Smartphones, iPods, and digital cameras all record video, and the quality of the video they record ain't too shabby. If you already have one of these "video" products, why do you need another device that is solely dedicated to capturing video?
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These days, people may be hard-pressed to come up with good reasons to buy a camcorder. Chances are, even if you don't own a camcorder, you already possess some kind of video recording device. Just think about it: smartphones, iPods, and digital cameras all record video, and the quality of the video they record ain't too shabby. If you already have one of these "video" products, why would you need another device that is solely dedicated to capturing video?
Despite these trends, there are still a number of compelling reasons why you should buy a camcorder. The video industry is certainly in flux, but camcorders still do certain things extremely well, and we've tried to outline those things in this article. So, behold, here's our reasons for why you should buy a camcorder.
The debate about what products record the best video is a contentious one, and there are plenty of people who have abandoned camcorders and jumped onto the video-capable DSLR bandwagon because of their "superior video quality." Here at CamcorderInfo, we test lots of camcorders, but we also test cameras that record video as well. And what we've found is this: DSLRs and other interchangeable lens cameras have their benefits, but a high-end camcorder will still get you better video performance overall.
Don't get us wrong, DSLRs are capable of recording excellent video, especially if you go out and buy an expensive lens to attach to the camera (instead of the kit lens). But most DSLRs have terrible rolling shutter problems, which can make handheld shooting with lots of panning look awful. We have also found that with the right amount of light, high-end camcorders are capable of recording sharper video images than their video-DSLR counterparts.
Comparing cheap camcorders to cheap cameras is a slightly different story. If you're spending under $200 bucks on a camcorder, the video quality you get usually isn't that great, and we've often found it to be on par with the performance of similarly-priced digital cameras. The advantage of camcorders, however, is that they usually include more video recording options, and they provide video editing software that can help you upload your clips to websites like Facebook and YouTube. That's the advantage of buying a product that is specifically geared towards video.
Consumer camcorders may not record perfectly crisp audio, but the built-in mics on most models are far better than the audio features you'll find on digital cameras or smartphones. In fact, some consumer camcorders to great lengths in their attempt to bring good audio recording to the masses. Nearly all traditional camcorders will include built-in stereo microphones, which are good enough for everyday recording, but there are some (like the Panasonic HDC-TM900) that go above and beyond by including 5.1-channel Dolby Digital microphones instead. Compare this to the tiny monaural mics you find on most cell phones or compact digital cameras, and you're looking at a significant boost in audio quality on camcorders.
Not only are the built-in microphones better on camcorders, but the audio features are often better as well. There are many consumer camcorders that offer external mic jacks, audio level controls and displays, as well as features like wind cut or zoom mic. External microphone jacks are something you'll occasionally find on DSLRs, but it's still fairly rare, and it is something you almost never see on a point-and-shoot digital camera. If you care to spend a bit extra on your camcorder, you can easily find a prosumer or professional model that comes with XLR inputs that allow you to record top-notch audio with the best external mics. The Canon XA10 (shown above) is a professional camcorder that sells for around $2000.
The professional filmmaking world may be going gaga over those new video-capable DSLRs, but when it comes to shooting fly-on-the-wall documentary style, a traditional camcorder is still your best bet. Why? Because camcorders have, by far and away, the best autofocus features for video, and when you're shooting the run you may not have time to pull focus manually. In addition to great autofocus, most camcorders also handle auto exposure with ease, and that's something we can't say about those DSLRs that record video. Not to mention, camcorders are far more comfortable to use for hand held shooting than practically anything else on the market, and they don't run into overheating issues that are prominent on video-DSLRs.
Depending on the budget for your documentary, you may be able to get away with a relatively cheap option at camcorder. For around $1400 you can get the best prosumer camcorder on the market, the Canon Vixia HF G10, which should suit the needs for most documentary filmmakers. Yes, you could spend well over $2000 for a professional camcorder instead, but the HF G10 will capture video that looks just as good.
Even cheaper options are available, especially if you don't mind having access to the most robust manual controls. The Canon HF M40 and Panasonic HDC-TM90 both offer top-notch performance and price tags that hover around $500. They're good little camcorders that could be used to shoot a feature-length documentary on a bare-bones budget, or they can be fantastic for capturing b-roll instead.
Most camcorders come with a small amount of internal memory, be it in the form of flash memory or a built-in hard drive, in addition to a memory card slot that can be used to store video content. The idea of including internal memory may sound odd to those who are used to using still image cameras, and that's because with still photos it's a quick and easy process to get photos off of your memory card and onto a computer. Besides, still images don't take up much space anyway.
When you're working with large amounts of HD video, the need for internal memory becomes more apparent and makes more sense. Look at it this way—if you're recording tons of home movies, but you don't plan on editing those clips and burning them to Blu-ray, then how are you going to share those videos with friends and family? If you have a camcorder with a boatload of internal memory, you can simply keep those clips loaded on the camcorder itself. This allows the camcorder to function not only as a video recorder, but as a method of playing back those videos as well.
The Sony HDR-PJ50V, for example, comes with a 220GB internal hard drive and a built-in projector. The projector isn't the best, but it will make due if you don't have an HDTV handy to hook the camcorder up to. And that 220GB internal hard drive can store over 18 hours of video shot at the highest quality setting (or up to 90 hours of HD video at lower quality settings). Many camcorders have internal flash memory instead of internal hard drives, as flash memory is lighter and less prone to corruption than a hard drive. It's also more expensive, though, so camcorders with built-in flash memory usually have anywhere from 16 - 96GB of internal media. That's still enough space to store lots of video, especially if you don't use the highest quality settings for recording.