DSLR vs Camcorder

A few years ago, professional cameras are made for either still images or videos, but not both. But the world has changed quite a lot in the last few years, and the trend has changed. Today, it is not uncommon to find high-class professional cameras as well as affordable options that are made for shooting both still images and videos. This is very apparent if we observe the development of DSLRs. Traditionally, DSLRs are made only to shoot still images. Camcorders were the only sensible choice for videos. However, modern DSLRs nowadays are also capable of shooting videos with superb quality, comparable or even better than camcorders. Thus, people now tend to get confused in deciding whether to use a DSLR or camcorder for their videos.

If you are also confused in choosing between DSLRs and Camcorders right now, don’t worry! Below, we will break down the comparisons between DSLRs and camcorders to help you decide. One is not necessarily always better than the other. So, continue reading!

What is a DSLR?

The term “DSLR” stands for “digital single lens reflex”. A DSLR camera is a digital camera that uses both the mechanisms and optics of a single lens reflex camera with a digital image sensor. This is different from the traditional SLR cameras, which use photographic films. Meanwhile, what sets DSLR cameras apart from other digital cameras is the reflex system, in which the light travels through the lens to the mirror that alternately sends the image to either the digital image sensor or the viewfinder. By utilizing just a single lens for both the digital image sensor and the viewfinder, a DSLR camera ensures that the image on the viewfinder is not going to differ so much from the one captured by the sensor. Thus, a DSLR can boast outstanding image qualities in general.

What is a camcorder?

Meanwhile, a camcorder is basically an electronic device that combines a video camera with a video tape recorder. Even though the first camcorders were tape-based, today, digital camcorders have become the norm. Tapes are no longer used; instead, internal flash memory and SD memory cards are used. The term “camcorder” can be quite broad in today’s sense. While DSLR cameras are usually quite pricey, camcorders are available in a wider range of budget options. There are cheap, portable camcorders, suitable for casual purposes such as a family holiday or road trip. There are also expensive, advanced camcorders used by professional reporters and film makers.

Sensor Size and Focus

One of the primary reasons why people choose DSLRs over camcorders for video recording is the much larger sensors. If there are a DSLR and a camcorder in a similar price range, chances are the DSLR comes with a larger sensor than that of the camcorder. A larger sensor gives two benefits: depth of field and low light performance. With a DSLR, you can get the ideal depth of field much more easily, creating videos with a creamy bokeh effect and blurred, out-of-focus background. Also, with a DSLR, you can shoot in a low-light condition with a high ISO while still getting a low noise level.

Some time ago, camcorders were preferred because they can autofocus in video recording, but today, the argument is no longer valid. DSLRs today can also autofocus in video recording. The pros, however, usually prefer to use the manual focus in order to have the fullest control and implement different effects on the fly. Manual focus is possible with a DSLR.

ND Filters and Recording Time

When shooting a video, the shutter speed of the camera needs to be matched to the frame rate. For example, if you shoot at 60 fps, the shutter speed is automatically set to 1/60. In the cinematic 24 fps, the shutter speed is 1/24 or 1/30. Such shutter speeds are pretty low, thus shooting in bright light can be tricky and difficult. Some new DSLR models already come with built-in ND filters, but they are usually rather pricey. A DSLR without any ND filter may require you to buy an ND filter kit – another extra purchase and thing to carry. The advantage of using a camcorder is that it has built-in neutral density (ND) filters to properly expose the images despite in bright light.

Another advantage of using a camcorder is that it is usually capable of recording longer than a DSLR. If you want to record an entire football game from start to finish, a camcorder is what you need. It can record continuously for over than an hour, or even until the battery runs out. DSLRs, on the other hand, generally can only record continuously for up to a half hour. Of course, you can also stitch several recordings into one by using a video editing application.

Audio Quality, Ergonomics

These two factors are generally less of an issue, but still worth considering. The audio quality is actually one of the most important factors in video recording. And an inexpensive mic placed close to the subject is almost always better than the built-in mic in the camcorder/DSLR. So, even though the mics in camcorders are generally better than the ones in DSLRs, you are most probably going to buy your own set of external mics anyway.

The ergonomics of a camcorder is also better than a DSLR. The shape of a camcorder has been designed to allow prolonged holding without wearing you down so much. But, if you are going to use a tripod, this is not a problem at all.

- Usually starts at a more expensive price point- Available in cheaper options, but the best ones are more expensive than DSLRs
- Has a larger sensor size than a comparable camcorder- Has a smaller sensor size than a comparable camcorder
- Has manual focus, autofocus is now comparable- Great autofocus
- Shorter recording time- Significantly longer recording time
- The ergonomics are not very good- Great ergonomics


So, DSLR or camcorder? If you prefer the larger sensor and you plan to shoot multiple short clips to be stitched into one professional-quality video, a DSLR would be great. A DSLR may require more setups and customizations, but the results are awesome. If you prefer a simple solution that can shoot continuously for long, you can get a camcorder instead. It has many built-in features, including ND filters, ready for use right out of the box.

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