F90 Black Camcorder

Samsung designed the F90 to be a budget device. Not surprisingly, this means you shouldn’t expect top-notch quality. It captures video at 720p. As a method of comparison, smartphones shoot at 1080p. However, this doesn’t mean that phones are better. The lens of the F90 is larger -- and of higher quality -- than that of a smartphone. It has a nice sensor that, for its class, takes in a lot of light. Another huge advantage the F90 wields over the smartphone is its zoom: at 52X optical zoom, it blows any phone out of the water. The F90 is also much more comfortable and conducive to filming than a smartphone. Owners give it top marks for its ergonomic design, and it conveniently fits into a small purse or pants pocket. In summary, the F90 can't compete with the quality of our other contenders, and it wasn't designed to do so. However, this camcorder is perfect for non-demanding users who wants to easily capture the special moments in life with something a bit better than a smartphone.

Canon VIXIA HF G30 HD Camcorder

Canon’s VIXIA 630 is an excellent product that yields vibrant, high-definition images. As the price would suggest, this model veers into the “prosumer” level of camcorder. Professional videographers use it with glee on a variety of projects. Only the NEX offers a higher quality image. An important point can be made here regarding the Canon VIXIA: it offers nearly the best quality you can get from a camcorder, but there is still one level above it. To be clear, that jump tends to cost hundreds of dollars more. Would a novice videographer (i.e. a parent or hobbyist) notice a large difference? Nope. While some pros may have difficulty deciding if the VIXIA G30 is right for them, the question could be a no-brainer for the everyday users who don't mind spending the cash.

Comfortably sitting at the top of the "prosumer" category, Sony's Handycam is a flat-out beast.
We discussed camcorder functionality with a professional at an electronics shop. A camcorder's primary job is to record video, but it can capture still shots, too. However, the iris doesn't close during a still shot, so the picture could end up blurry. Digital cameras and DSLRs are great for still shots, but if you want to create brilliant videos, a camcorder is in order.
Considerations

Functionality

The beauty of the prosumer Sony 4K Handycam is that you don’t need to be a professional to operate it. A beginner can flick on the device and begin shooting the best video they have ever filmed within seconds. No need to understand aperture, exposure, shutter speed, or the complicated theories behind their various effects. It’s all automated. For those audacious customers, or even professional videographers, the optional manual mode gives you total control over your image. Even through a trial-and-error method, users are getting extremely artistic shots. The Sony illustrates where technology can take us; it's a bridge that can blur the line between hobbyist and professional. The very nature of this was exciting to the people we surveyed. A drawback, according to some, is a slightly lesser video quality in low light . But in spite of this, people everywhere are making the switch to the Sony 4K Handycam. If you’re a novice looking to get serious about filming, this is the camera for you. It will make you look like a pro! If you’re a pro who is tired of the limitations presented by DSLRs, look no further than the Sony 4K Handycam.

We’re blown away by the HC-770's capabilities. A brand new HDR mode captures a dynamic range of colors and expertly corrects exposure issues. (Owners have pointed out how useful this can be, especially in brightly lit scenarios.) Turning on HDR ensures that a beautifully luminous sun will be your friend, not your enemy. This function is particularly beneficial when used in conjunction with the five-axis hybrid optical image stabilization; customers enjoy fluid, realistic pictures while moving and/or zooming with the camera. This feature is useful even when standing still, as many owners say their hands tend to shake a bit while filming. For more adventurous videographers, Panasonic has also included the option to manually adjust many of the HC-V770's on-board features. These include focus, sharpness, shutter speed, and more. In a nutshell, the Panasonic HC-V770 definitely sits at the upper end of the "consumer" tier.

GoPro HERO4 SILVER Music Bundle

GoPro designs their cameras to be as simple as possible. A “one button” mode allows you to simultaneously power up the device and begin capturing video. Alternatively, the ProTune option automatically adjusts and enhances complicated settings to optimize the picture. A slight issue often mentioned by consumers is the camera's inability to shoot in low light. Although GoPro has made strides in recent years, there is still much to be desired in this area. Outside of its nighttime lapse mode, people often shut down their HERO4 after dark. Durability is key, as the camera is meant to be an “action camcorder.” The device will survive falls, drops, and even exposure to water. Owners rave about the HERO4's built-in waterproof functionality that works as deep as 131 feet. (Needless to say, the GoPro has become to go-to device for scuba divers and water sport enthusiasts!) The HERO4 Silver has built-in accessory port; most often, people mount the camera on a helmet, dashboard, or pet harness. The GoPro is ideal for adrenaline junkies who are constantly on the go.

The Samsung F90 a simple getup, and owners love it. Most people who seek this level of camera just want to point and shoot. We’re happy to tell you that this is the best camcorder available if you’re that type of person! While some users say the auto-focus is a bit slow, customers praise the white balance, sharpness, and vibrant colors. Certain settings can be manually adjusted, but if you’re hoping to control exposure or aperture, this probably isn’t the camcorder for you. Understanding that most people using this device won’t want to use post-production software, Samsung included a one-touch sharing feature for instant uploading to YouTube. This is great if you want to post your child’s recent football game for distant relatives to see! And, with the Samsung's 52X optical zoom, you won’t need to worry if you’re sitting in the nosebleeds!

Owners report that operating the Canon VIXIA is a cinch; they really enjoy it. The only minor complaint that seems to surface relates to the custom dial. The VIXIA comes with one customizable dial and five customizable buttons, meaning you can have them correspond to any setting you desire. Some claim the placement of the dial isn’t very intuitive and takes some getting used to. That said, owners do appreciate the freedom to manually set the exposure, aperture, and so on. Uploading footage over WiFi is a fan favorite as well, as is the app-less WiFi remote. Any device can control the camera immediately. What's more, the double storage slots are a fantastic display of ingenuity: not only can you record to two cards at the same time, you can do so in two different formats! Overall, the Canon VIXIA has a lot of operational attributes that allow anyone to control the device with ease and precision.

A beginner can flick on the prosumer Sony 4K Handycam and begin shooting the best video they have ever filmed within seconds.
Rafe
Expert Consultant
Rafe
Technologist, Product Review Professional

Rafe Needleman has been testing and writing about technology products for over 20 years. He has evaluated hundreds of products as editor of CNET and reviews/editorial director of Yahoo Tech.

Considerations

Features

Sony 4K Handycam

We love the Sony 4K Handycam's BOSS (Balanced Optical SteadyShot) lens stabilitization system. Owners agree that its quality and practicality far surpass that of models in price tiers both below and above this one. Customers also emphatically support the 10x zoom option, which allows for smooth and natural video without losing focus. And thanks to the camera's 5.1 surround mic, audio quality is also excellent. Unlike DSLRs in which you can "hear" your camera in the mic, owners tell us that this model's built-in mic renders crystal clear audio to accompany its crisp video.

Because of its WiFi connectivity, your capture with this camera is instantly shareable. Some owners choose to broadcast live via Ustream. And if you're not a professional, you don't have to worry about setting your preferences manually. The Sony offers several "versatile shooting formats" for those who would rather not worry about it. On the other hand, if you're a pro who wants to maintain complete control of your output, you can choose to use the manual control ring.

With this purchase, you also get a rechargeable battery pack and AC adapter.

Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder

We hear nothing but good things about Panasonic’s supplementary phone app. The HC-770 connects to the application with one touch. Customers are amazed by the opportunities the app creates: using a phone or tablet to control the camera, using those devices as a second camera to record two angles at once, and more. You could even connect this camera to a computer for a live broadcast! Parents appreciate this feature, as it allows them to have a reliable baby monitor. Although a few owners complain that the WiFi is a touch laggy, it seems we’re only a few software upgrades away from Panasonic fixing this issue. An optional Remote Pan Tilt Cradle enables an automatic movement sensor, allowing owners to watch their pets from a remote location as the camera follows them with its built-in sensor. The HC-V770 includes some fun extras as well; miniature effect, 8mm movie, slow motion (the equivalent of 240 frames per second), and time lapse recording.

GoPro HERO4 SILVER Music Bundle

We love the HERO4's LCD touch screen -- a never-before feature among this amazing line of cameras. While everything remains basic and easy to navigate, the touchscreen streamlines the process even further with its clear menu. Although we wish there were a faster frame rate available in HD, we’re happy there is the option of shooting at 120fps -- albeit the fact that it’s in 720p resolution. A fast frame rate allows for cool slow motion shots without any motion blur or jerky movements. Users are tickled with the GoPro app as well. It's an amazing interface that empowers videographers to control their camera remotely or transmit a live feed -- all over WiFi. A few other features worth mentioning are the HERO4's SuperView (an extremely wide lens that allows you to capture panoramic views) and time lapse video.

Samsung F90 Black Camcorder

There aren’t a ton of features included with the F90. It has a 2.7-inch touch screen, an SD removable memory card slot, and an HDMI port. For those brave souls who enjoy editing, there is an on-board editing program. The built-in lens is pretty nice as well, considering the F90's budget price; it features a starting point at 35mm and expands up to 229.8mm. It also features a nice 5MP CMOS sensor -- another feature of excellent quality for the price. The F90 does lack WiFi, which is a little disappointing. Expansive features definitely aren’t the point of this product. With the F90, simplicity is the name of the game.

Canon VIXIA HF G30 HD Camcorder

The Canon VIXIA gets good marks for its cinematic filters. Essentially, the filters form an on-board color grading system that allows you to control your look on the fly -- no need for messy color correction in a post-production workflow. The lens features a 20X zoom. While this is definitely appreciated by videographers, some say it’s slightly deceiving because it starts out with such a wide (26mm) lens. We wish it featured an XLR input, yet it’s gone missing in this model. Excellent fast/slow motion modes compensate for this to an extent: Canon allows you to speed up a clip by 250 percent or slow it down to 40 percent without losing quality.

The Panasonic HC-V770 connects to its supplementary phone app with one simple touch.
Considerations

Purpose

Sony 4K Handycam

Sony wants to make you a pro. The Handycam is specifically designed to make anyone look like a true videographer. No prior knowledge of cameras is required. The beauty of this machine is that you can simply point and shoot to produce stunning images. Sony provides you the ability to fully customize your shot by adjusting an abundance of settings. What’s most exciting to users is the fact that professional videographers accustomed to DSLRs are making the switch to the this model for its exceptional versatility. While your images are going to be cinematic in quality, that doesn’t mean you can only use this camera for movies. If you were to film your child’s sporting event and play it back on an HDTV, you might think you were watching your kid play on ESPN!

Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder

While DSLRs and the like limit length of clips to as little as 10 minutes, the Panasonic HC-V770 can record up to 25 hours of high-quality footage on one take when using a 64GB memory card. Combined with image stabilization, this camcorder is an apt device for recording soccer games or birthday parties. Because it can capture excellent video in low light, it's also perfect for filming school plays. WiFi capabilities make this a great option for parents who want to keep a remote eye on their children or pets. The HC-V770's live broadcasts are extremely appealing to those who record podcasts or live events. People who buy the Panasonic HC-V770 get the highest quality possible without jumping to the "prosumer" level." Happy customers rave about the phenomenal experiences they have with the HC-V770 as their home video camera.

GoPro HERO4 SILVER Music Bundle

It’s hard to call the GoPro “one dimensional” because of the sheer number of amazing shots you can get. However, it’s very clearly an “action camcorder" -- meant to capture high-speed moments, thrills, and other adventures. It is not meant for filming sporting events, school plays, or movies (unless a particular scene calls for it). If you’re unsure as to whether the GoPro is right for you, simply watch any of the excessive demo videos available on the web. After a few, you’ll probably be addicted to watching them! More importantly, you’ll know if the GoPro is the best camcorder for your needs.

Samsung F90 Black Camcorder

The Samsung F90 is a pure budget camera. That doesn’t mean it’s bad -- far from it! It’s specifically designed for someone looking to film school events or other personal videos at a higher level of quality than their smartphone offers. If you know you want to film some events, but you don’t care to spend a lot of money, the F90 is for you. It’s specifically designed for non-demanding users who want a headache-free experience. If this sounds like your ideal tier of camcorder, we highly recommend the Samsung F90.

Canon VIXIA HF G30 HD Camcorder

Canon created an entry-level “prosumer” device with the VIXIA HF30. As that implies, it isn’t the best available camcorder, but it can be used in a professional capacity. It’s meant for a novice videographer looking to improve his/her craft or a parent that takes film-making a bit more seriously than the rest of the neighborhood. It’s especially designed for those who want to make YouTube videos at a professional level without spending a lot of cash. Relatively speaking, this phenomenal device is quite affordable when compared to professional equipment. There’s plenty of room for versatility, and the camera will last for years.

Consumers who buy the Panasonic HC-V770 get the highest quality possible without jumping to the "prosumer" level.

Best of the Best

No doubt about it, the best camcorder on our shortlist is the Sony 4K Handycam. It takes the cake as the overall best camcorder available.

While the Handycam is the best camera overall, those looking for a POV action cam would be better off with the GoPro. Those looking to broadcast a live feed could also be satisfied by the Panasonic HC-V770. In terms of quality and functionality, however, the Sony model is way ahead of its competitors at the end of the day.

The Handycam's feature list reads like an appetizing menu and seems almost boundless. Want video quality that exceeds that of HD? The Sony allows you to capture 4x HD with exceptionally sharp playback. Want to capture shots without the distortion of movement or a shaky hand? The Sony's BOSS technology has garnered the attention of videographers everywhere for its incredible image stabilization. With a premium ZEISS lens, 5.1 surround, multiple user-friendly formats for beginners, and manual controls for pros, a wave of people are now migrating from DSLRs to our Best of the Best product — and we don't blame them.

Best of the Best
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One of the best aspects of the "prosumer" Sony Handycam is that any novice can achieve incredible results with it. Professionals love it, too.

Best Bang for your Buck

There is no denying that the Panasonic HC-V770 HD camcorder, at a cost of $447, is more expensive than a lot of other camcorders on the market. However, in terms of what you get per dollar, it simply can’t be beat.

The image quality nears that of its “prosumer” rivals, as does the 5.1-channel audio. Owners are particularly enthralled by its audio isolation feature. This incredible function immediately recognizes the subject(s) you’re trying to film and isolates their sound. In essence, it cuts away the extraneous, unwanted noise that other cameras might pick up. HDR-mode is another brilliant function that producers an amazingly dynamic range of colors while expertly correcting exposure issues. Video footage of a hike in the bright sun, for example, would no longer be blown out. Rather, the HC-V770 would turn the luminous light into a display of vibrant colors and rich saturation.

We commend Panasonic for taking full advantage of smart devices and WiFi. The HC-V770 automatically connects to your phone or tablet, permitting you to control the camcorder remotely. You can even record two angles at once by using your device as a second camera! This ingenious application also lets you produce a live feed from your camera -- an approach that can be used to broadcast an event or carefully watch over a sleeping child.

The Panasonic HC-V770 is absolutely loaded with features, and it yields excellent image quality. While it isn’t quite on the professional level, any amateur would be wise to consider the Panasonic HC-V770. It’s got everything a home-user needs -- and a whole lot more.
Best Bang for your Buck
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In terms of what you get per dollar, the feature-rich Panasonic HC-V770 simply can't be beat.
The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Editor
  • Jasmin
    Jasmin
    Operations
  • Jimi
    Jimi
    Product Analyst
  • Adrian
    Adrian
    Senior Engineer