Camcorders vs. Cameras

Asian girl aiming digital camera

 bo1982 / Getty Images

Digital cameras have made remarkable strides in the video recording department. You can now purchase still cameras, even digital SLRs, that boast high definition video recording. So, why should you even bother with a camcorder at all? There are several reasons why buying a camcorder is still the superior way to record all of life's memories in motion. We'll explain.

Overall Findings


  • Can capture video at higher resolutions, up to 4K.

  • Better quality lens.

  • Can record to a hard drive, memory card, or DVD.


  • 4K video less widely available.

  • Most have fixed displays.

  • Good all-round option for still photography and video.

Camcorders and cameras are both great at capturing video, but only one of these devices was built exclusively for that purpose, and it shows. Camcorders have a clear edge when it comes to video resolution, lenses, storage, and more. Camera manufacturers have done an excellent job over the years with improving video recording features, though, and are a good option for people who care about both still photography and video recording.

Video Quality: Camcorders Have a Clear Edge


  • Many shoot up to native 4K resolution.

  • Standard definition camcorders capture video at a much higher bit rate than cameras.


  • Many shoot up to native 4K resolution.

  • Fewer options when shooting video.

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

While some digital cameras are offering 720p video recording, and many now even shoot at a native 4k resolution, very few compacts can match the higher quality video recorded by even mid-level camcorders. If you want your child’s first steps to look sharp through the ages (or at least until HDTVs are replaced with something better), you can’t top a dedicated camcorder. Even in standard definition, the gulf in quality can be significant. Standard definition camcorders will capture video at a higher bit rate than a digital still camera.

Some advanced camcorders will let you adjust the field of view, shutter speed and white balance while capturing video. But you can’t do the same when shooting video on a digital still camera: it’s just point and shoot.

Lenses: To Zoom or Not to Zoom


  • Typically offers a more robust zoom.


  • Many cameras can't zoom while shooting video.

  • Ones that do zoom can be noisy.

A camcorder lens will typically offer a far more robust zoom, giving you greater magnification. While there are a number of long zoom still 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, like the lenses on a camcorder. With a digital camera, you can pick up the noise of the lens while filming and zooming.

Media Options: Camcorders Are More Flexible


  • Can record to hard drive or memory card.

  • Some can record straight to DVD.


  • Records to memory card.

Digital still 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 the convenience of easy playback on DVD players.

Audio: Sophisticated Features


  • Records via internal microphone.

  • Offers more sophisticated recording options.

  • Some can capture multi-channel, surround sound audio.


  • Records via internal microphone.

The internal microphones used by camcorders are vastly superior to those found on 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.

Ergonomics: Camcorders Are Built For Shooting Video


  • Designed to be held for longer periods of time.

  • Many LCD displays rotate.


  • Might need a tripod or stick to achieve steadier video over long periods of time.

  • Rotating LCDs available on higher priced cameras.

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

While we live in an age of multitasking gadgets, their designs are still driven by core functions. Even though cell phones have cameras, they’re still shaped like phones. The same holds for camcorders and digital cameras. Camcorders are designed to be held aloft and steady for longer periods of time. Still cameras are not. Camcorder LCD displays can be rotated to give you a multitude of angles. Most still cameras have fixed displays that can’t be moved.

Final Verdict: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

While digital cameras have certainly come a long way in the video department, they're still no match for a dedicated camcorder to capture those first steps or hour-long dance recitals. But, if you're an avid still photographer who wants to take the occasional video, there's really no need to ditch your camera. It will still get the job done admirably.