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Technical

Professional Camcorders vs DSLR / Mirrorless - the debate goes on

Why do some videographers use DSLR cameras and some use professional camcorders?

By

Chris Bruce

August 8, 2020

In this post we are having at a divide that has formed between different schools of thought for wedding videography and that is about which type of camera to use.

As with most things in life, there are two sides to every story so we thought we'd have a little delve into things.

DSLR / Mirrorless cameras

DSLR and mirrorless cameras are awesome. They're compact,offer extremely high image quality vs. price and they are generally extremely well supported in the market for accessories. They offer image quality that can usually only be matched by a professional camcorder costing 2 or 3 times the price. So what's the downside?

Cameras like these have a basic architecture that was never designed for video. They are, in essence, photographic cameras designed for taking still images that just happen to also take great video!

So why is this?

Sensor Size

The biggest difference between DSLRs and camcorders is that DSLRs have much larger sensors than camcorders, at least at the same price point. So, what's the big deal with sensor size? In terms of video, there are two big advantages of shooting with a larger sensor: depth of field and low light.

Depth of field is how much of the image is in focus - you'll often see portraits with a very blurred background, for example. That blurred background is much easier to do with a DSLR because of the larger sensor. (One other factor? A lens with a wide aperture, like f/1.8 or f/2.8). The biggest reason some videographers choose to use a DSLR is to get that creamy bokeh and out-of-focus background. On the downside, this make the camera far more focus critical - this is fine if you've got plenty of time to set up a shot but in a fast moving, 'run & gun' situation like a wedding sometimes the 'everything in focus' feature of a camcorder is very handy!

In limited light, a larger sensor collects more light than a smaller one. With the larger sensor of a DSLR, it's easier to get low light images without needing a video light. Cameras with larger sensors tend to produce less noise when shooting at the higher ISOs needed when lighting is limited as well. In sunlight or good artifical light however, the differences are less apparent.

Recording time

A camera's processor can only process so much data at one time. Most DSLR's will only record for 30 minutes at a time, after which you have to start a new recording. Camcorders win out in this one—being designed for video, they're theoretically capable of recording indefinitely or at least until the power or storage runs out. DSLRs can also overheat after prolonged use, especially when recording in 4k.

Most professional videographers will stitch several recordings together to create their final video, so the shorter record times often aren't as much of an issue. If you plan to record an entire sports game from start to finish though, a camcorder will likely be your better option and also makes life easier for longer ceremonies (Church) and long speeches!

Ergonomics

DSLRs are designed for taking a picture, then moving around and taking another one. Camcorders, on the other hand, are designed specifically to be held up for long periods of time. The way that a DSLR is held will generally get pretty tiring when shooting for several minutes, while it's more comfortable to hold a camcorder for a longer period of time. Of course, if you plan to use a tripod to keep the footage steady anyways, the ergonomics isn't really an issue.

Audio

Audio is an important factor to consider that's sometimes neglected by videographers. In general, a mic inside a camcorder is better than the ones inside DSLRs. But, here's the thing: an inexpensive mic placed closer to the subject is going to work better than any built-in mic, whether you are shooting with a camcorder or a DSLR. For that reason, the audio factor isn't a big consideration when experienced videographers choose to shoot with DSLRs, because they'll be adding audio gear regardless. Check the tech specs of the specific model to be sure, but most DSLRs will have a stereo microphone input jack. With that, you can use a shotgun mic or even add a DSLR audio recorder and record with multiple mics.

Cost

While you can pick up a consumer camcorder for a few hundred bucks, you can't get the larger sensors and advanced features in a dedicated camcorder for the same price as a DSLR. Compared to professional camcorders, DSLRs are much more affordable. That lower price point also makes it much easier to pick up multiple DSLRs to film from different perspectives, which can be a big advantage in many scenarios. You'll probably want a few more accessories with a DSLR than a camcorder, like a neutral density filter set and manual focus assist rig. But, both DSLRs and camcorders do well paired with audio equipment and other accessories like tripods and video lights.

So, who wins?

Camcorders, as the traditional option, have a number of advantages, including built-in neutral density filters, more comfortable video ergonomics and longer maximum recording times. But DSLRs have a number of very big advantages, including a much larger sensor and a lower price point over advanced camcorders.

So, who wins in the DSLR vs. Camcorder debate? That depends. Many advanced videographers are choosing to work with DSLRs because of the larger sensors that makes it easy to produce soft, out-of focus backgrounds at a lower price point while still working with audio accessories. DSLRs are great for getting high-quality short clips to stitch together with a video editing program. Camcorders, on the other hand, tend to be simpler to use, more comfortable to shoot handheld and offer long recording times. Camcorders can shoot an entire concert or conference without stopping, while DSLRs often have shorter recording times.

At Watch Our Wedding we have the best of both worlds - we use a small camera for bride preparation footage and action / moving shots plus camcorders for the more formal sections such as the ceremony and speeches.

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