Professional camcorders give you a lot more creative control than basic or prosumer camcorders. Most will let you plug in pro XLR microphones and use dials and buttons rather than menus. This lets you work faster once you’re used to the camera. This page features cameras with fixed, zoom lenses: you could also consider pro camcorders with interchangeable lenses.
Most professional cameras have fairly large sensors for better low light performance. Key features are the ability to record at a high ‘bit rate’ and to record more colour information. These mean that the footage is easier to adjust when you edit, and may meet broadcast quality standards (see below).
The Canon XC10 is the best value camera for starting with events, news and documentary. It has a fairly large one inch sensor and can record broadcast-quality HD, 4K at 305Mb/s, and 12MP stills. It has very good image stabilisation so it’s easy to handhold, it’s good in low light, and it’s fairly compact: it looks more like an SLR than a professional video camera. The controls are a little bit fiddly – it relies a lot on the touchscreen – but that’s partly down to its small size.
Its more expensive replacement, the XC15, comes with an XLR adapter included.
The Sony PXW-X70 is a more traditional alternative. It has a detachable top handle, XLR inputs and an SDI output. Like the XC10 it has a 1″ sensor and shoots broadcast quality HD. It’s ‘4K ready’ but shooting 4K requires an expensive upgrade and the bit rate is a fairly low 100Mb/second.
What is ‘broadcast quality’?
There’s no single definition, but many broadcasters want HD footage shot at a bit rate of at least 50Mb/s, with 4:2:2 chroma subsampling (that’s twice as much colour information as the 4:2:0 you get with many camcorders and SLRs). They also specify a minimum sensor size: 1 inch for a single chip, or 1/2 inch for three-chip cameras.
- Good image and sound quality
- Lots of creative control
- Quick to use once you know what you’re doing
- Can be big
- Fairly expensive
- Take time to learn
- Images may not be as pleasing or ‘film-like’ as those from cheaper SLRs or mirrorless cameras
- News, documentaries, and events such as weddings where you need to be able to set up and make adjustments quickly