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So you need a camcorder, and you need one you can use professionally? Depending on your specific needs and budget concerns, there are a number of great cameras that can fit the bill.
Choosing the right one can certainly be a tricky business, but we’ve outlined some specific highlights – complete with a table to compare technical specifications – to help you hone in on the right camcorder for your project’s needs. Below you’ll find a list of our top 10 contenders based on the most bang for your buck.
We’ve arranged this list according to budget, starting with the least expensive options.
1. Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder. Best Budget HD.
The Panasonic HC-V770 is compact and solid. As an entry-level camcorder, it offers manual controls which are not commonly available at its price point.
That said, it does offer full 1080p HD resolution shooting at 50p. What sets this camera above most budget-friendly camcorders is its allowance for headphone and external microphone inputs (though like most camcorders on this list it does not have XLR inputs).
In short, this camera is mainly aimed at consumers who might be interested in more than just filming their vacation, but could be very useful to prosumers as an inexpensive backup or B-cam.
2. Sony FDR-AX33. Best Budget 4K with image stabilization.
The Sony FDR-AX33 is a budget camcorder that shoots in 4K and offers image stabilization.
The Panasonic HC-V770 is a significant jump up in quality, offering 4K recording, shooting at a resolution of 3840 x 2160.
One major advantage of this camcorder is its Balanced Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, which includes an Active mode and can be used from Wide to Telephoto lengths.
This means that the camera stabilizes the image while recording, and even while zooming.
Also noteworthy is the clear Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens it shoots through, as Zeiss has established a strong reputation for producing some of the highest quality optics glass on the market.
It also offers manual focus and exposure controls, so you can take advantage of its 1.8 f-stops in low-light situations. While it also offers manual shutter speed controls, they can only be used in photo mode.
One major downside to this camera is that it does not allow for the recording of 4K footage while connected to an external monitor. It also lacks the allowance of any form of external microphone connection.
All-in-all, the Sony FDR-AX33 is a great camera for vloggers or documentarians who don’t mind synchronizing external sound in postproduction, or who intend to use it as a backup or B-cam.
3. Panasonic HC-WXF991K. Best 4K on a budget.
The Panasonic HC-WXF991K shoots ultra high definition at a 4K resolution.
It can be purchased with or without a viewfinder (both versions, of course, include a flip-out LCD screen).
It also includes a ‘sub-camera’ with lower specs, intended for vloggers as an alternative to simply holding the main camera body in front of them with the LCD screen flipped to face them as well.
While one can appreciate the idea behind such an additional feature, it ultimately seems like extra cost and effort that could have gone into improving the core camera.
The camera has impressive slow-motion capabilities. It also features a built-in LED light for extreme low light situations.
Ultimately, this is a solid high-end blogging camcorder aimed at prosumers. Professionals might find it most useful for event documentation.
4. Panasonic AG-AC30 Full-HD Camcorder. Best Mid-range HD with XLR.
The Panasonic AG-AC30 is a professional camcorder particularly well suited to low-budget documentaries, or shooting events and weddings.
Making the jump to mid-range means a significant jump in price, camera size, and possibilities: this camera offers 100fps or 120fps for slow-motion recording in Full High Definition.
It has a powerful built-in, 300 lumens LED light. In terms of sound recording, it has one huge advantage over ever camcorder in the budget section: it offers two XLR inputs for external sound recording.
This is a great prosumer camcorder that offers all the essential extras, and most importantly: the opportunity for growth.
5. Canon XA11 Compact Full HD Camcorder with HDMI and Composite Output. Best Compact Mid-range Camcorder.
The Canon XA11 is one of the strongest compact cameras on our list, and definitely the most compact of the mid-range tier.
While still ‘only’ shooting HD and no 4K, it delivers solid picture quality in a camera that can fit in your backpack and still allow you to record high-quality sound via two XLR inputs.
It doesn’t have wi-fi connectivity or a built-in LED light, but it does have dynamic image stabilization, detachable handle, great low-light performance, the opportunity for background bokeh thanks to its circular aperture, and 600% dynamic range in an unprecedented compact package.
A nice little run and gun workhorse, the XA11 is useful for independent guerilla narrative or documentary filmmaking or a prosumer looking to get serious about sound and manual controls.
6. Sony HXR-MC2500 Shoulder Mount AVCHD Camcorder. Best Mid-range workhorse.
Like the other camcorders in the mid-price range, the Sony HXR-MC2500 is a sturdy all-rounder which includes all of the physical basics and standard internal features.
It doesn’t record in 4K ultra high definition resolution but in full high-definition 1080p. So if 4K is important, this isn’t the camera for you.
With a built-in LED light, smooth zoom controls and a nifty padded shoulder mount, this is a camera made to be held up for comfortable shooting across longer stretches of time.
The large viewfinder adds to this, though you can open the LCD panel when you get tired of keeping one eye closed.
The handle on top makes it easy to grab on your way out the door and allows for easy carry – but it also offers alternate access to a smaller zoom control and record button.
Like the preceding two cameras, it includes an externally mounted microphone, but unlike those previous two, it does not feature XLR inputs.
All in all, the priciest of the mid-range, but reliable and ultimately worth it. Useful for ENG and guerilla independent filmmaking, whether narrative or documentary.
7. Canon XC10 4K Professional Camcorder. Best DSLR-style 4K.
With a body modeled in a DSLR style, the Canon XC10 gets major accolades for offering professional 4K quality in a compact and ergonomic build.
For anyone who has ever worked with a Canon C-100 or C-300, think of the XC10 as a camcorder equivalent.
The body is shaped similarly to the Canon C-series, with its no-frills box with a lens built around the sensor, and a grip mounted onto its right side.
Like DSLRs, it also has a wheel at thumb’s reach for quickly switching modes.
One major advantage to the Canon XC10 is that it is the only camcorder in the high-end section of our list to feature the ability to take stills.
The back offers a screen (which doesn’t swivel like most DSLR screens, unfortunately), which can be mounted with an included viewfinder for optimal views in broad daylight.
Unlike most of the mid-range camcorders, its compact size means sacrificing smooth motorized zooms for a manual-only zoom, directly on the lens.
Ultimately, this is the perfect move upwards in quality for someone who has a lot of experience with a DSLR and wants to focus on shooting 4K video.
8. Canon XF100 HD Professional Camcorder. Best High-end Compact for Versatility and Control.
Perhaps the most versatile for such a compact package on our list so far, the Canon XF100 has an awful lot to offer.
From a built-in microphone on the small handle to two XLR inputs alongside a 3.5mm mic input, storage via two CF-card slots alongside an SD slot, and even 4:2:2 color sampling, though sadly without 4K.
Like the Sony HXR-MC2500, it features a compact zoom control and record button on its (admittedly smaller) handle, as well as on the body of the camera, ergonomically placed just above the grip for easy access (with a record button where the thumb rests).
Just behind the LCD panel are a host of buttons for quick changing of White Balance, Iris, Gain, Shutter, a toggle between auto or manual control, and playback controls.
Recommended for ENG and documentary work.
9. Panasonic AG-UX90 Camera (UHD)/FHD Camcorder. Best High-end all-rounder.
The Panasonic AG-UX90 is another high-end all-rounder.
Much like a 4K version of the Canon XF100, this camcorder also offers a host of quick access physical buttons on the left side of the body, though this time not directly next to the LCD panel, which is instead mounted on the top handle.
Some cons are that the Panasonic AG-UX90 is heavy, and its LCD panel can be difficult to see in daylight.
A huge advantage featured on the AG-UX90 and its big sister camera the AG-UX180 is the focus assist, which highlights areas that are in focus while using manual focus control.
This is a great camcorder for someone looking for a lot of perks in a well-rounded package, yet not quite ready to take the financial plunge of the AG-UX180.
10. Panasonic AG-UX180 Premium Professional Camcorder. Best Professional Camcorder!
Finally, the Panasonic AG-UX180 is the premium version of its little sister, the AG-UX90.
This is the camcorder our entire list has been leading up to, and if you have the budget, this seems to be the near-ideal item to spend it on.
The biggest element which sets this camcorder above the competition (in features and price) is that it is the only one on our list to offer shooting DCI 4K resolution.
Now, while UHD (Ultra High Definition) and DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) are both technically 4K resolutions, UHD is actually a little under literal 4K, shooting at 3840 x 2160. DCI is just over-literal 4K, shooting at 4096 x 2160. Alas, not all 4Ks are created equal.
You may have noticed that the second-pixel count, 2160, remains uniform in both formats – this means that DCI 4K actually produces a slightly wider image than UHD 4K, and is, therefore, better suited for presentation in 4K digital cinemas.
If that’s a little more resolution than you need for some projects, you can always shoot in UHD or FHD (Full High Definition) instead. You can even simultaneously record in UHD and FHD formats if you so desire.
The AG-UX180 also allows for switching between settings better suited to NTSC or PAL presentation.
The 16-axis color correction means that it offers the most versatile color palette and flexibility in the post-production of any camcorder on our list.
With the most visual flexibility, highest resolution, and deepest color information, this camcorder is ideal for shooting ‘cinematic-looking’ documentaries intended for theatrical screening.
Table for Easy Comparison
Take a look at our technical specifications table below for a quick comparison view on which camcorders offered which features, and select the camcorder best-suited to your needs.
|Camera Model||Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder||Sony FDR-AX33||Panasonic HC-WXF991K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder||Panasonic AG-AC30 FullHD Camcorder with Touch Panel LCD Screen and Built-In LED Light||Canon XA11 Compact Full HD Camcorder with HDMI and Composite Output||Sony HXR-MC2500 Shoulder Mount AVCHD Camcorder||Canon XC10 4K Professional Camcorder||Canon XF100 HD Professional Camcorder||Panasonic AG-UX90 Camera (UHD) / FHD Camcorder||Panasonic AG-UX180 Premium Professional Camcorder|
|Sensor Type||BSI MOS Sensor||Exmor R® CMOS Sensor||BSI MOS Sensor||1/3.1-type BSI MOS Sensor||1/2.84 inch type HD CMOS Pro||1-Chip 1/4" CMOS Sensor||1-Chip 1" CMOS Sensor||1-Chip 1/3" CMOS Sensor||1-Chip 1" MOS Sensor||1-Chip 1" MOS Sensor|
|Megapixels||12.76 (stills) /6.03 effective pixels (video)||20.6 (still) / 8.29 effective pixels (video)||18.91 / 8.29 effective pixels (video)||6.03 effective pixels||3.09 megapixels (2208 x 1398) / Effective pixels per sensor 2.91 megapixels (2136 x 1362)||6.14 MP (effective sensor resolution)||4000 x 3000 (12.00 MP) (effective sensor resoltution)||2.07 MP (effective sensor resolution)||8.59 MP (effective sensor resolution)||9.36 MP (effective sensor resolution)|
|Video recording format (maximum quality)||1080/50p (28Mbps / VBR)||4K (3840 x 2160)||2160p/30p(72M) (72Mbps / VBR), (3840 x 2160)||PS 1080 59.94p: 1920x1080, Average 25Mbps (VBR)||AVCHD: 28Mbps 50.00P,1920 x 1080||1920 x 1080p at 24/30/60 fps (17 to 28 Mb/s)||3840 x 2160p at 23.98/29.97 fps (205 to 305 Mb/s)||3840 x 2160p at 23.98/29.97 fps (100 Mb/s)||4096 x 2160 (100 Mb/s)|
|Recording Media||SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card||XAVC S 4K (100 Mbps): SDXC Memory Card (UHS-I U3 or Higher), XAVC S 4K (60Mbps): SDXC Memory Card (Class 10 or Higher), XAVC S HD: SDXC Memory Card (Class 10 or Higher), AVCHD, Still: Memory Stick PRO Duo™ (Mark 2), Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo™, Memory Stick XC-HG Duo™, SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card (Class 4 or Higher)||SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card||SDHC/SDXC Memory Card||2 x SD/SDHC memory card slots||1 x SDXC Card Slot||1 x CFast Card Slot, 1 x SDXC Card Slot||2 x CompactFlash Type II Card Slots, 1 x SD Card Slot||1 x SDXC UHS-I Card Slot, 2 x SDXC Card Slots||2 x SDXC UHS-I Card Slots|
|Photo||JPEG (DCF/Exif2.2)||JPEG (DCF Ver. 2.0, Exif Ver. 2.3)||JPEG (DCF/Exif2.2)||JPEG (DCF/Exif2.2)||JPEG||N/A||4000 x 2664 (10.6 MP), 4000 x 3000 (12 MP)||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Microphone||3.5mm input jack||internal microphone only||3.5mm input jack, internal 5.1ch Surround, Zoom, Focus and Stereo Microphone||2 XLR inputs||2 XLR inputs + 3.5mm input jack||Built-in stereo microphone, mounted externally||1 x 1/8" / 3.5 mm Stereo Headphone Output, 1 x 1/8" / 3.5 mm Stereo Input||2 x 3-Pin XLR Mic/Line Level Input, 1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) Stereo Headphone Output||Internal 2-Channel 16-Bit 48 kHz, 2 x 3-Pin XLR Mic/Line Level (+48 V Phantom Power) Input, 1 x 1/8" / 3.5 mm Stereo Headphone Output||2 x 3-Pin XLR Mic/Line Level (+48 V Phantom Power) Input, 1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) Stereo Headphone Output|
|Screen||7.5cm (3") LCD monitor||3" LCD||3" LCD monitor (460,800 dots)||3" (3.0 type) Wide LCD monitor (Approx. 460K dots)||3"||3" LCD + viewfinder||3" LCD, optional viewfinder mount||3.5" LCD||3.5"|
|Connectivity||USB 2.0, Micro HDMI, AV||micro USB, micro HDMI||micro USB, micro HDMI||AV, HDMI type A, Micro-B: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Mass Storage Function (read only)|
Type A: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, for External Media Device Connection*, Bus Power Supply
|HDMI, USB (Mini-B, USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, output only), AV 3.5mm jack||1 x BNC (Composite) Output, 1 x HDMI Output||1 x Mini-HDMI (HDMI 1.4) Output, 1 x USB Mini-B||1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) TRRS A/V (Composite) Output, 1 x USB Mini-B, 1 x 2.5 mm LANC Control |
1 x HDMI Output,
|1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) TRRS A/V Output, 1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) TRRS A/V (Composite) Output, 1 x HDMI (HDMI 2.0) Output, 1 x USB Type-A, 1 x USB Micro-B||1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) TRRS A/V Output
1 x BNC (3G-SDI) Output, 1 x 1/8" (3.5 mm) TRRS A/V (Composite) Output, 1 x HDMI (HDMI 2.0) Output, 1 x BNC Timecode Input/Output, 1 x USB Type-A, 1 x USB Micro-B
Which one is best for you?
Hopefully, this guide has been useful in narrowing down your choice.
Maybe you’ve realized you need a cinema camera or DSLR-style compact shooter instead? That’s okay too!
Just be sure you’ve got your eyes on the right price when it comes to spending such a significant chunk of cash on such an important tool!
Whatever you choose, just keep shooting!
About the author
Maximilien Luc Proctor (+MLP+) is a French-American filmmaker, musician & writer living in Berlin. He holds a B.A. in Film and Media Studies from the University of Oklahoma, where he graduated with honors. He is an Eagle Scout and National Merit Scholar. He has been a contributing writer for Photogénie (photogenie.be) since participating in their Young Critics Workshop in 2015, has been running Ultra Dogme (ultradogme.com) since its inception, and his short films have played in festivals around the world.
Photo by: Alex DePew