While a photo can be worth 1000 words, a video can tell a whole story. Whether you’re looking for a video camera that can capture your baby’s first steps, film the highlights of a once-in-a-lifetime journey, or help you fulfill your dream of becoming the next Spielberg, this guide can help you decide what’s best for your needs.
Although the choices of digital video cameras have dropped dramatically with the advent of smartphones, a video camera can still be a great option for getting the best possible footage.
Smartphone versus camera
Today, smartphones are used to capture more video footage than any other device, producing results that satisfy most people. However, a good camcorder will still deliver better quality video in difficult lighting conditions. The noticeable increase in the size of the display also allows for higher quality images from a camcorder.
Unlike most smartphones, a video camera:
- has an optical zoom glass lens that “brings you closer to the action”
- offers easy access to removable memory
- has a menu system focused on video rather than messaging, Facebook or phone calls.
So once you have decided to buy a camcorder, the questions to ask yourself are, “What is my budget?” and “What do I want my camera to do?”
Features to look for
A good camcorder might have some or all of the following:
External battery charger
It allows you to charge one battery while recording with another, and is especially useful for models with a low to medium recording time.
Provides access to most playback features, as well as additional features that may only be available through this accessory. However, many models will allow you to use your smartphone not only to control camera functions, but also to preview live video composition.
Allows you to attach objects to the camera, such as an external microphone or video light.
Video light/Photo flash
Allows you to film or take photos in low light conditions.
Using the viewfinder instead of the LCD monitor while recording can save battery power. Some viewfinders may be black and white, while more and more models don’t have one at all.
Which recording format?
When it comes to recording formats, there are really only two options:
- removable memory
- internal flash memory
Tape or hard drives are no longer an option for consumers due to durability and capacity issues, and the fact that flash memory is cheaper. DVD media was used for a short time, but it turned out to be a dead end.
All cameras should have as standard:
- Play, fast forward, rewind, stop, pause and search
- Color LCD monitor with adjustable brightness and the ability to rotate
- Instruction manual
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- AV cable
- USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 connection for transferring video to PC
- Bluetooth or WiFi-Direct so you can use your smartphone as a remote control and preview away from the camera
- HDMI connection to view video on a TV or other display
- Memory card slot for recording photos and videos on a memory card
- Loudspeaker with adjustable volume
- Stereo microphone
- Wind filter
Although action cameras – such as the GoPro Hero series – offer extreme performance as evidenced by some truly jaw-dropping videos, they can also be difficult to use.
Thankfully this might not be a big deal if you own a smartphone, as most new models now offer an app to control the camera and act as a remote monitor, so you can mount (for example) the camera on the hood of your car, and monitor the video from inside the car itself, on your phone.
With that in mind, here are 10 best digital video cameras, chosen on the basis of features and value for money.