It’s a big decision; you’re just starting out or you’re working on a low budget and you have to pick the right camera. 99% of us just don’t have the money to buy absolutely everything we want in terms of gear so we have to be very careful about our choices. Having worked with both I feel like I may be able to shed some light on the matter.

Say you are new to video making; the various functions of a camera can be absolutely terrifying. I remember first learning about the Panasonic AG-HMC 151 in my very first year of university. I’d never seen anything like it and I never thought I could have learned how to use the thing properly. Then I was introduced to the auto functions. Now, as a rule, I try to avoid these, but for a beginner they can be absolutely essential. Things like auto focus and auto exposure can ease you into camera use until you’re ready to properly explore all the functions. With so much to worry about outside of the camera, sometimes it may seem like the only option.

This is what is great about a camcorder; the ease of use and it’s not just for beginners either. Say you’re in a situation where you need audio, visual and quick focusing capabilities in one neat package, what are you going to use? Chances are a camcorder is a good bet. For these ‘Run and Gun’ situations camcorders are likely to give you very good results especially considering many have features such as built in zoom, ND filters and image stabiliser.

I’ve made these cameras sound great, and they are, but if these cameras are an all-in-one powerhouse for filming then why on earth would you use anything else? DSLR’s now look like untameable beasts in comparison to the camcorder, and in a way they are, but what you need to consider is that there are many positive aspects to DSLR use.

5D3If the camcorder excels in the ‘Run and Gun’ field, then the DSLR truly excels in the cinematic side of film and video making. Say you want to make a promotional video or a music video. You have the time to plan, in fact it’s pretty much a must. You know how to light the scenes, you know where you want your camera, you have everything you can possibly need, so those automatic features we talked about earlier almost become redundant. If you’re not pushed for time then you can take advantage of the many amazing features that come with most DSLR’s.

For starters let’s talk about lenses. If you’ve only used camcorders then you might not have so much experience with them, I know I hadn’t, but let me tell you about some of the advantages to using them.  With a DSLR you can utilise the many lenses that are available. Take, for instance, the Canon 70-200mm f2.8, a wonderful lens with a fantastic focal range. You may not have quite the zoom range that you would get with a camcorder, but what you are getting is an incredibly fast, sharp and useful lens that you can use in many situations. Not only this, but there are simply loads of lenses available for each DSLR. Take mine, the Canon 5D Mark III. According to Snapsort there are 156 different lenses available to me as a 5D user. What a huge range of lenses, each with their own properties, each appropriate to different circumstances.Canon 70-200

Next let’s talk about low light. Everyone knows that light is always going to be in abundance. Let’s say you’re looking to make a wedding video. You’re in a church, there’s barely any light and you don’t have a lens that drops down quite as far as 2.8, does that mean you can’t film? Not at all! The last wedding video I filmed the circumstances were exactly the same and yet I was still able to make a wedding film that I was proud of. I was able to take advantage of the fantastic low-light capabilities of my camera. Without going into a vast amount of detail, a lot of these cameras have a larger sensor which means that you are more likely to be able to take advantage of the light that’s available to you. This coupled with ISO settings means that you are more likely to get a properly exposed image. Obviously you won’t want to push things too much, however there are some things you can do, but that’s for another blog post.

The last thing I want to say about DSLR’s is that they are much better at getting a shallow depth of field. When you watch a film and the background is blurred and out of focus, that’s shallow depth of field. One way to make your videos stand out is to start working with a shallow depth of field. Say you’re working with a 5D Mark III like myself. You have a full frame sensor and so your image will not be cropped. This means you will need a longer focal length lens to get as close to the subject as you need to be. The longer the focal length needed, the shallower the depth of field.

A final point is that you have to think about what you do most. If you can only buy one camera, and you mostly make for example wedding videos or interview videos, then there is likely to be a camera that is best suited to you. Don’t write off either type of camera, and do as much research as you possibly can into any camera you’re looking to buy!

3 Comments

  • You make a good argument for both and I agree that DSLR cameras are great in some aspects but, as a film-maker, I would never use one. I can’t take them seriously and from my experience many others don’t either. I’ll stick with my big, cumbersome cameras for now. I’m happy for any one to go down that road – DSLR’s – but for me I just can’t get my head around using a pissy little gadget to film with. They just look so ridiculous as video cameras. I was on a shoot recently and there was myself and a group of film makers from ORCA. They had a Canon 5D with all the bells and whistles but they were constantly asking people to move out of the way of their camera, as they were filming a whale. People were constantly apologising to them after admitting they didn’t know they were filming continuos video. I had about twenty-five people stop, walk back and around me so that they didn’t get in the way of me shooting. One woman walked past the ORCA guys, then as she walked past me she said to her husband, “now that’s a real camera!” All I’m saying is I can’t take them seriously, but nor can a lot of people it would seem.

  • Damien,

    I see comments like that every now and then. But isn’t it the result that matters? Someone could turn up with the biggest professionally looking camera in the world but it doesn’t make them a good filmmaker.

    DSLRs, more so mirror less cameras, are cheap alternatives that give amazing results. Like any tool be sparing (especially on bokeh) but they can be almost as run and gun as a camcorder, but also still cinematic if needed in the right hands.

  • Damian; I agree that when using a DSLR people often mistake it for a photo camera which can be frustrating — I think people tend to be a bit more respectful of a big camcorder whereas with a DSLR you’re more likely to get people walking in front of your shots. But I have to agree with marcreinard I don’t think cameras should be written off for the body that there in. I feel there are both good camcorders and DSLR’s but DSLR’s and mirror less cameras like the 5D Mark III, GH4, A7Z and the 1DC outperform your typical camcorder and much more versatile. If you’re talking about more cinematic camcorders (C300, FS700) then I agree that they’re of a much higher quality but they also cost much more and for a small operation it can be more beneficial to have 2 DSLRS for a 2 camera set up than 1 great camcorder and creates a lot more opportunities for work.

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