TL;DR: Everything the HDSLR can do, it does leaps and bounds better than an HD camcorder. HD camcorders can do things that HDSLR’s simply cannot do. Important things.
I like to think that video is one of the things that we do well at The News Journal. From what I’m told, we are among the top fifteen for video plays among Gannett properties (90+ daily newspapers and 23 television stations) and among the top five when comparing newspapers alone. Back when Gannett papers first started to shoot video, the company purchased video kits in bulk to equip all of their papers. I am not sure exactly when this happened, but I did use the kit back in 2007 when I was interning at the St. Cloud Times.
Fast forward four years and the Sony HVR A1U I currently use is a Frankenstein amalgamation of parts from fallen A1U’s. You can imagine how I felt when I heard that we may soon be ordering replacements to the trusty A1U. Initially, I thought that what we ordered as a replacement would be a no-brainer. As a still photographer, I obviously wanted an HDSLR. I wanted the low-light performance, the vibrant color and, of course, the shallow depth-of-field. It was around this time that I bought a 7D to use for some of my projects at work. Six months of HDSLR use later, and I’m honestly not sure I would recommend purchasing HDSLR’s to replace our A1U’s.
That is not to say that my 7D is without merit. It is an amazing camera. The color is great, the image is sharper than anything I will ever get out of an A1U and there is nothing quite like attaching a 300mm 2.8 lens and shooting video. With the 7D, I am a much more versatile journalist. If I am shooting both stills and video, I can do so with one less piece of equipment. If I am using the A1U, I can use my 7D as a second camera to record cutaways while also shooting stills. Even when I am only shooting video, still screengrabs from the 7D video can be used in the newspaper and are virtually indistinguishable from a still image.
If newspapers cared only about producing beautiful, cinematic pieces, choosing what to purchase wouldn’t be a choice at all. The reality is, newspapers care about numbers and money. According to the numbers, our video traffic is driven by breaking news and high school sports. When shooting breaking news, the A1U can be operated with one hand, leaving my other hand free to hold a stick mic for interviews. For sports, The A1U’s auto focus lets me follow a play if it moves down the field, approaches me or moves away from me. And for both news and sports, the A1U’s 10x zoom allows me to cover the focal range of at least two lenses if I were shooting with my 7D. It would be impossible for me to shoot a long drive at a football game without missing the running back if he ran down the sideline I was shooting on, or to go from a shot of traffic backed up to a wide shot of an accident using my 7D (not to mention trying to zoom smoothly without a rig and a follow focus). As for the money, purchasing a Rebel T3 with a kit lens sounds great at $500 – $600 (we upload our video at 720p already). However, considering that we couldn’t repair a 70-200 until it literally broke in half, I’m not sure how many new ones we would be able to purchase to go along with the T3’s (and it definitely isn’t as effective on a day to day basis with only an 18-55 3.5-5.6).
Could not have been shot with my 7D:
In the end, an HD camcorder makes sense for the types of stories that drive the most traffic at our paper, though I do think that we should have one or two HDSLR’s available when shooting longer projects and feature stories.