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Camcorders all come with static image capture mode. Of course DSLR cameras come with video recording capabilities as well, but besides camcorders being larger in longitudinal length, is there any technical reason why professional still photographers shun camcorders completely?

I mean, camcorders are more sophisticated than DSLRs in the sense that motion-picture video is more sophisticated than still images, so why fully discredit camcorder equipment outright?

If you bring a camcorder to a photoshoot you've been hired for, for example, your contractors would really be dismayed with your lack of professionalism.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You off-handedly make a couple bold assertions as obvious fact, but aren't necessarily so: "camcorders all come with static image capture mode" (do all? Most, probably, but all?); "...camcorders are more sophisticated than DSLRs..." (are they?) \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Jan 9, 2022 at 0:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I think asking why some tool is used for a specific task is perfectly fine, this question comes with unfounded assumptions and no prior research, hence the downvote. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2022 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for coming out. Best answer has been chosen \$\endgroup\$
    – user610620
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:14

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Because the still image quality one gets from a (usually) tiny sensor with only a few megapixels can't compete with the still image quality one gets from a larger sensor with far more resolution.

HD video = 1,280 x 720 = 0.9MP
FHD video = 1920 x 1080 = 2.1MP
2K video = 2560 x 1440 = 3.7MP
4K video = 3840 x 2160 = 8.3MP

The sensor chips in many consumer grade video cameras are typically around 8.8 x 6.6 mm with 58mm² of area. To get sensors very much larger than that in a video camera, one must spend a LOT of money.

Current professional ILCs typically use sensors with anywhere from 20-50 megapixels or even more. And those sensors are usually at least APS-C (24x16 mm with 384mm²) if not FF (36x24 mm with 864mm²) or larger in size. The larger sensors allow less noisy and sharper images but they cost more. So do the lenses needed to cast an image circle that large at higher magnification to get the same angle of view with the larger sensor.

Because the fixed zoom lenses used by most video cameras are inferior to the lenses used by most professionals shooting with DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex), MILCs (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera), or other ILCs (Interchangeable Lens Camera).

One can select a lens optimized for a particular task instead of being forced to use a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none type of lens.

Frame grabs from video footage taken with even high end ILCs are relatively low quality compared to still frames from the same camera

This is because the processing power of the camera is usually limited and couldn't apply the same processing it applies to a still image to every video frame 24/30/60 times per second.¹ Not to mention that video compression schemes are totally different from those used for still images. Extend that down to video cameras with smaller sensors and more limited processing power and the image quality of a frame grab gets even worse. The quality of each single frame of video does not need to be the same quality as a still image to be perceived by our eye/brain vision systems as equally good when we're viewing the video at 24/30 frames per second. Our brains construct a better perception of the moving picture than what is contained in each frame of the video!

¹ This is beginning to become less and less significant as newer high end cameras can both shoot 8K video (which takes a lot more processing power than, say, FHD) and also take still images in bursts of around 30 fps which was unheard of just 3-4 years ago. But even then, video compression used to keep file sizes manageable usually means the quality of 8K frame grabs are lower quality than still images from the same sensor.

A big part of being a professional is being able to select the correct tool for the correct task. If one showed up to a still image gig with a fully rigged out RED Dragon (You can get the RED Dragon-X kit with a Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens for around $20,000) with a sensor that is basically the same height as an APS-C still camera but a little wider for a 16:9 aspect ratio you might not be laughed out of the building like you would if you showed up with a consumer grade camcorder, but you'll still get more than a few raised eyebrows. You'd probably also not be considered for the next job they have. Why? Because you brought the wrong tool for the job.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ 4K video = 3840 x 2160 = 8.3MP, my MILC = 8260 x 5512 = 45.5 MP. I'll stick with a conventional camera! \$\endgroup\$
    – chili555
    Jan 9, 2022 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very thorough technical answer littered with examples and hypothetical counter-examples. thank you @MichaelC \$\endgroup\$
    – user610620
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:13
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You can’t compare camcorders and DSLRs just because both take videos and stills.

Camcorders generally have tiny 2K or 4K (8mp?) image sensors. They just can’t compete with a 50 megapixel still camera.

Professional video cameras have larger sensors, but to maintain frame rates they still only shoot 4K or 8K, and they are VERY expensive.

VMI.TV guide to sensor sizes enter image description here

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What's stopping manufacturers from putting those sensors in a camcorder? \$\endgroup\$
    – user610620
    Jan 8, 2022 at 22:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Other than it would significantly increase the cost of the camcorder for no significant increase in value to the primary market? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 8, 2022 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ your answer seems to compare consumer camcorders vs. big pro video cameras when the question is about (static image capture mode in) camcorders vs. DSLRs. Putting 50 MP sensor in a camcorder, who cares about the cost, if they're putting them in DSLRs. Why aren't they? \$\endgroup\$
    – user610620
    Jan 9, 2022 at 1:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Because you don't NEED 50MP for video. Even 8K only requires a little less than 40MP. But the main cost difference is in sensor size, not sensor resolution. Larger sensors cost more than smaller sensors not only because you can cut fewer sensors from the same size silicon wafer, but also because the reject rate for the same number of defects on the wafer will be higher with larger sensors. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 9, 2022 at 12:45
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This is, of course, only an opinion.

The sensor of a camcorder is optimized for video, normally a 16:9 proportion. Take a look: Why is 16:9 aspect ratio rarely used in professional photography?

Normally it is of some specific resolution, for example: 1080, 4k, etc. But if you are going to put a "better sensor", IMHO it is to increase fps, or jump to the next resolution, probably for some HDRI thing or stabilization, etc, not to make better still images.

Of course, bigger images can now claim that you can take decent still images from the frames of the video, but that is only a recent thing.

The technology did not evolve that way. DSLR came first with good video than camcorders with higher resolution, so the market was in favor of good video on a DSLR.

A bigger sensor on a higher-end video camera was so much expensive.

In the end, the answer is only 1. The Market decided.

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If you bring a camcorder to a photoshoot you've been hired for, for example, your contractors would really be dismayed with your lack of professionalism.

Professionals in every field use the right tool for the job. Camcorders currently produce subpar still images, so would be the wrong tool for a still photoshoot. (I will not bother listing the ways video cameras are unsuitable for still photography and vice versa.)

Would a homeowner be rightfully dismayed if a handyman showed up with only thumbtacks and a screwdriver to hang pictures on the walls? Thumbtacks have a sharp and dull point. When embedded in a wall, items can be hung from them. The handle of a solid screwdriver can be used to drive pointy objects into walls. I have not seen handymen doing that because they're professionals who use the right tool for the job. But I have seen what happens when homeowners cut corners.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ great answer. would love to see it edited with the list of ways video cameras are unsuitable for still photography, technically \$\endgroup\$
    – user610620
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:10

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