DSLR vs. Prosumer Camcorder?

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    • #48310


      I am a student filmmaker and I am about to purchase a new camera. I am debating between a DLSR (something like the Canon 7d) or a prosumer camcorder (like the Canon XA10.) My budget is around $2,000 or so.

      I already have a digital camera (the Nikon d80, which is decent) so I am leaning towards a camcorder. I feel that since if I am trying to be a filmmaker and not a photographer a DSLR is not the right direction to go. However, a lot of my friends have and recommend them because they are versatile (in terms of lenses and whatnot.)

      Any comments or advice? Is there another brand that I should consider? Do you have any other recommendations for cameras?

      (Just a note as far as my post production goes– I edit on final cut pro 6 and have a 1 TB external hard drive.)

    • #198591

      I think you answered your own question… if your budget is limited, you’re gonna want lighting and sound equipment…. then will you be able to afford lenses for a d-slr?

      if not then there is no point in going that direction.

    • #198592

      Hey thanks for the reply–yea I’d be able to get more lenses but that would have to wait a few months…

      Do you know anything about the XA10? Do you think it’d be the right investment?

    • #198593

      this debate has been done, check the forums search..

      I have no experience with that camera…

    • #198594

      If you’re a film student and want to work in film/television, I think you are better off getting a real video camera first. The HDSLRs lack many controls and inputs that are standard on video cameras. And whether or not HDSLRs are more versatile is based on the type of shoot you are on. They aren’t more versatile in run-n-gun situations. And with new 35mm video cameras becoming more available, HDSLRs are becoming more irrelevant.

      When you get out of school, a legit employer will hire you based on what you can do, not necessarily what equipment you used in school. So you need to focus on HOW to tell a story, HOW to shoot, HOW to light, HOW to edit, HOW to make motion graphics, HOW to encode and compress. Don’t get so caught up on what gear you are using.

    • #198595

       I find myself asking the same question, I have three, three chip Sony camcorders.  Although these are good cameras, I do have problems in low light situations.  I have just started looking into these cameras.  The ability to change lenses seems like a great step forward in low light situations.  Maybe if we throw this question up in the cloud.  “Ha ha” we will all be able to gather some more information.  But on the surface, these smaller cameras with the ability to change lenses, and their ability in low light situations makes them extremely interesting.

    • #198596

       They sell camcorders with interchangeable lenses (almost any DSLR lens if you have the adapter for it) which are designed to bridge the gap between camcorders and DSLR’s.  The problem now is they’re new and pricey.  DSLR’s are good for interview type shooting/fixed camera placement.  I use mine (D5100 which I know is a pain to use for video on account of having to back door the settings to get it out of auto focus) for time lapse and stills to complement my HMC-150 footage, not replace it.

    • #198597

      Controlled shooting environment with the availability for retakes … something in the growing, interchangeable lens, DSLR family. This is, of course, provided you have the budget for additional quality audio acquisition and an assortment of lenses that will enable you to take advantage of the creative potential that comes with interchangeable lenses.

      Virtually ANY other video production environment that calls for being quick on the trigger, from ENG to what Rob said about “run-and-gun” where you have to move quickly and be ready to shoot, or continue shooting for various reasons would benefit from a video camcorder.

      In my case i do a LOT of continuous record event shooting that lasts from one-to-two hours, often without breaks. I have NO use for another lens, nor would I be able to anticipate, drag out another lens and change it mid-performance. I need long record times without stopping/starting due to heat and time restrictions, and I do not want to be any MORE creative than what two camcorders, one shooting wide to medium, the other shooting medium to extreme close up, can give me. A camcorder, PLEASE!

    • #198598

      Actually, DSLR are pretty nice for many things, when you already know the basic and you are in situations where there is not enough light for example. But for learning purpose, I would prefer a camcorder, just for the fact that I would develop more skills to fix that low light situation, instead of relying on my low light capacity.

      At least for me, is not just “what is best”, but “what push me more to be creative”. Later on, you can find out “what is easier” : )

    • #198599

      Hey thanks everyone– this is great. I really appreciate the thoughts and comments. Rob you brought up a great point about just knowing the trade and Earl you brought up a great point about the inconvenience of changing lenses.

      Out of curiosity, does anyone have any other camcorder recommendations?

    • #198600

      Robin, asJoshua stated: They sell camcorders with interchangeable lenses (almost any DSLR lens if you have the adapter for it)which are designed to bridge the gap between camcorders and DSLR’s, Sony’s nex 10 price is in your range. I haven’t any experience withit but you can find lots of input on it. It has a large enough sensor to give the shallow depth of field and you can add an adaptor to use a lot of different lenses. The form factor is similar to a videocam good for run and gun and I don’t think that you will have the overheating issue as a DSLR. You were looking for another suggestion and I thought of this. Good luck with your choice.

    • #198601

      Robin… as somebody else mentioned, you’ll have to find another means for capturing audio if you go with a DSLR.  Big consideration.

      I purchased an XA10 a couple of months ago.  Great pic, relatively easy to use… I had a small issue configuring mic inputs, but I may have just been having a bad day… again.  It’s very small and a little hard to get used to as I was using a Panasonic AG-DVC60 before.  Zoom control is a little touchy.  But, I’m happy with my purchase and the quality of the video.

    • #198602

      Robin: I have both. A dedicated camcorder Sony Z5 and a superb DSLR Canon 5D Mk2 with 8 Zeiss lenses. I have used them extensively for over a year. Both cameras give stunning quality pictures. When it comes to stills, the Canon is world class. When it comes to clear, clean night or low light photography, the Canon wins hands down. When it comes to shallow depth of field, creativity “art” type of shooting, the Canon wins big time and in truth, that is why I got it.

      But when it comes to audio – and remember audio is 50% of the total capture and often overlooked or minimized, the Canon fails miserably. So I had to buy an external Zoom Hn4 recorder – which means you need another person with you to focus in on the audio component. It means you have to turn on and off the camera AND the recorder each time – watch for level controls, etc. It won’t work for a single gal. Not at this stage of the game. And then you have sync the sound in post. The Zoom does give a huge range of audio options and quality and 4 channels – so that is amazing alone and worth the price of admission!! But it IS another job for a dedicated sound guy.

      The Sony Z5 does these things that the Canon cannot do: Delivers stunning pictures with a 20X zoom, the quality and sharpness indistinguishable or better than the Zeiss and the Canon. Maybe the colors aren’t as saturated, but that is always done in post anyway. That Sony has superb built-in mics and another directional mic that is as good as my Sennheiser ME66. The controls of the Sony allow me to do anything my heart desires from run and gun automatic to any form of manual / auto and therefore alllows me to follow focus. The audio is taken care of automatically or manually. It can accept 2 XLR mics, on line inputs, phantom power. I don’t have to change out lenses – the range is from 29-580 – huge! And variable zoom rates which can almost duplicate a slow dolly shot! and 2 zoom rockers and start / stop buttons for low angles. It has a flip out rotational screen – awesome! For ultra wides, I use an adapter.

      It has 3 built in ND’s which are absolutely a MUST (Canon does not). it has something like 100 functions including peaking, color settings, profiles, last frame review, variable rates when color or light changes, 24 and 30p as well as SD and interlacing (dinosaurs these days). And variable lens stability too! And I USE all of them often. Even slo-mo (but you sacrifice pix quality). And it can record for an hour non-stop – then you have to change tapes. It does not overheat. One battery is good for 6 hrs of continuous recording – unheard of in a dslr.

      The only downside is the lack of shallow depth of field at 29-150mm settings and low light with clarity and no noise. But trust me, the Sony is still the king of the 2.

      I love that Canon 5D, but it has become a cash sink-hole to make it work. For instance, when shooing at f 1.4-2.8, the focus is shallow – sometimes razor thin. Following action is almost impossible and takes great skill and practice. The live view is the only way to see the picture and it and it is not nearly good enough for precise focusing with a big lens of 50-180mm range and a moving subject 5-10′ away. You are always switching to 5 and 10X zoom for precision – a pain but necessary. The fully manual Zeiss lenses are world class and trust me, they need exacting precise operations to make them sing – therefore you need help. I got a Hoodman to look up close to the live view which is a great asset, but still cannot equal an external monitor such as the Marshall 5 or 7″ (absolute pre-requisites) and that costs 500-1000. The Canon cannot do a 15 min straight shoot as it gets too hot and shuts down to cool off. I can do it in the winter tho.

      The Canon has moire and a digital look with microscopic vertical and horizontal lines. The Sony’s Exmor chip eliminates that completely.

      The Canon shines when it comes to the creative aspect, but really needs to be properly set up and very carefully used only in the right setting.

      The Sony weighs 6 pounds. The Canon with lenses, audio, gear accessories is 30 lbs or more. Canon investment is around $10k. Sony is $4k and is easier to use by a wide margin. But when it comes to stills, Canon is the king in the world. Hope this gives a really detailed, in depth, understanding of what you are up against.

      Now, having said that, a great DP once said this after looking at the Great Camera Shootout, “Give me a good script, a good cast and a good Director and I can win the world” even with so-so equipment. Schindler’s List is a classic example of exactly that.

    • #198603

      Robin, I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. Interchangeable lenses? Why? It’s like starting out as a young driver and your want your first car to be an Indy racing car. Get a great rated Canon, or any other brand/video camera that others rate high. Use that camera’s zoom feature, or better yet, getyour subject within the framing/astheticreasons. When you’ve reached that peak in ability, projects, getting to know what works and what doesn’t, then you can use your past knowledge and step up to the interchangeable world of videocameras.

      Good luck and enjoy the experiences.

    • #198604

      I’m not going to get too deepinto the DSLR vs camcorder issue here – I own both and both have their place- it really depends on what you want to do with them.

      But I will say this – I ownedthe venerableCanon XL-1 for almost 10 years and never bought a second lens. Weddings, commercials, sports, training videos and more – same lens. So don’t get hung up too much on interchangable lenses. Your camera moves. And I NEVER had to sweat the audio with my XL. There’s nothing like having all your controls at your fingertips and a nice headphone jack to make sure you get the audio you need.

      Secondly, if you do go DSLR to shoot mostlyvideo, consider a Canon t3i (600d) instead of the weather sealed 7d. If you aren’t taking it into the jungle, the t3i will do everything video-wise and more that a 7d can do for way less money. Same APS-C sensor. Same lenses. Awesome flip out viewfinder. An admittedly difficult to use audio meter and manual controls, but at least it has them. It’s also less prone to overheating. Put the money you save into good audio equipment.

      There is no one size fits all camera. Figure out what you are going to do with your camera and let that guide you.

    • #198605

      Hey thanks everyone for all the info. It was extremely helpful. I ended up getting the panasonic AG-HMC80– it’s a perfect size and weight (really stable); it can record in HD or SD; it has a lot of really great manual functions; and the sound is good (I got a shotgun mic as well.)


      I just got it yesterday and I’m really happy with it, though I’m still learning how to use it:)

    • #198606

       Congratulations Robin!   Start investing time with your new equipment, even if it’s just shooting some stock footage for yourself.  Be careful, protect your camcorder and accessories from drops, scrapes, etc.  I would also start experimenting with your shotgun mic in different envronments (indoor/outdoors).  Good luck!

    • #198607

      Great tool, Robin. I like your enthusiasm and initial assessment. I am personally interested in hearing more as you get into the abilities and quality of video with your new camcorder. Please do keep us informed.

    • #204710

      Hey Robin, I found this topic because I am in the same boat as yourself. The info here is very good opinion.


      I plumped for the Nex20 with A adaptor and 4 lenses in total.


      I had also considered the Panasonic that you have purchased, but decided interchange lenses were too good an advantage to miss out on, at the very least,  when the camera is superseeded or worn out, the lenses are for life.


      I have joined the forum because I will have plenty of my own questions too. I am a newbie, although I have done some hard yards recording quite a few live music bands with my $249 JVC, the NEX20 is a huge step up, but something I've been aiming to do for over 2 years now.


      Be interested to see how you get on.



    • #209239

      I'm taking on a video project for a local search and rescue operation that lost 100% of its budget due to Sequester and is looking to up their donation drive for 2014.


      Unfortunately, the already have all the video that a 'professional' already shot.  The bad news is that it was ALL done with HDSLR, and it's almost ALL terrible!  It's shaking so bad I now have to purchase dedicated software to help stabilize it.  Shots are completely out of focus, and it's complete rubbish.  This person was using a $1,500 steadicam that did a worse job than my $4 PVC rig I made myself, and now I have to be left to pick up the pieces.


      Bottom line, if you're going the HDSLR route, be VERY aware that there will be ZERO IS capabilities, steadicams only do so much, and you HAVE to be absolutely perfect with manual focus.  Otherwise it's going to look like garbage… just because a shallow DoF looks really cool, doesn't mean that HDSLR is the route for you. 

      IMHO, go with a real video camera.  As others have said, focus on making a quality finished project, and do what you can to do all the hard work up front.  Trying to salvage crap shots on the computer is MUCH more frustrating and time consuming than simply having the right equipment to begin with.



    • #208392

      David- Excellent response…good comparisons.  Tried to reach you via ur profile website, no luck. How best to contact you via a follow up question regarding the Z-5  ??   thx,



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