Do camcorders still make sense in 2019? Our camcorder buying guide

best video cameras sony ax700 lifestyle

Remember the ’90s? This was a huge decade for video production. In 1995, the DV standard was introduced and quickly adopted by all major video camera manufacturers, leading to a unified digital video format for both consumer and professional use. The slimmed-down MiniDV version allowed for smaller-than-ever camcorders to be built, and by the early 2000s, gadget stores across America were filling display cases with inexpensive digital camcorders that could comfortably fit in one hand while packing in long zooms and incredible (for the time) image quality.

Digital video changed everything. The quality was better than analog, you could re-record over the same tapes multiple times without issue (other than mechanical wear and tear), and you could pipe the footage straight into your computer via Firewire (remember that?) and edit it into a Hollywood blockbuster right at home. It was crazy.

Camcorders, in the traditional sense, are much rarer today. Their functionality has been built into everything from high-end DSLRS and mirrorless cameras to phones, leaving most consumers with little need to own a dedicated video camera. Meanwhile, on the high end, cinema cameras are becoming more affordable, providing a better option for independent filmmakers and film students who previously would have worked on camcorders.

Advantages of a camcorder

Camcorders may represent a niche product category now, but there are reasons they still exist and companies continue to churn out new models year after year. Here’s why you may want to consider one in place of — or in addition to — another type of camera.

Zoom range

The number one reason to buy a camcorder today is for the lens. Camcorders tend to make do with very small imaging sensors compared to a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and are sometimes even smaller than what you have in your phone. This leads to poor low light performance, but it allows for much longer zoom lenses. Nowadays, you can throw a rock in an electronics store and hit a camcorder with a 20X or longer zoom, something simply not found on larger-sensor cameras. This Panasonic model even features a 50X zoom, and is just $200.

A long zoom is great for filming everything from little league games to school plays to travel vlogs. While you could technically get similar levels of zoom by using multiple lenses on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a camcorder offers another advantage: powered, variable-speed zoom control. With a camcorder’s rocker switch, you can create smooth, slow zooms to reveal and introduce a location, or quick punch-ins to highlight action. Manually zooming a DSLR lens is much more difficult to do precisely and smoothly.

Record time

To avoid tariffs, many camera manufacturers will limit the video recording time of their photography-oriented cameras to just 29 minutes 59 seconds (Panasonic is one exception to this rule). If a camera can record 30 minutes of video, it becomes classified as a video camera and is subject to higher import fees in some markets. But camcorders embrace their role as video cameras and impose no such time limits.

This gives camcorders a clear advantage for event videography. Wedding receptions, live performances, sports, or in anything else where you may need an uninterrupted shot that could last more than half an hour, a camcorder is the easiest way to go.

Expandable batteries

In addition to having no record time limit, camcorders generally allow you to swap out the stock battery for a higher-capacity version to further extend operating time. Camcorders with “open back” designs are built to accommodate such larger batteries.

Even if an extended battery doesn’t give you enough time, camcorders generally allow you to power them straight from a wall socket, too. This is great for filming interviews, particularly for one-person crews who may not be able to monitor battery life during the interview.

Audio

Microphone inputs are common across all manner of camcorders, but most midrange-and-up DSLRs and mirrorless cameras also offer 3.5mm mic jacks. However, if recording professional quality sound matters to you, high-end camcorders bring advanced audio features to the table not found on hybrid cameras, like XLR inputs for recording balanced audio, mounting points for attaching microphones to the camera, and dedicated dials for adjusting volume levels.

Photography

New teleconverter from Olympus doubles the reach of its longest lenses

Olympus is expanding deeper into the territory of sports and wildlife photography with a new 2x teleconverter that offers an impressive 1,200mm full-frame equivalent range when used on the company's current longest lens.
Computing

The best webcams you can buy are mostly made by Logitech

Webcams are a bundled feature in most laptops, but if yours doesn't have one or you're video conferencing on a desktop, you might need a standalone webcam. These are the best webcams you can buy.
Mobile

The LG V50 ThinQ will be available from Verizon starting on June 20

LG has a habit of releasing too many phones. Following on the heels of the V40 ThinQ, the company has now unveiled the LG V50 ThinQ. There's 5G support, as well as an accessory that turns it into a foldable phone.
Mobile

Rumors say Sony is making an Xperia phone with a six-lens rear camera

How many camera lenses is too many? In the current market, we've seen phones with one, two, three, and even five lenses -- and now rumors are currently saying Sony is planning an Xperia smartphone with six lenses.
Gaming

The best Nintendo Switch games, from Breath of the Wild to Rocket League

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Gaming

Google Stadia vs. Blade's Shadow: How the game-streaming services differ

Google Stadia and Blade's Shadow are two very different game-streaming services. We've outlined the key differences between the two to help you decide which one you should pay for.
Home Theater

These TVs might cost less than $1,000, but they certainly don’t perform like it

Check out our picks for the best TVs under $1,000 to enjoy top-shelf features like 4K Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range, and gorgeous image processing. Park yourself here to find the absolute best values in TV land.
Smart Home

Make a better morning cup with the best coffee makers of 2019

Whether you're looking for a simple coffee maker to get you through the morning or a high-end brewer that will impress your taste buds and your friends, you'll find some of the best coffee makers around on this list.
Buying Guides

The best washing machines of 2019, from front-loaders to those with smarts

It takes a special kind of person to love doing laundry, but the right machine can help make this chore a little easier. Check out our picks for the best washing machines on the market right now.
Smart Home

The best sous vide machines cook your food perfectly, every single time

Want to make four-star meals from the comforts of your own kitchen? Here are the best sous vide machines available right now, whether you prefer simple immersion circulators or something more complex.
Gaming

PlayStation 5 vs. Nintendo Switch: Will the next-gen investment be worth it?

Should you get Sony's upcoming next-generation PlayStation system, or pick up the Nintendo Switch? When it comes to PS5 vs. Nintendo Switch, we've contrasted the consoles based on several factors.
Smart Home

The best smart thermostats let you stay cool without wasting money

The right thermostat can do more than just adjust the temperature of your home, it can also learn about you and help you save money. Check out our picks for the best smart thermostats on the market right now.
Smart Home

Getting down to the nitty-gritty: The best vacuums you can buy

Our expert reviewers took some vacuum cleaners for a spin to see which worked best. Whether you're looking for a traditional upright, stick, or robot vacuum, check out our picks for the best vacuums on the market.
Computing

Dive into the best VR experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist on it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.
1 of 2