If you don't want to spring for a high-definition (HD) camcorder, but you want the best possible standard-definition (SD) video quality, reviewers recommend the Canon FS40. Your footage won't be as sharp as with an HD camcorder, but experts and most owners say video quality is good and clear for standard-def. In fact, the FS40 shows no real weaknesses relative to other SD camcorders in tests: It's got a hefty 37x optical zoom, an effective image stabilizer to combat hand shake, a long-life battery (expect nearly three hours of shooting per charge) and 8 GB of built-in flash memory, which will hold nearly two hours of best-quality footage (you can add an SD card to expand the memory). At about the size of a soda can, the FS40 can slip into most coat pockets.
Canon also sells a version with no built-in memory, the Canon FS400 (*Est. $280), but if you're looking to save money, Sony's standard-def camcorders sell for less. The cheapest, the Sony DCR-SX45 (*Est. $200), has a longer 60x zoom than the Canons and identical image quality in one test, but testers prefer the Canon's longer battery life, steadier footage and higher-quality LCD screen.
Few sources test standard-definition camcorders, but ConsumerReports.org does comparison-test 12 of them -- including the Canon FS40. Amazon.com has collected a few owner reviews for the FS40.
The Canon FS40 is one of 12 standard-definition camcorders tested here. Experts judge the camcorders' video, audio and photo quality, ease of use and more before ranking them from best to worst.
Review: Camcorder Ratings and Reliability, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Several owners have reviewed the Canon FS40 at Amazon.com. A couple users give the lowest rating possible -- one who thought it was going to be HD, and one whose camcorder arrived defective -- but the majority give it high scores for its low cost and sharp video.
Review: Canon FS40 Flash Memory Camcorder with 41x Advanced Zoom and 8 GB Internal Flash Memory, Contributors to Amazon.com