Pocket Camcorders vs. Smartphones

Make the Right Choice for Your Video Needs

Low cost, lightweight, and easy-to-use, pocket camcorders have been a big hit with consumers. But smartphones, like the Galaxy and Apple's iconic iPhone, have been an even bigger hit. In addition to their multiple computing functions, a growing number of smartphones can record high definition video. This begs an obvious question: if that slender smartphone in your pocket can record ​HD video, do you really need a pocket camcorder?

To help you judge, we've stacked up the two competitors, smartphones, and pocket camcorders, side-by-side to see how they match up:

Pocket Camcorder vs Smartphone

Overall Findings

  • Purpose built for video.

  • Expandable memory.

  • High quality lenses with optical zoom.

  • Durable sport options available.

  • You probably already have one.

  • Simple to shoot basic video.

  • Quality is good enough for most uses.

With modern smartphones and the current portable camcorders, you're never going to find that you have poor quality video. That's much less of a concern than it has ever been. Instead, this debate comes down to how you want to record and how serious you are about it.

Nearly everyone already has a phone. While not everyone has the latest and greatest one, what you do have is probably good enough for most situations. So, if you're just starting out shooting video, it's a safe and inexpensive route.

When you want to shoot the absolute best quality video or a lot of it, there's no substitute for a dedicated camcorder. There are also plenty of "sports" camcorders, like the GoPro, that are designed to be much more rugged, while still shooting top notch video. If any of this sounds like your situation, it might be time to consider purchasing a dedicated digital camcorder.

Video Quality: Phones are Good and Camcorders are Even Better

  • Generally support higher resolutions.

  • Additional features, like 3D support.

  • Optical zoom.

  • Solid video quality(Full HD and some 4k).

  • Digital zoom.

When it comes to video quality, the newest smartphones offer 4K, or 3840 x 2160 resolution, bringing you realistic colors and higher frame rates, and is the standard that Vimeo and YouTube support. Some smartphones also have 4K screens.

Most camcorders include at least a 10x optical zoom lens. Some have 3D capability, GPS receivers for adding geographical identification (known as geotagging) or built-in, or pico, projectors. Newer models also offer 4K-resolution.

While this may seem a toss-up for everyday videography, pocket camcorders excel in specialized situations, especially action videos - e.g., the GoPro line of camcorders are small, lightweight and rugged, unlike your smartphone.

Price: Both Range Widely

  • Wide price range.

  • More professional quality devices are more expensive.

  • GoPro and other more accessible cameras are reasonably priced.

  • A new phone usually runs between $600-$1000.

  • Carrier financing and subsidies available.

  • You probably have one already.

While smartphone prices have come down and are heavily subsidized by mobile carriers, you can often pay as much as $800 or more for one. Pocket camcorders can usually be had for as little as $150 or as much as $1600 or more. Of course, with a smartphone, you pay every month for a voice and data plan, and those ain't cheap. Price, as you'll see below, is also a factor when it comes to storage capacity.  

Storage: Phones Store in the Cloud and Camcorders are Super Expandable

  • Tons of expandable storage options.

  • Connectivity to the computer.

  • Some have WiFi upload capabilities.

  • Many phones lack any expandable storage.

  • Limited internal storage.

Both pocket cams record to removable memory cards and/or internal memory. Most pocket camcorders rely on flash memory or micro-SD cards, which are removable, while most smartphones these days do not have this option. The micro-SD cards are available in large capacities and provide more than enough storage for your videos. 

Lenses: Camcorders Have Much Higher Quality Options

  • Generally use higher quality lenses.

  • Optical zoom.

  • More control over focus.

  • Reasonable lens quality.

  • Most only feature digital zoom.

Many camcorders will make claims of 500x or even 800x or more zoom, which is a combination of optical and digital zoom. Optical zoom is a product of the lens and works like your old 35mm SLR camera. The optical zoom is a "real zoom" where the lens actually moves in and out. You want a high optical zoom in the camcorder you are considering. Digital zoom takes the pixels, which comprise your image, and makes them larger. Your picture may look closer, but it may also look blurry or distorted.

Most smartphones feature digital zoom, although we are seeing a few models with optical.

Size & Weight: Phones are Built for Portability

  • Larger than a phone, but still fairly compact.

  • Tripods are available for many.

  • Sport cameras, like GoPro, are lightweight and can be mounted anywhere.

  • Most phones are lightweight and easily fit in your pocket.

There is such an array of both smartphones and pocket camcorders these days, size and weight become almost a secondary consideration, behind the application. 

Display: Phones Usually Have Larger Screens

  • Smaller folding screens, usually about 3-4 inches.

  • Real time full HD viewing.

  • Phone screens tend to be 5-6 inches.

  • Most phone recording also provides real time viewing and playback.

Most pocket camcorders smaller displays. Smartphones, by contrast, can have large screens as large as 5.5-inches with multi-touch capability to boot. Also, many smartphone displays are considerably brighter and sharper than anything you'll find on a pocket camcorder.  

Connectivity: You Won't Have Trouble Either Way

  • USB connectivity.

  • Removable storage.

  • Some have WiFi support.

  • USB connectivity.

  • WiFi support.

  • Upload to the cloud and share directly.

When you're done shooting your footage and you want to transfer it to a PC or Mac, pocket camcorders make it easy, with built-in USB ports and software that's pre-loaded onto the unit. Smartphones offer no such luxury. But smartphones can (in theory) upload that video on the spot via cellular or Wi-Fi networks. Uploading your smartphone video over a cellular network isn't very cost-effective (or time effective) but it can be done.  

Ease of Use: Who Doesn't Know How to Use Their Phone?

  • Very simple to pick up and use.

  • Loads of functions for more complex features.

  • Phone controls might be confusing to start with.

  • Simple touch screen functionality will let you master your phone more easily.

If you're looking for something that's "point-and-shoot", smartphones are more complicated than a pocket camcorder - which has few controls and menus to get lost in.  Then again, most camcorders have far more features than a phone. In short, camcorders are easier to get started with, in many cases, but they have a steeper learning curve to master.

Functionality: Camcorders Provide Professional Features

  • Purpose built for shooting video.

  • Packed with all sorts of features.

  • Engineered to make your video look better and easier to shoot.

  • Contains basic functionality to take video.

  • Some minor image processing tools.

This one's not even close: while pocket camcorders have gotten more feature-rich, they can't hold a candle to the nearly limitless things you can do on (and with) a smartphone. Even in the video department, a growing library of apps lets you add effects and tweak your videos, so even if the phone itself doesn't offer video controls out of the box, third-party software can. 

Durability: Camcorders are Built to Be Active

  • Sport cameras are built for abuse.

  • Most camcorders are designed to be fairly durable.

  • Phone screens are notoriously fragile.

  • Improvements are being made.

If you want to record video while you are on the beach, white water rafting, or trekking through a sandstorm, there are a growing number of waterproof and rugged pocket camcorders, such as the GoPro line, that can handle whatever nature dishes out. Smartphones, on the other hand, are pretty delicate creates.  

Final Verdict

Are you serious about shooting quality video, or do you want to easily record on the fly? That's what this all breaks down to. Anyone serious about video quality should immediately consider a camcorder before using their phone. There are simply more options and features available to you. If you're a more casual user that only wants to record the occasional event or take some video for your social media posts, your phone will serve you well.