Exciting moments and meaningful occasions deserve to be preserved as they happen — in motion, with rich detail and full sound. Luckily, unlike the shoebox-sized behemoths of days past, today's camcorders are lighter, smaller and more versatile, making it easier than ever to capture complete memories in motion. Whether you're looking to film your next extreme sports reel, become the next viral video star, or just get better footage of the kids' big performances, this guide will help you find the best camcorder for you.
What can a camcorder do?
Owning a camcorder might seem redundant in an age when phones, DSLR cameras, tablets and even watches can shoot video. However, the video capability of those devices is usually designed to be an accessory that takes a back seat to other functions. Video quality and ease of use often suffer as a result. Though there are plenty of occasions where it's appropriate to multitask with one device, having a dedicated tool for shooting video affords quality and convenience. Consider the following advantages to using a camcorder:
Nothing ruins the excitement of watching freshly shot footage more quickly than scratchy, muffled audio. Experienced videographers know that sound is just as important as the visuals. Built-in microphones, volume controls and audio inputs provide better control of the full experience — sights, sounds and all.
Even if you have a great seat and your phone in hand, low memory can leave you frantically deleting contacts and photos instead of recording once-in-a-lifetime moments. Avoid the scramble. A camcorder gives you one or more dedicated storage options so your video isn't fighting for space and battery life with your workout playlist. And since camcorders are designed to record for longer run times, you won't have to worry about preprogrammed limits or overheating.
Footage shot on a phone can look great — especially on a phone. But put that same video on a larger screen, and the image quality suddenly becomes duller and blurrier. Many camcorders offer features such as larger sensors, optical zoom lenses, image stabilization and low-light performance. That means you can enjoy better quality video on more devices, from the phone to the big screen.
"Just film the performance," they said. "It'll be fun," they said. Video duty sounds easy enough — until you experience shaky hands, cramped fingers and strained eyes. Phones require awkward finger positioning, and front-heavy DSLR cameras aren't designed to be held in a static position for longer than a few minutes. Camcorders, on the other hand, are designed to provide comfortable use for extended periods of time, with easy-to-grip edges and straps, mounting options, and convenient access to buttons and controls. You'll be the envy of all the other parents jockeying for position in the auditorium.
While manual focus can allow for some impressive shots, it can be cumbersome when filming on the fly or shooting everyday activities. Luckily, autofocus lets you be ready to shoot at a moment's notice. And since the autofocus on camcorders is designed specifically for videos and not photos, you can expect extra smooth focus for that birthday surprise or last-minute performance.
What kind of camcorder do I need?
Most camcorders fall into one of two broad categories: action and wearable or traditional and professional. When deciding which is best for you, consider what and where you plan to film.
Action and Wearable Camcorders
Portable but also capable of capturing impressive video, these rugged camcorders have exploded in popularity due their versatility and ease of use.
Brand highlight: GoPro
Originally designed for surfers, GoPro cameras are built with a durable and waterproof casing. That means that when you're packing for your next camping, skydiving or snorkeling trip, your bag doesn't have to be weighed down by a heavy, fragile camera — or the worrisome burden of dropping and damaging it.
But the versatility of GoPro cameras isn't limited to just daredevils and marine biologists. The same durability that allows them to be used in shark-infested waters and motorcycle stunts also makes them useful for filming drooling babies and excitable pets. And because of their portable size and weight, they're easy to throw in a pocket or purse for quick access.
You can also use GoPro cameras to film everyday activities in unconventional, creative ways. For example, at a soccer game, you can set the camera on the bleachers for standard coverage of the game. However, you can experiment with attaching the camera to the goal crossbar to capture dramatic saves and goals, using your phone to frame shots and activate slow motion. You might find yourself actually hoping for the camera to encounter stray balls and splashed mud. Better yet, you can attach cameras to the players themselves for an exciting first-person perspective; coaches could use the footage to review plays and analyze technique.
The current line of GoPro cameras is available in five levels, including the basic Hero, the intermediate HD Hero3 White and Hero3+ Silver editions, and the top-tier Hero4 Silver and Black editions. All levels support still photos, burst mode and 1080p video. The Hero4 Silver Edition boasts a built-in touch display, and the Hero4 Black Edition features 4K resolution video and 12.0MP photos, enabling you to capture your memories with crisp clarity virtually anywhere.
Choosing your GoPro camera is only part of the fun. You can complement your setup with additional mounts and accessories designed specifically for your hobbies. At a minimum, you'll want an extra battery and memory card to capture more of the action. The massive assortment of accessories ranges from items as straightforward as battery extenders to attachments as specialized as surfboard mounts. Chances are that if you need to attach your GoPro camera to it, there's a mount that fits the bill, as well as accessories to keep your camera charged, defogged and protected in the process.
There are a variety of other action cameras that also provide durability and protection for impressive footage on the go. Look for additional features including built-in GPS, powerful optical zooms, display panels, NFC technology and cloud storage.
Traditional and Professional Camcorders
If you're looking for a device for more routine use, traditional and professional camcorders boast HD-quality video and exciting advanced features. Best suited for projects and events where you'll be filming for longer periods of time — think birthday parties, holidays and concerts — these camcorders give you greater control so you can perfectly capture, save and share the best moments. You have greater freedom to customize your setup, choosing from a wide range of audio input, lens, output and storage options.
You'll also want to explore additional features that streamline the process of shooting, reviewing and editing footage. For example, camcorders with LCD displays provide easier framing and following of your subjects as you film. Twist and adjust larger, more detailed touch-screen displays to match your line of sight. You may also opt to use a viewfinder, which allows you to follow the action on camera with stability and comfort. And if you're eager to share your new masterpieces, you can use live streaming capabilities or a built-in projector and speakers to wow any audience.
Depending on your budget, you may prefer a professional camcorder for an extra boost in video quality and greater expandability of accessories. If you'd like more guidance, stop in a store and let a Blue Shirt help you find the best camcorder for your needs.
The best camcorder is a camcorder that's not gathering dust in a closet. And if you're preparing to take your device out on an adventure, it's important to ensure that it's outfitted with the proper add-ons for the job. Best Buy offers a diverse selection of tripods, monopods, lights, microphones, wireless controllers, cleaning accessories and blank media. You can always add to your collection of accessories later on, but at a minimum, be sure that you're stocked with extra memory and batteries so you don't get caught unprepared.
When shopping for a camcorder, it can be helpful to compare specific product features to narrow down what you're looking for. Consider the following features to see what best fits your needs.
Photos and videos are made up of tiny dots that, when combined, form a larger image. The more pieces there are, the greater detail the final image will have. When discussing video, the resolution typically signifies the number of lines that make up the video image. Therefore, a video filmed in 1080p will provide much more detail than one filmed in 720p. The highest resolution currently available is 4K. When choosing a camcorder, consider where and how you plan to view and store your footage, as a professional feature film meant to be viewed on a massive screen takes up much more space than a quick clip uploaded to social media.
Video can be explained as a series of still photos that, when shown rapidly, create a moving image. The number of frames per second denotes the frame rate, which most commonly ranges from 24 to 60 fps. However, faster frame rates allow for clearer motion when filming quick action like sports plays. Some camcorders can shoot even faster, to 240 fps and beyond, for incredible slow-motion sequences. Whether you're hoping to save stills from your video or upload the most impressive slow-motion water balloon fight on the Internet, choose a camcorder that can best capture your action.
Battery life can vary depending on usage and settings, even when you're using the same camcorder. However, no camcorder user has ever complained about a battery lasting too long. Many batteries are designed to provide energy for several hours. Be sure that you have spares, and check that your charger allows for quick and convenient recharging wherever you go.
When comparing zoom features on camcorders, remember the 3 Ss: smooth, steady and sensitive. If you want to focus in on a certain area while recording, you should be able to zoom quickly without causing jerky or inconsistent movement. This is best achieved using camcorders with optical zoom, which physically adjusts the lens to shift the focal length, enlarging what the camcorder sees and allowing you to capture details without getting too close to the action. And if you're filming quiet scenes, be sure to remember the fourth S as well — silent, to avoid interrupting your dramatic zoom with a loud grinding noise.
You never realize how much your hands move until you try to hold a camcorder completely still, inadvertently giving your recital footage a shaky action movie treatment. Luckily, image stabilization technology compensates for all the bumps, shakes and blurs. Depending on your shooting style, plan for a camcorder that will appease your shaky camera concerns.
You can home in on your ideal camcorder by factoring in the following features.
Different lenses offer distinctive looks to your video. For example, the fisheye lens on GoPro cameras lets you capture more of what's taking place without having to take a step back. Opt for a camcorder with a lens size and speed that can offer sharp details in the environments where you'll be filming.
Review your footage after the performance or even as you're filming. Displays come in a variety of sizes and resolutions for detailed playback. Choose a swiveling display for easy adjustments, and watch for advanced features like touch-screen functionality. Viewfinders come in especially handy in sunny settings, and built-in projectors let you show off footage as easily as you film it.
How do you want to share and store your videos? Most camcorders provide convenient dual storage options, including built-in flash memory plus memory card support for easy file transfer.
Don't get so caught up with visuals that you neglect the sound. If you're looking to expand your setup, choose a camcorder that's equipped for external microphones in addition to built-in hardware. Some camcorders can also support 5.1 surround sound.
Hardware and design
Video quality aside, camcorders are designed to spend a lot of time in your hands and by your side. Is it rugged and water-resistant enough for your shoots? Are the buttons, battery and memory cards easily accessible? Make sure the shape, size and weight fit your hands and needs.
Many camcorders can take photos as well as video, with additional features including time-lapse and continuous high-speed modes.
If you're prone to losing cords and memory cards, consider a camcorder with wireless capabilities. Seamlessly pull files from your camcorder using convenient phone apps, tap-to-share NFC capabilities, and live streaming. You can even geotag your location using GPS technology.
Some camcorders let you tweak your video before you ever sit down at a computer. Features like night vision, face detection and in-camera editing give you a head start so there's less fiddling with knobs and keyboards and more filming in the field.
Shop Online or In Store
Find a wide variety of camcorders at BestBuy.com. Your local Best Buy store also has a selection of action and professional camcorders. Plus, our friendly Blue Shirts are there to answer questions and help with choosing the best camcorder for your needs.