People love to worry about what video camera they should buy, as if the right camera will automatically take a more interesting video than the wrong camera. It won’t. You can shoot a great movie on your cell phone, and a bad one on an IMAX rig.
Manufacturers release a new video camera every 27 seconds and everyone’s needs are different. Rather than recommend cameras, let’s list the questions you should ask yourself when shopping:
Do you already own it? Your smartphone probably shoots great video. Your digital still camera probably does too. Check yours, and learn what you need by playing with what you have.
Is it easy for you to use? Note the use of the word “you.” Nothing worse than a complicated camera you use as a paperweight.
Is it easy to carry? Easy to tote = more likely to carry = more likely to have when you want it.
Does it shoot video in a format that is current? For now, that means HD—full 1080p is best. As of now (May, 2016 update) 4K is overkill for most people– it’s harder to store and process, and unless you’re projecting on a giant TV you won’t see the difference. Home VR cameras are as dumb an idea as home 3D was when I originally wrote this page in 2010.
Does it take video you think looks good? Note the “you” again. If you can’t tell the quality difference between two cameras then for you there isn’t one.
Your standards may change as you shoot a lot of video. It’s like skiing—at first the crappy rentals are just fine, but as you learn to feel the difference between skis, you’ll upgrade to a more sophisticated ride. Should an occasional fair-weather skier buy racing Volkls? Only if they have more money than they know what to do with.
If you shoot enough that you find yourself thinking, “Boy, I wish my camera did X” then it’s time to think about trading up. The same questions apply, but your answers will be a little different.