Are video cameras worth buying?
Learn why you might want a camcorder, even if you already own a smartphone or digital camera.
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Quick facts about video cameras
- Most video cameras record higher quality video and audio than our phones.
- They are also better for filming and much easier to hold and handle for long shoots, as opposed to smartphones which are designed to be, well, phones.
- Prices typically ranges from $250 to $5,000 depending on the brand, the quality and the features.
Who doesn't need a video camera?
Most of you probably don’t need a dedicated video camera. Here’s why:
- You probably already have a smartphone. Many smartphones already allow you to record HD and 4K video. While some people used to need video cameras to capture their children's first footsteps or ballet recitals, most of us use our smartphones now. If you’re happy with the video quality of your phone camera, it’s not worth buying a camcorder.
- Digital cameras also record video. If you have a DSLR, mirrorless camera, compact camera or any digital camera, it will allow you to record video, usually at a higher quality than a smartphone. Many digital cameras even allow you to record HD footage.
- Cost. Video cameras typically range from $250 to $5,000. If you just want to record videos of all the cute positions your cat sleeps in, your smartphone already offers everything you need.
Who should consider a video camera?
If you primarily use your smartphone or digital camera to record videos, you might want to consider upgrading to a camcorder.
- Video quality. Generally, the quality of video recordings is higher in camcorders than in digital cameras and smartphones. Some digital cameras offer HD recording, but they are typically more expensive than HD camcorders and do not usually record high-quality audio.
- Microphone. Most camcorders have significantly better microphones than digital cameras or smartphones. Many camcorders allow you to zoom in on the sources of specific sounds and some offer surround-sound recording.
- Zoom. Even ultra-zoom cameras don’t typically offer the zoom capacity of a camcorder, and many digital cameras don’t allow you to use a zoom lens while recording video. You can find camcorders with up to 60x zoom lenses and unlike digital cameras, camcorder microphones won’t pick up the noise of the zoom lens.
- Internal storage. Like digital cameras, camcorders allow you to record on memory cards. However, many cameras also feature high storage capacity internal hard drives.
- Ease of use. Camcorders are easy to hold for long periods of time while filming. They are usually better at reducing the shakiness of footage than still cameras. Many camcorders also have rotating displays, allowing you to see what you are filming regardless of the angle.
- Action cams. Action cams, such as GoPro’s Hero cameras, can capture sports, outdoor activities and extreme adventures. They are durable and typically mountable, so that you can capture the action hands-free. For more information, check out our guide to action cams.
How to compare video cameras
The best camera for you depends on your budget, what you plan to film and the conditions you'll be filming in. Someone who wants a camcorder on hand to capture every important moment of their toddler's growth will have very different needs than a filmmaker who wants to shoot their latest masterpiece.
Consider the following key features:
When looking for a camera, consider the size, weight and how easy it is for you to use. If you can, try them out in the store to get a hands-on idea of how comfortable the camera is.
An optical zoom uses a moving lens to help get closer to an object, whereas a digital zoom enlarges an image and reduces the image quality. Look for a camera with a high optical zoom range.
Stabilisation helps reduce blur when the camera is moving. Optical image stabilisation (OIS) is the most effective form of stabilisation.
Camera resolution is measured in megapixels (MP). This measurement is not as critical in video cameras as it is with still photography, but if you plan on printing images from your footage or displaying your footage professionally, look for a higher megapixel count.
The ISO camera setting allows you to brighten or darken an image. Higher ISOs will make photos taken in low-light look brighter but they will also make footage look noisier or grainier. Look for a camera with a larger sensor so that you can record at a higher ISO without affecting the video quality.
Look for a camera with a quality built-in microphone. If you get a chance to test out the camera in person, check if the audio recordings are clear and free of excess noise. Some video cameras offer an external microphone jack so that you can attach an additional microphone for the highest audio quality.
If you want to record and store a lot of videos, look for a camera that includes internal storage.
The sensor transforms the light coming into your lens into a digital video or image. The larger the sensor, the better the video and image quality you'll get.
Most camcorders feature LCD screens. If you plan to shoot outside, look for a screen that is bright enough to use in the sun without getting washed out.
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