Multi-tools for multi-taskers—that’s what almost all companies try to sell nowadays, and the trend extends to cameras. You would be hard-pressed to find a still camera (or tablet, or phone, for that matter) that doesn’t also take videos, or a camcorder that doesn’t capture still images (perhaps even while it’s recording). But are these devices truly interchangeable?
Still cameras taking videos
Many point-and-shoot cameras come with HD video capabilities now (oh, how I wish that was the case seven years ago, when I got my current point-and-shoot!). The options, however, may be more limited than they are on a camcorder. For example, all HD formats are not created equal. There are two common resolutions classified as HD—720 and 1080—and 1080 is higher quality. Check the specs and see how many resolutions and video formats your camera will record, especially if you want to shoot high-quality video that stays sharp even when displayed on a very large screen.
Image & Sound Quality
A DSLR will give you the same amazing image quality in a video as in a photo. If you want a short depth of field in your video, a DSLR is especially helpful. I know a professional videographer who uses DSLRs to get short, crisp, close-up clips for his videos while also running camcorders for wide angles. I have read online that the sound quality from the best still camera can’t match that from a camcorder, but my limited experience has been that the sound from a Canon EOS 60D (DSLR) is at least as good as that from a Sony AVCHD camcorder.
…But Not for Long!
The main problem with still cameras comes with long, high-quality videos: you’ll have trouble taking them. That 60D I mentioned? It shuts off after about 12 minutes of recording at its highest quality. The screen says, “recording has stopped automatically,” I push the record button again, I wait for it to stop again, and so on.
This limitation is because of (a.) internal overheating or (b.) memory cards that can’t write data fast enough (depending on whom you ask). There are also import regulations that limit still cameras to recording no more than 30 minutes at a time, as mentioned in this article.
Camcorders Taking Stills
What about the other way around—can you get away with taking still images with a video camera? Don’t try unless you’re in a real pinch. The same general issues mentioned above apply to video cameras taking stills: lack of options, and the fact that if a device isn’t made to do something, it probably won’t do it very well. The other day, I tried taking pictures with a small, Sony camcorder, in a slightly under-lit room, and the photos turned out horribly grainy. Now, that’s not necessarily the case with all camcorders, but if you want pictures, invest in at least a point-and-shoot. Besides, not all camcorders can take photos while recording.
In a Nutshell
My opinion: buy a good still camera that can take video, unless you want to record an entire concert/recital/event, or record anything for over 12 minutes straight. Then get a camcorder.
Here’s a nice little article on this topic: Camcorders vs. Cameras: Both Take Video; Which Do You Need?