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Shooting digital videos: dSLR or DV camcorder?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 24, 2013 8:44 AM PDT

Shooting digital videos: dSLR or DV camcorder?

I used to do a bit of filming, Super 8 film in the very old days and on VHS in just the old days. I'd like to start doing some film work again. I want decent quality, good enough to project at local film society nights. Now, with a budget of around $1,000 should I invest in a DV camera or a DSLR? What are the pros and cons for each? Any opinions? Thanks!

-- Submitted by: Stan W.

Note: This post was edited by a forum moderator to fix the dollar sign on 05/27/2013 at 2:45 PM PT
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DSLR or Camcorder?
by High Desert Charlie / May 24, 2013 10:57 AM PDT

Hi Stan,

This one (I think) is pretty easy to answer. It's true that the new Digital SLR Camera take HD Quality videos too, but there are some inherent problems when using a Camera frame to take Videos. First of all, you have to be able to keep things in focus. Digital Cameras have come a long way, but they still fall behind when trying to keep moving objects in focus for any length of time. If you're just doing short takes for 10-15 seconds with relatively fixed distance to your subject you may be okay. But if your subjects are moving around (as they inevitably do), your shots may not be quite as crisp as you would hope.

Camcorders are much better at handling continuously moving objects as well as changes from light to dark to light again. With a camcorder you can easily frame your subject and keep it in frame while shooting. Not so easy with the DSLR. Also, you should think about how you will follow subjects and hold the camera steady which seems to be one of the biggest challenges when taking video with a DSLR camera. It's hard enough to minimize camera shake with a camcorder. The size and light weight of modern DSLRs will make it all the more difficult.

I'm told that with the right Tripod and a lot of practice the DSLR can be used successfully for videos. I think if it were me though, I'd want to take the DSLR for a test drive first, just to see how well it worked for my specific purposes. If it works for YOU, that's all that matters, right?

Dad told me a long time ago I should always use the right tool for the right job. At this point, for videos, I think that's still the Camcorder.

Good Luck and Happy Shooting

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SONY a57 DSLR is the answer
by zahmbee / May 31, 2013 10:26 AM PDT
In reply to: DSLR or Camcorder?

For the most part I agree with you Stan. But, recently I purchased the SONY a57 DSLR and totally love it. The camera can shoot 29 minutes of video at a time, the auto focus is wonderful even in the low light of a rock club. Finally, the lens is very quiet and the onboard mic is capable of high sound pressure levels that rock bands produce. The a57 has been discontinued and replaced by the a58 but try to find an a57 if you can, it's better.
please take a look at my a57 video. I recorded a rock band using the a57, no tripod, and the camera mic. the stabilizer feature of the camera is great.
rock on!

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Check out the Sony line.
by jdonalds / May 31, 2013 10:49 AM PDT
In reply to: DSLR or Camcorder?

I have both a Sony A55 and A65. Both use the translucent mirror technology which allows focus during video shooting. The A65 can shoot up to 1080p 60 frames per second. One big advantage of using a DSLR is the range of interchangeable lenses available.

Many professional shooters use DSLRs for videos these days. Check out Sony A65 or A77 review videos online.

For me having a single camera that can shoot 24Mp quality stills and awesome video is a big plus.

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Camcorder by all means....
by gfoley1 / May 31, 2013 12:57 PM PDT
In reply to: DSLR or Camcorder?

Let's be realistic here. It's all about personal choice, as Charlie states above.
If you have limited funds and wish to shoot both stills and movies, then grab an DSLR. Now if your a purebred film and movie buff, and have the means, then by all means go the cam. I agree with Charlie, to do it right movie-wise, stick with the true gem, the cam, and make life easy on yourself. Hey, you can still get stills out of a cam if you must, so why not?

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by Tennisyoda / May 31, 2013 1:30 PM PDT
In reply to: DSLR or Camcorder?






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Use a DLSR with a microphone jack
by jdonalds / May 31, 2013 2:01 PM PDT

There are some outstanding microphones on the market. Plug one into a DSLR and you will have excellent sound. Other applications will demand a remote microphone which can also be accommodated on a DSLR.

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Don't forget Sound Quality!
by Katmandu2 / May 31, 2013 10:22 PM PDT

I agree! Sound quality of any camera needs to be a top priority as well.

YouTube is full of great quality videos only to be destroyed by wind noise and or that horrendous crunching noise when the operator moves and/or adjust the camera! I don't know about you, but those noises irritate the heck out of me!

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Re: Sound for video
by pixelriffic / May 31, 2013 11:43 PM PDT

So true that sound quality is a huge issue with both camcorders and DLSRS. Poor sound can just about overcome great video quality. I have shot thousands of hours of video over the years, and wrote the following article about microphones for video.

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1) sound, 2) zoom
by Bob_Meyer / May 24, 2013 12:11 PM PDT

Most important, I think is audio quality. Most digital video cameras have better onboard microphones than DSLRs. And most digital video cameras have the capability to mount or connect high quality microphones. Still pictures are still (mostly) silent. Not videos.

Second is zoom capability. I think digital video cameras have better zoom controls than DSLRs.

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As all say, each have a place and price
by JAID1 / May 31, 2013 7:03 PM PDT
In reply to: 1) sound, 2) zoom

I use a Sony Handycam. It is probably middle range...a bit above your price but several years old so performance should be as good for the money now. Decent all round, the sound is at least good enough for me. In fact it surprises me that its quality is as good as it is. Though I am not too demanding. I also have a Nikon DSLR video capable. That is probably a professional level affair but certainly not medium format. A good way out of the dollars suggested.

The DSLR produces some terrific video. The sound is good but different. It is capable in various ranges of light. It's tracking is extraordinary and the ability to use a wide range of lenses also fantastic. However, I have seen nothing at the money in DSLR which would make me think the Handycam was not good value for video work.

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newer DSLRs
by zahmbee / June 1, 2013 4:13 AM PDT
In reply to: 1) sound, 2) zoom

The newer DSLR's have better onboard mics now, also the capability to add external mics. The SONY a57 is excellent at this. The zoom function is still better on the camcorders but if you use a remote control zooming on a DSLR can be pretty smooth.

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Another point
by timhood / May 24, 2013 3:26 PM PDT

Some good points were mentioned already. A big issue with using DSLRs for video is that the lenses can be noisy, which is picked up by the on-board microphone. To overcome this, you would need to buy the special. Quiet lenses, such as Canon's STM (STepper Motor) models are available, but that means skipping the less-expensive kit lenses and shelling out more money than you might have planned. For example, the Canon EF-S 18-135mm 3.5-5.6 STM is a $550 lens at Amazon.

If your needs are purely for home video purposes and the budget allows, I'd still go with a DSLR with a quiet lens. You'll get the benefit of being able to take great stills when desired as well.

If you want to dabble in making advanced amateur movies or video for hire (weddings, etc.) you will definitely need a true video camera with real capabilities, such as XLR input, follow-focus, etc.

Finally, be sure to check the recording limitations of the camera you are considering. Due to sensor overheating, many models limit recording to no more tha. 30 minutes at a time, even though your memory card might have plenty of capacity for longer recordings.

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by TLBlues / May 24, 2013 3:26 PM PDT

I needed to update my equipment now that I have my first granddaughter and wanted lots of videos. I had an old Canon ZR70 that was good in its day but very poor in low light and of course the conversion from tape to PC video files was an arduous task. I found a JVC Everio GZ-EX210AU on sale for $200. This unit has everything I ever could want on a camcorder and more. Excellent low light and backlight performance. Quick power on so I can capture those moments before they get away. It has great zoom range (40X optical). It has excellent shot stabilization (to compensate for shaky hands). It is very light weight and can fit in my trouser pocket. It records in full HD (1080) on to SD cards. It connects directly to my HD TV through its micro HDMI connector (for playback) and also has WiFi connection into my home network (allows me to control the camcorder from my computer, view the videos in a browser window or download the video files to my computer). I had a look at an expensive DSLR, but unless I was going professional I couldn't justify the price.

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DSLR or camcorder
by Terfyn / May 24, 2013 3:40 PM PDT

It should also be remembered that most Camcorders take still photos. I have a Panasonic HC--V700 and now use it as my stills camera for general use. The quality of the shots is good enough to print to A3 size (B size in USA)
Having both options available on one unit and with the good quality of the photos, I would go for a Camcorder every time.

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If your sole interest is video...
by Flatworm / May 24, 2013 11:06 PM PDT

DSLR cameras are largely optimized for still photographs, with video largely as an afterthought. DSLRs can take quite decent quality videos, but it is not their purpose and they have drawbacks, two among which are the relatively small size of their sensors and their overall shape and configuration that is less amenable to being held steady for longer periods of time without the need to mount on a tripod.

For a thousand pounds sterling, which today converts to about $1,520, you can get a top-of-the-line consumer DV camera (and a lot of change back from the vendor) or an entry-level professional DV camera like the Sony HVR-HD1000U ($1,525 at Full Compass) or Canon XA10 ($1,309 at Ryther Camera). The lenses and features are optimized for video, the sensor is much larger, their autofocusing is better suited to continuously track moving subjects, their ability to transition between lighter to darker fields is superior, the built-in mic is much higher quality, and you get such features as slow-motion and night vision in many models.

They can also take still shots, but they are optimized for video. Since your primary purpose is video, I would suggest that a DV camera is what would come closer to giving you the results you desire.

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Sensors are MUCH bigger in DSLRs
by Gwilym / May 31, 2013 9:49 AM PDT
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Sensors are MUCH bigger in DSLRs
by dave_gordon / May 31, 2013 10:26 AM PDT

This is very true and this is the reason that professional videographers often prefer the dSLR option over the camcorder. Few camcorders allow for interchangeable lenses, which is a large limiting factor. Of course, if money is no object, then a top video camera with interchangeable lenses would be best, but the costs are far out of the reach of the average videographer (see the RED brand of movie cameras).

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Video Cameras and Interchangeable lens
by JAID1 / June 1, 2013 9:57 AM PDT

True Dave and even when video cameras do take interchangeable lenses they have to be a serious camera before the lenses they take approach high quality DSLR lenses.

I use a small telephoto and a wide lens on my Sony. They are OK. With or without them I would mostly use that HandyCam for video purposes. The Nikon DSLR with its lenses however is different, special and definitely has a video place though much less regularly for me.

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Yes, the sensors and bigger in DSLR's
by Red Diamond / May 31, 2013 1:49 PM PDT

And that's all that's bigger or better - but not for video reasons.

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(NT) And this is the ONLY thing they have going for them.
by Red Diamond / May 31, 2013 3:56 PM PDT
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Larger sensors and more megapixels not needed
by dsttexas / June 1, 2013 4:06 AM PDT

For video, even for Blue Ray quality, the best you can do is 1080p, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels or about 2 megapixels. So those large sensors in DSLR cameras with 10, 12, 15 or more megapixels won't get you any better video. DSLR Camera video mode will cut it down to 1920 x 1080 or 2 megapixels as it writes each frame. DSLR electronics simply can not process those huge megapixel images running at 60 or even 30 frames per second. DSLR burst mode speeds in photo mode recording can at best do somewhere between 3 and 10 frames per second processing all those pixels. And besides, the video output quality will be at best 1080p.

My only point is, DLSR large sensors and megapixels have very little to do with video quality.

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You are 50% wrong in your assumptions
by windorah / June 1, 2013 2:16 PM PDT

It is true that the higher megapixel capability of many DSLR cameras is not needed due to the 1920 x 1080 Res. BUT the larger sensor has a very important impact and it is the reason that many film makers are using DSLR cameras. It provides 1. Better low light capability. 2. Better control over depth of field. 3. Much greater dynamic range. You wont get the same benefits from 3 x 1.4" cmos sensors and you certainly won't get it with only one 1/4 " sensor.

Having said that you need to be an enthusiast to get the most out of the cameras capability. and 95% of the video shooters who are just shooting family, holiday photos and even weddings etc would be better served with a video camera

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It depends on your objectives
by dsttexas / May 25, 2013 7:59 AM PDT

If you are wanting to do good quality videos, then the only real choice is a good digital camcorder. I have and do use both a Canon T2i DSLR and Sony DV camcorder. If I am doing mostly photos with a few videos thrown in then I use my DSLR. If I want to make a good vacation or family video then definitely the Camcorder is the way to go. Why?

Most DLSR's in video mode will not support focus changes while zooming, the mic will capture zoom sounds if electric or you'll get camera shake if you manual zoom. A camcorder can run continuously for quite some time whereas a DSLR may overheat and shut off after just 3-5 minutes of continuous recording. Camcorders will almost always have greater optical zooming and done with smooth and quiet button controls, and they will maintain focus. DLSR's are really designed for excellent photography with video as a side feature. However, the DSLR developers are making improvements all the time, so if you want to go that route, do some research on the very latest models and expect to pay for performance. Price wise, camcorders are really coming down in cost lately.

So it's all about your objectives and what you want to primarily record.

And going a bit further, I suggest the Mini DV tape camcorders over the disk or other storage formats. These are the same media professional TV camcorders use and quality is superb. With a high speed firewire port or USB 3.0, capturing to a PC is quite fast.

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DSLR is being replaced with mirrorless cameras
by davmax / May 31, 2013 10:22 AM PDT

Keep the DSLR for photography, particularly if it is the old mirror technology developed for film. The new mirrorless cameras (sometimes called DSLR) are much better for both photos and video. These modern cameras do not have a limit on movie time except for the size of the memory card used. The electric zoom control is smooth with tracking focus and light compensation. A photo shot can be taken whilst taking a video without any impact on the video (a problem for mirrored cameras). Just like a DV camcorder but great flexibility.
I have used the Panasonic range for while, they have all the features. I currently have the FZ200 which is relatively low cost and takes full HD video at high frame rates with a x 25 zoom range and a constant F2.8. The GH3 is even better more at the pro level with built in time lapse feature, but has interchangeable lens (this can be a problem taking videos).

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I agree davmax
by jdonalds / May 31, 2013 2:16 PM PDT

I think many of these responses recommending a video camera are not current with the new mirrorless digital cameras. They are speaking from the limited video capabilities of even very good still cameras in the Canon or Nikon range. But things have moved on and even Nikon has introduced a translucent camera in March of this year.

The Sony A65 or A77 have all the features needed for video, while also taking astounding still photos.
They can focus during video, quiet focus lenses won't come across on the audio, they have audio inputs for good microphones or remote microphones, they track subjects in videos, have excellent low light capability, support a wide variety of lenses, and a complete outfit can be had for under $1,500 for body and lens. They will record 1080p in 24/25/30/60 fps.

I listen to a a podcast done by professional photographers and videographers (I am neither). They all use DSLR cameras for video these days.

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I agree but
by fantasyva / June 1, 2013 3:22 AM PDT
In reply to: I agree davmax

I agree with all this but you can still get all this on a camcorder for well under $500. Something else to consider as well is whether you'll always be able to point the camera straight ahead to shoot or whether there may be someone in front of you that you need to shoot around. Few cameras have a swivel screen which opens up more opportunities for concerts, sporting activities, or parades....

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by gachbash / June 2, 2013 6:49 PM PDT

DSLR ARE DIGITAL SLR and not mirrorless SLR.
DSLR cameras are not replaced yet.

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Shooting digital videos: dSLR or DV camcorder?
by dave_gordon / May 31, 2013 10:18 AM PDT

I don't think the answer is as easy as some people claim. Maybe I'm playing devil's advocate here, for the sake of helping people make a better decision. The majority of responses heavily lean towards recommending a DV camcorder over the dSLR, but I disagree if you are looking for professional results AND you are willing to work harder at it. Out of the box, in the hands of a novice, I agree that the DV camcorder is the right choice, but for the majority of highly skilled and technologically inclined, the dSLR is a much better choice. I personally use the Canon MkIII. If you have a lot of lenses already, I think the dSLR is a clear choice, because you don't have to invest in more lenses and the lenses you have provide the videographer with much greater capabilities and higher quality videos. I think there is little doubt among photographer to the value of top grade lenses, in terms of picture quality.
While a naked Canon dSLR is trickier to balance, there are many reasons that seasoned videographers use dSLRs over a camcorder. First of all, there are rigs that you can buy that rest on your shoulder and attach to the lens to make follow-focusing easy and camera stability a non-issue.
Many professional videographers simply use a separate high quality digital audio recording device. This eliminates camera lens noises as well as other related issues. For the professional, the separate audio recording allows for more flexibility and higher quality in the audio dubbing process. There are lots of videos on YouTube showing the dSLR camera rigs in action and I suggest viewing some of them before making your final decision.

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Consider the Panasonic FZ200 for stills, panaramas and video
by davmax / May 31, 2013 6:22 PM PDT

For video an electric zoom lens x25-50 at F2.8, stabilisation, auto focus, exposure control, and simultaneous photo shots, customisation of movie attributes and external shot gun microphone fits (this also totally removes any camera noise, although with built in stereo mic I have not noticed any problem). There is also a 200+ frame rate option. Check out reviews.

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Go with the Camcorder
by aceaceace / May 31, 2013 10:37 AM PDT

I have a Canon T1i DSLR and while I love the still photo part of the camera but the movie feature is frustrating, to focus you push a non-intuitive button that is hard to find in the dark and it will take it out of focus if it already is in focus (not good). The record button is not the same as the take a picture button and instead is also located on the back of the camera and it is hard to find in the dark too. You 100% hear the motor moving and it sounds like a robot moving around in all your scenes, it feels like it was an after thought added to the camera. General rule-of-thumb, if something has two functions, it usually does not do one of them well, in this case the video is below average and the stills are well above average.

I used a DV camcorder just 2 days ago and all the buttons are in the intuitive spots, it is designed to take video, it is so small it is about the same size as a medium sized still camera DSLR lense, which brings up my only negative which is it was so super small it was almost too small for my big hand.

One other option: if you already have an iPhone, it takes great movies and it works well in low light settings too. it is easy to hold and has a large screen. We used it to take a bunch of movies at a high school play and the video turned out great.

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