Are Modern Camcorders Worth It?

When I worked in camera marketing, one of the toughest sells around the mid-2010s was camcorders. Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars when a DSLR can give you equivalent image quality and, on paper, do more? YouTuber Tom Buck answers that question after a couple of months of using one.

As a self-described "lifelong A/V nerd" and former digital media educator, Buck has a familiarity with the long history of camcorders, starting with making his own home-made videos using tape-to-tape editing back before digital was a thing. While camcorders were the only option then for budding filmmakers, now, there are any number of options, from phones to $200 "handycam" options, to dedicated video cameras costing thousands of dollars, like the $2,800 Sony PXW-Z90V featured in the video above.

While Buck correctly points out that if you're playing in the extremely small-sensor, $200 range that you should just use your smartphone, the answer is a bit more nuanced if you're using a camera with something a little fancier, like the aforementioned Sony. In fact, it looks like Canon's even given up in that category, as my recent check of the handycam category revealed that the Vixia HF series is nowhere to be found. This isn't surprising.

What is surprising is how well the 1-inch sensor performs for video. I've previously trashed this sensor size, though at the end of the previous article, I do tip my hat to a video camera with a 1-inch sensor, the Panasonic AG-UX90. I've had extensive seat time with that camera, and it's proven to be a good application for that sensor size.

Buck fleshes this out by pointing out that at this price point, the 1-inch sensor allows for a pretty decent lens to be attached, permanently, to a camcorder. In the case of the Sony he was using, it works out to an equivalent 29-348mm that goes from f/2.8 to f/4.5. And as a bonus, that lens is parfocal, meaning that it will stay in focus as you zoom in or out, something that most DSLR lenses can't claim.

That said, the benefit to having interchangeable lenses is that you get more options. If you need faster than an f/2.8 lens or wider than 29mm, it's out there. And the speed of modern autofocus on DSLR and mirrorless video options mitigates the downsides of lenses that aren't parfocal. Low-light performance isn't going to be great with a small sensor and (relatively) slower lens.

Other benefits to using a camcorder that Buck points out are that you have a variety of inputs and outputs that can't fit on many mirrorless bodies and that with such small sensors, the cameras never overheat and can keep going all day if needed.

For more about how Buck's several months with a camcorder went and for side-by-side comparisons with his Sony FX3, check out the video above. And if you're a dedicated camcorder fan (or hater), leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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nice vid! I thought it was way cool when I heard an episode of Dr House was recorded on 5D's, but Hollywood hasn't canned their broadcast grade cameras and lenses for still cameras that self identify as cinema camera. The camcorder has its place, especially for extended, no cut takes. After a ½ hour recording, that battery gets warm. The DSLR/milc bodies just haven't yet gotten to the point of efficient heat dispersal. Use the correct tool for the job.

Oh wow, thanks for sharing this! I've read this site for years so seeing this was kind of an awesome moment 🤯

I found the video very engaging! I also teach with these types of cameras (both), and so this is a question I often wrestle with myself.