Today, the quality of media that can be created using a smartphone is at a level that few would have dreamed possible only a decade or two ago. For most people, there is no longer a perceived need to purchase a dedicated consumer camcorder. Home videos can be recorded, trimmed, edited and subsequently shared with the world via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube using nothing but a smartphone, all while you sit on your sofa or ride the bus to work. What does this mean for the future of dedicated video cameras? Will dedicated cameras survive the cellular apocalypse, or are they already on the brink of extinction? Let’s take a look back at where we have been before we speculate as to where we may be heading.
Cameras and camera technology have changed significantly since the early days of video production. I remember a time when cameras and recorders were separate units. Shooters had to carry cumbersome shoulder-mounted video cameras tethered to VCR-sized record decks. Soon after, we experienced the innovative inception of the camcorder, which incorporated both camera and recorder into a single unit and thereby defined an entirely new category of video production equipment.
At that time consumer and professional equipment were eons apart in terms of lens optics, image quality, camera controls and cost. Since then we have been through the introduction and subsequent obsolescence of numerous videotape formats, spanning hundreds, if not thousands, of camcorder iterations from major camera and technology companies like RCA, Samsung, JVC, Sony, Panasonic, Canon, Red and GoPro. Over the course of time, imaging and lens technology evolved and improved. Standard definition gave way to HD, and analog tape-based recording was ultimately ousted by digital capture on media cards.
As imaging technology improved, the gap between consumer and professional equipment narrowed even more. Throughout this entire evolutionary process, however, one thing remained constant: even as technological advancements changed the way we recorded video and exponentially increased the quality of that video, dedicated video cameras were a mainstay in high-end media production. Capturing the highest quality video has always assumed the use of a dedicated video camera.
Capturing the highest quality video has always assumed the use of a dedicated video camera.
But who would have guessed that the future of these cameras would be threatened by something as innocuous as a cell phone? And yet, here we are. Due to the global ubiquity of smartphones, more people are making more video now than at any other time in history. The numbers are staggering. There are more than 1,300,000,000 YouTube users, and around 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube alone each and every day. Many of these videos were created using phones, not professional cameras. So, does this mean that dedicated video cameras are doomed? I think not. At least not yet.
At the end of the day, the biggest factor in the future of dedicated production cameras may well be a psychological or status-driven one. You could likely get most places you want to go riding on a low-cost Chinese-built motorscooter, but even if everyone in the world had one, there would still be a market for cars, trucks, vans and Harley-Davidsons. Even though no one really needs a sports car or luxury SUV to get from one place to another, there will always be a market for high-end vehicles because people like them. They provide a superior travel experience, and they provide an air of prestige to the owner. In the same way, I believe there will always be a market for dedicated video cameras.
Producing with a full-featured camcorder provides the shooter with a superior experience, provides unmatched controls and image quality and ultimately produces a more appealing image than a smartphone can provide. While consumer camcorders may be on the way to obsolescence, I for one believe there will be continued demand for high-quality dedicated production camcorders for many years to come.