Best High-End Consumer Camcorders / Camcorder HQ Buyer's Guide
Last updated on 04/26/2011
Are you looking for a camcorder to match your Rolex? Is no price too high for performance? Then you'll probably find what you're looking for in this roundup. These camcorders all sit at the top of their manufacturers' consumer lines. They represent the best quality HD available before making the massive leap to "Pro" price tags. They are the perfect camcorders for recording the countryside as it whizzes past the window of your BMW. In all seriousness, these are as good as the consumer class gets. By Sean Kelley
Canon's Vixia HF G10 may not tack on a thousand features, or cram in an extra lens to shoot 3D, but it is built around a powerful engine that cranks out some of the best image quality on the market. The 1/3-inch CMOS Pro sensor is large and effective to begin with, but since Canon has made the decision to shoot exactly 1920 by 1080 pixels on that sensor (instead of squeezing in more to boost its maximum still-resolution stats for the spec sheet) each pixel has about 60 percent more room to gather light and do work. This means unsurpassed low light performance and a super sensitive dynamic range. Light is delivered to the sensor through a Genuine Canon HD lens, offering a wide starting angle, an advanced 8-blade iris, a nice 10x zoom range and Canon's venerable glass-grinding pedigree. Furthermore, Canon has provided a pro-style manual focus ring to control the lens. This is the manual gear-box of the camera world; nothing is going to give you more control, better results, or make you feel more connected to the machine than a manual focus ring. But the G10 isn't all about hardware either. It supports native 24fps shooting, Cinema-Look Filters, and 5.1 channel surround-sound audio. It's equipped with 32GB of flash memory and two SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots, plus HDMI and USB outputs so there are plenty of options when it comes time to save and share. This camcorder is a no-nonsense, high-performance machine.
The Panasonic TM900 takes a novel approach to capturing vivid color. The camcorder uses three CMOS sensors, with one capturing each primary color. This provides seriously accurate color reproduction and also means there's a lot of total sensor space to work with (Panasonic has used this technique in a few generations of these cameras, so they're pretty well refined at this point). All that sensor power, combined with a bright, Leica Dicomar f/1.8 lens produces highly detailed images even in low light. The lens also runs through a 12x optical zoom range, expandable to 20x thanks to the Intelligent Resolution system, which uses some software trickery to crop the image without noticeable degradation. Crystal Engine Pro processor. You also get manual focus and zoom controls, 24fps and 60fps shooting modes, 5.1 channel surround sound audio, an accessory port, and a large, useful, 3.5 inch touchscreen LCD. And, as Panasonic would like you to know, there's also the option to shoot in 3D. Panasonic offers a 3D conversion lens that composites the images from two lenses to deliver a stereoscopic image to the TM900's sensor. It definitely costs a few extra bucks, and it shouldn't be the reason you buy this camcorder (it's got plenty to offer without 3D) but it's definitely an intriguing option. It's equipped with 32GB of internal flash memory and takes SD/SDHC/SDXC cards for some extra headroom. Overall, the TM900 offers some serious quality, with a lot of features, from some great technology.
If you're looking for quality 3D, buy this camcorder. While Panasonic's high-end shooters have an "artificial" 3D option, Sony's TD10 gives you the real deal. There are two lenses and two sensors, and both of them capture in full 1080p. Sony didn't give you two cheap sensors instead of one nice one either. The Exmor Rs are highly sensitive, backlit sensors, allowing for strong low-light performance. Feeding those two sensors are two Sony G lenses -- again, the best Sony has to offer. These lenses look sharp and bright all the way through their 10x Zoom range (12x in 2D mode). There's no waiting to export to your 3D TV to see the results of all this power. The auto-stereoscopic 3.5-inch LCD lets you review your 3D footage glasses-free. Footage shot in 3D can always be viewed in 2D, but there is a dedicated 2D/3D toggle if you want to save space (64GB built-in, plus SD/SDHC and Memory Stick slots). In 2D mode you still have access to all the same shooting options, including 24 and 60p, 5.1 channel surround sound, and intelligent auto modes. You also get an accessory port and a manual control dial. Essentially Sony has strapped two strong high-end camcorders together and provide the single best answer for consumer 3D HD and a very good 2D solution, too.