Which type of video camera should I buy? Which video camera type is best for me? Here are a few questions we’ve been receiving lately as we continue to cover the entire realm of video cameras, so today we’ve decided to write-up a descriptive informational guide to help you better understand that many video camera categories out there in the market today. First, you’ll have to decide your intended application and use may be. If you’re unaware of this yet, you can always grab a few of our recommended versatile cameras instead.
Picking the best type of video camera
As we learned in our video camera buying guide, these things come in different shapes, sizes, uses, colors, personalities and more. The question of “what’s best for me?” is going to have to be set aside for now, however we want to guide you in the clearest direction possible.
When first deciding on what type of video camera is necessary for you, let’s think of your use and application. What kind of videos are you planning on shooting? Skits, short movies, full-length films, vlogs, interviews, activities (both indoors and outdoors), travel, family videos, etc.? The “kind of videos” factor will also appear quite broad, considering the fact that many will use their video camera for more than one application as well. Others aren’t too sure of what they want to do exactly, but need a video camera to first get going. Regardless, the main popular types we explain below luckily guide us through many applications with versatility. We’ll also highlight which cameras are preferred for certain uses. The only set backs we would keep in mind are your needed size, lighting conditions, if you’ll be traveling frequently, as well as any weather concerns you’ll have.
Next up, the amount of money you’re able to spend on your video camera will certainly steer you in a particular direction as well. DSLR cameras and mirrorless models will start to hit at the $500 range, while other, less fancy video camera types such as point-and-shoot and camcorders can go below this if you need something more budget-friendly. We do recommend not letting this completely deter you to a type of camera however, and recommended starting to save up and being a little more patient if you have to. It’ll be worth the wait.
Lastly, you want to keep in mind what other gear you’ll need alongside your video camera. We’re talking tripods, camera straps, bags, cases, software, lenses, external microphones or lighting systems, and more. This is not only important for your budget, but you application as well. For example, if you plan on being in darker conditions, we recommend some extra lighting regardless of what camera type you decide. If you do want to film some underwater activities, an action camera or waterproof point-and-shoot is your best bet. DSLRs or mirrorless on the other shouldn’t go near water.
The list of different video camera types
It’s rare to go anywhere in this world and not have some type of smart phone attached to your hip, making it easy to stay up to date on phone calls, messages, and, in the world of social media, documenting your life in pictures. But have you ever looked enviously at another person’s portfolio, YouTube or social media accounts and thought to yourself, “What filters or effects did they use to get their photos and videos to be that vibrant?” Well, the honest answer is no amount of filter shopping on your phone is going to give you the same enhanced look as those images because, more than likely, they are using a DSLR video camera. Many may perceive this as a digital camera, and although technically true, are one of the most popular video camera types in the world today as well. The video quality can stem from the standard (do not go lower than this!) 1080p in multiple fps choices (typically 15, 30 or 60), all the way to a whopping 4K video resolution depending on the model you grab (it’ll come with a cost, of course).
So how do DSLR cameras work? For one, it stands for digital single-lens reflex camera, and rather than using the old-fashioned ways of film for photos and videos (using photographic film), instead relies on an advanced digital image sensor and mirror technology to capture its subject. In the “reflex” design these video cameras have, light will first travel through the lens, on to the mirror which then deflects that light back to the viewfinder and image sensor. The large image sensor (which is what differs in expensive to cheaper DSLRs) then processes this information being sent to record it properly. A big advantage is actually having an image sensor in the camera to process this information for better quality as well as control over what your video clip looks like, almost like a “brain” if you will. Your video clips and photography are then stored on an external memory card that can be either uploaded later on to a computer or sent to the internet using WiFi (most have WiFi built-in for this). Pair all of this up with the fact that these video cameras have interchangeable lenses to give you even more customization of your clips creates the near-perfect solution.
As my sister the photographer once explained to me in one of our never-ending technology debates, the optical viewfinder on a DSLR video camera is another big plus because it gives you a precise example of the image or video that you will see when you begin to shoot or record. That is because it uses only one lens, so once the image is focused through the lens, the light is transferred to a mirror that then reflects what the image or video will look like once it is captured. A bonus feature if you’re using your DSLR for photography as well is that these cameras will autofocus on the subject by holding down the shooting button only halfway, and a high-speed shutter lets you take continuous pictures to capture various movements.
A few cons of DSLR cameras may include not only the price of the body of the camera itself, but also the cost of the lenses (some are even more expensive than the body). They are also rather large in size, at least compared to other video camera solutions out there (many videographers will use a strap to rest it on their neck, and you can only film videos with holding the camera in both hands unless you have a tripod for stationary filming — this may be tough for keeping it sturdy if you shoot this way). Lastly, the expansiveness of features being confusing to some (especially beginners), especially when it comes to lighting settings and what not. This in our opinion won’t matter if you’re OK with a learning curve, which may even help you in the future as you become a more advanced camera enthusiast. The sound also isn’t very high quality and we wouldn’t recommend finalizing your video clips with the internal microphone. However, there are accessories you can always buy to counter this, such as high-quality external microphones.
The pros however of DSLRs for video would be argued to outweigh the possible cons, although will ultimately depend on what you’re looking for exactly. For one, the quality of videos and photos that you can get from a these are truly incomparable to what you capture with just your smart phone or other cheaper camera types in the market. Yes, they are on the higher end of the pricing scale and they definitely take some time in learning how to work them properly, but if you’re looking for vibrancy in your images a DSLR video camera is one of the best video cameras in this category. Lastly, the “what about my intended application?” question is nearly taken out of the factors list when it comes to these. They’re extremely versatile, and aside from a handful of exceptions (like needing a smaller size or something cheaper), you can use a DSLR video camera for anything, really — whether it’s weddings, sports, vlogging, and more, there are no boundaries to this type aside from extreme weather conditions or size constraints.
Part of the appeal in only using your smart phone for your videos and photos is the compact size and ease in its portability, isn’t it? As someone who loves to travel, I want everything I need for my daily activities to be small and light, so I’m not carrying around anything that could slow me down or hinder my movement. In that respect, a video camera that fits this type and category is the mirrorless video camera. They aren’t the lightest or smallest of the bunch don’t get us wrong, but at least compared to a DSLR camera, these are a better solution for that and a few other reasons.
Unlike the DSLR, a mirrorless video camera is both lighter and thinner because it doesn’t have the added component of the length of a mirror to reflect the image (hence the name). Without the addition of a mirror, the image sensor picks up on the light directly through the lens to show the user the subject on a screen built into the camera (many times a touchscreen). While this does make it difficult in situations where the light is questionable, these cameras come with autofocus and image stabilization to help deliver clarity to videos and photos alike. High speed shutter also helps you capture more frames per second (fps) because these types of cameras use electronic shutters because they are able to detect and see light quicker than a camera with a mirror, which requires the reflection of the light before seeing the image in its entirety. A big plus is the fact that it’s both smaller and lighter than DSLRs but still doesn’t sacrifice image quality since the sensor is more advanced.
Overall, if you are just starting out in the world of videography and photography, a mirrorless camera is designed to be user-friendly, making it easier to use for those who are just starting out. Additionally, there are so many varieties and types of mirrorless cameras available that it is easy to find one within a reasonable price range without feeling like you’re breaking the bank. In terms of cons, they definitely are a bit more expensive than DSLR cameras; however, their advanced internal build and overall quality justify that few extra bucks you’ll have to spend. The viewfinder is also on-screen, which doesn’t give you a direct vision of what’s in front of you, but instead an already-processed image that may be difficult to see at times (especially low-light) since it needs time to load the preview on the screen, causing some lag.
Aside from the smaller and lighter size as well as the higher quality feeling of videos, the main reason we’d recommend a mirrorless camera for videos however is the autofocus system. If you’re planning on filming videos of fast-moving objects and want to make sure your object, individual or scene is going to be filmed correctly, we’d trust the AF system in a mirrorless camera over a DSLR by far (mirrorless cameras use something called phase detection, a more advanced and faster means of focusing on objects in front of us, which DSLRs do not, so they’re much slower). What’s even better is the fact that mirrorless cameras also have interchangeable lenses, making them rival and give the DSLR a run for its money as the most popular type of video camera in the market today (not completely yet, at least). These are also extremely versatile when to comes to overall use and application, barring weather, difficult lighting (you can always buy an external lighting system to film) or certain times when the size may hinder your filming. If you can afford one, you can’t go wrong with a mirrorless video camera.
Mirrorless video cameras weren’t small enough for you? Here’s an even more compact solution for those who need a sleek and versatile video camera. Also, while the saying “newer is always better” seems to be overly prevalent in today’s society, there are some days where some of us just miss the simplicity of basic technology (manually rewinding my VHS tape, the bulky feel of my walkman in my hand, my black and white Gameboy). That being said, if you happen to be like us and sometimes value simplicity over high-tech features, perhaps you should consider returning to the world of the point-and-shoot video camera.
Point-and-shoot video cameras are exactly how the name sounds in that you point the camera, capture a picture or a video, and then go back later to see what your image looks like. The most basic of these types of cameras include the age-old classic disposable camera (the ones your parents would give you to placate your “I want to be a photographer dreams” without actually giving you something of value). On the other hand, digital video cameras of this nature do come with an LCD viewfinder similar to what is included with a mirrorless camera, leaving us with an already-processed and non-optical view of what we’re filming. The difference with this type of video camera, however, and the ones previously mentioned is that the image has to be diverted through two different lenses (an image sensor and then another lens that displays on the viewfinder). Essentially what that means is that yes, you are seeing what your picture or video will encapsulate, but it may not necessarily look the same once it is developed.
In terms of pluses of grabbing a point-and-shoot, for one they’re a lot cheaper in price as compared to both DSLR and mirrorless video cameras. That’s not to say that these cameras are so basic that they won’t still produce quality photos. Advancements in technology has given these types of cameras the capability to have necessary features for many videographers out there, such as a zooming lens, red-eye reduction, auto-focus (not quite a mirrorless quality of course), manual changing of exposures, and a live preview of the image or visual. They’re also lightweight, ideal for travel, and simple to use. The point-and-shoot is a camera type that has consistently remained on the market, which proves its simplicity has given it a lasting sustainability.
No, there is not an advanced mechanism and system inside of these that rivals the DSLR or mirrorless, with image sensors and interchangeable lenses. Although they have a lot smaller image sensors, this can offer more zoom than others (some even with 30x in the lens). On the contrary, the smaller lens gives us limited aperture (gathering light for darker settings). However, the biggest pro here and what we’re trying to get at is the fact that these small devices can film 1080p or even 4K video resolution. The small size however is what really attracts us to these and is the main reason we’d recommend buying one for your videos. The prices are also way cheaper than mirrorless, DSLRs or even action cameras (listed next), so if you’re in the mood for something without fancy bells-and-whistles and don’t plan on going pro with your photography, these are a perfect solution as the best video camera type for you.
Adrenaline junkie is the last word I would ever use to describe myself, but one of my guilty pleasures is watching those videos of daring people jumping out of the planes and soaring through the sky. I love to see their view of the world from up in the clouds and feeling like I’m right there with them in descent, when in reality my feet are planted firmly on the ground where I intend to remain. Still, the great thing about these types of videos is that you truly can feel like you are right there with that fearless person, taking on a new adventure and flying into the unknown. To that end, it is with the help of the sports and action video cameras that my cautious soul can live vicariously through the rebels of the world.
The sports and action video camera is designed to capture outdoor activity in its entirety, particularly those of the extreme inclination. These cameras are portable in a handheld unique way, and lend themselves to being conveniently strapped onto helmets or other physical objects to record through the moment with the person shooting the footage. Additionally, the image stabilization included in these cameras help to maintain clarity even in the most uneven of activities, making it easy to relive the action. As the photo shows a GoPro, they’ve dominated the point-of-view (they call also call them POV cameras at times, since many have a fish-eye lens to capture more of a spherical view of the world around the filmer), many other brands are becoming to come with amazing models of action cameras, such as Sony and Garmin. As stated previously, most of these come with various harnesses, mounts and attachments (many brands sell combo packs or give you some with the camera itself), so customizing the way you film will be easy depending on your intended activity.
A con many would claim about action cameras is their audio, although continuing to improve each year, is still not feasible for many (you can always record using a portable audio recorder and syncing up the sounds in post-production to combat this), so we’d recommend attaining your audio elsewhere or keeping your expectations low when it comes to relying on an action camera’s internal microphone. The viewfinder here is also non-existent, however many action cameras nowadays have an app that allows you to sync your smart phone or smart device with the camera itself, having an emulation of an LCD viewfinder at the palm of your hands. Just keep in mind this could cause some lag and delay in being able to see real-time. Again, this is probably more of a concern for those who are creating some skits and semi-pro movies. Otherwise, if you’re only filming yourself in action (especially in an extreme sport or activity as many do with an action and sports cam), it won’t be of concern, especially if it’s mounted or attached to you or your gear.
Extreme sports vary in all types of natural surroundings, so these cameras are built for rugged terrain. When thinking of an action video camera, you have to keep in mind what sport or action you will be documenting to help align your purpose and your purchase. For example, an action camera that is waterproof is essential for those who are planning to relive their adventures scuba diving, surfing, or snowboarding, while weather and dust proof would work well for activities like hiking or mountain biking. Either way, if you are of the adventurous mindset, an action camera remains the best video camera in its category. We even know many who grab one of these to pair alongside their other, more traditional video camera as a just-in-case measure, or if they feel like combining both types of clips into their videos, films, skits and more to switch it up.
Finally, a video camera that actually looks like an image we’ve all come to associate with the literal world “video camera” in the past few decades. My family loves home videos. In fact, you could say we find them fascinating. Being able to go back into the past and actually see what you looked like, what you sounded like, and what awful outfit Mom had put you in is both a hilarious and comforting past time. However, our home videos feel like they’re from the age of the dinosaurs, when the video camera was larger than life and the images are grainy and discolored. It wasn’t until my mother got a digital camcorder when I was in high school that we finally figured out what watching a home video in clarity was truly like, and after that it’s hard to go back.
If you are like my mother, chances are that when you plan on recording a video for a longer period of time, you plan on watching it back for years to come. That is the case where a type of video camera such as the digital video camcorder becomes necessary. Even if you aren’t a mother, another reason a digital camcorder may be appealing to you as the preferred video camera type is price, versatility (being able to hold it sturdy with one hand using that strap), and flexibility. We wouldn’t recommend this type for semi-pro or professional videographers or filmmakers, especially if you plan on growing in this regard throughout the years. The overall quality of the internal builds don’t come close the more-advanced DSLR, mirrorless or even point-and-shoots out there (it’s not that they don’t work well, they’re just not up to par with these types of video cameras, especially as the other categories we’ve listed thus far are becoming more affordable as time continues on). However, if you’re geared towards family oriented applications, traveling with friends, going to festivals, day trips to the beach, and smaller, non-professional uses, this may be the perfect fit. We want to make sure you know that just because they’re looking “outdated” nowadays, does not mean they aren’t in production anymore or can’t compete with a lot of the other heavy-hitters out there when it comes to actual video clip quality or extra features.
The other positives to having a digital camcorder are easy to define, from the fact that they can record to multiple platforms (hard drives, flash drives, DVDs) to the high-definition quality recording that has become standard in most camcorders today (many go up to 4K!). The tilting and rotating LCD screen is also a big plus, giving you a bit more wiggle-room when it comes to viewing what’s in front of you (or what you’re in front of — just tilt it 180 degrees). Playback has even become simplistic by being able to connect your video recorder directly to the TV through various cables to instantly watch your videos on a larger screen. In addition, updated camcorders also have the ability to capture still images, and while they might not be as high-resolution as a camera designed simply for photographs, it still creates a two-for-the-price-of-one opportunity, taking the guesswork over having to choose between a live or still image. Plus, if you want to take it a step further, you can personally edit your recordings on your computer by connecting the camcorder through a USB cable or even through a flash drive, giving the user the opportunity to add their own personal flair and cut down their footage to what really matters.
When we say “professional-grade camera“, we’ll agree with many that this is a bit too broad to really classify as a ‘video camera type’. However, we wanted to include this in here to give you an option in case you weren’t like most readers out there we’ve spoken to — somebody who does this for a living, or at least a filmmaker or videographer who is career-serious about their videos, art and hobby. You know those individuals you see on the sidelines at sports games, broadcasts, and video studios with those over-sized cameras (that look like camcorders times 10)? That’s what we mean when it comes to this “type”.
The advantage here of course directs us to merely better quality video (and audio, since many have XLR inputs to insert actual studio microphones as well). The larger size helps you attain this professional video-quality because it can fit bigger, and better, internal mechanisms to increase every aspect of the ways video clips are captured, processed and managed. We’re talking huge image sensors, processors, lenses, bigger ISO and aperture range, and more. What’s even better is that many of these can capture high quality recording formats, such as AVCHD, MP4, and even “raw”, uncompressed video clips, allowing us for more versatility when it comes to post-production in our video editing software. You also have a lot more control when it comes to the video itself, such as manual focus instead of relying on an autofocus system.
The standout con here is of course the price. As you can see by browsing the net even for a minutes, some of these can cost multiple thousands of dollars. There are definitely some budget-friendly, yet still “professional” video cameras out there for perhaps a grand or a little less, but those will not come with the advanced, pro-filmmaker features that many look for when they’re even near this type of camera. Don’t get us wrong — even if you’re not a pro but you have the cash and want to invest in your future, please our guest and go this route if you’re serious about what you’re doing. We don’t want to count out any of our readers. However, for many, the features in professional video cameras that justify the price will ultimately just be of no use to you. You’re better off going the DSLR or Mirrorless route, considering many pro YouTubers out there even use the types.