DSLR Video Camera Versus the Camcorder

3 min

Digital SLR Canon Rebel T3i cameraSo you’re in need of a new video camera to create videos for your company, but the choices seem endless.  Should you go with a DSLR video camera or the traditional camcorder route, should it be a model such as the Canon Rebel T3i, a DSLR, or the Canon XF100, a camcorder?


Ever since 2008 when Nikon came out with their Nikon D90 capable of capturing HD video, the world of video recording has changed significantly.  Traditional camcorders have come under tough competition from their DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cousins.


There are numerous pros and cons to consider when shopping for a camera to solve your video production needs.  I will outline some of the key points to for you to keep in mind.



  •          Visual Impact
  •          Price point
  •          Audio
  •          Viewfinder


Visual Impact

The number one difference that hits you when you first witness video shot on DSLR cameras is the shallow depth of field.  It has a strikingly strong visual impact.  A short DOF is when; if the foreground subject is in focus items in the background, say 10 feet away or less, will be out of focus.  The biggest benefit of this cinematic look is that you are easily able to steer your audience’s attention to exactly where you want it and when you want it.


The magic behind this look that only a DSLR camera can create is the image sensor within the camera.  The sensor size is much larger than that of its camcorder cousin.


A topic of consideration you should be aware of is how much media or footage each camera can capture.  Typically digital SLR’s will be limited to 10 – 15 minutes of video per take.  This will be acquired using SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards to hold the video files.


Camcorders, like the Canon XF100, on the other side of the equation can record many hours of video depending on resolution or compression settings that are used.


Price point

Cost is always a strong consideration.  Many DSLR cameras can be purchased for under $1,000, some for as little as $300. Professional video cameras are many thousands of dollars more.

For example, at the time of this writing a Canon Rebel T3i can be purchased in the U.S. for approximately $600. The Canon XF100 HD professional camcorder sells for approximately $3,000.


It should be kept in mind that additional accessories are necessary for both types of cameras such as a microphone, tripod and lights.  Generally speaking you will need more add-ons with a camcorder as compared to what is necessary with a DSLR camera.



Audio limitations are a real concern with Digital SLR cameras.  These models do not have XLR audio inputs, which is the industry standard for audio connections.  Instead most of these cameras use mini-jack inputs, which are much less reliable.


In addition to using XLR inputs, most camcorders have more than one audio input.  This will allow for recording separate audio tracks.   For example, if you’re recording a two person interview it is best to use 2 microphones and isolate the sound from each subject onto a separate audio track.  This will allow for greater flexibility in post-production.


Another area of audio concern, within the digital SLR camera, is the lack of being able to monitor the sound being recorded.  All camcorders have the ability to monitor incoming sound via a headphone or ear-bud port.



 An area of limitation is the DSLR camera’s viewfinder capabilities.  When shooting in a bright environment a professional camcorders gives you two viewing options; an eyepiece or a LCD screen. The hooded eyepiece allows the videographer a way of shielding out any glare that may be present.


An additional feature of camcorder LCD screens, vs. the digital SLR, is that they have the ability to articulate or spin to various viewing angles.  This is very helpful when shooting either very low or high angle shot.


Canon EOS 60D DSLR cameraHowever, some of the DSLR camera manufacturers are now starting to come out with articulated viewfinders like the Canon EOS 60D, this is still the exception not the rule.


There is also a big difference in viewfinder size. A camcorder such as the Canon XF300 has a 4 inch viewing screen which is 25% larger than the largest DSLR counterpart. The Canon EOS Rebel T3i and the EOS 550D now both have viewfinders of 3 inches in size.  



 At the end of the day here’s my final word on the DSLR video camera versus the camcorder. A digital single lens reflex camera wins on many of the competitive fronts; from a budgetary point, ease of use, and a terrific professional end product.  But if you’re a video professional or someone who is looking to move into that world then a full blown video production camcorder camera would be my recommendation for a long term purchase.  A camcorder simply offers more professional options than a DSLR camera.


However, if you’re someone who sees a need for some video production in your current business, most likely thru your company’s website, then I would strongly recommend that you consider going with a DSLR camera as a way of fulfilling your task of capturing and producing great looking video productions.

You’ve read my thoughts on this topic.  What are yours?  Do you find a shallow depth of field in video production a helpful visual effect or do you think it’s gimmicky?  Leave your comment below.


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Rick Davis


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