With the trend of DSLR and mirrorless cameras being released with more video features and recording higher video resolutions, it is tempting to purchase one for field production, since they are portable and can be outfitted easily with numerous accessories. But there are many reasons why one of these cameras might not be the best fit for your production style.
For example, in the golden olden days when I shot some documentary and corporate video, I included a Canon 5D Mark III DSLR alongside my Sony PMW-EX1R broadcast camcorder for a few corporate and event shoots. I found myself needing to stop and start the 5D many times during long sessions because of limited file recording size, limited battery life, limited media, overheating issues, and auto features like focus and ISO not working well in changing environments. It also had limited audio recording features, so I had to rely on external recording, which made things difficult when I was a lone cameraperson on the move.
There are some newer cameras that behave more like a cinema/hybrid, such as the Sony FX3 and Canon EOS C70, so they may work for your production, depending on budgets and production format requirements, but let’s look at the pros and cons of using a broadcast-style camcorder for your production rather than a mirrorless or DSLR camera in certain production environments.
First, there are obvious pros of using DSLR/mirrorless cameras for video:
- Small, portable size
- Cinema-quality sensors
- Still image option
- Lower cost
- Fine shutter control
- High-quality imagery in low light
- Numerous lens choices
- Many accessory options for handheld and mobile productions
However, the cons of DSLR and mirrorless cameras can be:
- Shorter recording times
- Frustrating lens changes
- Expense of purchasing or renting lenses (primes or zoom)
- No built-in ND filters so you need to change them constantly
- No servo zoom control
- Difficulty holding focus with motion
- Lack of audio recording features
- Rolling shutter issues
- Potential overheating
- Required cleaning and maintenance
- Potentially overly complex settings
- Difficulty viewing true image with built-in display/EVF
Situations and environments in which you might not want to use DSLR or mirrorless cameras:
- Mobile field production
- Broadcast/event productions that require live output and switching
- Productions that require long shots such as documentary or live events
- Scenes that are moving and require different focal lengths and changing light
Let’s look at some reasons to use a camcorder in your mobile, field, broadcast, or documentary production. These are cameras with built-in zoom lenses, multiple outputs, redundant recording options, and built-in handheld features. Though you will likely not be getting cinema-quality imagery, newer camcorders, such as the Canon XA40, can capture 4K resolution and rival some of the depth of field using improved dynamic range and built-in lens quality.
- Long recording times are important when you are recording an event or long documentary sessions. Look for camcorders with dual card slots with continuous recording across cards, small-size recording formats, high card capacity support, and external recording options such as to SSD or hard drive.
- Broadcast video outputs such as SDI are an advantage on camcorders, so you can utilize different streaming and monitoring options that aren’t available to DSLR and mirrorless operators.
- Many camcorders now feature built-in streaming options via wireless and LAN, not just wireless control that is included in many mirrorless or DSLR cameras. You can livestream directly from your camera to online sites with some cameras, so you can have a full livestream studio in one package. The JVC GY-HC550 is one example of an all-in-one 4K live streaming camera.
- Although they are generally larger than DSLR/mirrorless cameras, camcorders can sometimes be lighter and are designed for ENG with their shape and shoulder-mounted form factor, without necessarily purchasing an additional shoulder mount or cage system.
- Most professional camcorders have built-in XLR inputs, so you can utilize professional microphones by default. They most often provide XLR phantom power for condenser mics, and they also allow you to input signals from an audio board in event environments.
- Most ENG-style camcorders feature built-in ND filters and/or gain control to make switching locations with different light conditions a quick and easy adjustment.
- Servo zoom lenses are an advantage when you’re moving quickly between different scenes, and they are also easy to find ways to relocate your camera’s control grip onto a shoulder rig.
- Camcorders often feature high-capacity battery options by default and can support additional high-capacity options, as well as more AC, hot-swap, and failover options for long-duration shoots.
- Larger, built-in LCDs and more comfortable default EVFs allow you to monitor your shots without external monitors when needed. They can also mount external monitors easily, and some feature high-resolution outputs such as SDI or HDMI for additional monitoring options.
It’s important to evaluate your production environment needs before you decide which camera to use in field production, since size and weight are not the only factors to consider. Let us know in the Comments below which camcorders you decided to use in your field productions, and what factors you considered when choosing it over a DSLR or mirrorless camera.