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Best vlogging cameras for 2020: Sony, Canon and more compared for YouTube

Whether you're just shooting for fun or you're a professional YouTuber, this is the gear you need to make your videos shine.

Pretty much any camera will do if you're shooting videos and posting them to YouTube, but video quality is important if you are trying to attract and retain viewers and build a subscriber following.

A good starting point is to decide what type of shooting you'll want to do. There's no need to spend hundreds or even thousands on a high-end camera if you can accomplish the video quality you want with your phone or a webcam with a microphone input. 

I've kept cost in mind in this search for the best vlogging camera for everything from simple livestreams from your laptop to more polished productions. Frankly, you don't really need to go all-out with DSLR camera quality or an interchangeable lens for most projects.

Best vlogging cameras

Note that if livestreaming is a priority, you might need additional hardware. I'll include suggestions for that, as well as other accessories to consider, following the cameras' details. 

With a small handful of exceptions, all of these vlog cameras have 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. 

Best YouTube accessories

DJI

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. And unless your phone is ancient, its digital camera's image quality is probably pretty good. What can make even good video bad is a camera shake. A three-axis stabilizer, also known as a gimbal, will make sure everything you shoot on even a cheap vlogging camera (or any point and shoot digital camera, really) look nice and smooth. The DJI Osmo Mobile 2 has great features and optical image stabilization performance for its $97 price. You'll get the same steady videos that DJI's drones are known for from your phone's digital camera.

The Osmo's autotracking and image stabilization capabilities will keep you and your subjects in the frame automatically whether you shoot horizontally or vertically. Plus, you get direct camera controls as well as programmed shots that make you look like a pro shooter without the effort.

If you do decide to start with your phone and want to livestream to YouTube, you'll need at least 1,000 subscribers to use YouTube Live with a mobile device. Otherwise, you'll have to use a mobile encoder app like Streamlabs OBS

Joshua Goldman/CNET

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. 

Both the C922 Pro and higher-end Brio 4K are great options, but for the money, the C922 is my personal preference. It streams at 720p at 60 fps, the image quality was solid, and its built-in mics give you decent audio. It also comes with a three-month subscription to XSplit Broadcaster and Gamecaster to do more-than-simple broadcasts. Or you can use Logitech's included software to control up to two webcams for picture-in-picture or switching between the two, and you can do your video recording in landscape or portrait. 

The Brio 4K has more features than the C922 like the option to use it to sign into your Windows 10 PC using facial recognition. The main attraction is the increased performance for streaming at 1080p resolution at up to 60 fps and recording 4K footage at 30 fps. The vlog camera can also compensate for bad lighting with HDR. One of the cons is that it will cost you about $100 more, though.  

Logitech recently released the StreamCam, a $170 camera purpose built for streaming at up to 1080p at 60 fps. We just got our hands on one for testing, but it's available nowSee at Logitech.

Read more: Best gear for video chats from home

Sarah Tew/CNET

From its small waterproof design to its incredible image stabilization to its excellent video quality, the Hero 8 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 new Mods designed to make the Hero 8 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. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Livestream's Mevo Plus camera lets you create the look of a multicamera shoot with a single small 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. The vlogging camera can also record ultra HD video and 4K video resolution version of your stream to a microSD card (a 16GB card is included).

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.  

The company announced a new camera at CES 2020, the Mevo Start. 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. You'll also be able to create a true multicamera shoot with them and control them all from your phone.  Read the Livestream Mevo Plus hands-on.

Sarah Tew

Better than your phone, but still fits in a pocket, Sony's RX100 III (also known as RX100 Mark III or M3) 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-up LCD screen so you can see yourself when you're shooting. This compact video camera 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. The RX100 M3 records in full HD, but its successor, the RX100 IV, goes up to 4K. This is the best vlogging camera amongst those that offer simple point-and-shoot video. Read the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III review.

Canon

A prosumer camcorder is a good choice because, unlike other vlog camera options, it's expressly designed for video recording. The G21 camera has many key features to look for, like headphone and external mic jacks, a cold shoe and mini accessory port for a mic or light, clean HDMI out, a flip-out rotating display, and electronic viewfinder and manual controls. The video recording camera also has an improved CMOS sensor for excellent low-light performance. Plus, you don't have to mess with taking lenses on and off with its 20x f1.8-2.8 26.8-576mm-equivalent zoom lens.  See at Canon.

Lori Grunin/CNET

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 $1,300 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. Read the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH5 hands-on.

Read more: Best digital cameras for 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.  Read the Canon EOS 80D review.

Must-have accessories

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. 

Lori Grunin/CNET

The compact Lume Cube Air gives you a bright boost when you don't have enough light but still fits in a pocket. With its built-in Bluetooth and mobile app, you can wirelessly connect the light to your phone to control brightness as well as strobe speed and flash duration for photos. It comes with diffusers to help soften its light and the compact, lightweight design even has a magnetic back in addition to a tripod mount so you can use it hands-free, too.

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.  See on Lume Cube.

Rode

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). 

James Martin/CNET

Whether it's the long-standing favorite Yeti or its new $99 Ember XLR mic, Blue continues to make some of the best studio and live-streaming mics for the money.  Read the Blue Yeti USB review.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.  

Epiphan

If you want to livestream from a camera like the pros, you'll need a hardware encoder like the Webcaster X2. 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.  See on Epiphan.

Elgato

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 4 or Xbox and 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.  See on Elgato.

Read more: 

Originally published in May 2019 and updated periodically.