A high-quality video camera used to be an exclusive privilege to professional cinematographers or the ultra-wealthy. Everyone else was resigned to run-of-the-mill camcorders. But technological evolutions have put some pretty advanced video cameras into the hands of the everyday consumer. Whether you’re looking to shoot your first indie film with your friends, capture a home video of your family’s snorkeling expedition, or turn yourself into a YouTube icon, there are plenty of high-quality options available to you, and you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get the footage you’re looking for.
There’s no singular best video camera, and that’s why we’ve put together a list that covers a wide range of different functions, features, and specializations for your convenience. If you have more of a specific budget, you may also like our article on the best video cameras under $1000.
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Best Video Cameras - Fall 2020:
- PANASONIC HC-WXF991K
- Panasonic HC-X1000 4K
- Canon VIXIA HF R800
- Sony 4K HD Video Recording FDRAX33
- Panasonic HC-V770 Full HD Camcorder
- Sony HDR-CX405/B Handycam
- GoPro HERO7 Black Action Camera
- Sony FDRX3000/W Underwater Camcorder
- PANASONIC LUMIX GH5S Body 4K
- YI 4K Action and Sports Camera
1. PANASONIC HC-WXF991K
Panasonic is one of the biggest giants for consumer electronics in general, but the broadness of their profile doesn't mean that their camcorders are ordinary. They've been diligent in keeping their cameras competitive with the newest technologies, and the HC-WXF991K is one of the best (if most expensive) Panasonic options available. They've partnered with Leica - one of the most well-regarded camera companies around - for their DICOMAR lens, and it offers both a 20X zoom and 5-axis Hybrid Optical Image Stabilization.
Wi-Fi compatibility is built right in so you can access multi-camera scene in scene in-picture recording, and this camcorder can deliver crisp 4K editing and professional-level effects like dolly zoom, post cropping, and stabilization. While the wealth of features may be a bit too much for more casual consumers, the impressive scope of this camera makes it powerful enough for aspiring filmmakers.
2. Panasonic HC-X1000 4K
The HC-X1000 retails for over double the price of Panasonic's HC-WXF991K, but that price bump constitutes the difference between semi-professionals and experienced pros. This is a versatile camera that can work equally as well at filming events and sports as it can as a dedicated documentary filming device. You can expect compatibility with 4K, Cinema 4K, and full-HD at frame rates ranging from 24p to a smooth 60p. The ability to record in AVCHD, MOV and MP4 means that you can easily pop your recordings into editing software without having to worry about a loss in quality during the process.
As with the HC-X1000, this professional video camera is equipped with a Leica DICOMAR lens. If this is your first rodeo, this professional camcorder may be a bit too much for you, but anyone confident in their filmmaking capabilities and looking for a 4K video camera can trust this model.
3. Canon VIXIA HF R800
The prior two cameras were built with the needs of pros and semi-pros in mind, and they both bore price tags to match. The VIXIA HF R800, by contrast, is an affordable model ideal for casual consumers and those still learning the fundamentals of filmmaking. This Canon video camera is under $500 and offers a 57X advanced zoom and a 32X optical zoom so you can capture family memories like plays and sporting events with precise and crystal clear resolution.
Canon's trademark SuperRange Optical Image Stabilizer is included to ensure that your shots stay steady even when shooting from a distance, even when your camera operator is in motion. A touch panel LCD screen allows you to easily adjust components of your shot like focal points and tracking even if you possess little to no technical knowledge, and its lightweight design allows you to get use out of it just about anywhere.
4. Sony 4K HD Video Recording FDRAX33
Designed as a consumer alternative to the renowned FDR-AX100 4K camcorder, this Sony video camera manages to retain some of the best features from its bigger brother and pack them into a user friendly alternative that can be snagged for less than half the price. While the specs and features here are naturally not on the same level as the AX100, there's still a lot to love here. The ability to record crisp 4K footage is of course the biggest appeal, but it offers some of the best image stabilization tech in the business.
That means you can get professional looking footage even if you're a filmmaking novice. NFC and Wi-Fi connections are both included, and the FDRAX33 digital video camera comes with both MicroHDMI and USB ports. It also offers surprisingly decent still photo functionality, allowing it to pull double duty at family events.
5. Panasonic HC-V770 Full HD Camcorder
If you don't expect this Panasonic video camera to excel on the same level of the early entries from that company on this list, you'll find a lot to love with the HC-V770. A wireless video camera that comes packed with a 20X optical zoom, the HC-V770 is a beast capable of satisfying most casual users. Especially cool is the Wi-Fi compatible smartphone twin video capture which allows you to use your phone's camera to produce a picture-in-picture effect.
And by downloading the free Panasonic Image app, you can even use your phone or tablet as a remote controller for the camcorder. The HC-V770 can even serve as a live feed surveillance recorder or baby monitor in a pinch. The Back Side Illumination Sensor allows for high performance that reduces noise even in exceedingly low light conditions.
6. Sony HDR-CX405/B Handycam
This Sony kit stuffs a camcorder along with all the accessories an amateur filmmaker would need into a single package. The HDR-CX405/B isn't the most top shelf camera on the market, but it's a serviceable choice for amateurs, and the entire kit comes with a price tag less than many of the standalone cameras on this list. The 30X optical zoom is more powerful than some of the more expensive cameras available, and it manages to deliver full HD 1080p resolution at a steady 60p frame rate, so you shouldn't have to worry about any choppiness even when shooting subjects in motion.
This camera includes its own carrying case, a 32 GB microSD card for storing your footage, a battery charger to keep you powered even on the go, and an 8 inch table tripod for when you need an extra level of stability for your shots.
7. GoPro HERO7 Black Action Camera
GoPro has built a name for themselves as the camera of choice for outdoor adventurers. There are no better action cameras in the business, and if you're looking to record high speed footage at crisp 4K without skipping (and without having to pay a fortune), the HERO7 is a solid choice. It's not the cheapest action camera on the market, but it's our top choice for the genre. It builds off all of the core specs of the HERO6 but packs in a number of quality of life features for shooting footage on the go.
The biggest addition is the HyperSmooth tech - a smart addition that offers an exceptional level of optical stabilization. The other big selling point here is the voice activation. While it doesn't work quite as well as it should, the twelve programmed commands are a game-changer for when you need to shoot footage hands free.
8. Sony FDRX3000/W Underwater Camcorder
Whether you're looking to record fun and games in the family pool or capture your cave diving expedition for everyone to see, Sony's FDRX3000 underwater video camera sets the bar for affordable options. The waterproof housing allows you to shoot footage at depths as low as 197 feet, while the ZEISS lens ensures crisp Professional 4K results. Balanced Optical SteadyShot is built in to achieve a decent level of optical stability, and three viewing angles (wide, medium, or narrow) mean that you can choose the shot that works for you with a single click.
Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth offer a high level of wireless options, and GPS is similarly built in. A mic jack is included along with ports for HDMI and USB. Time-lapse recording comes in the form of 8.3MP stills optimized for 4K.
9. PANASONIC LUMIX GH5S Body 4K
Panasonic's Lumix GH5S may look like a traditional still camera on first blush, but the opposite is actually true. As a still camera, it's a serviceable but unremarkable model, but as a compact and reliable video camera, it excels. If you're looking for a camera that can serve double duty for shooting photos and videos (and you demand more focus on the latter), it's worth a look. Its splash- and freeze-proof design makes it a sturdy standard for extreme conditions, and the Dual Native ISO delivers ultra-sensitive video results with muted noise.
While amateurs may not be able to tell the difference between its 4K Anamorphic and traditional 4K, it's bound to be a revelation for videophiles. The GH5S is something of an odd duck, occupying an underserved market of crossover between traditional photography and videography, but its high-end specs make it a strong contender in the latter category.
10. YI 4K Action and Sports Camera
YI isn't as big a name as GoPro as far as action cameras are concerned - and this 4K action camera can't stand neck and neck with the HERO7 - but it's one of the most budget conscious action cameras on the market. Its 4K capabilities allow for consistent rates of 30fps, and its exceedingly long battery life makes it a strong choice if you find yourself out in the wild for long periods of time. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both built in for easy editing and sharing on social media.
The LCD touchscreen is refreshingly intuitive, allowing even amateurs to handle their settings, preview video, and shoot footage. A Gorilla Glass cover lends it an extra level of durability (although it's worth noting that this camera isn't waterproof on its own), while voice commands allow you to control your shot without having to use your hands.
Best Video Cameras Buyer’s Guide
Popular Video Cameras (That Didn’t Make the Cut)
We tried to fold as diverse a selection of video cameras into this list, but the market is so rich (and so varied) that some popular choices weren’t going to be able to cut the mustard. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. The following options may be right for you due to their unique (if sometimes gimmicky) features.
Flip Video Camera
Flip Video was a victim of the smartphone revolution. While they sold well when first introduced in 2008, these compact pocket sized video cameras can’t really do more than the Android of iPhone already in your pocket. And all the cameras on our list outpace it significantly in terms of features. If you want a cute conversation starter, you can still find used models online, but the lack of versatility makes them unsuitable for a top ten.
360 Video Camera
360 video allows you to get full panorama coverage in a single shot. It’s a feature that many cell phones have (albeit without the high quality resolution and other features of more dedicated camcorders). If 360 footage is a must-have choice for you, action camera manufacturers like GoPro and YI offer models with the capability. But the increased premium for 360 footage caused them to be muscled out by the more affordable action cams on our list.
DSLR vs. Traditional Camcorder
DSLR (short for digital single-lens reflex) is one of the recognized standards for traditional still cameras, but there’s a reason why only one of the cameras on our list made the cut, and why that one camera was a crossover that focused on both still and video footage.
The reason DSLR is so popular is that they allow for better footage in low lights without the need for a dedicated video light. But there are a few reasons why they’re an impractical choice for video cameras.
- Recording Time: The maximum recording time for a DSLR camera is generally a half hour, and if you’re going to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars on a video camera, that can become highly impractical. While some videographers might see an advantage in using a DSLR camera as part of their backup, it’s simply not a great choice for an all-purpose video cam.
- Focus: With still cameras, the sort of auto-focus options you find with DSLR is an advantage. That’s not so with video cameras. While auto-focus is great for single shots, it can be a distraction in video. That’s because it takes time for the DSLR to get in focus, and the resulting effect in smooth video is a blur as the camera zeroes in on the proper subject.
- Sensor Size: DSLR takes up a lot of real estate. While that allows for better performance in low light and a greater depth of field, the trade-off in terms of bulk and weight simply makes them a poor choice for most video cameras.
- Audio Performance: Audio is a major component when shooting film, but it’s obviously a non-issue when working with stills. Traditional camcorders typically come with their own built in mics, while DSLRs don’t. While you can jury rig the latter with an audio jack and an external audio recorder or shotgun mic, that’s an additional set of gear you need to bring with you just to get the audio footage you want.
CMOS vs. CCD
CMOS and CCD are the two main standards in terms of image sensors for most camcorders. If you’ve been following the list closely, you’ll notice that the former tends to be more prevalent. A big part of that comes down to pricing. CMOS sensors are generally much cheaper to produce. There are some distinct advantages from using CCD sensors. Cameras equipped with these sensors typically produce less noise for clearer and crisper footage, and they have a higher sensitivity to light.
That means that they can offer more focused performance in low light. The two main advantages to CMOS sensors are their comparatively low price and the fact that they consume significantly less power: often 1% of a traditional CCD sensor.
In practical terms, most users won’t be able to notice the difference between the two. If you’re incredibly focused on the quality of performance, the edge that a CCD sensor provides may make the difference for you, but the lower price of CMOS sensors means that you can get more bang for your buck in terms of additional features without having to pay a premium.
Camcorders are cheaper than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not still an investment. With a couple of notable exceptions, most of the top shelf camcorders you’ll find are going to run you somewhere in the range of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Each of the cameras in this list have their own distinct strengths, and many (like the underwater cameras) have features that will be necessities for a certain type of videographer. With that in mind, carefully evaluate your options before you decide to shell out the cash for a new camera.If you liked our article on video cameras, please share and comment below what your favorite product is.