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Cameras

Best Camcorder

High-def recording has become the standard in the consumer camcorder market. With such incredible image quality, it is important you purchase a tool that will help you shoot video that lives up to the quality. The new features do everything from help you with color-correction, to allowing for low-light filming, to giving you an image-steady factor that eliminates camera shake when utilizing zoom. No matter what direction you go, be sure to think of what is most important to you. Sometimes you should choose based on price other times based on the portability of the camera. With this kind of variety you can cherry pick the options most important to you and edit perfect films for your family.

If you need something more capable than a consumer model but you’re not quite ready for a professional camcorder, prosumer camcorders provide an excellent compromise. When starting your own videography business or just getting into filming, prosumer cameras will help you learn all the features of the more complex camera while still helping you shoot quality video. Many of these prosumer devices help you decide how to use the dynamic features to get the exact image you are looking for. You can film everything from documentary footage to weddings to full length feature films on these cameras, all the while testing your skill and learning about how to properly use a camera for the most effective footage. With the new "ease of transfer" options you can be editing the very day you shoot, making your turnaround time nothing for polished, amazing HD footage.

Within the professional category, you will find a wide variety of prices, but all are quality camcorders that are utilized by professionals the world over. These cameras tend to be a bit heftier, providing both balance as well as durability to last over extensive time frames. Models in this area have the ability to use an extensive array of lenses giving you even more options when it comes to the look of your video. Please note that these cameras take a bit more hands on training to use properly, but isn't that the greatest thing about digital video? The learning curve isn't hampered by wasting film or losing time waiting on footage to be developed. In addition, camera houses now understand that new and experienced film makers want the features, but also the ability to be able to pick up the camera and shoot flawless HD video all while still in the initial learning period. Also, with the addition of many focus assistant features, these cameras will help you get used to filming HD video without ruining an event or wasting time.

Canon VIXIA HF G20 HD Camcorder with HD CMOS Pro and 32GB Internal Flash Memory

The G20 can shoot up to 12 hours of HD video with 32GB of built-in memory and optical image stabilization which helps keep handheld shots steady as you take advantage of the 10x zoom. The OIS is better than most standard camcorders thanks to larger pixels which help the camera do well in low light and result in a huge improvement in dynamic range over their previous camcorders. A 3.5” touch screen displays the images you create with proper color reproduction and allows the operator to tell the camera to track an object to keep it in focus. It’s a big leap forward from the days of when auto-focusing would shift crazily from object to object. Cinema-Look filters and 24p enable you to shoot home movies with a more cinematic look.

With manual modes, a user learns how to shoot better videos as they try their hand at taking more control of the camera. Skin tones and colors have always been where Canon optics excel and the G20 is no exception. The camera does have some problems such as strobing lines but they aren’t much worse than most consumer-level cameras. This camera is worth being at the top end of this price range since it has all the options to help home user create some excellent home movies.

Canon VIXIA HF R500 Digital Camcorder

The HF R500 was released along with the R50 and R52. While these cameras share the same sensor, lens, LCD, and processor, the R500 lacks the WiFi and internal storage (the higher end models have 8GB and 32GB of internal storage respectively). Fortunately, even without the added memory, you can simply record to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards which are very inexpensive.

The lens has a 57x Advanced Zoom and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) which yields impressive results for a $300 camera. The “Intelligent IS” automatically turns on, correcting minor shakes to keep your videos sharp and steady while CinemaLook filters and 24p shooting gives footage a more film-like look. The Face Detection which can function on up to 9 people at a time ensures your friends and family will never be out of focus. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the more feature-laden Vixia cameras, the HF R500 is a great camera for you.

GoPro HERO3+: Black Edition

While the silver and white Editions are cheaper and similar in function, GoPro’s Hero 3+ Black Edition is the best action video camcorder on the market with better hardware and enhanced accessories. Black Edition offers a ton of resolution options and you can record 4K up to 15 fps; not really useful for action photography but you can shoot 30 fps at 2.7K, plenty of information for adjustments in post production or you can use software to further stabilize the image. At 1080p, you can record up to 60fps and if you drop down to 720p, you can shoot up to 120 fps, enabling you to produce slow motion HD video.

The Hero 3+ can be controlled wirelessly from a remote control or their smartphone app and the wide array of accessories and mounting made by GoPro and third parties provide customization options for any situation. While the Hero excels in many areas, it still has its issues; GoPro sound quality has never been stellar and the battery life isn’t great but ultimately this camera is your best bet for action recording.

Sony NEXVG900 Full Frame Interchangeable Lens Camcorder Video Camera

The Sony NEX-VG900 has a 24.3MP full frame sensor 40x larger than similarly sized camcorders. A larger sensor and the ability to attach interchangeable lenses using the camera’s E-mount (or A-mount with the included adapter) create a shallow depth of field making images look more cinematic. A built-in Quad Capsule microphone allows for stereo and 5.1 recording without any other equipment to tote around. An additional XLR adapter (purchased separately) is ideal for anyone hooking up professional shotgun mics directly to the camera.

The full manual controls are ideal for the professional shooter needing to adjust shutter speed, gain, and aperture in order to get the best shot. Some of its cooler features are full 1080p recording at 60 fps for great slow motion and its cinegamma picture profile creates a flatter image for more dynamic range. It’s light and portable, but a little plastic feeling and has aliasing and rolling shutter issues when the camera moves. However, these issues are not as bad as they are on some of the popular DSLRs. The VG900 is a great camera as a DSLR replacement with the perfect balance between professional images and ease of use.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video

A smaller Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor and a DSLR look make the GH4 portable and approachable with a design made for anyone to step in and take control. The camera shoots up to 4K video internally which bests some of the other major 4K players on the market. The camera has the ability to hook up to an external recorder via a micro HDMI port enabling 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, giving a much less compressed image than the internally recorded AVCHD files. The details (Especially edges) are sharp but colors and skin tones are soft creating a very pleasing image. To my eye, it handles highlights well and does fine in low light, although MFT cameras tend to be worse in low light and this unit is no exception. For those looking to do slow motion, downscale to 1080p and users can record up to 96 fps. The body seems quite durable, and it’s labeled as weather-sealed (Although I haven't actually tested this claim out). Additionally, the swivel 3" OLED viewfinder makes shooting at odd angles easier.

In the end, the camera falls into some of the limitations of similar cameras in this range like rolling shutter, but it is built for the professional user and is one of the best for the money.

Sony NEX-FS700UK Super 35 Camcorder with 18-200mm Lens

The FS700 is the bigger brother of the FS100, our Best Budget Professional Camcorder. Like the FS100, this camera also performs very admirably in low light meaning it can catch things like a candle burning in a dark room or a face in moonlight, without a lot of noise until you get to the higher gain levels.

One of the major reasons to use this camera, especially over the FS100, is if you plan on doing any slow motion recording. Out of the box, the FS700 can record 240 fps at 1920x1080 (full HD) in 8 second bursts and up to 960 fps in 19 second bursts if you drop down to lower resolutions.

While the sensor itself is 4K, the camera actually can only record up to 1920x1080 internally. It is, however, upgradeable (For an additional $5400) to enable 16-bit RAW 4K and 2K recording. On top of the added resolution, the external recorder allows for 2K, 12-bit RAW high speed recording up to 240 fps for incredible-looking, higher-resolution, super slow motion. Overall, the camera is easy to use, even for less experienced users giving you great value for the price along with options to upgrade to a truly professional device.

Sony NEX-FS100UK Super 35 Camcorder

Sony has traditionally been maligned as the video camera with the most “video” looking images, but with their recent entries into the digital cinema realm like the FS100, they’ve engineered their cameras to show high levels of detail but still soften elements like skin tones to make them appealing to the eye. This light-bodied camera performs really well in low light and you can easily add an adapter to take advantage of faster lenses and improve low light photography even more.

One of the keys to this camera's success is its Super 35mm sensor which records full 1080p HD video using an updated AVCHD codec which looks good in post production and can withstand some light grading. If you’re looking for 4K quality and slow motion options, you may want to upgrade to the FS700, but for most purposes the Sony NEX-FS100 Super 35 Camcorder will stand up quite well to the bigger competition.

Joshua Gleason
Joshua is a filmmaker and writer originally from northern New Jersey. He got the film bug after taking his first 16mm production course while earning his B.A. at Johns Hopkins and hasn't looked back since. Josh has worked freelance in film production for the past 5 years and has been a part of films that have premiered at the Sundance, Berlin, and SXSW Film Festivals. He recently graduated with an M.F.A. in Film Directing from the California Institute of the Arts.
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