Action Camera vs Camcorder: Which Is Better?

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As capturing video has become ever easier, you may be wondering which to pick in the choice between Action Camera vs Camcorder.

Even with all the recent bells and whistles featured on the best action cameras, such as being able to connect it to a phone, it may surprise you that they're not too different from camcorders in most ways...

But dig a little deeper, and we start to see some key differences between the two, that may swing your decision one way or the other. Read on, to find out all that you need to know, so you can decide which one will be more appropriate for your needs.

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Action Camera vs Camcorder: Key Differences

As we said in our into, an action camera is a camcorder. But it is a small, very lightweight camcorder. They are wearable, and can be mounted to pretty much anything - bikes, surfboards, pets, helmets, to name but a few. Action cameras are also very often waterproof, and often built to be more durable.

Camcorders have had a lot of their market displaced in recent years, by the ease of video recording offered by smartphones. This is particularly clear at the low-end of the market, where a smartphone camera will do the job almost as well as a cheap camcorder.

But spend a bit more, and a camcorder will often have a larger sensor, leading to a higher quality video. This can be particularly advantageous in low-light conditions. Camcorders still more than hold their own when it comes to professional level output as well.

Let's dig a little deeper into this, and see how action cameras stack up against more 'conventional' camcorders.

action camera vs camcorder
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Credit: Sony

Action Camera vs Camcorder: Price

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Unless you're as rich as Croesus, price is always going to be a factor when you are buying a new piece of equipment.

As far as action cameras are concerned, you can pick one up for less than about $50. This is obviously not going to be all singing and dancing. But, if you want something as cheap as it comes, then an entry-level action camera may fit the bill.

A top-end action camera, such as the GoPro Hero10 Black will set you back closer to $500. But as you'd expect, something like this comes with a wealth of features, such as 2880p (5.3k) video resolution, variable focal length, the ability to pause the video and capture 15.8mp images, and image stabilisation. Factor in some accessories that you may want - a spare battery, an SD card, a mount, a tripod, and the price will continue to climb.

Camcorders are similarly available at under $100 for a basic model. But a 4K ultra HD model with a powerful optical zoom and HDR capture could easily cost you closer to $1000, before adding any accessories. And there are camcorders that will cost well over $1000. If you want something that's "broadcast-quality" expect to pay a lot

So just what are the benefits and drawbacks of each? What might make you choose an action camera over a camcorder or vice versa? Let's take a look.

Read More: How To Use An Action Camera

Action Camera vs Camcorder Pros and Cons

There are plenty of good reasons for either an action camera or a camcorder. We'll run through the key points, to help you decide where your priorities are.

Action Camera Pros

  • Action cameras are small and lightweight.
  • As the name suggests, they are designed for action. So great if you want to use it while you're getting involved.
  • Can be mounted, so you can keep both hands free.
  • Often waterproof (and in fact often designed for underwater use) and built to be durable.
  • A wide-angle lens can be good for capturing all the action.
  • Because an action camera expects to be used while in motion, image stabilisation is usually excellent.
  • A good action camera can offer 4K video (or better).
action camera vs camcorder
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Credit: GoPro

Action Camera Cons

  • Accessories can be bulkier than the action camera itself.
  • Lacks the zoom capabilities of a camcorder.
  • In some situations, the wide-angle lens won't offer the best results. While many action cameras will let you narrow the perspective, they will still be more restricted than a camcorder can offer.
  • Battery life is often limited to a maximum of a few hours.
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Camcorder Pros

  • 4K video quality is increasingly common.
  • Camcorders often have built-in optical zoom, allowing far greater clarity when zooming in on distant objects. These are often as high as 25x. They also have a digital zoom. And while the image won't be as sharp, you are unlikely to find, for example, a 700x digital zoom on an action camera.
  • Handheld, so you can see exactly what your camcorder is picking up.
  • Often come with image stabilisation.
  • Built-in microphones are often omnidirectional, with better audio inputs than an action camera. You can often add specialist microphones as well.
  • Auto-focus is often a feature.
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Camcorder Cons

  • Bigger and bulkier than an action camera.
  • Less robust, and they often aren't waterproof.
  • The screen on your camcorder can eat up battery life.
  • Prices can be much higher than those of an action camera.
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Action Camera vs Camcorder: Which Should You Choose?

When it comes to choosing between these two options, there are arguments for either one. A big factor in your decision will be how you intend to use it. Do you, for example, plan to use it for sports, or a lot of very active pursuits? An action camera will almost always be the right choice for you. The same goes if you want to strap it to your car, or your dog.

action camera vs camcorder
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Credit: Sony

But if you're planning to film something where zoom is going to be a factor, or capturing clear audio is really important, or maybe you will be using broadcast outputs, then a camcorder certainly begins to enter the conversation.

There's also your budget to consider. A top-end action camera will be considerably cheaper than a top of the range camcorder. And while you can get inexpensive camcorders or action cameras, the range in price is considerably smaller for an action camera.

Overall, action cameras and camcorders are both designed to do the same job - record video. They can both deliver extremely high-quality results. An action camera is probably the more versatile of the two, while a camcorder these days may be considered a little more specialised. You'll be able to get good results with either. But think carefully about what you plan on using it for, before making your decision.