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Smartphones have stolen the spotlight from camcorders in recent years when it comes to capturing content. Their video quality increases with each generation, and they’re always available at an arm’s length away from us – so why invest in a whole separate video camera when you’ve already got one in your pocket?
If the last time you used a camcorder was decades ago, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Camcorders have changed a lot since the big clunkers of the 1980s and pixelation of the early Nineties. They’re mostly all 4K/1080p now, and the high-def recording quality can be exponentially better than taking a video on your phone – some even good enough for journalistic and documentary production. HDR brings out increased colors and contrasts in whatever you’re filming, and there’s no more analog magnetic tape either, as your colorful videos can be saved to multiple SD card slots, or exported right to your PC.
What to Look for in a Video Camera
From a family road trip to creating films with friends, vlogging or recording for your YouTube channel, camcorders bring a different element to recording, giving you more settings to choose from and increasing video possibilities – all with way better production value.
A wide angle lens provides you with an array of options for framing your shots, and can capture your vacation memories exactly as you want to preserve them. You also get powerful zoom capability on modern cameras, with magnification ranges pushing up to 60x, and image stabilization to keep your shot steady as the focal distance gets longer or closes in. You can even adjust the speed of the zoom for that perfect reveal to later sync up with just the right song. Automatic backlight correction is another welcome feature too, as it recognizes the subject of your shot and adjusts the focal lighting onto them instead of the background.
Unless they’re incredibly small, all cameras will usually have a built-in touchscreen. The most obvious benefit to this is using it to frame your shots, so your eye doesn’t need to be squinting into the viewfinder at all times, and to let you record at odd angles without craning your neck into uncomfortable positions. But it’s also instantly handy to change settings fast, and flip around so the person in frame can see themselves.
For more professional users, there are features like color bars, test tones, image sensors, aperture, multi-point auto-focus, and super slow motion. These also pair with mobile devices, sometimes letting you control up to five different cameras from the app, and the ability to view exactly what the camera’s seeing right from your phone’s screen.
For audio, most budget-friendly camcorders will come with a mono mic. But if you’re looking to record sound that’s as rich as your visuals, go for one with a stereo mic.
No matter what climate you’re venturing into, there’s a camera that can handle it. For poolside or beach trips, water-resistant and waterproof models are widely available. There’s even freeze-proof ones for snowy excursions, and cameras that are mountable to bikes, helmets, backpacks and more.
If a camera’s ergonomic design is too heavy or awkward to hold for long periods or time, you’ll find yourself using it less and less. Best to go for something that’s going to fit your needs, as well as your hands and eyes. We’ve selected four here that are ready for you to hit record and start filming, without hitting your budget too hard.
1. Canon XA10 Professional Camcorder
For those looking to upgrade their gear, or who have outgrown their entry-level camcorder and want to get serious about filmmaking, this Canon won’t disappoint.
The XA10 has a ton of space for memory — 64GB internal flash drive and two SDXC-compatible memory card slots — so you can capture plenty of footage out in the wild before returning to your workstation to upload everything. The Dynamic SuperRange optical image stabilization has four modes to offset vibration and shaking, even while in motion.
Nine different cinematic settings provide you with instant effects to set the mood of your scene, and the high-quality mic can pick up sound from an impressive 164 feet away.
Canon’s focus feature has always been fast and accurate, and even in extreme lighting, this camera quickly adjusts. The Face Tracking ability makes sure the subject of your frame stays clear too – even when they’re sideways.
2. Sony FDRX3000/W Underwater Camcorder 4K
Sony offers a whole lot of choices when it comes to camcorders, but this one has a lot going for it in a little package.
The FDRX3000 shoots in beautiful 4K or 1080p at 120fps, at three shooting angles: narrow, medium and wide. It’s easy to figure out the controls and settings, and eventually use them without even looking at the built-in screen.
The Optical Image Stabilizer here is top notch, and cuts down significantly on shakiness (some users even preferred this over their GoPro). It also works especially well with the built-in WiFi, and being able to see the camera’s view through the app is extremely convenient for setting up remote shots.
Though the screen isn’t backlit, which makes night-filming more difficult, this camera can stand up to the rigors of constant use, and is even waterproof with the extra case attached.
3. Panasonic Full HD Video Camera HC-V180K
This Panasonic films in crisp 1080p full HD, with a wide-angle lens of 28mm, as well as a 50x optical zoom (and Intelligent 90x zoom on top of that), with five-axis image stabilization. A two-channel mic also matches up with the zoom feature, to make sound pair more naturally with the increasing focus of your shot.
With the Back Side illumination Sensor, it doesn’t matter if you’re filming in bright sun or mildly low light, as it captures high-quality images with low noise distortion.
The 2.7-inch touchscreen is a little smaller than standard, but allow options for effects settings like Silent Movie, 8mm, and Time Lapse. Battery life is long-lasting, and the camera can even be conveniently charged up through USB.
4. Canon VIXIA HF R800 Portable Video Camera Camcorder
Another, more budget-friendly option from Canon, this one is for amateur videographers who may be new to the world of filmmaking. Weighing in at 10.8 ounces, including the battery, Canon’s Vixia is a solid, lightweight, all-purpose option for having a camcorder on hand.
At 1080p, the image quality is better than expected, and the advanced optical zoom is powerful – up to 57x, and among the highest of the bunch. With a zoom this high, you’d usually need a tripod to balance the inevitable shakiness that comes with a narrow focal point, but the image stabilization feature here is enough to keep things level.
The LCD screen is average sized at three inches, but it’s bright, backlit and balanced enough so that it’s visible in sunlight or at night. An HDMI output means you can instantly turn it into a high-quality webcam too.