Comparison and Recommendations for Low-cost Camcorders

Camcorder Features 1-2-12

How do you decide which low-cost digital video recorder is best for your use in professional development, technical assistance, dissemination, and service delivery activities? There are many good choices and new brands and models appear very frequently and current models are updated or discontinued all the time. The model that will be best for you depends on your purposes for using video and the features that you need or want. This document may help you get an idea of which features are most important to you, reports on a comparison of a number of popular models, and offers some recommendations. I update this document periodically, so please send me any late-breaking news or experiences that you have.


20 Responses to Comparison and Recommendations for Low-cost Camcorders

  1. Mary Peters says:

    Hi Larry,
    I’m trying to locate the list of your recommended portable speakers. Could you let me know what the best quality/cost might be?


  2. Joe says:

    Mary, I would recommend the X-mini 2 speaker. It runs around $30 and has great sound. Or the iHome Capsule speaker. Look for them on Amazon.

  3. Cornelia Taylor says:

    Hey Larry,
    What is the microphone that you recommended? Also, if I wanted to plug the microphone into a low cost digital camcorder would it work?

    Great session!

    • exploringtech says:

      Hey Cornelia,
      RE: What is the microphone that you recommended? It isn’t a microphone, but a digital audio recoredr that can also serve as a USB microphone. It is the Zoom H2.

      RE: Also, if I wanted to plug the microphone into a low cost digital camcorder would it work? Most low-cost digital camcorders don’t have a line in port for a microphone. An exception is the Zoom Q3, which I think has the best audio of any low cost digital camcorder in its class. That being said, I’ve only used the Zoom H2 as a USB mic with a computer (and it works beautifully) …I doubt that it would work as a mic for a line-in on a camcorder, but who knows. It does have a ‘phones/line out” port, but I suspect that may only work for playback. But who knows?
      Thanks for coming to the session! LE

      Great session!

  4. Kelly says:

    In terms of video quality, would you recommend the low cost cameras here for video taping child parent interactions and for coding/clipping purposes, when child communication is fairly subtle (quite vocs, eye gaze shifts, etc.). We have found that with the cameras we use, when we compress(which we must do to edit) the videos we lose quality, and when we edit and movies, the quality suffers even more!

    • exploringtech says:

      Hi Kelly,
      Why do you need to compress video files in order to edit them? What are you using in terms of: platform (e.g. mac, PC), video file formats, and editing software? In general, I find that the kinds of camcorders in this lo-cost class produce adequate (but not great) video usable for many purposes by practitioners. However, only one camcorder in this class stands out as producing very good audio and that is the Zoom Q3. For me, when the video really matters, e.g. when sound is very important, when coding is important, etc., I use a much higher end camcorder. When sound is extremely important I use a camcorder with an external microphone. Hope this helps, LE

      • Kelly says:

        Hi again,
        Thanks for your quick reply. Most of our cameras are Sony DCR-SR40’s (or in that family/a year or two later), and the files have to be compressed both for storage purposes because of their size, and to edit–we use windows movie maker.
        Thanks for your help!

  5. Cornelia Taylor says:

    Hey Larry,
    What is a low cost tripod that we could use for video taping a meeting around a table. Not much movement but we need to be able to set it up in a way that we can capture the faces of everyone in the room.

  6. exploringtech says:

    Hey Cornelia,
    I haven’t had to purchase ant table top tripods, but here are specs to search for: tabletop (i.e., is not too high when set at its lowest height, 360 degree swivel head, make sure it is designed to support the weight of your camcorder, needs a stable base. Avoid buying an inexpensive tripod intended for the Flip video class camcorders and avoid one only intended for still cameras. You might want to take a look at Joby’s Gorilla Ball X.

  7. sylvaticus says:

    Hello, any suggestion on camcorders that support USB video class (UVL) ? The ones in the list does support it ?
    The only one I found is out of production:

    UVL is the feature that make the camcorder to act like a webcam. We need it to live streaming conferences, as almost all live streaming providers use a flash player client interface. We are now using an old miniDV camcorder but, aside the troubles of the tape, the firewire link is becoming more and more a problem..

    • exploringtech says:

      Panasonic purchased Sanyo some time ago and while they have discontinued certain models of the the Sanyo xacti line, Panasonic is also adding some very nice new low-cost camcorders. Both the Panasonic HX-DC1 and the Panasonic HX-DC10 are claiming to be able to serve as webcams on both PCs and Macs. I’ve been testing the HX-DC1 and I like it a lot although I haven’t tried to use it as a web cam yet. Please let me know what you find!

  8. crleonello says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thanks for the latest update! I am trying to find a camcorder that also has video pass-through, where I can connect an analog video device (VCR, etc.) to the camcorder and capture the digital video stream on the computer. My old Canon ZR80 had it. Do you know of any camcorders still supporting this feature or a site having such information?

    Thanks again for putting together the comparison!

    • exploringtech says:

      Hi Chris,
      I haven’t been following if any of the recent camcorder models allow video capture from analog devices – I certainly haven’t run across any low-cost handheld models that do this. I use a pretty low-cost, but good enough device, called a Canopus ADVC-110 Advanced Digital Video Converter. It costs about $200 – $220 and does a pretty good job. Let me know what you come up with!

  9. Brian Larkin says:

    Hi Larry,
    I’ve found your comparison of low cost camcorders very useful. I have decided to purchase the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG20. My question is this… In the editing process, I need to be able to add “B Roll” and graphics. Can you recommend a free or low cost editing software that is similar to Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro without the high cost? Windows Live Moviemaker and others like it that I’ve found, only allow cuts, and minimal transitioning choices. The final use of the edited video would be to upload to an educational website. Thank you!

    • exploringtech says:

      Hi Brian, There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Panasonic bought Sanyo a while back and this past summer discontinued manufacturing the Sanyo xacti VPC-CG20. The good news is that they came out with a new camcorder with the same features and a few improvements. The only down side is that it doesn’t come with an external battery charger – you plug the camcorder in to charge the battery. The model that I like is the Panasonic HX-DC1: I also like the Kodak PlayTouch Video Camera Zi10:

      To be able to add B roll and computer graphics you’ll need to step up to a more full-featured editing application. I don’t know whether you are using a PC or mac, but if you are serious about working with video over the long haul, why not bite the bullet and go with Premier or Final Cut? If cost is prohibitive, for what you want to accomplish with video I suggest you try a trial of Adobe Premier Elements (PC and mac) or Final Cut Express (mac only). By the way, the new Final Cut X on the mac is much cheaper than the previous Final Cut Pro Studio, especially with a discount for educators. Other low-cost editing systems you might look into on PCs include: Vegas Movie Studio, Pinnacle Studio, Corel VideoStudio Express/Pro, Cyberlink PowerDirector 7, Video Edit Magic/Express/pro. Hope this helps…let me know what you decide.

  10. Greg Riske says:

    I always use USB microphones because they are very convenient and have so many features. ,

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