Best Video Cameras

Every few days someone asks me what video camera to buy. Unless I happen to be “in the market” I don’t track closely. But I do trust Consumer Reports, and just received an issue ranking the top camcorders.

Note: My guide to buying a video camera can be found here.

What Format: Mini DV, DVD, Hard Drive, Combination?

The Consumer Reports “best buy” is a Panasonic SDR-H18 but it’s $430 and is a hard-drive model. I prefer the MiniDV for two reasons — first you’re always near a store that sells those little digital 8 mm tapes if you run out of space. Second, if my computer and camera blows up, at least I have the tapes. That said, most equipment malfunctions are related to moving parts. I suppose a tape recorder has more than a hard drive. Still, I’ve been burned too many times by crashed hard drives and few tapes have let me down.

Sorry. Not sold on these models that burn DVDs. I suppose it’s easier, but some models (the Hitachi DZ-GX5020A) gets 18 minutes of the best quality. 18 minutes per DVD? Puleez.

Bottom Line

canon ZR800So for the typical amateur, I’d recommend sticking with a simple Mini-DV model. The three Consumer Reports winners are the Canon ZR800, the Panasonic PV-GS80 and the Sony DCR-HC28.

I like Canon. I use the Digital Rebel for still photos and the Canon HV20 for my videos. No problems with either of them. The Canon HV20 takes longer than I’d like to “boot up” and the audio is poor. But the images are quite nice for its $1,000 price. For most amateurs, however, a prosumer $1000 camera is total overkill (unless you want high definition and have plenty of money). Buttefly.

So I’d go with the Canon ZR800. It’s listed at for $209 even though Consumer Reports lists it as $255. I get a lot of my impulse buys from BestBuy, but they’re listing it at $254 (but watch the circulars if you don’t want to wait for shipping).

It’s not perfect. Read the C-Net report so you know of some limitations, and the Amazon user reviews are mixed. It got a mediocre review, but so did the Panasonic. I also use PCMag to compare cameras, but the Canon ZR800 wasn’t listed.

9 Replies to “Best Video Cameras”

  1. I frequently have trouble hearing the audio in your videos. I think you should consider putting up subtitles for lines that are difficult to hear, the way bunsandchouchou does. Not every line – just the occasional one that is 1) not coming through because the camera is too far away from the action or there is too much wind or whatever; and 2) funny.

    Now that I know I can blame this on your camera instead of my ears, I feel entitled to criticise and make special requests. That is all for now.

  2. Hi guys,whats up? I love my new jvc camcorder! Its model # gz-mg130u,Its a hybrid,meaning it can record to hard drive or sd card.It has a 30gb hard drive and 34x optical zoom(see video i filmed from 150 yards away) had it on sale for only$430! oh yea,it has a remote control & a timelapse fuction too.Nalts,you wont have to worry about hard drives crashing for much longer,they are developing flash memory hard drives for PCs,i think some are already out for laptops,i cant wait until the first desktop model is out. well,id better eat something before i pass out,or maybe i’ll have a glass of wine,pass out,then eat something!

  3. P.S. my camcorder also records in HD,dolby digital stereo,widescreen,and it has “quick restart” which lets it boot up in 1 second from standby mode. WOW! {:-O

  4. When I decided to buy a camera, I was determined to get a Hard Disk model; all the files are copied to the laptop for editing, and then to an external hard disk for back up purposes. (Back up, back up, back up!)

    I’d much rather a directory full of files than a drawer full of tapes… I hope you label them well. lol

  5. You seem to forget how hard it was to find tapes when we were in Texas. Also… more tapes = more $

    I love having a Hard Drive camera! I transfer the files to my computer just in case I drop the camera when I am hanging out the window.

  6. I’ve always had great luck with Sony cameras, still or video. I have one of the lower end handycam models right now (dvd), but i’m looking in to getting one of the new high def model in the next couple of months. I will probably go with a hard drive model next time as well.

  7. In all likelihood I’m going to be upgrading to a Canon HV-20 in the next few months. If for no other reason than because it can shoot 24p (it’ll save a TON of time on de-interlacing footage if you’re the kind that tries to go for that “film look” 🙂

  8. Thanks for this information. I am not in the market for a comcorder at the present time but you gave me something to think about when I am. Ruth

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