Camcorders 2013

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Best Affordable HD Camcorders

Last updated on 07/21/2011

HD camcorders are no longer a luxury item. Anyone can take home a solid video camera for under $500. They’re ready to roll as soon as they come out of the box, suitable for filming anything from a backyard BBQ to a high school football championship. These cams won’t quite give you broadcast-quality footage, but the video will still fill up any HDTV the way it’s meant to be filled.

[Read our full Sony Handycam HDR-CX130 Review] Sony’s CX130, CX160, and XR160 models are the top dogs in the entry-level HD arena. They each pack a 30x zoom range, very effective optical image stabilization, 3-inch touchscreen LCDs, and full 1080p resolution. Above all, they take better videos than their chief rivals. Colors are accurate and details are crisp even in poor lighting conditions (thanks to the relatively large backlit CMOS sensor inside). They’re light on “extras” like video effects or filters, but they fulfill their chief purpose better than any entry-level HD model out there. Even the storage-free CX130 costs more than similar Pannys and Canons with built-in memory, but it’s worth the price premium. The CX160 comes with 16GB of built-in flash memory, while the XR160 sports a massive (in a few senses) 160GB hard disk.
Canon Vixia HF R20
from $404.99
[Read our full Canon Vixia HF R20 Review] Canon offers up another batch of worthy, affordable HD camcorders in the HF R20, R21, and R200 models. Their image quality is almost as nice as the Sony models churn out, though the less-effective stabilization leads to blurrier overall videos. The optical zoom range is also limited to 20x (which is still pretty long -- just not compared to the other camcorders considered here). Typical of Canon, it does offer an excellent user interface and useful shooting modes and features, so just about anybody can feel comfortable shooting with this. It is cheaper than the Sony models above, so if your budget is getting in the way, these shooters are solid alternatives. The HF R200 records to SD/SDHC cards only; the HF R20 has 8GB of built-in flash memory, and the HF R21 has 32GB of built-in flash memory.
[Read our full Panasonic HDC-SD80 Review] Holding up the bottom end are the Panasonic SD80, HS80, and TM80. These aren’t even Panasonic’s entry-level models -- that distinction belongs to the SD40 and TM40 -- but for price comparison purposes, we’re including them in this roundup. So even though these are technically mid-range camcorders in the Panny lineup, they’re in the bush leagues compared to the Canon and Sony models here. Panasonic knows how to cobble together a great touch-based interface and fun shooting modes, and the 34x zoom range is quite long. But these 80-series camcorders just don’t shoot good videos. Even in bright lighting, scenes look washed out, and low-lit areas are pretty much impossible to shoot with these cameras. The card-only SD80 is the cheapest of the bunch -- far cheaper than Sony’s basic CX130, too, but not worth wasting the cash. The TM80 has 8GB of built-in flash memory and the HS80 has a 120GB hard disk, but otherwise, all of the same performance problems as the bare bones model. Skip these camcorders.