Purchasing a new camcorder can be just as daunting as purchasing a new pet or car. Camcorders these days come loaded with a bunch of eye-catching features that sound really high tech and are designed to attract more customers. However the core features that make a camcorder worth its price have not changed that much over the years.
If you don’t know what to choose, let’s begin by stating the obvious- you need to choose the camcorder that is best for YOU and is within your budget – in this case camcorders under $500. Some people might prefer portability over image quality, others might prefer optical zoom over low light recording. It all comes down to what you need from the camcorder. To answer that question, you need to think about what you will be doing with your shiny new toy once you purchase it. Will you be recording your son playing on the trampoline at home, or do you plan to be sitting in the stadium and recording a live football match? If your primary goal is to record home footage, you don’t need a lot of optical zoom and 10X is more than enough.
If you want to record matches at auditoriums, you need to come prepared with at least 20X zoom, and your camcorder must have nice, large wide-angle lenses to be able to capture the whole picture. If you’re going to be recording night shows and concerts, you might want to focus on low light recording performance and built-in flash or infrared.
If you are on the budget check out our list of best HD camcorders under $200,
or go with something more expensive: Best Camcorders under $1,000.
Things you should check before buying HD Camcorders under $500
Now that you have an idea of what to look for in a video camera, we will talk about some of the major features that you should check out first in any camera- they are image quality, night time recording performance, optical zoom and optical image stabilization.
Image quality is determined by the quality and size of the image sensor inside, as well as the aperture and size of the lens. For people who plan to record live matches and concerts this factor is super important. Then, you have optical zoom, which should always be prioritized over digital zoom because it is 100% natural and does not deteriorate the image quality as you zoom in.
If you are a night owl and plan to record a bunch of stuff in the night then consider getting a camcorder with larger lens aperture and larger sensor. Larger aperture means more light falls on the sensor, and a larger sensor makes the most out of the incoming light. For night recording, you may also want to check if your camcorder has an external mount to attach flashes or floodlights, etc.
Finally, if you are going to be recording with the camera in your hands then try to get a camcorder with decent optical image stabilization. It is going to make your videos look MUCH better, and you will end up feeling like a pro even though you have really shaky hands. As in the case of zoom, remember that optical is always better than digital, so choose some model with at least 3-axis optical image stabilization.
Five- axis optical image stabilization is the best but unattainable at this price range. Now let’s take a look at the list of the best camcorders under $500, which is a good price point for most amateurs as well as hobbyists. We thoroughly analyzed the pros and cons of each model, and also took customer reviews into consideration in order to provide you with the best camcorders that you can get at this budget.
Canon Vixia HF R700
Pro: Great optical zoom and image stabilizer
Con: Small sensor, bad low light recording
The Vixia HF R700 is a pretty feature packed camcorder with all the main functions that you will find on much costlier camcorders. It has 57X optical zoom and a really great optical image stabilizer to go with that zoom. Even when fully zoomed in, you will not notice any shakiness or blur in the video, allowing even beginners to capture really stable and high-quality footage.
Unfortunately though, the R700 has a really small CMOS image sensor, only 3.28 MP. While the recording resolution is not bad at full 1080p, the small image sensor struggles to capture natural light and you might want to restrict this camera to day time use only. It does not have a really large aperture or good enough sensor for night time use. If you must use it to capture night time footage, invest in some floodlights, by the way this camera has no external accessory mount for lights or microphones, although it does come with a 3.5mm port for attaching external microphones.
We think the Vixia image stabilization and mobility make it perfect for home use, such as recording videos for uploading to your Youtube channel. The battery provided with the camera will last only about an hour and you would really benefit from an extended battery, although that will significantly increase the size and weight of the camcorder. For storage, it use standard SDHC as well the more high-speed SDXC cards, it has a total of two SD card slots allowing you to record as much footage as you want without having to worry about running out of space.
Sony HDRPJ440 PJ Handycam
Pro: Brilliant optical image stabilizer, amazing lens
Con: Small image sensor, Interface is rather complex
Simply amazing HD camcorder under $500 in terms of features and image stabilization, but lags behind when it comes to recording in low light. While the inbuilt projector can come in really hand(Handycam, get it?), the camcorder still needs to do the one thing we purchased it to do- record awesome videos. It does do that… to a certain extent.
The 26.8mm wide angle Zeiss lenses means you can capture beautiful landscapes as well as smaller objects with equal ease. Talking of smaller objects, a 30X optical zoom combined with SteadyShot optical image stabilization makes for great video quality even while you are sitting in a moving vehicle or walking with the camcorder in your hand. However, the image sensor is quite small at just about 2 megapixels, which means recording night time footage will result in a lot of noise and grain in the video. Its video quality is okay with the option to record in 3 different codecs each with different bit rates and space requirements.
This video camera comes with 8GB of built-in flash memory that will let you store a few hours of footage in case you accidentally forgot to bring your SD card along. Connectivity options such as Wi-Fi and NFC allow for easy file sharing between your camera and mobile devices, Ustream allows you to stream live content as you are recording it, making this camcorder a great choice for Youtubers and vloggers.
Panasonic HC-W580K HD Camcorder
Pro: 5-axis optical image stabilization, HDR recording mode
Con: Low battery life
If you are looking for a video camera to record live games at a stadium, then this is the one you are looking for. No other camcorders on this list has better zoom and image stabilization than this model, and it also seems to have the best night time recording quality in its class, making it a great purchase if you are into concert recording and night prowling.
The reason this camcorder is the best in our list at night time jobs is really simple- it benefits from having a large lens and image sensor. The lens allows for extra exposure, while the image sensor captures a bigger image, hence less noise and better quality at night. On top of that, 90X optical zoom is more than enough to use this camera for recording live games, in fact you can even use it to document and track animals in the wild as the insane amount of zoom lets you close in every single body detail such as eyes, hair, spots, etc.
Five-axis optical image stabilization is simply unheard of at this price, and the wi-fi allows you to stream professional-looking footage to your friends and family, no matter where they are. Just don’t try to stream any professional matches while you are sitting in the audience, or you might fall into some trouble…
GoPro Hero 4 12MP HD Action Camera
Pro: Waterproof, wearable, 4K capable
Con: Mediocre recording quality
Lightweight, waterproof, and shockproof, this little action camera is one of the latest GoPro models that allows adventurists and extreme sport fanatics to capture every single gravity-defying moment in pristine full HD resolution and 60fps.
This camera features a built-in touchscreen to easily access all the settings, although you will not be laying any hands on it while doing back flips on your bike. It can be mounted on your car’s dash to act as a dash-cam, or on your head to record from a first person POV. You can mount it on tripods, brackets, straps, helmet mounts, handlebar mounts, there are endless creative possibilities. Although the camera can record in 4K resolution, you will be getting just 15 fps out of it, in 2.7K mode, it can record at 50 fps. Capable of taking high quality 12 MP still pictures, similar to what an entry range digital camera gives you, the Hero 4 is highly lightweight, extremely versatile and really compact.
Don’t expect to get amazing video quality though, since the small size of the camera limits the lens and image sensor size. Nevertheless, it can capture a really big landscape with its wide angle lens and in case you decide to take it underwater, the camera is waterproof up to 131 feet. It is definitely the camera of choice for people who want to document every adventurous moment in high definition, and from the POV of their choice.