When we recently wrote about familiar technology that had become obsolete, it became clear that most of our favourite gadgets could trace their downfall to one thing – the rise of the smartphone.
Today’s smartphones can replace calculators, handheld games consoles, alarm clocks, pocket radios, MP3 players, voice recorders and satnavs. Even sales of compact cameras have fallen by the wayside as the photographic capabilities of phones have got better and better. Is the dedicated video camera about to join them?
Why would you need to buy a dedicated camcorder when you have a perfectly capable video device in your pocket already? Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to buy a new camcorder or sticking with the tools on your trusty smartphone.
Why use video on a smartphone?
Smartphones have Full HD built in
For a long time, a camcorder was still a necessary purchase for those seeking to record full high definition footage. However, most decent smartphones now record video at the same resolution.
The new iPhone 6 records video at 1080p and 60 frames per second (fps), just like some expensive camcorders on the market. This offers remarkably clear and smooth video.
These smartphone cameras can also shoot slow motion video (at up to 240fps), and in many cases, functionality previously reserved for dedicated camcorders.
Easy to share
Most of the latest camcorders do have built-in wi-fi, but smartphones have the advantage of letting you share your clips on apps like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Vine or with friends over email.
In many cases is it also easier to play your videos back on TV using your smartphone with casting technology like Google Chromecast which allows you to display the contents of your smartphone screen on a TV via wi-fi. This avoids the need to hook up a video camera to the TV or take the memory card out of the camera.
Quick and easy editing
It’s also easier to make quick fixes to videos on smartphones. While nowhere near as exhaustive and complex as desktop PC-based editing software, the array of smartphone apps available on iOS and Android will enable you to trim the clip, add visual filters and more, the moment you end the recording.
Your smartphone is always with you
The great thing about using your smartphone to record video is its omnipresence. There’s no need to miss precious moments with the children, impromptu happenings with friends, a delightful sunset and so on.
Having a good smartphone in your back pocket also eradicates the burden of carrying a cumbersome camcorder you throughout your holiday or weekend away. However, the trade-off is potentially lower-quality footage.
Why choose a camcorder?
Superior quality footage
Pixels aren’t everything. Just because a smartphone can shoot at the same resolution as a dedicated camcorder, the end product won’t necessarily be of the same quality.
Lens and sensor technology has been miniaturised exceptionally well for smartphones, but it far remains superior in dedicated full-size camcorders. The camcorder is also likely to have a better built-in microphone, meaning any audio you record will be crisper and clearer.
Most camcorders also have a dedicated viewfinder, which give the videographer a greater perspective on what’s within the frame, rather than looking at a representation of the final image through a smartphone screen.
Many camcorders come with the next generation 4K Ultra HD video technology, although a few smartphones, like the LG G3, also offer the ability to shoot at the new higher resolution.
While you can zoom in while recording on most modern smartphones, pinching the screen in and out while trying to hold the phone steady can be awkward and will result in shaky footage.
With one or two exceptions (namely the iPhone 6 Plus and Lumia 1020) smartphones also use the inferior digital zoom technology, which results in diminished, pixelated video quality when zooming in on subjects. Dedicated, camcorders offer superior optical zoom technology, which maintains the same clarity by using a physical zoom lens rather than relying on technology.
There are very limited shooting options with most smartphone cameras. With most of them, you can maybe adjust the focus and gain limited control over lighting through primitive exposure tools.
However, with a camcorder you have ultimate control over visual settings. Depending on your model, you’ll have advanced manual focus tools to play with, plus a superior autofocus tool and advanced image stabilisation technology.
In terms of lighting, you’ll be able to set a white balance correctly, which means the camera identifies a colour as white and reproduces all other colours accurately depending on that reading. There are also proper exposure and aperture settings to ensure you achieve high-quality video in bright sunlight or twilight.
It’s great having all of your clips on the phone, able to show to friends and family in a few taps. However, if you’re shooting lots of high definition footage on your smartphone, you’re going to fill up your available storage space very quickly.
For example, shooting a single minute of HD footage on an iPhone takes up 60MB of space. That’s about the size of an entire music album or about 20 photos. With apps, music, photos and more vying for space on your phone, you can ill afford to store hours of video footage.
Verdict: Is it still worth buying a camcorder?
As you can see there are plenty of pros and cons when it comes to relying on a smartphone to shoot video. In the end, the argument comes down to quality or convenience.
With a careful hand, attention to correct composition, lighting and making the most of the built-in focus and exposure tools on offer, it is possible to create processional-looking video using a smartphone camera. Indeed, entire short films have been made using smartphones.
However, if you’re truly serious about creating high quality video, a dedicated camcorder is as essential as a Digital SLR to a photographer. The lens and sensor technology is far greater, while the ability to control the quality of the footage in lighting conditions keeps camcorders still streets ahead of mobile phones.
If shooting the highest quality video possible is secondary to shooting and sharing instantly, then you’ll be able to get by without a dedicated camcorder. The options for quickly editing and sharing the video are virtually unlimited and as long as you have decent light, you won’t notice too much of a drop-off in quality.
If you want the best of both worlds, then a dedicated camcorder is still a necessary purchase, even if you find yourself using it less often than you might have done in a previous technological era.
Do you use a camcorder or do you use your phone? Let us know in the Comments below.