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What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.

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Ricardo Torres
What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 3:53:27 am

I'm working on a limited budget.

That said, I have a way of achieving above-average results with very little: sometimes. It's always a crapshoot with the equipment I use.

I've been shooting a lot of average-to-poor-quality video clips for a while. I shoot, I edit, I improve it as much as I can (with, occasionally, interesting results), I add some animation (sometimes) which I draw myself (I'm an artist, among other things, oil on canvas, specializing in portraits and cityscapes), and then I put them on YouTube or on DVD.

I'm forever frustrated with the equipment I have to work with. Specifically: my Canon FS200 camcorder and my wife's old iPhone. As for the sound, I use a bunch of tricks, involving a bunch of microphones, my computer, my electric piano, my non-electric piano, strategic placement, etc, occasionally achieving professional quality. Doesn't matter. The sound is not the issue here. The video quality is.

I film in low-light conditions (a lot; again, I could solve all my problems by spending 3 grand on lighting equipment and be done with it; but that's just out of my league right now). I also film outdoors. A lot.

Things I DON'T need:

1. Wifi connection. I don't know what the big deal is. I don't ever need to send any footage to any of my friends right away, uncut and unedited. Not my style. As for transferring footage to my computer, most cameras come with perfectly functional memory sticks these days.

2. Zoom. I mean, I don't mind having a fancy zoom on the camera. If there is one, I'd prefer to work it manually. I don't trust automatic settings. I've been looking at camcorders a lot lately that are supposed to be top-notch because they can magnify stuff thirty times or fifty times optically, and seventy times electronically. I couldn't care less. When I need more detail, I turn off the camera, get closer, and turn the camera on again.

3. Lenses. I dislike anything beyond the most standard and natural when it comes to filming. Wide angles, when I see them in film, set my teeth on edge. I favor lenses that show you as much as the human eye: no more and no less. Anything else in my opinion is corny. I don't expect anyone to agree with me on this; it's okay. I respect other people's opinions and preferences. But I'm looking to buy a camera for ME, not other people.

So I guess what I really NEED is - as bare bones as possible; with as much manual control as possible; a good standard lens; high quality video recording; reasonable low-light recording quality.

Well, some things change, and others don't. For instance, the larger the lens the better the quality: this hasn't changed in over a century now. Camcorders these days come with lenses smaller than a flea's ass. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter how much technology you pack into the camera: it will only process what the lens can capture; the smaller the lens, the less there is to process, the lower the quality. If this weren't so, tv cameramen would use smaller cameras, and camcorders that cost $3000 and up would have smaller lenses.

So, I guess, one would ask, like, what's your problem, Ricky? Get yourself a used miniDV professional camera with a big lens for about 300 bucks off ebay and enjoy it.

Yes, that's true. Kind of. I'm not sure I like the idea of futzing around with tapes, converting them into computer files (with, needless to say, substantial quality loss), etc. Besides, those used cameras ALWAYS come with defects or drawbacks or no batteries and no charger. Whatever.

So my choice is between a camcorder and a dslr camera. For under 500 bucks. Wherein lies - well, no, a bunch of problems, not just one.

Limited duration of individual video files (that much-bemoaned drawback of dslr cameras) doesn't bother me at all. In my personal opinion, if you have shots longer than 30 seconds in your video, you're going to bore the hell out of your audience anyway. Unless you're a crime reporter. I'm not a crime reporter.

DSLR cameras have larger lenses than camcorders. That's good. Good, good. But. They're still not very good (or so "they" say) at, specifically, capturing video. Something in the speed/shutter/iris area is not quite right yet. Camcorders ("they" say) still do a much better job in this year of God's Grace 2014. My problem number one: I still don't know what "they" mean by that.

Problem number two is that when I look at camcorder prices (Canon, Sony, JVC, etc), I'm annoyed by the fact that they (the prices) increase based on how much disk space the damn thing has and how big the zoom is, and how wonderfully the stupid wifi connection works, and how long your one-take video can be. There is NO difference AT ALL between a 200-dollar camera and a 600-dollar camera in terms of the actual VIDEO QUALITY. They just add a little extra space to the hard drive, which I don't need, and bump up the zoom, which I don't need, and add the wifi which I DON'T NEED AT ALL, and the price shoots up three hundred bucks, and it's STILL a 200-dollar camera. I mean, what gives, people? I mean, I wish I could gauge the quality of a camera by looking at the price tag FIRST. Seriously. I mean, when I'm in a painting store, I know that the difference between the 15-dollar tube of lemon yellow and the 60-dollar tube is that the latter has better flow, more pigment, less filler, and high durability (i.e. it won't fade to babys*t brown tomorrow on you). Why not camcorders too? The difference between 800-dollar studio apartment and 2000-dollar studio apartment is NOT the quality of the faucet knobs. Thunder and lightning. When you buy a million-dollar car, chances are you're NOT looking to save on gas. And so forth.

So, I guess, my question to you beautiful and wonderful people who know this stuff (for which I truly admire you all; I'm NOT kidding; techies are my best friends and help me out always) - what should I buy for 400 or 500? A camcorder? A dslr camera? How much quality improvement can I count on over my wife's old iPhone affixed to my tripod (which, by the way, is really my old painting easel, because that's easier and handier than taping it to the tripod)?

Please help. Any and all answers will be much appreciated.

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Al Bergstein
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 5:36:18 pm
Last Edited By Al Bergstein on Jan 11, 2014 at 5:40:07 pm

Ricardo, I (and I'm sure others) understand your situation. There are a huge amount of "what camera should I buy" Qs and A's archived on this site, and others. And there is no "one" right camera. I have close to a half dozen all for various needs. A great starting point is to review some of those FAQs which should be able to help you narrow your search down. Your budget of less than $500 means used is likely what you will be forced to buy, and that, is a huge market place. If you live near a city, see if you can rent some cameras. Best of luck!


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Ricardo Torres
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 9:13:09 pm

Al, thanks for the reply.

I've looked through the different Q&A, and none of them are really helpful in my situation. For instance, when after about 30 minutes of careful reading I become convinced that a certain camcorder (and not a dslr camera) is my best choice, and look up the recommended item on Amazon and go through the reviews, it suddenly turns out that in low light conditions the image is grainy. And I'm back at square one.

I live in a large city (New York). Renting a camera is not an option here. $100 a day and up.

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Todd Terry
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 9:48:20 pm

This is going to sound like a snarky answer, but honestly it really isn't.

I can fully appreciate your $500 budget, but that is going to be extraordinarily limiting on your choices. A $5K budget, then you'll have lots of choices and lots of thinking to do... but $500, not so much.

I'm not knocking that... a budget's a budget, and sometimes they are high and sometimes low, you do with what you have.

But in a way that makes it easier. One of your struggles is deciding between a DSLR and a "real" video camera. I'm not aware of any legit DSLRs in the sub-$500 realm (certainly not if you are including any glass). If there are, I don't know about them and they would be the lowest-of-the-low-end.

So, that leaves you with video cameras...

Unfortunately you're not really going to be able to dictate the features you want at that price level, it's a bit more of a "I'll take what I can get" situation, so poking around a lot of forums, going through Q&As, and even asking questions might not be of a lot of help. It's going to be up to you to decide if the features you can get in a camera in that price range is workable.

You have to remember the target market... you go on for a bit about Wi-Fi capabilities, and how you don't need them nor want to pay for them. Remember that in your price range you're not only looking at just consumer cameras, but really also the extreme lower-end consumer cameras... the ones most likely to be used by people who just want to shoot and send it somewhere. Ergo, the prevalence of Wi-Fi.

I'd suggest going online to B&H Photo, Best Buy or any other popular vendors, doing a camcorder search, and ranking their relevance from lowest price to highest... then scouring their features to see what works for you. It shouldn't be too hard of a search, since there are likely to be relatively few to choose from in that range.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Al Bergstein
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 10:58:43 pm
Last Edited By Al Bergstein on Jan 11, 2014 at 11:07:29 pm

Todd's right. You are extremely limited with your budget requirements, and I'm not really sure what your requirements are. You say you do animation, low light shooting, etc but those are very different types of filming. You might either save up more money to expand your choices, or talk to folks about the specific type of filming you want to do. For some people, iPhones are actually useful tools.

One of the great learning experiences I've had was to learn to exploit my existing gear limitations to the max. That might mean doing everything you can to learn how to shoot with the iPhone. There are tons of accessories for it. More than for any other camera in that price.

Your FS200 got very good reviews While you are shooting in SD, it has a decent zoom, and a headphone and mic in jack.

Also, there are a lot of used SD cameras around that are *cheap*. Meaning that you can buy better grade SD cameras than you have for likely little money. Just a few years ago some were much more expensive. A quick search of ebay found this.

It's a superb deal on an SD camera that was state of the art a few years ago. I know many people, myself included, that used these. They take excellent video quality, have pretty good low light (none of these will have great low light compared to a DSLR), and this can do just about anything you would want to do with video, other than HD. It uses mini-cassettes which actually store pretty well, better than buying tons of hard disks.

You might want to post the links to your existing videos, so we could at least comment on what kind of camera you might be able to work with. In the HD world, you could likely buy a used 7D for that price, with a standard lens. It's a very good starter camera. Or the t2i or t3i. All good basic cameras with decent video capabilities. Great low light. But lots of limitations, again. If you buy a DSLR you will also need to buy an external mic of some kind.

You are in NYC, go talk to B&H. They are the biggest and best game in the country, and probably have a ton of used gear. They also likely have classes to introduce folks to the choices available.

The other issue is that if you go HD your video editing system might need a significant upgrade. There seems to be no end to the money you can spend.

good luck!


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Ricardo Torres
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 11:33:13 pm

Hey, Todd, thanks for the excellent advice! You're quite correct in pointing out that with my kind of budget, I must settle for the limitations of touristy gear, and just ignore the touristy extras. One thing, though: you mention dslr lenses: I just need one. The one that more or less approximates the human eye (I hope I'm right in thinking that's the "standard" one; if not, please correct me).

Animation: I don't shoot animation, I draw it digitally and incorporate it in the video. Sometimes. A talking dog that accompanies some of my video stories is one type of animation I sometimes resort to.

Since you've asked for sample videos, here's one I made about Paris; it includes animation, outdoor shots, and indoor shots (the quality is occasionally pretty awful, but "the play's the thing":

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Ricardo Torres
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 11, 2014 at 11:35:21 pm

Al: thank you; excellent clues. Yes, indeed, I absolutely must talk to the guys over at B&H. Thanks for the link!

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Bill Bruner
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Jan 12, 2014 at 12:54:11 am
Last Edited By Bill Bruner on Jan 12, 2014 at 12:54:58 am

Hi Ricardo - I've come to this thread late, but you can get a decent camera for around $500 with a larger sensor than a camcorder and much better image quality. If you can stretch your budget by $38.60, you can get a used Panasonic G6 from Amazon Warehouse Deals.

Here is the image quality this camera can produce:

Travel (Paris):


I moderate the G6 group on Vimeo, and you can find more examples of what this camera can do there:

Nothing fancy, just the best image quality you will find in this price range.

Hope this is helpful!

Hybrid Camera Revolution

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David Howard
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Aug 11, 2014 at 7:12:09 am

Maybe you can get a dslr camera second hand online. Best advice I can offer for $500 :) hope this helps.

Redefined Media

Video Production Sydney

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Brent Dunn
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Feb 5, 2014 at 5:42:15 pm

You can buy an old EX 1 for around $1500 or less. Should fit your needs. I stopped reading after two paragraphs.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
Video Marketing

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro
with Final Cut Studio Adobe CS6 Production

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Harry Price
Re: What should I buy? A camcorder? A dslr camera? Some advice, please.
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:45:52 pm

I would recommend the Kodak PlaySport Zx5, which is reviewed and compared on this site. This is a durable, waterproof camcorder that also shoots 1080p HD videos and 5 MP still shots. Another nice feature is that it is lightweight.

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