Pocket Camcorders vs. Smartphones

Make the right choice for your video needs

Low cost, lightweight, and easy-to-use, pocket camcorders have been a hit with consumers. But smartphones, like the Galaxy and Apple iPhone, have been a bigger hit. In addition to multiple computing functions, many smartphones record high definition video. So, if a smartphone can record ​HD video, do you need a pocket camcorder? To help you judge, we stacked up the two competitors, smartphones and pocket camcorders, side-by-side to see how these devices match up.

Pocket Camcorder vs Smartphone

Overall Findings

Camcorder
  • Built for video.

  • Expandable memory.

  • High-quality lenses with optical zoom.

  • Durable sport options are available.

Phone
  • You probably already have one.

  • Simple to shoot basic video.

  • Quality is good enough for most uses.

With modern smartphones and portable camcorders, you'll never have poor quality video. This is less of a concern than it's ever been. Instead, this debate comes down to how you want to record and how serious you are about it.

Nearly everyone has a phone. While it may not be the latest and greatest one, it may be good enough for most situations. So, if you recently started shooting video, your phone is a safe and inexpensive route.

When you want to shoot the best quality video or a lot of it, there's no substitute for a dedicated camcorder. There are also sports camcorders, like the GoPro, that are rugged and shoot top-notch video. If any of this sounds like your situation, it might be time to purchase a dedicated digital camcorder.

Video Quality: Phones are Good, Camcorders are Better

Camcorder
  • Generally supports higher resolutions.

  • Additional features, like 3D support.

  • Optical zoom.

Phone
  • 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. This brings realistic colors and higher frame rates. 4K 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 that add 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. For example, the GoPro line of camcorders is small, lightweight, and rugged, unlike a smartphone.

Price: Both Range Widely

Camcorder
  • Wide price range.

  • Professional quality devices are more expensive.

  • GoPro and other accessible cameras are reasonably priced.

Phone
  • A new phone usually costs between $600 and $1000.

  • Carrier financing and subsidies are available.

  • You probably have one.

While smartphone prices have come down and are subsidized by mobile carriers, you can often pay as much as $800 or more for one. Pocket camcorders can cost as little as $150 or as much as $1600 or more. With a smartphone, you pay every month for a voice and data plan. Price is also a factor when it comes to storage capacity.

Storage: Phones Store in the Cloud and Camcorders are Expandable

Camcorder
  • Tons of expandable storage options.

  • Connectivity to a computer.

  • Some have Wi-Fi upload capabilities.

Phone
  • Many phones lack expandable storage.

  • Limited internal storage.

Pocket camcorders record to removable memory cards or internal memory. Most pocket camcorders rely on flash memory or micro SD cards, which are removable. Most smartphones don't have this option. The micro SD cards are available in large capacities and provide more than enough storage for videos.

Lenses: Camcorders Have Higher Quality Options

Camcorder
  • Generally use higher quality lenses.

  • Optical zoom.

  • More control over focus.

Phone
  • Reasonable lens quality.

  • Most only feature digital zoom.

Many camcorders make claims of 500x, 800x, or more zoom, which is a combination of optical and digital zoom. Optical zoom is a product of the lens and works like a 35mm SLR camera. The optical zoom is a real zoom where the lens moves in and out. Choose a high optical zoom in a camcorder. Digital zoom takes the pixels, which comprise the image, and makes the pixels larger. The picture may look closer, but it may also look blurry or distorted.

Most smartphones feature digital zoom, although a few models have optical zoom.

Size and Weight: Phones are Built for Portability

Camcorder
  • Larger than a phone, but fairly compact.

  • Tripods are available for many.

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

Phone
  • Most phones are lightweight and easily fit in a pocket.

There is an array of smartphones and pocket camcorders. Size and weight become almost a secondary consideration, behind the application.

Display: Phones Usually Have Larger Screens

Camcorder
  • Smaller folding screens, usually about 3 to 4 inches.

  • Real-time full HD viewing.

Phone
  • Phone screens tend to be 5 to 6 inches.

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

Most pocket camcorders have smaller displays. Smartphones, by contrast, can have screens as large as 5.5-inches with multi-touch capability. Also, many smartphone displays are brighter and sharper than pocket camcorders.

Connectivity: You Won't Have Trouble Either Way

Camcorder
  • USB connectivity.

  • Removable storage.

  • Some have Wi-Fi support.

Phone
  • USB connectivity.

  • Wi-Fi support.

  • Upload to the cloud and share.

When you're done shooting your footage and want to transfer it to a PC or Mac, pocket camcorders make it easy. These devices have built-in USB ports and software that's pre-loaded onto the unit. Smartphones don't offer these features.

Smartphones can (in theory) upload video on the spot using cellular or Wi-Fi networks. Uploading smartphone video over a cellular network isn't cost-effective (or time-effective), but it can be done.

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

Camcorder
  • Very simple to pick up and use.

  • Loads of functions for more complex features.

Phone
  • Phone controls might be confusing to start.

  • Simple touch screen functionality to master the phone easily.

If you're looking for something that's point-and-shoot, smartphones are more complicated than a pocket camcorder. A pocket camcorder has fewer controls and menus to get lost in. However, most camcorders have more features than a phone. In short, camcorders are easier to get started with but have a steeper learning curve to master.

Functionality: Camcorders Provide Professional Features

Camcorder
  • Built for shooting video.

  • Packed with all sorts of features.

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

Phone
  • Contains basic functionality to take video.

  • Some minor image processing tools.

This one's not even close. While pocket camcorders have become more feature-rich, these devices can't hold a candle to the nearly limitless things you can do with a smartphone. Even in the video department, there's a library of apps that can add effects and enhance videos. So, if the phone doesn't offer video controls out of the box, third-party software can.

Durability: Camcorders are Built to Be Active

Camcorder
  • Sport cameras are built for abuse.

  • Most are designed to be durable.

Phone
  • Phone screens are fragile.

  • Improvements are being made.

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

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 consider a camcorder before using their phone. There are more options and features available. If you're a casual user that only wants to record an occasional event or take video for your social media posts, your phone will serve you well.