The Best Camcorders 2014
2014 has seen a rise in availability of 4K while more video cameras are packing on extra features like wi-fi and enhanced image stabilization. But with all the new products announced this year, what camcorder is the best, the most deserving of consumer attention?
Factoring in the category, price, features and user reviews, we've rounded up the best camcorders of 2014. It's important to note though, that just because a camera earns the "best" title, doesn't necessarily mean it's the best for every user. Each style of shooting has unique needs, and some users can get away with budget models without missing the extra features at all. Take your own shooting needs into consideration and be sure to follow the links to review the pros and cons of each camcorder.
And so, without further adieu, here are 2014's best camcorders.
GoPro has long dominated the action cam category, and their latest now offers 4K video at 30 fps. It's the highest video quality yet coming from the manufacturer, and also boasts an excellent 60 Mbps bit rate for big, high quality files. If you take that quality down a notch to plain old 1080 HD, you can capture at a frame rate of 120, which is excellent for smooth motion and especially creating cool slow-mo clips. A relatively new feature called Protune also allows for a bit more creative control, enabling the user to adjust elements like ISO, white balance and exposure value.
The GoPro Hero 4 Black is sold with the housing included, enabling it to take dives up to 131 feet. Since GoPro is the most popular action cam option, there are plenty of mounting accessories and options out there from helmet mounts to drones.
The biggest downside is likely the battery life. If you're recording at 4K, you'll only get about an hour of footage with the wi-fi turned off. The Silver version, which doesn't have 4k video at that fast frame rate, will get about double that while many less expensive versions will get about an hour and a half of continuous use on one charge. And of course as the best action cam on the market, it's also the most expensive.
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- GoPro HERO4 Silver
Sony packs a whole bunch of features into an action cam that retails for under $200. It uses a 1/2.3" sensor--that's just as big as the one in the GoPro Hero 4 Black--and a f2.8 lens that can capture a 170 degree view. It doesn't include 4k, but will capture 1080p HD video at a nice 60 fps that means all that action won't look like it's stuttering. It also boasts one of the best batteries in the category at 150 minutes of continuous use (with wi-fi off).
The Sony AS20 includes a waterproof and shockproof housing. While not as popular as the GoPro, there's still plenty of mounting options and accessories. You can use the wi-fi with a smartphone, or pick up a remote that can operate up to five of these cams all at once.
Considering all of these features are available for under $200, the Sony AS20 is an excellent deal.
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- Ricoh WG-M1
In what is probably the most crowded category, the Panasonic V750 narrowly takes top honors with a larger-than-average 1/2.3" sensor that's also backlit. The larger sensor with the backlit design will help capture better indoor and low light shots than competing models with smaller sensors. The f1.8-3.6 aperture will also chime in here to get some pretty good shots in the dark. Video quality is a solid 1080p with a 60 fps frame rate. The bit rate, at 28 Mbps, is also good, though you'll need a large memory card, since this cam, unfortunately, doesn't have any built-in memory. Slow motion shots can also be captured at 120 fps.
The Panasonic V750 has a 20x optical zoom--but don't be swayed by the 50+ zooms of the budget camcorders. They come with smaller sensors and will have a noticeable difference in the video quality. The V750 also packs in a hybrid optical image stabilization along with a solid microphone with a wind shield.
We've also enjoyed the Sony PJ line in the past, and the PJ580 comes close in price. The sensor is smaller, but the trade-off is a built-in projector which makes sharing videos (actual, in-person sharing) a ton of fun.
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- Sony HDR-PJ540
It's tough to find a budget camcorder that doesn't skimp on quality to add in frivolous features that don't really mean much. The Canon Vixia HF R500 seems to make all the right sacrifices to keep the price low. The 1/4.85" sensor is quite a bit smaller than our top pick, but should still be okay for capturing family videos and sharing online. The R500 captures in 1080p HD video at 60 fps--which is excellent for a budget cam. The bit rate is also excellent for the category at between 28 and 35 Mbps, depending on what file type you choose. There's a big 57x optical zoom, along with optical image stabilization.
If you like all the bells and whistles, the Canon Vixia HF R50 offers the same video wuality but adds 8 GB of built-in memory and wi-fi, and the R52 also has wi-fi but has a ton of storage with 32 GB of built-in memory.
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- Sony CX290
With manual modes, the Panasonic W850 is a step above most consumer camcorders, but just doesn't quite push itself all the way into the advanced category. The secondary camera for picture-in-picture recording is definitely more consumer oriented, and the camera is easy enough to use that even the average user can do a little digging and learn how to use the advanced features like manual modes and backlit compensation. Regardless of where your skill level sits, the 1/2.3" backlit sensor and f1.8-3.6 lens is excellent for low light footage. We were able to do a full test on the Panasonic W850 and were quite pleased with the footage shot with the cam--read the full review for all the details.
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- Sony PJ810
We've loved every Sony RX camera we've reviewed at Digital Camera HQ--mainly because of the one inch sensor behind the powerful cameras. So you can imagine our excitement when that same one inch sensor arrived in a camcorder in the CX900. Traditionally, camcorders have much smaller sensors than cameras--for example, the 1/2.3" sensor that's in our top pick for the Best Prosumer Camcorder is the typical size you'd find in a $150 point-and-shoot camera. The sensor in the Sony CX900 is over twice that size, which translates into better video quality, especially in low light.
That sensor is combined with a bright f2.8-4.5 lens with a 12x optical zoom. Wi-fi and optical image stabilization are also included.
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- Sony PJ790V
We saw footage from Sony's AX1 back in 2013 and were quite impressed, but the AX1 is a huge camera with a $4K price tag to match. The Sony AX100 is a much smaller camera for less than half that cost, and it still records in 4K. The 4K, 30 fps video is recorded on a large one-inch sensor. The AX100 also uses a bright f2.8-4.5 lens. It sports a 12x optical zoom and a 160x digital zoom--and all that resolution will allow you to use some of that extra zooming power without degrading the footage too much. The Sony AX100 also features wi-fi and NFC as well as Linear PCM sound.
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- Panasonic HX-A500