While we can shoot both 4K and 1080p in many SLR and mirrorless cameras today. Unfortunately, these cameras tend to lack in one area or another as, historically, they are not video-centric cameras from the get go. With that, they have limitations that erk serious videographers and filmmakers needing the utmost performance from their cameras.
Well, in comes the camcorder. Though, they’ve been around for quite some time now and seem overlooked these days. They’re still the best options when it comes to video camera hands down.
Today, we discuss the top 10 best video cameras to date that meets a wide array of use cases, budgets, and skill sets.
|Blackmagic Design Pocket|
|Canon VIXIA HFG50|
Jump to a Section
- 10 – Canon XA11
- 9 – Canon VIXIA HFG50
- 8 – Panasonic HC-WXF991K
- 7 – Sony FDR-AX100
- 6 – Sony FDR-AX700
- 5 – Sony FDR-AX53
- 4 – Canon XC10
- 3 – JVC GY-HM170
- 2 – Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera
- 1 – Panasonic HC-X1000
- Video Camera Buying Guide
- Factors to Consider
10 – Canon XA11
Canon’s XA11 camcorder delivers high performance and quality in a compact and portable package. It has a 1/2.84-inch CMOS sensor, 26.8-576mm lens (f/1.8-2.8), 5-axis image stabilization, 3-inch touchscreen LCD, tilting viewfinder, 20x optical zoom, dual XLR terminals, 1080p FHD recording at 60p, headphone input, microphone input, dual SD cards, five custom buttons. It also has a wide dynamic range option and a highlight priority option, helping users to shoot in high contrast environments with greater flexibility without damaging footage.
Not only that, but it also has a detachable handle that provides expanded audio capabilities and also increases the camera’s mobility when shooting handheld. The most notable trade-offs with this particular camcorder are the lack of 4K UHD recording and FHD records at 35 Mbps. For the price and its feature set, however, it is still an excellent choice. It is a cost-effective full HD professional-level camcorder geared towards the hobbyist or advanced amateur, who doesn’t demand 4K capture in their particular workflow.
The XA11 still meets a wide range of shooting situations, all the while maintaining a compact size that’s traditional for Canon’s camcorders. Working professionals will find the abilities of this camera comfortable as it inherits much of the features expected in a professional-level camcorder.
9 – Canon VIXIA HFG50
The Canon HF G50 replaces the previously released G40 and marks the first Vixia camera to offer 4K capabilities.
It holds steadfast to the traditions of this series in its abilities in noise performance, image quality, and compact size but now caters to a broader array of media applications making it more competitive amongst serious and professional level filmmakers.
It features a 1/12.3-inch 8.29-megapixel CMOS sensor, 29.3-601mm lens (f/1.8-2.8), 20x optical zoom, 5-axis image stabilization, five programmable buttons, tilting viewfinder, 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD, 4K UHD at 30p, dual SD card slots, microphone, and headphone inputs. It has an eight blade circular aperture, delivers better defocusing, especially when shooting with points of light in the background. It records to MP4 format for maximum compatibility cross-platform. It’s a simple package, but one that delivers and sits as Canon’s top of the line advanced level camcorder.
8 – Panasonic HC-WXF991K
The Panasonic WXF991 makes an exciting release from the manufacturer. It features a 1/2.3-inch 8.29-megapixel MOS sensor, 30.8-626mm Leica lens (f/1.8-3.6), 20x optical zoom, 4K UHD 30p, 1080p FHD 60p, 5-axis image stabilization, 3-inch touchscreen LCD, tiling viewfinder, 4K post-editing, picture-in-picture recording, microphone input, headphone input, USB charging and Wi-Fi. This camera features some niche functionality the competition lacks, namely 4K post-editing and picture-in-picture. With 4K post-editing, users can zoom, track, pan, or stabilize footage after the fact. It’s rare to find a camera that allows users to do pans, tilts, or zooms in the camera.
Picture-in-picture is also quite an exciting feature. This one allows users to recording footage of the camera operator using the secondary camera built into the edge of the LCD. Helpful, as it makes it possible to record reactions or to record images simultaneously. In all, this enables users to capture multiple angles or viewpoints simultaneously for a unique experience.
7 – Sony FDR-AX100
The Sony FDR-AX100 picks up where the previously released Sony RX100 point and shoot camera left off. This camera marked a revolutionary release from the manufacturer to the market as it was the first prosumer-grade camcorder to deliver 4K recording. It features a 1-inch 14.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, 29-348mm ZEISS lens (f/2.8-4.5), 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD, tilting viewfinder, 4K UHD 30p at 100 MBps, FHD 60p, HD 120p, image stabilization, 12x optical zoom or 24x Clear Image zoom, built-in 3 stop neutral density filter, microphone input, headphone input, 5.1 Dolby surround sound, USB charging, Wi-Fi and NFC.
Though it inherits the same sensor from the RX100, it included the new BIONZ X imaging processor, which delivers more accurate reproduction and higher resolution images. It also means that Optical SteadyShot is possible, which supplies excellent stabilization when shooting handheld. The built-in ND filters are excellent for those shooting outside during bright daytime conditions, giving users more precise control over exposure without fear.
The touchscreen works fantastic for menu navigation and focusing (though a bit slow), and we’re glad to see the menus on this camera are more streamlined and intuitive as well. Battery life on this camera is excellent, delivering approximately 2 hours of continuous recording. Interestingly enough, the lens on this camera is parfocal, and it maintains the set focus point even while zooming, subtly, but not all cameras do this. Overall, the AX100 is a very conventionally built and designed camcorder and makes an excellent choice for users wanting to start their very own 4K libraries.
6 – Sony FDR-AX700
The Sony AX700 packs a significant punch in an incredibly small body. It features a generous 1-inch 14.2-megapixel Exmor sensor, 29-348mm Carl Zeiss lens (f/2.8-4.5), 12x optical zoom, image stabilization, 4K 30p @ 100 Mbps, FHD up to 120p, 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD, tilting viewfinder, built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, full-sized HDMI port, microphone input, 5.1 Dolby stereo microphone, headphone input port, dual SD cards, Wi-Fi and NFC. Focusing performance is where this camera shines.
This camera inherits a supremely fast hybrid autofocusing system, combining both phase and contrast detection, with 273 focusing points that cover 84% of the frame. The result is superior subject tracking that outperforms conventional Contrast Detection autofocusing systems.
Not only that, but the 1-inch image sensor dwarfs smaller sensors commonly used in camcorders, delivering more beautiful background defocusing compared to the competition. Nice. Battery life is excellent; upwards of 2.5 hours of 4K 30p recording is possible. It features a very traditional camcorder design, especially in ergonomics. Technically, it’s a prosumer camcorder. In actuality, it’s a robust performer designed for commercial work and higher-end consumer applications. Sony attempts to deliver stunning 4K HDR to the palm-sized camera.
5 – Sony FDR-AX53
The Sony AX53 is the lighter weight and a more compact version of the pricier AX100 mentioned on this list. It’s predecessor, the AX33, was a game-changing release as it was the first camcorder to offer 4K under $1,000 and, thus, bringing 4K capabilities the average user.
This camera continues suit and improves where that particular camera lacked. It features a 1/2.5-inch 8.28-megapixel CMOS sensor, 26.8-536mm Zeiss lens (f/2.0-3.8), 20x optical zoom, 3-inch articulating touchscreen LCD, tilting viewfinder, balanced optical SteadyShot stabilization, UHD 4K 30p at 100 MBps, 4K timelapse, FHD 1080p 120 p, 5.1 Dolby surround sound, microphone input, headphone input, USB charging, Wi-Fi and NFC. The primary selling feature for this camera is Balanced Optical SteadyShot (BOSS). This feature delivers best in class stabilization by moving the entire lens assembly instead of just a single lens element.
BOSS is a system that makes the need for a gimbal entirely irrelevant, saving you a lot of hassle. In all, this is a competent camera with a budget-friendly entry-level price point. It’s size plus the addition of BOSS, despite the reduced sharpness due to a smaller sensor, are true selling points of this camera. This is a camcorder aimed at the enthusiast or the professional needing a compact or stealthy option. In all, it makes an excellent lower-priced alternative to Sony’s higher-end professional-grade AX100.
4 – Canon XC10
The Canon XC10 is an all-in-one, conveniently sized, and capable video shooter that delivers Canon’s renowned color science with excellent performance. It features a 1-inch 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, 27.3-273mm lens (f/2.8-5.6), 3-inch tilting touchscreen LCD, 4K UHD 30p, FHD 60p, HD up to 120p,4K timelapse, optical image stabilization, built-in 1-stop neutral density filter, headphone input, microphone input, and Wi-Fi. This camera also offers Canon’s C-log and Wide Dynamic Range gamma, which supplies the broadest dynamic range and exposure latitude achievable from the sensor.
Do bear in mind, however, 4K video records to CFast cards, not SD card, which is an added cost with this particular camera. As far as imagining quality, this camera delivers equivalent performance to Canon’s higher-end EOS cinema cameras, the C300 and C500 principally, at a fraction of their price. The sensor provides an impressive 12 stops dynamic range, supplying excellent footage, especially when shooting outdoors in high-contrast environments. Not only that, but it also shoots in the 4:2:2 8-bit color space up to a bit rate of 305Mbps internally or 10-bit via HDMI output, making this a competent choice for broadcast usage.
Battery life is excellent, and convenient, as it uses the familiar LP-E6 series of batteries and chargers. It features a rotating handgrip, allowing comfortable shooting at awkward angles and is an uncommon feature amongst the competition here. In all, ergonomics here are similar to their EOS still cameras, and its handling is excellent. It offers a wide range of workflow options and makes an excellent choice for advanced amateurs to professional digital filmmakers requiring a cost-effect solution to shoot 4K video. In all, it makes a versatile and compact 4K recorder that delivers quality and convenience to meet a wide array of imaging needs of the budget-conscious pro.
3 – JVC GY-HM170
The JVC HM 170 is a fully featured high performing 4K camcorder that’s more than capable of delivering. With this release, JVC aims to make 4K recording accessible to a wide array of shooters, from amateurs to professionals, by producing a cost-effective yet feature-packed camcorder. It has a 1/2.3-inch 12.4-megapixel CMOS sensor, 29.5-354mm lens (f/1.2-3.5), 12x optical zoom, 4K UHD 24p at 150 Mbps, FHD 60p, 3.5-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD, image stabilization, nine custom buttons, two-stop neutral density filter, dual SD cards, dual XLR connectors via detachable handle, microphone input and headphone input. This is one of the few camcorders that shoot 8-bit 4:2:2 internally on this list.
Not only that, but it also does live 4K output via HDMI, and it simultaneously records low-resolution web-friendly proxy files that are suitable for immediate posting online. These web-friendly files can be quickly imported to a smartphone and edited immediately via iMovie or other video production suite, making it easier than ever before. This is a camcorder that is excellent for professional broadcast applications, and one that delivers many professional-level features in a form factor closer to a consumer camcorder.
2 – Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera
The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera melds traditional camcorder performance with the styling of a digital SLR. Unique indeed, It’s undoubtedly a compact design but one that delivers the latest advanced digital film technology into a palm-sized package. It has a 4/3 sensor, 5-inch touchscreen LCD, 4K UHD 60p, 1080p FHD 120p, full-sized HDMI, built-in microphone, mini XLR input, microphone input, headphone input, three card slots, Bluetooth, USB-C.
This camera is unique to the camera listed, as it features an interchangeable lens system using the micro four-thirds mount. Having an interchangeable mount allows the camera to use a wide variety of professional-grade lenses available on the market today, especially when using adapters. Bar none; this will be the most versatile camera of this list. With USB-C, the camera even supports external recording to a connected hard drive, significantly increasing record times.
Video quality is the resounding strength of this camera. Of the cameras listed, it has the most extensive dynamic range at an impressive 13 stops. That means we will get HD images and fantastic low light performance across its range. Not only that, but the advanced color science and RAW recording rivals quality that cost tens of thousands of dollars. This is a camera that, while handheld, delivers incredibly mobility without sacrifice.
1 – Panasonic HC-X1000
The Panasonic HC-X1000 is a highly agile and multi-format camcorder that is the ideal solution for a multitude of shooting applications, from amateur to professional use. It marked the first camera to record 4K UHD at 60 fps on to SD cards, an impressive feat from the manufacturer. It has an 8.29-megapixel 1/2.3-inch MOS sensor, 29.5-600mm Leica lens (f/1.2-3.6), 20x optical zoom, built-in 3-stop neutral density filter, C4K, and 4K recording, slow-motion FHD, 3.5-inch retractable touchscreen LCD, tilting EVF, 2-channel XLR audio inputs, triple manual lens ring, image stabilization, in-camera 4K video editing, dual SD cards, W-Fi, and NFC.
Video quality is excellent, especially in FHD 1080p. This camera captures exclusively at 4K UHD then subsamples down to create a 1080p video, with that the field of view is unchanged, and the noise experienced in 1080p is almost nonexistent. It shoots Cinema 4K UHD at 24p and standard 4K at 60p at an impressive bitrate of up to 150 Mbps. Battery life is remarkable, roughly four and a half hours of continuous recording time.
The X1000 supports a multitude of professional-level features that set it apart from the contenders on this list. Namely, triple manual lens rings to control zoom, focus, and iris as well as a full-sized HDMI port and dual XLR inputs to handle pro-level high-performance microphones. Another unique feature is the in-camera 4K video editing feature, which allows users to performance pans, tilts, zooms, and stabilization in-camera while maintaining HD picture quality.
The vari-angle LCD positioned above the lens makes viewing during handheld shooting a more natural and welcomed addition. The variable frame rates available make this an excellent choice that fits smoothly into broadcast workflows. In all, this is a pro-level camera that highlights with satisfactory manual controls and a robust feature set that is pleasing for professionals, but a prosumer price point the amateurs appreciate.
Video Camera Buying Guide
Below you’ll find a comprehensive guide outlining all of the relevant factors to consider when looking at your options. With these kinds of devices, there’s a lot to consider. So we’ve done our best to cover each in great detail and rank them accordingly based on importance. But, ultimately, some of these factors will be more important to your workflow than others. So use them as a base model, then continue searching from there.
Factors to Consider
You’ll find camcorders with varying sensor sizes, ranging from 1/2.6-inches to Super35 or APS-C. And the sensor size, arguably, becomes the most important factor above all else, as it ultimately determines image quality. And it’s reasonable to say most videographers want quality footage at the end of the day. Hence why this factor is so essential. When it comes to video production, the bar for “large” sensors is generally 1-inch and Super35. Anything below these in size is generally considered a small sensor. And Super35 sensors are the de facto standard since they match conventional film stock used in films and TV productions.
But, some trade-offs and benefits accompany sensor size. Let’s cover the most important. First, smaller sensors let manufacturers install long telephoto zoom lenses, often reaching 30x. Comparatively, a large sensor of 1-inches or higher provides 15-20x. Optical zoom within itself is a factor to consider, so we will cover that below. But, in short, installing an equivalent zoom lens of the same focal length results in substantially larger lenses. So much so, they defeat the entire purpose of the compactness inherent to these devices.
Second, large sensors offer better dynamic range, image quality, and low light performance. The larger pixel dimensions improve the signal to noise ratio, resulting in better images than smaller sensors. Lastly, but particularly important for those on a budget, smaller sensor camcorders are more affordable. From a manufacturing standpoint, they’re easier to produce and generally result in smaller devices overall. So they’re usually about 25% cheaper or more than a comparable large sensor camcorder.
With that, pay close attention to the specifications listing on the manufacturer’s website. The above factors will be key areas to consider. But you’ll also want to consider if you’ll be shooting in low light often. Most 1/2.3 or similar camcorders will become grainy at an ISO or gain value above 10 dB or ISO 1,600. And it won’t be easy to get immediately usable footage in most situations with these devices.
Resolution & Frame Rate
When it comes to resolution, you have two main options on the market, 1080p FHD, and 4K. And while you can opt for a 1080p camcorder, it’s wise to skip them and go for one with 4K. Stepping up your production to 4K will deliver several key benefits. Namely, you’ll have more working room for creative reframing or cropping in post-production. You’ll also have more detailed videos if downsampling to 1080p. Not to mention, doing so will future proof your setup, as 4K gradually becomes the standard. But, ultimately, whether these benefits are worthwhile to you will come down to personal taste. There are plenty of excellent FHD-only camcorders on the market. So it’s not the end of the world either way.
However, when it comes to 4K equipped devices, the frame rates they offer do vary. Currently, 4K UHD 30 FPS is standard. But, you can find an option with 4K UHD 60 FPS. Generally, 4K 30 FPS is sufficient for most productions. But, if you want to shoot high resolution slow-motion, then 60 FPS is best. However, there’s a substantial price difference between models offering these features. So understand, you will be paying somewhat of a premium to obtain this frame rate.
4K UHD or Cinema 4K
4K resolution has two main variants, UHD (Ultra HD) and C4K (Cinema 4K). And by default, when most think of 4K, they’re actually referring to 4K UHD (3840 × 2160), which is the standard resolution offered on the market. However, you can find many devices offering a slightly wider 17:9 aspect C4K (4096 x 2160) resolution. Yes, the difference between these two formats is subtle and not an immediate deal-breaker for most. Even so, C4K is the standard used in the film industry amongst widescreen films. So if that’s your intended output medium, you shouldn’t overlook this feature. Otherwise, most users will find UHD sufficient.
Bit depth refers to the number of colors each channel of a video produces. And it ranges from 8-bit to 12-bit, or 14-bit to 16-bit amongst medium format and digital cinema cameras. Increasing the video bit depth increases its final file size, as you’ll capture more data per frame. But, the benefit is that higher bit depths offer substantially more flexibility for color grading. And the extra color information and latitude gained from moving from 8-bit to 10-bit is ultimately why many videographers get camcorders. This jump alone offers 4x more color information. So you dramatically reduce the likelihood of having color breaks and posterization effects in the footage. So, if you plan on grading the footage and applying LUTs, it’s wise to look for devices with 10-bit color.
The bit rate refers to the amount of compression applied to the recording. A higher bit rate yields less compression and higher quality videos. But, it does create larger files in the process. Lower bit rates, however, will yield less detailed videos. But the smaller files aren’t always worth the reduction in image quality. So it’s important to find a device that provides a good balance between file size and quality. But, most camcorders record video at 100 Mb/s by default, which offers a good compromise. However, opting for one that records at 300 Mb/s will provide videos with more latitude for post-processing.
Color sampling and subsampling describe the compression that occurs to a video’s color information. Most camcorders produce 4:2:0 subsampled video internally. But, you can find many devices that record 4:2:2. The benefit here is that 4:2:2 subsampling offers more color data and less compression. And it provides more room for color grading. Subsampling is less important than bit depth, but it’s an important consideration if you plan on grading heavily. With 4:2:2, you’ll see less color banding and artifacts while applying corrections or LUTs. So lookout for this feature if you find it essential.
If you want to shoot slow-motion, you’ll want to look for camcorders offering 60 FPS or higher. Thankfully, this is mostly standard. And you can find plenty of devices providing this frame rate in 1080p. But, you can also find some doing so in 4K UHD resolution or those with 1080p 120 FPS, producing slow-motion video at 1/4th the speed. But, known, to create a noticeably slow-motion effect, 60 FPS is sufficient. Either way, look out for these frame rates if you plan on recording slow-motion.
Image Analysis Tools
Vectorscopes, waveforms, false colors, zebras, and RGB parades are key reasons many videographers opt for these devices. They help you monitor the exposure and color accuracy to fine-tune the final image. But, the level of customization and fidelity of these tools does vary between models. So it’s wise to research this beforehand.
Inputs & Outputs (I/O)
The I/O offered by the device will be of critical importance to some users. And you’ll want to know beforehand whether you’ll use an HDMI or SDI connector. HDMI connectors come in various sizes. But most camcorders have a full-size or mini jack, full-size being the most common. Even so, you can also find SDI connections, which is the standard amongst professional applications. SDI connections offer an even more robust link between the camcorder and the external device. And the 12G-SDI connection, in particular, offers the highest bandwidth of 12 GB/s. So for this, consider what kind of external monitors you’ll connect. If you want the best resolution and chroma subsampling, SDI is best.
All camcorders have an integrated optical zoom lens. But, the focal lengths and zoom ranges they provide do vary. So it’s important to check the focal lengths offered beforehand, as it’ll determine your framing.
All camcorders have optical image stabilization, which generally works well to shorter focal lengths. But not every model offers an accompanying electronic or digital stabilizer to improve the results further. As such, if you plan on filming handheld often, it’s wise to consider a model with a combination of both optical and digital IS. When these systems combine, you get noticeably better stabilization. And they can save you some of the need of having a Steadicam or other physical stabilizer.
You may also want to factor in the connectivity options on offer. Not all of these devices include built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or NFC connectivity. But, if they do, you can connect to them wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet. And it’s a great option to monitor several devices remotely.
While most filmmakers use manual focus in professional environments, reliable autofocus makes things easier. But, not all of these devices offer reliable autofocusing systems with subject detection algorithms. Not to mention, the accuracy of the systems available today also vary. Sony and Canon are the only manufacturers with confident implementations. But, whether this will be a deal-breaker will come down to personal preference. Most devices have the full complement of manual focusing aids like focus peaking, magnification, and digital split. So focusing manually isn’t difficult.
Most of these devices use large format Sony NP-F style batteries, letting them record for 3 hours or more. And most also have a DC-in socket, so you can connect them to mains power for indefinite use. The main consideration here really is whether they support USB-C charging so that you can charge them on the go. It could be a nice bonus to avoid purchasing a spare battery. But, generally, camcorders have excellent battery life. So either way, it shouldn’t be problematic.