In Defense of Small-Sensor Cameras for Live Events and ENG Work


While a great deal is made of shooting with large-sensor cameras, for valid reasons, I thought it would be prudent to consider smaller-sensor cameras, especially in the ENG/camcorder form factor. All too often these cameras are overlooked, and they really should not be. The ENG camcorder developed from a need for an all-inclusive camera that was rugged and easy to transport, which dictated a camera body with integrated tape drive―now SSD or Media card―and a lens port so you can add the lens of your choice or, for an even smaller shooting package, an integrated zoom lens. This called for a simple camera that is designed for the “one-person band,” who doesn’t have an assistant pulling focus, building the camera, or packing it away when done.

This is the heart of the ENG/camcorder philosophy, a single unit with built-in XLR connectors for professional audio in support of the single-person filmmaker, which is where the small sensors really shine.

Relationship of sensor size
Relationships of sensor sizes

ENG/Camcorder Advantages

Years ago, ENG cameras had interchangeable lenses, and you can still find that today, but with the release of consumer camcorders, a few advantages of the camcorder for professional use became apparent. Lenses that are built into the camera make for a lighter and smaller overall combination, because you don’t need the extra weight that a lens port requires to support a removable lens properly. Electronics are simpler, as well, without the necessary pins on the lens and port for lens communication or power. So, you tend to end up with a more compact form factor that is lighter and easier to move around, especially for someone who goes for odd angles and holds the camera in ways not intended by the manufacturer.


I do like camcorder ergonomics; in many ways I find them liberating. No worrying about carrying cases full of lenses―just put that camcorder in your bag, throw in some extra media, and bring extra batteries (never throw batteries). With the ENG-style camcorder, the viewfinder is built in, and XLR inputs for professional sound recording are usually built in. It makes for a compact package, and much of that is due to the small sensor size. With full-frame, and most MFT cameras, especially DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, capturing professional audio with the camera is not that easy, often requiring adapters that change the balance and profile of the camera. Plus, if you are working a red carpet, adding all that other equipment can get in the way. With a one-piece camcorder and built-in mic, setup time is minimal.


Depth of field is one area where small-sensor cameras are going to shine, compared to large-sensor cameras. If you check out this article, at the end you can see images of an MFT camera versus a full-frame camera. Note how much more depth of field the MFT format camera renders at the same f-stop as the full-frame camera. When shooting ENG or documentaries, without someone whose job is to take care of focus, having more depth of field can be a great help. You can still capture stunning images with depth and detail, but smaller sensors are going to be more forgiving.

 Is it the eye that is in focus or the eyebrow? What am I supposed to be looking at?
Is it the eye that is in focus or the eyebrow? What am I supposed to be looking at?


Camcorders tend to be used for live events and productions, where having a self-contained, single unit as opposed to a camera body and multiple lenses and accessories gives you more flexibility. With the camcorder, the lens is integrated into the body, allowing for lighter cameras with high-quality optics, and if you like shooting with servo lenses and don’t need or want to use interchangeable lenses, you are all set.

Panasonic AG-UX180 4K Professional Camcorder
Panasonic AG-UX180 4K Professional Camcorder

Documentaries will benefit from using smaller sensors―small-sensor cameras offer all the advantages of smaller size and lighter weight―and this applies to the lenses, as well, especially zoom lenses. These features can make shooting documentaries a lot easier, especially when you are trying to streamline and go unnoticed.

Video blogging also benefits greatly from smaller sensors and smaller, lighter equipment with high resolution.

More Color

Three-sensor cameras capture full color information for each pixel because they don’t require a color mask or Bayer pattern filter (or similar) like single-sensor color cameras do. This provides your camera with more color information before it does its internal processing for recording your footage, unlike single-sensor cameras, which start with interpolated color information. Although not all camcorders use three sensors and a prism, they are all small-sensor designs, and there is no denying the ease and freedom that a camcorder brings to recording.

Photon Buckets

Truth be told, larger sensors can be more light-sensitive than smaller sensors of the same resolution, just because larger pixels can capture more photons than smaller pixels. However, small-sensor cameras already have amazing sensitivity with limited noise, and continuing technological advances expand the sensors’ range without adding noise to your image.


Consider this: With ENG/camcorders that have an integrated lens, the zoom and focus are servo-controlled in most cases, allowing you to adjust the lens electronically without having to add external motors and focus or zoom control systems, which add to the weight, complexity, setup time, and costs. Additionally, most have decent built-in mics for when you don’t want to use external microphones. All these advantages keep the weight down and make it faster to work with these cameras, making them a great first choice for a video camera.

Do you have any thoughts or experience with small-sensor ENG/camcorder style cameras? Please feel free to share them in the Comments section, below.


I get XLR, DSLR, MFT, SSD.  What is ENG?  I only know it as my profession -  P. ENG (professional engineer).  I use an MFT BMPCC 4K, which I assume is not a ENG/camcorder.  Neither is my SONY FDR-AX53 (no XLR).  I trust my old SONY HVR-V1U is an ENG/camcorder.  But I still don't know what ENG means. Help!  Acronyms, acronymous, acrimonious, acronymious?

electronic news gathering, another acronym seen is Electronic Field Production. It dates you if you know this!

EFP, yes, I remember those days.

Great Article Steve . My JVC GY-HM600 is still part of my collection. I can still shoot all day with my 2 original IDX batteries that are 8 years old or more. The 1080p it delivers in h.264 at 50mbps still amazes me. 2 SDXC card slots, Built in ND Filters , 2XLR Audio inputs, plus a built in mic that is outstanding. Yes I have a GH5 and the works, however, I can not give up on the JVC 3 sensor Tech, it just works ! This Camera has been everywhere, it is solid , a workhorse, Mint and nothing has ever failed on this camera. NOT FOR SALE

Thank you Raymond, Glad you liked it.

Loved the PMW-200 from Sony for years, but light sensitivity wasn't much in low-light, low-contrast situations which are frequent when chasing storms. It was easy to use for this type of "run and gun" stuff, but not much else. Interviews were often soft looking unless the lighting was perfect - hard to do solo. You just don't have the time in documentary work. Now that I've used a Canon DSLR with 4K, I've decided that a pull-down to 1080 from there still looks better than the native max of 1080 in the Sony. But, of course, DSLRs must have separate sound capture and the whole "rig" situation isn't very fast or versatile. Depends on the situation and budget. Bigger is still better.

Hi Ron, thanks for reading and commenting. As you say, it depends on the situation. Newer cameras are always pushing the image quality, so some other 3-chip cameras/camcorders might satisfy you. However, if you are happy with your rig and the images and sound you are getting, then keep on using it. 

Long ago, almost a decade (yikes!) I went viral on YouTube with a series of videos made with my camcorder, an advanced 3-CCD Panasonic with an integrated and stabilized Leica Dicomar ƒ/1.8 10x zoom lens. This was (and remains) a lovely piece of equipment, with exactly the right level of control and features for making good quality amateur videos. It took standard 37mm filters, and I even had a nice Raynox .7 adapter lens that made it a passable wide-angle camera. Actual buttons for most functions made it easy to shoot as a one-man setup; even the remote control offered a respectable array of functions. If only it shot 1080p, I'd probably still use it, but 720x480 just doesn't cut it these days.
I've filmed hundreds of hours of live shows in small venues, and for me the most important feature of any video camera is what it doesn't do: a good one doesn't interfere with the live audience. All smartphones and most DSLR video cameras fail this test instantly. If the screen must be on to monitor the recording, then people sitting near the camera get distracted and end up watching a live show on a 3" TV. But mirrorless cameras with EVFs do okay. Very few camcorders remain in the consumer/amateur space with EVFs, though.

Hi Artie excellent points, thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I still love my DVX100, but as you pointed out about your beloved camera, the resolution just doesn't cut it anymore.

Hey Artie,

Being in the business for 35 years. I am old school and still love shooting with my Camcorders. I shoot with the Sony NX-5R, Sony PXW-Z280 and the Sony FDR-A53. Love my latest purchase the PXW-Z280. Though it shoots 4k the cards which are SxS cards are Extremely expensive. Trying to work around that. Good luck and keep shooting!