A smartphone is just fine for capturing your latest Ice Bucket Challenge attempt, but there's nothing quite like a dedicated camcorder for recording once-in-a-lifetime moments. Though this year saw a dip in the number of new, high-end camcorders, Sony's new 4K-shooting AX100 and Panasonic's dual-camcorder concept showed the category still has plenty of life.
If you're looking for something a little more versatile than a dedicated camcorder, there are also lots of regular cameras that can shoot killer video. In 2014, you can't go wrong with Panasonic. The company has a rich heritage in camcorders and has translated that experience into capturing three of our four awards for video-capable cameras.
Whether you're looking for a traditional camcorder, something a little more rugged, or a camera that can pull double duty, we've got recommendations you should consider this holiday season.
Best Camcorder of the Year
If you're looking for a dedicated camcorder, chances are you're looking for something that'll stand the test of time. With 4K TVs quickly becoming more affordable, it won't be long before you'll want to be shooting 4K video as well.
The AX100 records superb HD video, but it can also record smooth, detailed 4K video to SDHC memory cards. While we admit that the siren song of the GH4 is strong, some people simply prefer the handling of a traditional camcorder. Unless you're looking to step up to prosumer or interchangeable lens, Sony's AX100 is the camcorder to beat. (MSRP $1,999.99)
Read our full review of the Sony FDR-AX100.
Runner-up: Canon Vixia HF G30
Though the pace of camcorder updates isn't quite what it used to be, Canon's HF G30—announced in April, 2013—is still one of the best options on the market if you don't need or want 4K video. Costing significantly less than the AX100, the G30 provides plenty of features and control for anyone who simply wants an excellent all-around HD camcorder. (MSRP $1,499.99)
Read our full review of the Canon Vixia HF G30.
Best Action/Adventure Camcorder
GoPro HERO4 Black
GoPro's line of rugged camcorders routinely dominates the action camcorder market: they are seemingly everywhere, strapped to daredevils across the world. The new HERO4 Black ups the ante in a big way, adding true 4K video and even the option for recording 120fps video at Full HD quality. (MSRP $499.99)
We've tested all three of the new GoPros and found they all offer significant value depending on your needs. The new HERO4 Silver ($399.99) has a touchscreen LCD for playback and control, while the new low-cost HERO ($129.99) is perfect for anyone who wants an affordable GoPro. The action camera market is becoming ever more competitive, but for 2014 it's still GoPro or bust.
Our review of the GoPro HERO4 Black is coming soon.
Best Innovation in Video
Panasonic HC-W850 Twin Recording
It's rare these days to see fresh ideas in the camcorder market. That's why the Panasonic HC-W850 caught us by surprise. Though it's not a big improvement over previous Panasonics, the W850 has one neat addition: a second rotating camcorder built into the flip-out LCD.
The second lens lets you capture picture-in-picture video so you can record a performance and the reaction of those around you. It's not gamechanging, but it's cool nonetheless. (MSRP $799.99)
Read our full review of the Panasonic HC-W850.
Best System Camera for Video
Since Nikon first offered an interchangeable lens still camera that shot video, we've been waiting for a camera that combined superb still image quality with truly pro-level video chops.
The GH4 is that camera. It's one of the best stills cameras around and can instantly transform into a 4K-ready run-and-gun documentary camcorder on the fly. Add in the YAGH breakout box and an external recorder and you've got a studio-ready solution that can churn out 10-bit 4K to rival far more expensive cinema cameras. (MSRP $1,699.99, body only)
Read our full video performance review of the Panasonic DMC-GH4.
Runner-up: Sony Alpha A7S
Though Samsung's new NX1 can rival the GH4 for in-body 4K recording, Sony's Alpha A7S is simply a monster. It has a full-frame sensor, can record cinema-quality HD internally (or 4K with an external recorder), and has a top ISO of 409,600. With the full-frame aesthetic so many filmmakers are after and the sensitivity to record your very own Barry Lyndon tribute, the A7S is one of the best system cameras for shooting video. (MSRP $2,499.99, body only)
Read our full video performance review of the Sony Alpha A7S.
Best Value System Camera for Video
Though the fixed-lens options detailed below are both 4K-ready and provide excellent footage right out of the box, it's hard to beat the lens options of a DSLR. Nikon's D5300, in particular, provides sharp 1080/60p footage, an articulating LCD, native Nikon lens support, and a plethora of video-centric controls at a sub-$1,000 price. It doesn't do 4K and the lack of a dedicated video mode is baffling, but for the price it's hard to complain. (MSRP $799.95, body only)
Read our full review of the Nikon D5300.
Runner-up: Sony Alpha A6000
If you're looking for an affordable hybrid solution but don't want the bulk of a DSLR, give Sony's A6000 a gander. Though you'll need a $100 hotshoe attachment to add mic/headphone jacks, the A6000 has an EVF, shoots superb HD video, and offers better still photos than typically seen at this price point. (MSRP $649.99, body only)
Read our full review of the Sony Alpha A6000.
Best Point-and-Shoot Camera for Video
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000
If you don't want to mess with interchangeable lenses but still want to enjoy superlative image quality and 4K video, the Panasonic FZ1000 is the way to go. We found it shot video nearly on par with the GH4 and its 16x f/2.8-4 lens is sharp and effective even in limited light. There's no headphone jack for monitoring audio, but an external mic jack provides support for higher-end audio solutions. (MSRP $899.99)
Read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000.
Runner-up: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
The Panasonic Lumix LX100 can't hope to match the total package provided by the FZ1000, but it still provides 4K video in a compact form factor with a fast f/1.7-2.8 lens. That's saying a lot. (MSRP $899.99)
Read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100.
Best Compact Camera for Video
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
As good as the FZ1000 is, there's no getting around the fact that it's a big camera. The LX100 is one of the best compacts ever made, and its unique 4K video abilities are a big part of that. (MSRP $899.99)
Read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100.
Runner-up: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Of course, 4K isn't everything. If the "compact" part of the equation is more important than shooting UHD, then the Sony RX100 III is a great choice. It shoots better video than most any other compact thanks to the improved XAVC S codec, and easily slips into your jacket pocket when you don't need it. (MSRP $799.99)
Read our full review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III.