If I tell you to buy two different devices for video recording and photography, you’d probably think I’m messing around. Because today, you can do both with a single device. So, why bother buying two?
There’s no denying that camera devices, regardless of their intended purpose, are becoming better and better each day. With a cheap mobile phone, you can easily take photos and record videos. Then what’s the point of this article?
You see, for high-quality results you always need the right equipment. Nowadays you can indeed shoot videos with cameras and take photos with camcorders. However, when used for their original purpose, these devices yield much better results.
What I’m trying to say is that a camcorder will shoot better videos than a camera, and a camera will take better photos than a camcorder.
Manufacturers today try to put everything into a single thing. It’s useful and convenient, no doubt, but it’s also not fully efficient when it comes to quality results. That’s why pros always use separate devices for video recording and photographing.
No matter how similar they may seem to you, the difference between a camera and a digital camcorder will always set the two apart. Have a look at the table below:
Captures higher quality audio and video
Records to a hard drive, memory card, or DVD
Better quality lenses
Useful for still photography and video recording
In short, camcorders are made for the very purpose of recording videos. That’s why they give such good results. You can use cameras and nobody would stop you. But if you compare the results, you’ll see that the camera is actually much better at taking photos - its original purpose.
Let’s Discuss Device-Specific Features
Camcorders and cameras have several features that make them the best in their fields. These features are almost always built-in and are not available separately.
Take shutter-speed for example. It’s included in both the devices in question. However, while you can adjust it in the camcorder for recording videos, you can only do so in a camera when you take photos.
Remember, most camcorders don’t allow you to adjust the shutter speed during video recording. You can only point and shoot.
Similarly, cameras allow you to change the ISO, aperture, and many other settings that you’ll not find in camcorders. For this reason, you can’t take photos as good using camcorders.
Getting into the Quality of the Video
In terms of video quality, camcorders are way ahead of the cameras. As far as I know, cameras today can offer as high as 720p video recording quality but not more than that. On the other hand, mid-level camcorders can easily record videos at 1080p quality.
Even if a camera can succeed in offering maximum quality, it’d still fall short due to other features absent in it. Standard definition camcorders can already shoot videos at a higher bit rate than digital cameras. There is a huge gap in video quality and it’s not going to diminish anytime soon.
Video Recording Quality
Now that we’ve pretty much covered the introductory part, let’s focus on the video recording quality. There’s actually a bit more detail to it than you’d expect. Let me explain.
Cameras have developed a lot in recent years. Feats like the mirrorless ones have taken photography to a whole new level. The great thing about modern cameras is that you can capture both photos and videos of high quality with them. What’s more, they are going to get much better still.
Just because camcorders are made for video recording doesn’t mean they will always give you satisfactory results. This especially applies to lower range camcorders. In terms of video quality, they stand no chance against the DSLR cameras which can record HD videos at either 720p or 1080p.
Camcorders are generally smaller and more compact in size. So, you may say that a DSLR will be a bulky option for video recording. That’s where mirrorless cameras come. Not only are they lightweight but they are also much more compact than DSLRs and still offer the same benefits.
Both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras come with comparatively larger sensors than camcorders. For this reason, they can be great for recording videos in low-light conditions. A larger sensor means more absorption of light; you get the rest.
While we are talking about sensors, we should also think about the lenses too. This is where cameras may fall short in video recording. The thing is, a good quality lens is necessary if you want to take high definition videos.
Luckily, most of the new camera models come with lenses that are appropriate for both taking photos and capturing videos.
The only thing about video recording that bothers me, which I know it shouldn’t, is that they take up a lot of space. The better the device you are using the more memory storage your videos will need.
Camcorders use built-in hard drives and so storage space is not a big deal. But when using a compact camera for example, detachable memory cards can easily get full and hinder your work. However, if you carry spares or use a memory card with a lot of space, you can get ahead of this problem.
The other thing cameras are still lagging behind in is the sound recording quality. Well, it makes sense that a photography-orientated device will not prioritize sound. But this can be a big issue if you are using the said device for video recording.
The only solution you have for the moment is using an external microphone. But it also means having to carry more gear than you have to.
Compact Video Cameras
A compact video camera or camcorder is a device that specializes in capturing high-quality videos. I mean, they are particularly designed for video recording and so it’d be a shame if that wasn’t the case.
One of the unparalleled benefits of camcorders is their handheld ergonomics and it’s not just about their size. These devices fit very well in our hands. We can comfortably hold them with an easy grip.
They also come with straps that help us to secure the camcorders safely in the palm of our hands. This is very helpful when you are moving along with your subject and need the keep the camera position fixed. These are some things a camera can’t easily rival with.
Many of the new camcorders now come with stabilization software or shake detection features. You can easily record a steady video no matter how shaky your hands are.
Camcorders also feature tilt/swivel screens. You can capture perfect shots and still not have to crane your neck or twist your wrist.
There’s no doubt regarding how well camcorders perform in capturing superior quality videos. It has now become very easy to record high to ultra-high definition videos.
Camcorders have built-in zoom lenses which have been specially calibrated to provide exceptional zoom and focus while video recording. Their performance is much better than cameras with more defined autofocus or AF systems.
However, as I mentioned earlier, camcorders don’t do well in low-light conditions. This is because they have smaller sensors and can’t absorb enough light in such situations. The good news is that there are now some upgraded camcorders that come with larger sensors.
Camcorders are also leading the race in terms of sound quality. They are designed with built-in microphones that are omnidirectional and easily record high-quality sound. They allow you to capture surround sound and more.
I personally don’t think there’s any camera available yet that can offer anything close to this.
It’d be unfair if I don’t mention the photography skills of camcorders, which still haven’t caught up to that of DSLRs. You can still take photos though, but don’t expect anything great.
Audio Recording Quality
Record surround sound audio
The microphone can pick up noise from the camera
Supports external microphones and other peripherals
Limited support for external mics
As you see from the above table that camcorders are really the best option for recording high-quality audio. Cameras can do it too, but the results are rather disappointing.
The built-in microphone of camcorders can record excellent audio in both mono and stereo. While you can only record lower quality audio with camera microphones, you can’t record surround sound with them at all.
On top of that, you can connect external microphones to camcorders to get much better audio inputs. You can do the same with cameras too, but only a handful of them offer this feature.
Besides these, the camera microphone has something that I’d call a design flaw. Cameras tend to make sounds, which is normal. However, when video recording the microphone can pick up that sound as well. You’ll end up with unwanted noise.
Difference in Terms of Lenses
Captures standard definition videos at a higher bit rate
4K support is less widely available
Built-in 4K support
Zooming may be disabled while shooting video
Record extreme closeups
Cameras have very high-quality lenses that let you take extraordinary photos. I can bet that we’ll see still more improved lenses that will change the whole concept of photography. That being said, the already existing lenses, no matter how great, are mostly inadequate for video recording.
Cameras and camcorders use different kinds of lenses, to begin with. The former uses lenses particularly for photos and the latter for videos.
Both of them come with zoom lenses but in many cases, the cameras disable the zoom feature while recording videos. But with camcorders, you can zoom to extreme closeups.
Moreover, most cameras don’t support 4K video recording. But with camcorders, you can easily shoot videos at a much higher bit rate.
Photos, even when taken in RAW, take up way less memory space than the low-quality videos. That’s why, for photography, you can easily work with memory cards which only have a few gigabytes of storage space. If needed, you can even carry spares.
Videos, on other hand, require a lot of space, and so memory cards are never an option for keeping them in. For this reason, camcorders use built-in hard drives with 160+ GB of storage space.
You can use cameras, which use memory cards, for recording videos. But you’ll not be able to capture a lot of it. Meanwhile, camcorders can easily record and store longer lengths of videos at any given time.
More comfortable to hold for long durations
Requires a tripod or stick to achieve steady video over long periods
Many LCD displays rotate
Rotating LCDs are available on higher-priced cameras
Record straight to DVD
Using the right equipment isn’t only a matter of effectiveness but also of convenience. Yes, you can try having soup with a fork, but in the end, the spoon will always be the best option for it. The deal with cameras and camcorders is a bit like that.
Just think about the way the bodies of the camcorders and cameras are designed. DSLRs have a sort of protrusion on one side that lets you firmly hold on to it without any discomfort. You can easily operate it even while looking through the viewfinder.
Camcorders are designed in such a way that you can comfortably hold it, sometimes in just the palm of your hand. This allows you to record videos for long periods with the least amount of shaking. They even have stabilization features specially made for videos.
Moreover, you can rotate the displays of the camcorders so that you can easily record videos from various angles. You wouldn’t have to strain your neck or wrist. Of course, many of the new DSLRs also offer similar features, but their prices are high as well.
Camcorders offer an additional benefit of recording directly to a DVD. It helps to save time and make it easier to transfer files later on.
However, in the end, it’s all a matter of personal preference. What I consider uncomfortable may be comfortable for you. That’s why there’s no problem if you still choose to record videos with cameras and take photos with camcorders. It’s completely fine as long as they serve your purpose.
Traditional Camcorder vs DSLR: Which is Better for Videos?
If you expect me to say that one of them is better, I’ve to disappoint you. Even after mentioning all the differences up until this point, I can’t just say one is better than the other.
It’s because, in the fields of photography and video recording, the person behind the lens plays the most important role. A newbie, if given the most advanced gears, would still not be able to deliver quality results.
However, and this goes for both pros and beginners, camcorders and DSLRs do have some significant differences. You should always keep them in mind while deciding to choose one over the other.
At a given price range, almost any camera has a bigger sensor than a camcorder. It may seem crazy at first, but turns out adding bigger sensors means having to set a higher price for the product. Larger sized sensors are more expensive to manufacture, and putting them in camcorders is another matter entirely.
That’s why DSLRs with bigger sensors are more affordable than camcorders. Many people opt for cameras instead of camcorders for this reason.
So, why exactly does the sensor size matter so much? A bigger sensor means two huge benefits when we are talking about videos. They are depth of field and low-light performance.
The more focused a photo is the better is its depth of field. In other words, the higher the depth of field the blurrier you can make the background of photos. A bigger sensor makes it easier to get high DOF.
Of course, the aperture size is a factor here too. A wider aperture (f/1.8 or f/2.8) means better quality bokeh and out-of-focus background. Camcorders generally don’t come with such wide apertures.
In low-light conditions, you need to shoot at higher ISO settings so that the sensor can absorb the most amount of light. However, if the sensor is small, a high ISO means nothing and your photos and videos end up being full of noise.
But with a bigger sensor, you can easily record videos and capture photos in situations where light is limited.
For these reasons, it’s very logical to go for a camera for recording videos. But there’s more to camcorders and cameras, and so it’s not that simple to come to a decision so soon. Though I must agree that DSLRs will surely be very useful when you need to record videos in low-light.
This is an area where the camcorder has an upper hand. After all, they are made for the very purpose of recording videos, and so they can easily offer a longer recording duration.
The reason behind this is that the processors of cameras and camcorders can’t process the same amount of information. Most cameras can only work with a limited amount of date at any given moment.
DSLRs mostly offer a recording duration of 30 minutes or so. Camcorders, on the other hand, can easily record for over an hour. Most of them would keep on recording until the battery runs out.
The recording time decreases for 4K videos, especially for DSLRs. But these things are not fixed for every camera and camcorder. Some of them may offer more than what I just mentioned. So, always check the specifications carefully for every device.
While a longer recording duration is surely very useful, you may not always need it. Professional filmmakers and videographers normally create their videos by stitching together multiple video clips. These clips are almost always less than 30 minutes. So, a DSLR can easily be your choice of equipment.
Now, if you plan on recording a live sports game or an indoor ceremony, from beginning to end, you’ll have to use a camcorder. You can just set them up on a tripod and it will record the entire event.
There used to be a time when focus mattered a lot for choosing either a camera or a camcorder. Focusing features had a huge difference between the two devices. But gradually those differences have almost been diminished.
If you have only just begun using DSLRs, you’d be surprised to hear that the earlier models didn’t let you use Autofocus while recording videos. Camcorders had been ahead of the game during that time.
However, most of the newer models, like the D7200, offer autofocus for videos as well. Its effectiveness is pretty commendable.
Video recording with DSLRs is mostly done in Live View mode. So, what you need to check is the type of autofocus the camera uses in LV mode.
Generally, cameras would have Contrast Detection autofocus. While it’s quite good for photography, it may not be so for video recording. This type of autofocus makes that in-and-out focus effect before it locks on the subject. This can be distracting and annoying in videos.
That’s why I like the Phase Detection type more. Compared to the previous one, this method of autofocus works very well for video recording.
Nowadays, videographers don’t rely on AF that much. The pros like to have full control of what they are doing, and so they often use manual focus. There’s even a thing called a Follow Focus Kit that makes using the manual focus ring easier and more convenient.
A major part of video recording includes matching the shutter speed with the frame rate. If you don’t do this, the resulting video will seem disjointed. For this reason, if you are recording a video at 60 fps the shutter speed should be 1/60.
Keep note, if you want to shoot at a rather cinematic 24 fps, you should set the shutter speed at 1/30.
As you can see, these speeds are quite low. So, shooting in bright daylight can easily mess things up. Camcorders have solved the issue by using built-in Neutral Density filters. They help to properly expose a shot even in bright daylight and so recording at a slower shutter speed will not cause any problem.
Unfortunately, DSLRs don’t offer this built-in feature yet. You’ll need to purchase a detachable ND filter kit separately if you want to solve the exposure issue.
But buying extra material can seem like a problem on its own. Plus, you’ll have one more thing to carry and worry about.
The overall structure of DSLRs and camcorders are designed so that you can comfortably take photos with one and record videos with the other.
DSLRs have protrusions on one side with which you can conveniently hold, adjust settings, bring your camera close to your eye, and shoot photos. Most of them are quite heavy, so they can be tiring to lug around. But as long as your goal is to take photos, they’ll not exhaust you.
Similarly, the easy to grip and comparatively lighter (though not always) body of the camcorders allows you to hold them up for a longer duration of time.
That is, cameras are more comfortable when taking photos, and camcorders when recording videos. But this changes when you bring in a tripod and set your DSLR on top of it.
Audio is not a factor for photography, but it’s an indispensable part of video recording. The built-in microphones of camcorders are much better at audio recording than those of cameras. The reason is simple: the main purpose of a camcorder is to record videos, and that of a camera isn’t.
However, this only applies to situations when you have to record the audio and video simultaneously. But even then, you can use an external microphone and easily work with a DSLR.
When we are talking about filmmaking, big or small, none of this matter. Because in those cases, filmmakers and videographers always add the audio later on during editing.
The thing you should keep in mind is the compatibility of the external microphone with the device. With the right pairing, you can use a shotgun microphone, or add a DSLR audio recorder to work with multiple mics at the same time.
As a beginner, if you want to get the best quality camcorders the price will shock you. Most of the top-tier products cost a lot, and so buying one is not always that easy. Compared to them, DSLRs are much more affordable.
In fact, you can get multiple DSLRs at the price of a professional camcorder and set them up to record from different angles. This can be a huge advantage in filmmaking and shooting other types of videos.
Nevertheless, you’d still need some additional accessories for working with DSLRs which wouldn’t be necessary for camcorders. The good news is that both DSLRs and camcorders are easily compatible with various audio gears and accessories.
So, Who’s the Winner?
By this point, you should know that there’s not going to be any winner in this fight. Camcorders and cameras have features that make them better or worse depending on the circumstances.
Camcorders generally come with the basic features you’ll need for video recording, which is obvious. They are more comfortable to hold and can be held on for a long time without discomfort. You can record longer length videos and make use of the ND filter if needed.
Cameras don’t offer any of those, but they are more affordable. Moreover, they have one huge advantage for the camcorders: larger sensors at a lower cost. This type of sensor gives you softer out-of-focus backgrounds and better low-light performance.
Then, what about video quality? Unless it’s a live event, like a concert or a football match, you can easily work with the shorter clips taken with DSLRs. These clips often come with high-quality bit rates. Most videographers now stitch them together to make the final cut.
Sometimes, big-budget films use DSLRs for shooting scenes that pose a risk of damaging the video recording device. DSLRs are cheaper than camcorders, so having a few smashed on the ground doesn’t seem like much to them. You can’t do the same with camcorders.
I suppose you’re still expecting some sort of clarity as to which one is ultimately the better option. If you are not very serious about video recording but would like to try it out now and then, definitely go for a camera.
On the other hand, if you are a professional photographer/videographer, you need to make your choice more seriously. First, have a clear idea of what you are going to do, then find a device that will help you with it.
Always check the specifications carefully before purchase to see if the device has got everything you need, like frame rate, maximum recording time, resolution, battery life, etc.
There will always be a difference between camera and digital camcorder. But the biggest difference will be in our personal preferences and shooting styles. What works for me may not work for you. Hence, I can’t declare a winner even after rambling on for this long.