The best camcorders go far beyond the videos created on today's flagship smartphones. Meaning that even if you've got one of the best camera phones around, you'd probably still benefit from a dedicated camcorder. Far from dying out, the camcorder is experiencing a renaissance, with a remarkable choice for every budget, level of expertise and activity.
4K camcorders are now commonplace, from sophisticated semi-pro models with full manual controls to beginner-friendly devices with presets and automated features to ease the learning curve. For sports and tough conditions, there are also camcorders designed to be dustproof, waterproof, shockproof, and able to handle temperatures well below freezing. Many modern camcorders also offer wireless connectivity, allowing you to transfer videos without wires, or even stream them directly online.
Here we've rounded up the very best camcorders that deliver the optimum balance of value and performance, whatever your needs.
For professional-quality shooting, the Panasonic HC-X1E is hard to beat. It's the heaviest camera in our roundup by some way, so it's not the most portable option and will need a good quality tripod to keep it stable if you're not resting it on your shoulder. Experienced videographers will appreciate the comprehensive manual controls, including triple lens rings (for focus, zoom and iris), plus customisable controls for gain, white balance, shutter and more. Experienced videographers will appreciate the manual controls, including triple lens rings (focus, zoom and iris) plus programmable buttons for adjusting the shutter, gain, white balance and more. The HC-X1E also features a 1-inch CMOS sensor, Leica Dicomar Lens and 20x optical zoom for capturing pin-sharp footage without distortion. It's not a camcorder you'll master quickly, but the quality is well worth the time investment.
The Sony HDR-CX405 is a great value camcorder that doesn't compromise on quality – even a little. With a compact chassis and built-in image stabilisation, it's ideal for filming one-handed, and features a raft of presets to help first-timers achieve better results. It can record in both XAVC S or AVCHD format and MP4 format simultaneously, and capture high quality stills while also recording video. There's no wireless connectivity, but the USB connector is simple to use when it's time to charge or transfer files to a computer. There's even a built-in tool for editing videos in-camera. This camcorder is simple to use, and very impressive for the price.
Whether handheld or mounted on a tripod, the Canon LEGRIA GX10 delivers pro-quality 4K footage at 50FPS, or 1080P at 100FPS (ideal for super-smooth slow motion). There's also an eight-stop ND-grad filter for shooting landscapes, plus a 15x wide-angle zoom lens. With both automatic shooting modes and customisable manual controls, it's ideal if you're making the jump to a high-end camcorder and want to learn the ropes at your own pace. Unusually for a 4K camcorder, the Canon LEGRIA GX10 also features dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity for fuss-free file transfers. This is a robust, reliable 4K camcorder, and the perfect companion for shooting in the great outdoors.
The GoPro Hero5 Black isn't the newest of GoPro's action cameras, but it set the bar very high and is now better value than ever. Despite its diminutive size, this little action camera is capable of capturing 4K footage in extreme conditions. It's waterproof to 10m even without a housing (something few rival sports cameras can beat), and with voice controls it's easy to operate when your hands are occupied with swimming, skiing and otherwise having fun. 4K video capture maxes out at 30FPS, but the Hero5 Black is still a great choice, and tough enough to survive any adventure.
Sony produces a wide range of camcorders for all skill levels, and its mid-range models like the Sony PJ620 are among the best on the market. This camcorder features Sony's proprietary image stabilisation to minimise shake when shooting freehand, which can prove invaluable when used with the 30x optical zoom, which would otherwise amplify unwanted movement. Spot-focus, intelligent auto, wind noise reduction and smile shutter make things even easier when capturing home movies. The Sony PJ620 also features a built-in 25-lumen projector, but this soon becomes rather hot – more of a gimmick than a useful tool, and this camcorder's only real letdown.
In the market for a 4K camcorder but not ready to go semi-pro? Take a good look at the Panasonic HC-VX980EB-K – its impressive specs list includes HDR video for lifelike colours, an extensive choice of scene modes, full manual mode (with controls for focus, white balance, shutter and iris) and top-notch image stabilisation. The wireless multi-cam option, which is becoming a key feature for Panasonic's consumer range, lets you link multiple camcorders and assemble the footage using the Panasonic app. It's a shame that most of the creative effects can only be used when shooting in 1080P, but shooting in 4K gives you more potential for editing in post.
For quick, fun shooting at home or on the move, you can't go wrong with the Canon LEGRIA HF R86. This is no 4K manual monster – what you get here is a camcorder built for capturing family moments in 1080p. Unusually, the Canon LEGRIA HF R86 comes with 8GB internal storage in addition to its SD slot (enough for half an hour of Full HD video), and is capable of transferring files via Wi-Fi or NFC straight to a PC, ready to be uploaded and shared on your social network of choice. This is a reliable, thoughtfully designed camcorder that would make an ideal gift for new parents.
MiniDV is now an outmoded format, having being superseded by SD cards, but the Canon VIXIA HV20 was one of the best camcorders made for the little tapes in their twilight years. Capable of shooting at 1080p and featuring 10x optical zoom, it was a seriously powerful consumer camera when first released, and has aged well in the years since. Helpfully, this MiniDV camcorder is also capable of recording to Mini SD cards, which will keep it in regular use once your supply of tiny tapes runs dry. You might find a new VIXIA HV20, but otherwise refurbished is the way to go.
The JVC Everio GZ-RY980HEU is tough, powerful and dependable – ideal for shooting 4K on the road. JVC's new Falconbird image processor is less power-hungry than previous versions, extending battery life for 4.5 hours of continuous 4K shooting, and the camcorder's tough chassis will survive drops of 1.5m, submersion in water to depths of 5m, and temperatures of -10C. This is a strong candidate if you're looking for a camcorder for recording far from home (and power outlets), and with the JVC Everio GZ-RY980HEU capable of taking 8K stills, you might decide to leave your regular camera at home.
The Sony RX0 II is tiny – seriously tiny. The sports camera market has blossomed in recent years, with a host of rivals appearing to wrestle for GoPro's crown, and the tough little RX0 II is punching well above its weight. It's the world's smallest 4K camcorder, capable of shooting at 30FPS and capturing 15.3MP stills. Its Zeiss Tessar T* 24mm f/4 fixed wide-angle lens is impressive, and it even features a diminutive tiltable LCD display. It's waterproof to 1m without a case, and resistant to accidental crushing. You don't get a lot of camera for your money, but it's a pocket-sized powerhouse.