Camcorders vs. Digital Cameras

Camcorders offer greater flexibility for capturing video

Although digital cameras and digital SLRs can capture high-definition video, there are benefits to buying a camcorder. We 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 of cameras. Check individual product specifications before making a purchase.

Digital camcorder vs camera
Lifewire

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. However, most digital cameras made for photography can't compete with devices made specifically for recording video. There are some exceptions. The built-in iPhone camera is exceptionally powerful, and some directors 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, few compact devices can match the higher quality video recorded by 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 typically offers a more robust zoom than a digital camera, allowing for greater magnification. While there are a number of long zoom cameras on the market, the lens in these cameras can't touch the 30x or 60x lenses available on some camcorders. In many cases, still camera lenses don't work while filming video. If they do, they don't always operate quietly, and may pick up the noise of the lens while filming and zooming.

Audio: Camcorders Are Made For Recording Sound

Camcorders
  • Record surround sound audio.

  • Supports external microphones and other peripherals.

Cameras
  • The microphone can pick up noise from the camera.

  • Limited support for external mics.

The internal microphones used by camcorders are 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 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
  • Requires a tripod or stick to achieve steady video over long periods.

  • Rotating LCDs are available on higher-priced cameras.

Camcorders are designed to be held steady for long periods. Unlike most digital cameras, camcorder LCD displays can be rotated to give different 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 also store video on internal hard drives that offer more recording time than even the highest capacity flash memory card. You can also record your video straight to DVD for easy playback on any DVD player.

Final Verdict: One Size Doesn't Fit All

If you're primarily a photographer who takes the occasional video, there's 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.