Digital Camcorder Recommendations for 2009

Eight popular models worth considering

Here are some recommendations for digital camcorders in a wide variety of prices, styles, and brands.  Combined with Adorama’s Camcorder Buying Guide, this list can help you make the right camcorder purchase. 

Prices as of November 24, 2009

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High Definition Camcorders

Pocket Cameras

Flip Ultra HD
The Flip Ultra HD is a high-definition camcorder in a pocket-sized form factor.  It shoots 720p video, uses AA batteries, and has a 2-inch LCD screen.  The Flip HD is an affordable way to start shooting HD video, along with being compact and easy to carry around for everyday use.  The Flip HD has 8GB of internal memory, and unfortunately does not have a media card slot for expanded storage, so the camera is not ideal for use when plan on being away from a computer for a long time.  The accompanying software works on both Mac and PC. The camera does not have a huge feature set—it lacks and optical zoom and an articulating screen—but it represents a great value for a camera that’s just plain fun. 

Kodak Zi8
Kodak’s Zi8 is the company’s first viable competitor to the highly successful Flip HD.  It shoots 1080p high definition video, and has an SD memory card slot for expanded storage.  The Zi8 also captures 5 megapixel stills, and has some of the best low-light performance among pocket sized HD camcorders.  Be aware that the bundled software is not Mac compatible, so if you are using the Mac OS, you must use another program to edit the video.  The LCD screen on the Zi8 measures 2.5 inches, larger than the Flip HD, however, it trades out the convenient AA batteries of the Flip HD for a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery.  The camera does not come with a memory card; make sure you purchase at least a 4 GB SD card when buying this camera. 

Hard Disk Cameras

Canon Vixia HF20
This high-definition camcorder is priced at a slight premium compared to some of its competitors, but has superb video quality.  It is nearly identical to Canon’s somewhat cheaper Vixia HF200, but adds 32GB of internal storage in addition to a memory card slot.  The HF20 has a 15x optical zoom, and benefits from Canon’s excellent optical image stabilization.  The HF20 also has an accessory shoe, something missing from many competitors’ models, ideal for a video light or external microphone.  An articulating, 2.7-inch LCD screen and a decent set of manual controls round out the Canon Vixia HF20, along with great build quality and performance.  Pick up a few extra SD memory cards and you’ll be able to record about as much video as you can handle, with the added bonus of the Vixia HF20’s creativity-enhancing manual options.

Panasonic HDC-TM20
Panasonic’s high definition HDC-TM20 is an ideal digital camcorder for those interested in beginning to shoot and work with high definition video, but don’t want to break the bank.  If you like touch-screen controls instead of buttons, this camcorder is for you.  Sporting a 16x optical zoom and optical image stabilization, the HDC-TM20 also has 16 GB of internal storage and an SD memory card slot.  The camcorder also has Panasonic’s “Pre-REC” mode, which will save video up to 3 seconds before you actually start recording, just in case you are a tad late during a special moment.  Face Detection technology optimizes exposure for faces, and combined with the new autofocus tracking in the HDC-TM20, you have the ability to track subjects as they move about the frame and keep them in sharp focus. 

JVC Everio GZ-HD320B
With 120GB of built in storage, the JVC Everio GZ-HD320B may have quite a long name, but you will be able to shoot ’till the sun goes down, and then some.  The 20x optical zoom is among the longest zooms of a mid-size HD camera in this price range.  In addition to the massive built in storage, the GZ-HD320B also offers the near ubiquitous SD memory card slot for even more storage.  The LCD screen comes in at 2.7 inches, and articulates as one would expect.  For iTunes users, the camcorder also offers one-touch uploading, to easily transfer video directly to your iTunes library.  Low light performance is not as good as some competitor’s models, however, but daylight video quality is exceptional, and the camera is one of the smallest and lightest in its class. 

Sony MHS-CM1
For under $200, you can purchase a high-definition camcorder with an articulating LCD screen and a 5x optical zoom.  The Sony MHS-CM1 is easy to use and has an excellent button layout.  Low light performance is as good as other pocket-sized camcorders, but will not beat out any of the higher priced HD camcorders available.  This camcorder is ideal for beginners on a budget or those who do not want to be concerned about owning a high-priced camcorder, but want to avoid the cramped layout of a pocket camera.  There are not a lot of manual controls, but the automatic color adjustment of the camera works well in a wide variety of lighting conditions.  If you anticipate using this camera for mostly YouTube and other online video services, you will not be disappointed with the Sony MHS-CM1.  Available in Purple, Silver, and Orange.

Standard Definition Camcorders

JVC Everio GZ-MS120
The JVC Everio GZ-MS120 would not be a bad choice for anyone who wants purchase a reasonably priced, good quality standard definition camcorder.  The 35x optical zoom is stellar considering the purchase price, and the camcorder even offers some manual controls.  The novel user interface makes it easy to use, even when holding the camera overhead or at a low angle.  While it does not have any built-in storage, it has the novel feature of two SD memory card slots, so you can easily put two 32 GB memory cards for recording hours upon hours of footage.  The GZ-MS120 is compact, the wrist/hand strap included is somewhat lacking, so be prepared to potentially purchase a better replacement.  JVC’s OneTouch technology makes it easy for camera-computer interaction with a few simple button presses. Available in Onyx Black, Garnet Red, and Topaz Blue.

Sony DCR-SR47
A massive optical zoom of 60x on the Sony DCR-SR47 somewhat makes up for about average video quality.  For long range shooting, the DCR-SR47 is an ideal choice.  It has 60 GB of built in storage, along with a Memory Stick Duo slot for expanding video recording capacity.  The 2.7 inch LCD touch screen is very easy to operate, and when you factor in the light weight and compact size, this is a great camera for both beginners and enthusiasts.  Don’t expect to get much in the way of manual controls, however, and keep in mind the video is better suited for web use than viewing on a large HDTV.  Available in Silver, Blue, and Red.

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