Best Video Cameras
Best Overall: Panasonic HC-WXF991K 4K Ultra HD Camcorder with Wi-Fi
UHD/4K video still hasn’t quite reached maturity, but it’s only a matter of time. As the hardware infrastructure continues to proliferate and support both wired and wireless platforms, the video capture devices become a bit more affordable. For now, though, they’re still pretty expensive, and the Panasonic HC-WXF991K is no different. At just under $900, this is firmly a high-end camcorder. But the 4K Ultra HD recording, LEICA Decoma Lens 20x optical zoom range and in-camera effects and editing modes really seal the deal. There isn’t a whole lot in the realm of features—it’s got in-camera dolly, zoom and cropping effects, as well as Wi-Fi connectivity and a hybrid optical image stabilization—but the 4K shooting is the real selling point here. That alone ensures its compatibility for the next several years.
Runner-Up, Best Overalll: Panasonic HC-V770 HD Camcorder
The HC-V770, Panasonic managed to find the right balance of features, hardware, design, value and convenience. It features all the connectivity hardware you should expect from a modern camcorder, and all the features needed to capture beautiful footage. The HC-V770 has 20x optical zoom with a 4-drive lens system, HDR (high dynamic range) video capture, Back Side Illumination (BSI) sensor that suppresses noise, and Full-HD (1080p) slow motion video capture. With Wi-Fi and NFC you can instantly connect to your phone, broadcast in real time and control the cam from your mobile device. It’s also got a bunch of creative filters and effects, and high-quality sound recording. It doesn’t stand out in any one department, but rather hits the mark across the board.
Best Value: Canon VIXIA HF R800
For family outings and home videos, the Canon HF R800 delivers outstanding 1080p picture quality at a modest price point. Similar to the Canon R82 model, the R800 also boasts powerful zoom ability, just at a lower cost. With an optical zoom of 57x, faraway figures come into clear focus; not even the moody teenagers can escape from being featured in your home movies. Also, for sports tournaments and other high-action events, the R800 offers advanced stabilization controls, ensuring smooth, distortion-free camera work. For extra flair, you can even film slow-motion videos or create a time-lapse.
In addition to capturing HD 1920 x 1080 footage, you’ll enjoy the enhanced brightness and visual quality from the R800’s DIGIC DV 4 Image Processor which captures more light, eliminating noise from even the darkest scenes. At 8.5 ounces, the camera’s body fits snugly in your hand, and the 3-inch LCD touchscreen offers an easy-to-read, user-friendly interface.
Best for Beginners: Sony HD Video Recording HDRCX405 Handycam
The camcorder market has traditionally been dominated by Sony and Panasonic. In the age before the smartphone, they produced a good bulk of low- to high-end camcorders for all purposes. Now the market for budget versions of these devices has grown super tight, with only a few options available. Really, what’s the point of buying a cheap camcorder if your phone can accomplish the same thing? Among devices that offer actual value for a budget, the Sony HDRCX405 is the best camcorder around, and a great introductory camera for teenagers and first-timers. It shoots Full HD (1920×1080) video at 60p with a 30x optical and 60x clear image (digital) zoom. It’s got a 2.7-inch clear LCD display with face detection, a 9.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor, SensorSteadyShot image stabilization, and an intelligent auto mode. The tech is pretty basic, but it’s certainly a contender for any budget/value camcorder, especially for anyone who is a beginner video camera user.
Best for Action: YI 4K Sports and Action Video Camera (US Edition)
Don’t miss a moment with the YI 4K sports and action video camera. With a 155-degree wide-angle lens and housing the new generation Ambarella A9SE75 chip, it records video in 4K/30fps (100mbps), 1080p/120fps and 720p/240fps, plus shoots 12MP photos. If you’re on the artistic side, you’ll also enjoy its array of modes, including Time Lapse, Slow Motion, Timer, and Burst.
The camera itself has a sporty design that includes a 2.2-inch, 330ppi high-res and high sensitivity retina touch screen with Gorilla Glass. Its rechargeable 1400mAh high-voltage 4.4V lithium-ion battery can record up to 120 minutes of 4K/30fps video on a single charge, so you don’t need to worry about missing any of the action. It features built-in image stabilization as well, with a 3-axis gyroscope and a 3-axis accelerometer that detect tilts and motion changes and compensates accordingly.
Take a look at other product reviews and shop for the best action video cameras available online.
Runner-Up, Best for Action: Vivitar DVR914HD
This Vivitar option is astounding from a price-to-features perspective. The direct-sunlight-friendly display is two inches, and it lets you see what you’re shooting as it’s happening, without the need to look on your phone like GoPro. Though, if you do want to connect it to a phone via Wi-Fi, it has that functionality built in as well. The 16.1MP sensor on the camera will give you plenty of pixels to work with, which is great, because the crowning feature of this action cam is that it can shoot in up to 4K resolution.
The device comes in a waterproof case and includes a separate remote control for filming more precarious, one-handed activities. There are HDMI and USB outputs for getting the data off the camera, and there’s an SD card slot that lets you bolster the storage up to 64GB. It all comes in an ultra tiny package of 4 x 3 x 4 inches, which is perfect for action shots whether you’re strapping it to your head or mounting it on a tripod.
Best Budget: AKASO EK7000
If for no other reason other than offering 4K shooting capabilities at a reasonable price, the AKASO EK7000 is a truly amazing action camera. It can achieve this native resolution at no higher than 25 frames per second (fps); that said, perhaps more amazingly, it can shoot 2.7K footage (still an impressive resolution) at a full 30fps. At double the cost, it would still be a competitive value. For still photos, a 16MP camera lets you take picturesque mirror selfies, even in low-light scenarios. Built-in image stabilization, though electronically powered as opposed to the more adaptive optical image stabilization, is in full force as well.
On the outside, the camera chassis is waterproof at up to 131 feet, making it choice for underwater sports photography and film. A ton of accessories are included in the box, too, so you’ll be able to tackle just about any action sports shoot you can imagine. There’s even Wi-Fi functionality built right in, giving you the option to commandeer the camera remotely in order to view the footage you’re currently filming on your phone. Better yet, you can share the content you’ve recorded on the spot — no need to scramble for the laptop or cable needed to complete an improvisational data transfer.
Best Zoom: Nikon Coolpix P1000
For travelers, sports-photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts alike, the Coolpix P1000 takes you into the heart of the action. It features a 3,000mm optical lens — Nikon’s most powerful zoom lens to date. Additionally, the P1000 shoots in brilliant ultra HD resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) and records true stereo sound directly through the in-camera audio. The Coolpix works well in low-lighting or action-heavy scenarios, using auto-focus, image stabilization, and other pre-programmed settings that capture the best possible visuals for you.
The Coolpix’s 125X zoom opens up new possibilities, allowing you to shoot far-off subjects, like a flock of birds, as well as extreme macro-shots of flower petals or other overlooked scenes from nature. It also lets you expand your creative horizons with a host of other special features including time-lapse and RAW shooting. The Coolpix P1000 weighs 3.12 pounds, measures 5.8 x 7.1 x 4.7 inches, and contains a 3.2-inch LCD display.