6 of the Best Camcorders for Vintage Footage

They say fashion and art move in cycles; what was once popular will become popular again after some time. There is no better example of this cyclical movement than the present. Whether it’s vinyl, film, bootcut jeans, or anything else that feels “retro”, Millenials and Gen Z alike seem to have to get their hands on it. Because of this retro renaissance, our team here at Filtergrade has compiled a list of another item that is facing a huge resurgence: vintage camcorders. What better way is there to get the “old” and “retro” look than buying a camcorder that was literally built during the time period that you are trying to recreate? Keep on reading for 6 of our favorite camcorders that give you that vintage feel you crave!

Panasonic PV-L559 Palmcorder Camcorder

After searching through forums, blogs and websites all across the internet, the general consensus is that the PV-L559 is definitely the best all-around vintage camcorder. This 1990s camcorder is known for its relatively good quality footage, and its (at the time) long battery life of 2 hours per charge. Along with these traits, the L559 has an insane zoom on it: 150x digital and 20x. You could probably get decent footage of people on the neighboring continent with this camera!

Zoom is great and all, but it’s basically useless if the camera itself isn’t stable. Luckily, the L559 has electronic image stabilization, which not only keeps zoomed-in footage stable, but it also helps improve the camera’s low light functionality. Finally, its small size and relatively light weight (6 pounds) make it super portable and ready to shoot whenever you need it!

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RCA CC641 Camcorder

If the L559 is either too expensive, or the footage is too high-res for your tastes, then look no further than the RCA CC641! It doesn’t have the stabilization or the zoom of the L559 (the RCA’s zoom is only 18x optical), but it is extremely beginner friendly, and it still has some awesome features. First of all, the RCA gives you the option of using removable storage (Card/Disc/Tape), which eliminates the need for a VCR. This is an extremely convenient feature nowadays where it’s almost impossible to find a VCR that isn’t at your grandparents’ house. 

Another really cool feature that comes with the CC641 is its auto white balance feature. This basically means that the camcorder can sense when the light in a scene changes, and it will automatically adjust its white balance so that the colors are still normal and accurate. The fact that such a cheap camcorder made in the late 90s has this feature is still incredible. Along with this, the CC641 also has both auto focus and focus lock, so beginners and experienced videographers alike do not have to worry about making sure the video is in focus. Finally, this camera is so compact and light that you would probably forget you even had it on you. It doesn’t have the nickname “Small Wonder” for no reason!

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Sony DCR-VX1000 Digital Handycam

The third camera on this list is the Sony DCR-VX1000 Digital Handycam. Nowadays, this camera is a little bit more on the expensive side, but it is a professional camcorder with a lot of really cool features. This camcorder has both optical and digital zoom (10x and 20x respectively), and it has an anti-shake feature. Furthermore, the VX1000 also has night vision and time lapse capabilities, which makes it one of, if not the most advanced camcorder on this list. Finally, the fact that it can shoot in 60 fps really makes it a technological standout, and even though it’s pricier and shoots in higher quality than all of the other camcorders on this list, its prestige and history is the reason why I felt like I had to include it. 

Going into the history of the VX1000, the real reason this camcorder is so popular is because of how it’s been used within various subcultures. The portability, durability, and availability of different interesting focal length attachments made the VX-1000 a hit with the underground skating and BMX community in the early 2000s. So many of those old, “retro” skating videos we see popping up on social media nowadays were actually shot with this exact camcorder! This camera is also very personal to me because my family owned one for a few years, and I got to play with it a lot as a child. Whether you are a beginner, or just want another camcorder for your arsenal, I would seriously recommend the VX1000.

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Up next we have the JVC GR-SXM260U, a camcorder with a lot of very interesting features. The first thing that I have to mention is the zoom; the GR-SXM260U has 700x digital zoom and 16x optical zoom. If I said that the Panasonic PV-L559 could get decent footage of people on other continents, then this camcorder could record people on other planets! Not only that, but the built-in image stabilizer will help you retain that focus and quality even while you’re moving and zoomed-in on your subject. The GR-SXM260U, like the previous Sony, is also super lightweight and portable, and like the L559, it also has a 2 hour battery life.

Ok, enough with all those boring features; let’s get into the really cool thing about this camcorder. The GR-SXM260U has 3 different recording modes: super VHS, VHS ET, and standard VHS. The super VHS mode gives you about a 60% improvement in typical camcorder quality, and it uses S-VHS tapes as opposed to regular VHS tapes. The standard VHS mode is exactly what it says it is: a standard resolution recording on a typical VHS tape. The super VHS ET, however, is the most interesting mode. It will allow the GR-SXM260U to shoot with high quality similar to super VHS, but it stores the footage on regular VHS tapes, meaning this mode will give you the most quality and economy. Whichever mode you end up using however, the GR-SXM260U will give you some great camcorder footage!

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Panasonic PVL353 VHS-C

The Panasonic PVL353 VHS-C is a camcorder that, at its time, tried to toe the line between “old” and “new”. Although the PVL353 was made in the 90s, looks like an old camcorder, and does not have the best quality display, it has some features that were brand new when this model came out. For example, the PVL353 has dual electronic stabilization, which is probably the most advanced form of in-camera stabilization on this list. This stabilization, coupled with zooming power almost identical to the previous JVC, will help ensure that your videos are not shaky, even if you zoom in relatively close.

Along with the stabilization features, the PVL353 also Color Digital, which was a state-of-the-art feature at its time. Color Digital is basically an internal color sensor that detects and records colors at an extremely high speed, and with an astonishing level of accuracy. A major complaint from creatives nowadays is that new technology just can’t seem to reproduce the colors and tones of old technology. Luckily, the PVL353 ensures that the colors are exactly what you’re looking for every single time.

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Panasonic PV-L550

Well, it’s been a wild ride, but it’s time for the last camcorder on this list. Funnily enough, the first and the last camcorder are almost exactly the same, but with some key differences. The Panasonic PV-L550 is basically the beginner version of the L559. Now I know some of you might ask why I would even include this camera on the list, but please hear me out. Even though I said it was the beginner version of the L559, it has its own qualities that must be appreciated. It does not have the advanced features and buttons that the L559 has, but if you’re looking for a ton of features you might as well ditch the camcorders and get yourself a Blackmagic. 

It’s also not like the L550 has absolutely no features. It still has 150x digital zoom and 18x optical zoom, and it still has electronic image stabilization to help with any camera shake. It also has a battery life of 3 hours, which is one hour longer than the more advanced L559. The tapes are also very easy to remove when recording is finished, and you can just put them directly into a VHS PLAYPAK, if you have one. Finally, a very surprising feature on a camera this cheap and relatively unadvanced is the auto color enhancement light, which helps compensate for any low light situations by enhancing the image quality, tint and facial coloring. “Beginner” who?

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Well, there you have it. It’s been an absolute journey with you guys. These 6 camcorders all have their rightful place on this list, whether it is because they achieve that perfect “retro” look, or because they are a cult classic that permeated throughout various subcultures in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, please do not limit yourself to just these 6 choices. I don’t have enough time to write about every vintage camcorder in history, but in reality, if you’re looking for a vintage camcorder, I would say the best one is by far the one that’s affordable and available, no matter what it is. At the end of the day, people buy these camcorders for the relatively “bad” quality they provide, so I guess worse might be better in this case. Whatever you end up deciding, I hope you learned something and you find the camcorder of your dreams!

Related: 10 of the BEST Lights for Commercial Videography

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