Best vlogging cameras 2021: Sony, GoPro, Panasonic, more compared for YouTube
It seems like everyone has a YouTube channel these days. Experts all over the world are teaching people how to cook, do home repairs and even put on makeup from the comfort of their homes. Or maybe you’re on your way to becoming the next big YouTube influencer. While anyone can post to YouTube, it’s trickier than it looks. Further, if you want to and build a subscriber following, your footage has to be watchable and engaging. We can’t help you develop your online persona, but we can make sure you look and sound your best online — and we can help you do it for very little money upfront.
A good starting point is to decide what kind of video recording you want to do. There’s no need to spend hundreds or even thousands on a high-end DSLR camera with a wide angle lens that can shoot in low light condition if you can accomplish the video quality you want with your phone or a webcam with a microphone. You don’t need an action camera with optical zoom if you’re going to be sitting at a computer most of the time. Also, a good vlogging camera doesn’t have to shoot HD video or cost a fortune. Most of the more affordable models have features such as optical image stabilization, autofocus, slow motion, LCD touchscreens, low light sensitivity and more.
In this roundup, I’m helping you find the best vlogging camera. I’ve kept cost in mind, so you don’t need to worry about blowing the bank with a camera that shoots 4K video. Frankly, you don’t really need to go all-out with DSLR camera quality, an interchangeable lens or ultra HD for most projects. You also don’t need to spend extra on an action camera if you’re just going to be streaming videos on Twitch. Simply put, whether you want to do simple livestreams from your laptop or more polished productions, you’re sure to find a vlogging camera for your needs and budget here.
Note that if livestreaming is a priority (which may or may not be for someone interested in YouTube vlogging), you might need additional hardware beyond a camera, such as a good microphone, which you might be able to plug into the camera itself via its own mic input. I’ll include suggestions for that, as well as other accessories to consider, following the cameras’ details.
With a small handful of exceptions, every vlog camera listed here has been fully reviewed or anecdotally tested by me or other CNET editors. Those exceptions in the accessories sections are based on positive Amazon user reviews and additional word-of-mouth accolades. Happy video recording and streaming!
Luckily, people looking for a great vlogging camera don’t usually have to look far. Whether iPhone or Android, using a smartphone to shoot footage for your vlog is probably the easiest vlogging camera option for most people for recording and livestreaming. But what can make even good video bad is camera shake. A three-axis stabilizer, also known as a gimbal, will make sure everything you shoot looks nice and smooth.
DJI’s OM 4 (formerly called the Osmo Mobile) delivers on the stabilization using the same tech you’ll find on its camera drones. It has the same compact, lightweight folding design for easy travel as the prior model. It has the same controls, making one-handed use a breeze. And it still has a built-in battery for up to 15 hours of use. What’s new is how you mount your phone.
For the OM 4, DJI developed a new magnetic mount you can attach to your phone case as well as one that clamps around your phone like past models. This allows you to quickly attach and detach your phone, and it’s always perfectly balanced.
DJI’s Mimo app is packed with options, too, including its ActiveTrack 3.0 feature that lets you draw a box around your subject and it will instantly start tracking them. Basically, it’s more than just a phone stabilizer.
Whether you’re looking to do a quick how-to from your computer, want to stream yourself while you game or anything in between, the simplest option for your vlog is a compact camera that doesn’t need to move from your computer. Yes, we’re speaking about the noble webcam. True, you won’t be able to move around too much, but it’s pretty much a plug-and-play experience because you don’t need an encoder.
Of course, with a lot more people working from home and relying on video conferencing, good webcams became difficult to find. Heck, even mediocre ones are tough to come by right now. Our top pick for vlogging is the $170 Logitech StreamCam because it is purpose-built for streaming at up to 1080p at 60fps. And it’s designed to be mounted horizontally or vertically.
If you want 4K streaming at 30fps in addition to full HD at 60fps, go with the Logitech Brio 4K. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find at the moment for its $199 price: It’s back-ordered everywhere. You can also go the other direction with Logitech’s C922x Pro that streams at 1080p at 30fps or 720p at 60 fps, has solid image quality, and its built-in mics give you decent audio for $100.
It’s worth noting that because of the increased demand for webcams, many camera makers including Canon, Nikon, GoPro, Sony, Panasonic and others have made it possible to use some of their camera models as a webcam without additional equipment. However, it’s more of an “in a pinch” solution for some of the cameras so I wouldn’t rely on it for the best quality and features.
From its small waterproof design to its incredible image stabilization to its excellent video quality, the Hero 9 Black is one of the most versatile cameras you can get for creating YouTube vlog gold. You can use the GoPro Hero Black as a studio camera, but it’s really made to be used on the move.
Adding to the argument in its favor are the Mods designed to make the Hero 9 Black even more vlogging-friendly. The main Media Mod is a housing that adds a directional mic as well as a 3.5mm external mic jack for additional mic input, an HDMI output and two cold shoes. Display and Light Mods can then be slotted into the shoes to brighten your shots and let you see yourself when you’re in front of the camera. And if you want to livestream, you can do it through GoPro’s mobile app. I do recommend buying it from GoPro at the moment and taking advantage of the current deal that knocks the price down to $350 ($100 off) if you sign up for a year of its cloud storage service that’s included in that price.
Mevo Start lets you create the look of a multicamera shoot with a single small camera. It lets you stream 1080p video live to every major platform instantly with the Mevo app for up to 6 hours without an external power source. It can also simultaneously record high-quality 1080p video to a microSD card in the camera.
Livestreaming can be done by connecting both a mobile device and the camera to the same Wi-Fi network, or you can directly connect by Wi-Fi to the camera and use your phone’s LTE mobile broadband signal to stream. Or, you can use a power-over-Ethernet adapter to power the camera and stream with a wired connection. The Mevo Start also has NDI HX built into the camera that’ll work on your network with either a wired or wireless connection.
The mobile app is the true star of the show here, though, as it lets you use its high-resolution sensor to create multiple tight and wide shots, and switch between them with a tap on the screen. Or, you can have the software automatically track people and switch between shots.
Sony turned its RX100 enthusiast compact into a better camera for vlogging with faster autofocus and a quick way to defocus backgrounds. It gives you a big image sensor and a bright lens for better video quality even when your lighting isn’t the best. It has a flip-out LCD screen so you can see yourself when you’re shooting. It has a handgrip and mics better suited for selfies. And it has a clean HDMI output, too, so you don’t have camera settings and info in your video if you output to an external recorder, encoder or display.
This mirrorless digital camera might be shaped like a traditional SLR camera, but the GH5 was built for video. You’ll find all the features you need in a camera for vlogging, and then some, regardless of your experience level, and it’s all wrapped up in a splash-, dust- and freezeproof body.
If its $1,398 price is more than you want to spend for a camera body (you’ll need to buy lenses, too), its predecessor, the GH4, is still an excellent option despite its age — it was released in 2014 — for around $600.
The 80D pops up in a lot of top lists for good reason: The company’s Dual Pixel CMOS sensor gives it a fast on-sensor autofocus system; the Live View performance — which lets you see the footage you’re shooting on its screen without looking through the viewfinder — is smooth; it has headphone and mic jacks, and it supports 1080p and 60 fps. The one downside is that it doesn’t have a clean HDMI output, so if you’re going to livestream, you’ll need to shut off all the display info and switch to manual focus.
Getting great video for YouTube requires a little more than the best vlogging camera and Wi-Fi connection. You’ll want good lighting and audio, too. And if you’re planning to stream, you might need a capture card or encoder to get video from your camera and up on YouTube or other video-sharing sites.
The compact Lume Cube Panel Mini gives you a bright boost when you don’t have enough light but still fits in a pocket. It puts out a lot of light that’s adjustable in 5% increments and the color is adjustable too, from 3200K to 5600K in 100K increments — all done with a small toggle wheel on the side. It charges via its USB-C port and can run for up to 14 hours (just not at 100%) and it can be plugged in and run that way as well.
It comes with a diffuser to help soften its light and the compact, lightweight design and a cold shoe mount so you can just slide it on your camera and start shooting. It also has standard tripod mounts on the bottom and side.
The VC kit, which stands for video conferencing, comes with a small suction cup mount that you can easily stick to your phone, tablet or display for brightening your face or subject without having to reposition the light every time you move your camera.
An external microphone is a must for high-quality vlogging. When it comes to mobile or on-camera mics, I lean toward Rode’s microphones, such as the SmartLav Plus and the VideoMicro (shown here, mounted on a DSLR).
You don’t need interchangeable lenses to get high-quality footage — just grab some simple add-on lenses. The Black Eye Pro lenses are nice because they quickly clip on and fit any phone lens (or tablet or laptop webcam, for that matter). Though you can buy lenses individually, you can also get them as a kit with a custom case that includes fisheye, 2.5x telephoto and cinematic wide-angle lenses.
If you want to livestream from most cameras, you’ll need a hardware encoder like the Magewell. It allows you to connect HDMI and USB audio and video sources and stream from them to YouTube, Twitch or Facebook over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It has an HDMI output, too, so you can monitor your stream.
A software encoder will let you stream your PC games and webcam video to YouTube and Twitch. However, console players will need a capture card like the HD60 S. Connect this to your Nintendo Switch, PlayStation or Xbox and then to a PC or Mac and a display, and it will capture your gameplay and set you up for streaming. The included software will help you mix in webcam video as well.