Camcorders vs. Digital Cameras for Video Recording

Camcorders offer greater flexibility for capturing video

Asian girl aiming digital camera

 bo1982 / Getty Images

Although digital cameras and digital SLRs are now capable of capturing high definition video, there are still benefits to buying a camcorder. We've compiled a list of the pros and cons of using camcorders vs. digital cameras for video recording.

Information in this article applies broadly to a wide range cameras. Check individual product specifications before making a purchase.

Overall Findings

Camcorders

  • Captures higher quality video and audio.

  • Records to a hard drive, memory card, or DVD.

  • Better quality lenses.

Cameras

  • Less expensive.

  • Fixed displays.

  • Useful for still photography and video recording.

Camcorders typically have a clear edge when it comes to video resolution, lenses, and storage options. Camera manufacturers have improved video recording features over the years, but most digital cameras made for photography can't compete with devices made specifically for recording video. There are some exceptions, however: the built-in iPhone camera is exceptionally powerful, and some directors even use iPhones to film movies.

Lens and Video Quality: Camcorders Capture Better Videos

Camcorders

  • Captures standard definition videos at a higher bit rate.

  • Native 4K support.

  • Record extreme closeups.

Cameras

  • 4K support is less widely available.

  • Zooming may be disabled while shooting video.

  • Noisy lenses.

While some digital cameras shoot at a native 4K resolution, very few compact devices can match the higher quality video recorded by even mid-level camcorders. Even in standard definition, the gulf in quality can be significant because camcorders capture video at a higher bit rate than regular digital cameras. Some advanced camcorders also let you adjust the field of view, shutter speed, and white balance while capturing video.

A camcorder lens will typically offer a more robust zoom than a digital camera, allowing for greater magnification. While there are a number of long zoom cameras on the market, they can’t touch the 30x or 60x lenses available on some camcorders. In many cases, still camera lenses don't even work while filming video. If they do, they don’t always operate quietly, so you can pick up the noise of the lens while filming and zooming.

Photo example of the clarity difference that appears between 720p and 1080p
 Lifewire

Audio: Camcorders Are Made For Recording Sound

Camcorders

  • Record surround sound audio.

  • Supports external microphones and other peripherals.

Cameras

  • Microphone can pick up noise from the camera itself.

  • Limited support for external mics.

The internal microphones used by camcorders are vastly superior to those found in digital still cameras. You’ll find more sophisticated audio recording options on camcorders too, such as the ability to zoom into the source of a sound automatically. Some camcorders can even capture multi-channel, surround sound audio.

Design and Media Options: Camcorders Are More Flexible

Camcorders

  • More comfortable to hold for long durations.

  • Many LCD displays rotate.

  • Record straight to DVD.

Cameras

  • Tripod or stick required to achieve steadier video over long periods of time.

  • Rotating LCDs available on higher priced cameras.

Camcorders are designed to be held steady for long periods of time. Unlike most digital cameras, camcorder LCD displays can be rotated to give you a multitude of angles. Camcorders are also compatible with other video production equipment such as external microphones.

Regular digital cameras record video to flash memory cards. Digital camcorders can record to memory cards as well, but they can also store video on internal hard drives that offer much more recording time than even your highest capacity flash memory card. You can also record your video straight to DVD for easy playback on any DVD player.

Camcorder with different lens options and DSLR camera that records 4K video
 Lifewire

Final Verdict: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

If you're primarily a photographer who takes the occasional video, there's really no need to ditch your digital camera for a dedicated camcorder. If you plan on filming hour-long dance recitals, then a camcorder may be worth the investment for the extra quality and comfort.