Moving Pictures: The 7 Best HD Camcorders

The word “camcorder” has fallen into serious disuse. Those of us who once owned parachute pants or can still cough up all the words to “Ice, Ice Baby” still think of them as massive devices that could only be lifted by Slavic dropouts from The World’s Strongest Man. Anyone younger probably doesn’t even know what the word means, but High Definition video cameras – which are the basis for action cameras – are resurfacing as the world looks for ever cheaper ways to make quality videos to achieve the highest honor of all: Becoming Internet Famous.

The HD camcorders of today look nothing like those of yesteryear. They are sleek, smooth, and can shoot with astounding pixel density that looks great even when put into 1080p with a 1,000,000:1 pixel ratio. The new generation are panoramic video cameras and autonomous underwater camcorders that bring all the highest adventures and breathtaking visuals right to YouTube. They can be as small as a pinhead and still able to shoot at dozens or hundreds of frames a second. Whether you’re just capturing your honeymoon or looking to share your skydiving sex tour, one of the 7 best HD camcorders can help you out.

Samsung F90

Samsung F90

Pro: Affordable
Con: Low resolution

Exceptional Entry Level: In their quest to make every different kind of electronic gadget on the planet, from Chromebooks to honest-to-god tape recorders, Samsung casts a wide net. Ordinarily this lack of specialization leads to mediocre products, but the F90 is a very serviceable high-def camcorder for less than you would pay for most cell phones. The resolution is just under 720p at about 30 fps (frames per second) along with a 52x optical zoom which doesn’t look bad, though no Oscar nominations will be forthcoming either. It works well on the fly and is able to handle low light and shifting light conditions with grace thanks to the F1.8 aperture lens. A 2.7 inch LCD display helps you line up your shot while an easy USB interface lets you share and upload videos with ease. An HDMI output and lots of editing, pausing, and playback features make this a steal for the bargain buyer. [Purchase: $157]

JVC Everio GZ-EX210

JVC Everio GZ-EX210

Pro: Remote functionality
Con: Minimal optical zoom

Mid-Range Master: You can get two of the F90s for the same price as the Everio, but this performs nearly as well as cameras three times the price. It has full 1080p recording attached to a 230-K pixel 1/5.8″ CMOS sensor which is incredibly sharp. The image stabilization works with even the shakiest users so you’ll never feel like a time warp has dragged you back 20 years to the Blair Witch days. It is Wi-Fi enabled for easy sharing and image swapping. The optical zoom is only 40x with the intent of stopping pixelation and noise, but you also have a 200x digital zoom when you really need to get up close and personal. Through the wireless interface you can even shoot remotely through your smartphone or tablet computer. Most of the focus is handled automatically, but you can make changes to the brightness, focus, background light, and white balance if you so desire. [Purchase: $350]

Panasonic HX-WA03

Panasonic HX-WA03

Pro: Handles extreme weather
Con: Weak still shots

Waterproof Wonder: The world has been generous in giving us some great waterproof cameras, but waterproof camcorders are more complicated, involve more moving parts, and have much more that can go wrong. Despite the challenges and the naysayers, Panasonic has persevered and created this little beauty for those times when you need to grab some underwater video. It shoots at 1080p and employs a pistol grip style that fits comfortably in your hand but makes it difficult to put on a mount for still shots. It can go as deep as 16ft without failing, but try not to press it too far. The dustproof and freezeproof body is meant for harsh weather conditions rather than capturing hours of snorkeling footage. The 5 megapixel still camera is just so-so and you’ll only get an 18x zoom. [Purchase: $350]

GoPro Hero3 Black

GoPro Hero3+ Black

Pro: High frame rate
Con: Frustrating controls

On The Move: The Hero3+ Black transcends its action camera roots by offering 1440p resolution, the highest you can find outside of a 4K camera, which would make it a very good HD camcorder if only it had a quality zoom. The Wi-Fi control and remote shooting are amazing thanks to the app which allows real-time remote control of the camera. It feels very much like GoPro wasn’t sure what they were making, so the Black has become the servant of two masters. The stunning pixel density and crisp visuals at high frame rates make it a very good camcorder while the limited control options on the camera, low battery life, and fallible controls make it a pretty poor one. Yet, when it comes to speed shots and action captures, the Black still wears the crown. [Purchase: $400]

Panasonic Lumix GH4 4K

Panasonic Lumix GH4 4K

Pro: Very high quality still shots
Con: Jack of all trades, master of none

Combo Camera: DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) and mirrorless cameras have gradually been sneaking into camcorder territory with extended memory and the ability to shoot high-resolution video. The GH4 is the current culmination of that encroachment with its cutting edge ability to not only take great snapshots but also take full 4K video, making it ideal for the photographer with dreams of being a filmmaker. The 4K video is crisp, though since the technology is still in its infancy, there aren’t many other devices to compare it to. Even standard 1080p and 720p shots look great with very smooth video that has limited noise. As a still camera the schizophrenic GH4 with its 16MP Live CMOS sensor does well, though its DSLR camera frame with mirrorless shooting ability make it hard to pin down. It’s a shooter for all seasons and tastes, though not the top of the heap in any particular area. [Purchase: $1,698]

Canon VIXIA HF G30

Canon VIXIA HF G30

Pro: Multiple modes for different shots
Con: Complex controls

Top of the Line: All of the Vixia models from Canon are exceptional so whatever your budget, they can be trusted. The G30 just happens to be the best of them. The 20x HD lens has an 8-blade aperture coupled with a manual focus ring that gives you full control to smooth out tight shots, make your foreground explode onto the screen, and offer cinema magic for the consummate professional. The multiple modes include 1080p for longer shots or AVCHD progressive to handle motion captures and intense action. A 2.91MP CMOS sensor isn’t quite professional CCD grade, but more than enough for standard consumers. The internal wireless connectivity is dual band for blazing transfer rates. The manual controls are complicated and rookies will quickly be overwhelmed by the learning curve. The body is bulky, but the shots it can produce are well worth the sweat equity of lugging it around. [Purchase: $1,399]

Sony FDR-AX100:B 4K

Sony FDR-AX100/B 4K

Pro: Stunning 4K video
Con: Expensive gimmick

Supreme 4K: If you simply must be on the bleeding edge and need to secure bragging rights among the HD camcorder community, this is the camera for you. It is the best 4K recorder you’ll be able to get unless you’ve got James Cameron’s home phone number or several grand to drop. It employs a 20MP camera for still images and shoots 3840 x 2160 resolution video with its 14MP setting. The frame rate sits at about 30, which is the price you pay for such intense pixel density. The body is smooth and light with a Carl Zeiss lens sitting at the end. This is certainly the vanguard of the inevitable 4K camera rush and as such it is likely to become obsolete with a quickness. [Purchase: $1,998]

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