HDSLRs vs Camcorders: Some Basic Pros and Cons to Help You Choose

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There are probably many of you who are confused about whether to purchase an HDSLR or a traditional camcorder. The choice can be confusing, but this posting will list many of the pros and cons of both, to help make the decision a bit easier. If you're interested, you can also browse through our entire HDSLR guide, featuring sections from industry-leading cinematographers.


HDSLRs

Pros

- There are a wide range of interchangeable lenses for each camera system that can cater to your particular needs and wants.

- HDSLRs can be used to shoot both very-high-quality stills and video.

- They have larger sensors than camcorders do, which allows for a shallower depth of field. In plain English, that means that you'll be able to get a blurry background/foreground, with your subject sharply in focus. Think of that Hollywood look that you see in movie theatres. Take a look at some of the sensor sizes in the chart below.

- The autofocusing abilities are limited, so manually focusing is usually the best option.

- Image noise (grain) at high ISOs are more controlled than on camcorders. This is because of the powerful processing engines, and also because larger sensors have bigger pixels.

- HDSLRs give consumers the convenience of an all-in-one package for capturing stills and video—this is better for traveling and professional applications that require mostly still photos.

- These cameras tend to have a much sturdier build, with some having magnesium-alloy bodies designed to take lots of abuse.

- The dials and quick-access buttons on the bodies can greatly help with manual settings, such as aperture, white balance, etc.

- The depth and dynamic range of colors are much greater than on a traditional camcorder.

Cons

- The recording time is limited to the size of your memory card, or until the sensor overheats.

- There are usually less video-related ports. If you'd like to use an XLR microphone or headphones, then you'll usually need another device (adaper or audio monitor) to help control these settings.

- For those who edit their videos, the file formats can be tough to edit because some programs do not support them. Videos from these cameras usually have a larger file size, which means that you'll probably need an external hard drive if you tend to shoot lots of video.

- If you're not using a tripod, lenses with image stabilization may be required for best results. In that case, microphones may pick up the sound of the stabilization motors or the focusing.

- The bodies are typically bulkier and less compact than camcorders, with the exception of mirrorless camera bodies that record video.

- Zooming usually requires one hand to rotate the zoom ring and the other to hold the camera, when shooting hand-held.

- Cinema lenses, which are designed specifically for use with HDSLRs, are very expensive.

- You'll need to find a way to protect your lens from bumps, scratches, etc.

- HDSLRs can be heavier, due to their tougher body construction.

- Many of these cameras have CMOS sensors, which are prone to what is known as the "Jello Effect." This is because of the way that CMOS sensors record images. Micro Four Thirds cameras, which use a LiveMOS CCD sensor, do not suffer from this problem.

- Many of them cannot shoot interlaced video—which is best for playing back on your HDTV. Progressive video is best for the web.

- Users cannot make use of the viewfinder while recording, unless the camera has an electronic viewfinder.

Traditional Camcorders

Pros

- Consumer camcorders have a compact build, which means that you can throw it in your bag with ease.

- Camcorders have an ergonomical advantage—they can be held with one hand for a prolonged period of time.

- They have many ports that can be used for accessories like a microphone, headphones, video lights, etc.

- Almost all camcorders have a vari-angle LCD screen of some sort, which makes it easier to record at different angles.

- Zooming can usually be done with a finger pushing or pulling a tab of some sort.

- It is possible for camcorders to record video at many different frame rates, such as 1080i 24/30/60, 1080P 24/30, and 720P 24/30/60.

- Many camcorders have one-touch YouTube (and other sharing sites) upload functions, for easier sharing.

- Because of their construction, camcorders have an Internal zooming lens that is always protected from potential bumps and knocks.

- Many flash- and hard-drive-based camcorders have very large amounts of internal memory.

- Achieving accurate autofocus is much faster than with an HDSLR.

Cons

- Depth of field is very wide, so it is harder to single out particular people and objects.

- If you want to shoot wider or more telephoto than your lens allows, you'll need special adapters/converters.

- The LCD screens aren't as detailed as an HDSLR's.

- None of these shoot RAW still photos, just in case you'd like to have a more versatile editing option.

- Filters are not always able to be attached to the front of the lens. 

- Using DSLR lenses with a camcorder can be acccomplished only with expensive adapters.

Was this helpful? Which one do you think is right for you? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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The huge sensors and resulting shallow DOF and pretty bokeh of the DSLRs are very desirable. The ergonomics in actual production settings, not so much.  We already see the industry ramping up to crete new hybrid camcorders - and I'm speaking about pro gear, not point n shoot - that feature the best of both worlds at an affordableprice point. For this I say, thank you capitalism!

I'm a video pro shooting DSLR (Canon 7D) for almost a year. I shoot a lot of interviews and short promotional web pieces with it.  I almost never shoot with my Canon XH-A1 HDV camera anymore, unless I need a long take for events, etc. 

IMHO, shooting DSLR is much more akin to shooting with a 35mm motion picture camera than a traditional video camera. Manual focus, iris, ISO, and framerate (mine never leaves 1/50 when shooting 24p), double-sound, and ~12 minute "reels". A 1,000' reel of 35mm film lasts around 11 minutes (4-perf, I think). Likewise, the APS sensors are roughly the size of Super35mm gates, so lens FOVs and DOF rendering are quite similar.  Full-frame sensors (5D2, etc.) render FOVs and DOF like the now-defunct Cinerama cameras of the 50's (the film rolled sideways, 8-perfs wide).

Lack of XLR inputs, zebras, timecode and such will frustrate the longtime pro video shooters. Likewise, moire, "jello" and other anomalies due to line-binning/line-skipping of the current DSLR technologies can turn otherwise great shots into unusable ones. Much care must be taken in creating footage with DSLR, and a good amount of money will have to be spent in camera support, audio capture, viewfinder viewing, stabilizing, etc. in order to produce quality shots. Not to mention at least a few fast lenses, which can get expen$ive in a hurry.

But, at the end of the day, that shallow DOF trumps a lot of the headaches for a lot of us shooters. Right now, it sure does for me. Tapeless workflow and the Adobe CS5 Suite (no transcodes), also does it for me.

You can see some of my recent work on my YouTube channel (most of it shot with the 7D): http://www.youtube.com/user/browncowvideo

Brain - I watched your sample video (very funny) - I'm interested in how you captured audio, which is my biggest concern. The 5D comes with mic inputs now, which is important.

I have face-to-face interview sessions, need to take stills and video both, but also podium shots where I need to capture video from say 25-30ft away, but have audio that is captured right at the podium. My solution was to incoprtate a wireless mic - with the 5D  and a shotgun mic - have you ever done this? - thanks - ric

Hey Ric. Since my 7D does NOT have manual gain (yet, if ever), I always capture double-sound with a Tascam DR-100 unit (the Zoom H4n is similar). The recorder has two channels of XLR inputs, and well as two on-board stereo pair of mics (seldom used by me). The Tascam also does 48kHz, 24-bit WAV files, and a limiter, which provides plenty of "headroom" for a signal w/o having to ride gain much.

Double-sound provides flexibility that on-board audio cannot. For instance, in your situation, you could wire (or wireless) your talent and a podium mic to a recorder under the podium and free yourself from the hassles of getting audio back to your cam. With a 4GB card on-board, you could capture hours of unbroken audio.

Naturally, syncing audio to video becomes a problem, since neither unit provides timecode. I always slate my takes with a marker board (writing down the audio file name on the slate), but events typically require more discretion. Sometimes, the talent could snap or tap the podium as part of the "performance" that gives the editor something to sync to in post. Likewise, an DSLR might not be the best choice for long-form events, due to its ~12 minute "reel" length, and requiring potentially multiple sync events.

FWIW, I HATE capturing events w/ speaker(s). The rooms are often poorly-lit, it's difficult to get good audio, and the speakers are often very boring on video. Talking to a room and talking to the camera are very rarely good performances on both levels. Sometimes I've faked these situations... captured a performance where the speaker appears to talk to the crowd (before or after the event), where I can light it up and get good sound bites... then captured b-roll of the crowd at the actual event. 

Hope this helps, and good luck,
Brian 

While the HDSLRs can produce some pretty video you have to spend a small fortune on the erector kit it takes to make it somewhat ergonamic. Easily $10-20K by the time you add necessarry audio support and a couple lenses. Someone's already pointed out the problems editing the format & the the audio shortcomings. The new CS5 Premiere Pro will edit the raw files & the Zoom H4n is a great little field recorder.

On the otherhand, the photo of a camcorder implies that it's your reference of info about camcorders. I'm sure it's not, BUT.....that camcorder is an entry level toy & has very few if any of the features required by pro camera operators. Kinda hard to compare apples & oranges but I digress.

I agree, a shallow depth of field is sweet but the trade off just aren't worth it to me. I can get satisfactory results from Premiere Pro. 

The truth is that Canon dumb luck stumbled into the 5D when Reuters asked for the video feature in an SLR. The new hybrids (Panasonic AG-AF100) will make the HDSLR obsolute in a very short time. Less $ and all the features requires by pros. And, as Marshall Thompson says, "thank you capitalism!".

 One ***** to attach neutral density filters to DSLRS (preferably variable ones so you dont have to keep replacing filters) .

The new Panasonic AG-AF100, while having some useful features, looks like a childs toy camera, and makes you pay extra for features you can just add on to DSLR (like CanonT2i or 60D) for less money. It depends on your style and use. I guess they just cant make a low price , quality camera with all useful features because that would cut into the markets for other cameras. I would then buy three of them if they did. Now I am faced with one. ($6000 for one vs 3 at $2000 each)

Formats are not a big deal with DSLRs in terms of capturing/editing  unless you need top quality green-screening or advanced color grading.

Will someone PLEASE make a DSLR that has way for it to be shoulder mount and with a handle? This fits my style of shooting loose and on the fly - not with FRANKENGEAR attached to the camera.

to sony, JVC, Panasonic, Canon etc; take the old SONY DSR200 and put a large sensor in it , shrink its size and weight by 33%, and make it come with detachable lens capability, but provide a kit lens, that shoots in AVCHD 1080p 24fps and 30fps...for under $3000.... I have my card out now to buy two of them and one per year thereafter. You can make up for profit margin by selling more cameras to each individual ... multiple cameras are becoming more important and regularly updating camera technology is becoming more important.

IMHO wide depth of field is usually more appreciated when shooting video, so it's a "Pro" for camcorders, not a "Con". But it depends on the use.
 

sir, 

iam get confused in buying dslr and cam recorder. i want to make a short film and also iam intersted in film making, so for learning purpose i wanna buy a camera so please can you suggest which one is best to buy &i also want to know does cam recorders have auto focussing feature

Hi Prabath -

Since you may be just starting out - a camcorder may be the best and easiest route for you to go.  Consider the innovative and portable, cutting-edge, Sony HXR-NX30 Palm Size NXCAM HD Camcorder - a handheld, excellently built HD camcorder that's capable of capturing AVCHD video in Full HD 1080p at 60 fps, as well as high-quality digital still images. It's equipped with 96GB of internal flash memory, an LED video light and NightShot capabilities. It also supports all AVCHD recording formats at 28 Mbps.

The true innovation behind Sony's HXR-NX30 is its 1/2.88 ExmorR image sensor and ultra-wide angle Carl Zeiss 10x optical zoom lens. The lens is mounted within a gyroscope, which affords unbelievable image stabilization. Sony's calls their innovative technology Balanced Optical SteadyShot with Active ****. In fact, you can choose to shoot in fixed ****, without stabilization, or you can easily switch on the SteadyShot whenever needed. This feature is great for walking and shooting or for journalists who may need to hold the camera steady, high-above their head while demanding the truth in front of city hall.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

camcorder. i already have a compact lumix camera so just need a video cam now. Thanks that was very straight forward.

come on people are u still gonna argue? even after they are shooting big budget movies with dslr's have you ever watch them do it with camcorders,

camcorders are history and dslr's are just starting to show their real flavour....