Traditional camcorders in the era of mirrorless/HDSLR cams

Ahead are examples from Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony, both applause and criticism.

Mirrorless and HDSLR cameras get most of the press attention nowadays. However, there are still many content producers who prefer the traditional camcorder with permanent parfocal zoom lens. (Parfocal means that the lens maintains focus when zooming, unlike many varifocal lenses designed for still photography.) Let’s review some of the traditional camcorder’s unique advantages compared with the mirrorless or HDSLR variety of cameras. This article mentions traditional camcorders from Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony.

Unique advantages of a traditional camcorder with a permanent, parfocal zoom lens

  • No extra cost for a lens, since one comes already mounted.
  • No wasting time changing lenses.

  • Balanced XLR audio inputs come standard in most professional traditional camcorder models (see my Balanced audio: benefits and varieties, illustrated above). Most mirrorless and DSLR cameras require purchasing a separate module for balanced XLR inputs, or the use of an external audio recorder.
  • Built-in ND filter(s) come built-in with many models of traditional camcorders, so you don’t have to carry them around and waste time putting them on or changing them.

  • Wireless timecode from your smartphone to multi-sync multiple camcorders in some models (shown above), like the Sony PXW-Z90 (B&H), PXW-NX80 (B&H), and even (per Chase Kubasiak) with the consumer little sister, the FDR-AX700 (AmazonB&H). Synced timecode among camcorders greatly facilitates editing from multiple angles, especially when some camcorders pause at different times than others during the same event.

  • Wired timecode to multi-sync between camcorders with some models, like the Panasonic AG-DVX200 (shown above, AmazonB&H), AG-UX180 (AmazonB&H) and AG-UX90 (sadly a segregated model at present, AmazonB&H, see details ahead). As explained above, synced timecode among camcorders greatly facilitates editing from multiple angles, especially when some camcorders pause at different times than others during the same event.
  • Multiple direct-access buttons to many functions, user-programmable in many models. Many run-and-gun shooters can’t waste time going into menus, and demand instant access.
  • Infrared mode (aka NightShot) in many models for shooting in total darkness at a relatively short distance.
  • Unlimited recording time (other than your storage and power), i.e. there is no 29-minute time limit per clip, a hinderance shared many mirrorless camera, with a few exceptions like the Panasonic Lumix GH5 (AmazonB&H) and Panasonic Lumix GH5S (AmazonB&H).

Applause and scolding of camera manufacturers

I am grateful that all models mentioned above are worldcam, save a single exception: the Panasonic AG-UX90 which at present is —disgracefully— a segregated model, restricted to 23.976 (aka 23.98), 29.97 and 59.94 rates in the segregated 59.94 Hz model, and 25 and 50 rates in the segregated 50 Hz model. C’mon Panasonic. Offer a firmware upgrade to worldcam for your AG-UX90 model.

See my Why we should only use worldcams, illustrated above.

Now we’re on that topic, Canon should offer a firmware upgrade to worldcam for your XF405 (AmazonB&H), XF400 (AmazonB&H), GX10 (AmazonB&H) models.

Canon and Panasonic are to be applauded for expressing non-integer framerates to two decimal places in all models mentioned above.

Even though their cameras are generally good, both JVC and Sony should be embarrassed that they continue to misinform users by rounding non-integer framerates to the closest integer in menus in these models, causing confusion and havoc in the production community:

JVC, please offer a free firmware upgrade for the GY-HM170 (AmazonB&H), GY-HM200 (AmazonB&H) and GY-LS300 (AmazonB&H) to display non-integer framerates to at least two decimals in menus, and thank you for making all of these worldcam (except in SD)!

Sony, please offer a free firmware upgrade for the Sony PXW-Z90 (B&H) and PXW-NX80 (B&H), and FDR-AX700 (AmazonB&H) to display non-integer framerates to at least two decimals in menus, and thank you for making all of these models worldcam!


I hope this article helps you understand the unique advantages of traditional camcorders, with a permanent parfocal lens. I will continue to cover both traditional camcorders and mirrorless/HDSLR models, since I see different advantages and disadvantages to each type.

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is an award-winning broadcaster & podcaster, bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994,…