Buying a camcorder is a far more complication task than it was 10 years ago. There's now far more choice and you could be spending anything from £50 all the way up to over £1000. With all the different brands and resolution and features to look into, you can see why it pays, and saves you money, to look at this cheap camcorder buying guide. Hopefully we'll help you make the decision that gets you the best camcorder for your budget and giving you excellent value for money.
Essential Knowledge when Buying a Camcorder
Camcorders today are a lot smaller and lighter than the ones of old. They fit in your hands easier and a really ergonomic. Most of them only way 500grams at the most too. But in all this compactness, they are packed full of greatness. They can have up to 10x optical zoom, 3D capabilities, GPS tagging, or geotagging, and built in projector, HD recording, 4K resolution, stability recording and many more to boot.
If you want a camcorder with most of these features, then you'll be paying a fair price for it. The GoPro is probably the one to look into first, but others are catching up quick. The ruggedness and size is what initially set them apart and that's how they made there name.
Camcorders work by recording images in a similar way to a digital camera. Just in a very quick frames per second rate. That's why it's important to look at the frames per second on a camcorder specification. This is sometimes shown as FPS. All the video is then stored on the camcorders built in memory, or on a removable memory card. One thing to note is that high resolution video can be very large and getting a big memory card, or even a couple of them will make things easier.
Full size camcorders do far more than just recored videos these days. They can often have some built in editing software, the battery life is usually a little longer than compact camcorders and some of the higher end ones can have unto 50x optical zoom. Many full size ones will have an HDMI output. This allows you to play HD videos direct from the camcorder to the TV.
Compact camcorders can also be action camcorders too. Action camcorders, like there name suggest, are far more hardwearing and made for the good outdoors. GoPro are the most well known of these, but there are others from Song and Samsung to name just a few. They record in high quality video and often are waterproof and can be mounted on bikes, helmets or even surf boards.
Storing videos that you've recorded on your camcorder is mostly done on an SD card. These can be from 4GB up to 128GB and higher. HD Video is quite big so the bigger the SD card the better. Some camcorders include some built in memory, that can be from around 8GB up to 64GB. This can be handy, but we've no doubt that you'll be needing more space.
Numbers and specifications can be the most confusing part of buying a cheap camcorder. You are bombarded with HD, Ultra HD, 4K, 50FPS, 1080p and 30x Optical zoom. Let's try and explain what they all mean and this should make your buying choice a little easier. Most camcorders in the last few years are at least HD, so even the budget brands and cheaper models will record in 1280x720 pixels. There are still some stander definition models, but we won't really go into them as they are slowly disappearing altogether. So pixel resolution goes like this, HD goes from 1280x720 pixels to 1920x1080, the higher being the better and usually more expensive. Then there is 4K. These are a little more and have 3840 x 2160 pixels.
We've already touched on the frames per second, or FPS. The more FPS it has, the smoother the video it will take. 30FPS is considered very good. For example the GoPro Hero 4 has 15FPS and is one of the top selling action cameras.
Optical zoom is usually only found on full size camcorders and is a great feature for professional video recording. A good mark to start at is anything over 20x is really good.
Full size camcorders have the benefit of a flip out LCD display to help you see what your shooting. Some of the higher end full size ones even have a touch screen LCD display screen. These are not usually found on action camcorders. These screens are around 2 - 4 inches and they can use up the battery a lot quicker than when they are not in use.
An image stabiliser feature is a really good thing to look out for in an action camcorder. It does pretty much what is says. Shaking images will be greatly reduced by this. Perfect for those action junkies who want to strap the action camcorder to the mountain bike.
Fully automatic recording can go by a few different names depending on the manufacture. But it's basically a feature that allows you to just turn on the camcorder and press record and the camcorder will then factor in the images it is receiving and adjust all the necessary features like colour, light, shutter speed, focus and aperture. This is a great thing to have if you're not a professional and are not sure what each of these things do.
Autofocus adjusts the focus of your camcorder to make the object of what you're shooting in focus without you having to manually do it.
Zoom is built in to most camcorders and allows you zoom in, but usually it weakens the image quality, this is were optical zoom can have an advantage. Optical zoom uses a lens and doesn't loose much in the way of image quality. The more optical zoom times the better quality is the basic rule.
A few of the newer high end camcorders are now featuring 3D recording capabilities. They do this by the camcorder recording two different images. This then uses software to combine the two and this gives you the sense of depth. You need glasses to get in the full effect, and this is still in the early stages, but it does make for some epic viewing.
A built in projector is a great little extra feature, but not something you should be looking for unless you've a health budget for a camcorder. It's a tiny projector on the back of the flip out LCD screen. Sony are making some really good ones that can project a 60 inch image.
Having a view finder on your camcorder is handy when you're trying to conserve battery power as you don't need to use the LCD screen. These are usually only found on higher end models, or models that don't have an LCD screen, but we wouldn't recommend these.
Wi-Fi capabilities on a camcorder are getting more and more common. They allow you to connect to your PC or mobile device and back up your videos and upload them to social media. Some also allow you to download software for your mobile device and control the camcorder. This is best seen on the GoPro app. Also look out for NFC, or near field communication, this is similar to WiFi, but is quicker to transfer video.
Life proof and ruggedness is a bit of a must have feature in an action camcorder. It's not something you'll find in a full size camcorder though. We love the versatility of action camcorders that have this.
Best Camcorder Brands
Some of the best camcorder brands are the well known electric brands. Sony have loads of quality camcorders for a wide range of budgets. They pretty much have a good dominant hold of the full size camcorder market. GoPro are the ones that are taking the lead in the action camcorder market. The camcorder alone is a serious quality piece of kit, but the amount of accessories that you can have make this one of the most versatile action camcorder around. Other brands to look at for quality cheap camcorders are Samsung, Panasonic and Cannon. All do some really good video quality camcorders that offer great value for money.
For those wanting to get into cam cording but on a seriously tight budget, Vivatar are ones of the best low priced camcorders around. The basic model is under £20. This is a top deal and a really good entry level camcorder.
Finding Top Camcorder Deals
Now you know what each of the features mean and what level of camcorder you are wanting, it's time to set your budget and find the best possible camcorder for your money. This will give you excellent value for money. First thing to do is always look for a good sales deal on a camcorder. We think Argos are really good for having big sales on camcorders and other electrical to. For great in-store knowledge and to have a play with the cheap camcorders they have, Currys is the place to head to. They are usually all on display and you get to hold them and test them out. Bit of a cheeky tip, but once you find one that's perfect for you, you can them go back home and see if you can find in cheaper online. For some really quality high end camcorders them head over to Very. These have all the best brands from Sony camcorders to GoPro action camcorders.
So all that's left to do is take time and do some researching and you'll get the best value for money from your camcorder.