A Casual Sensor Size Comparison: DSLR vs Camcorder vs Phone

If you haven’t noticed (how haven’t you?!) I enjoy shooting videos in my spare time. One of the trends I’ve observed over the past seven years is that the Canon 5D Mark III made “full-frame DSLR” the gold standard for “low-cost yet professional” video production. Personally, I can’t afford a full-frame DSLR and I don’t know that I’d want to; what I’ve learned since the 5Dmk3 heyday has been a cautionary tale in technology.

I bought the Panasonic G7 mirrorless camera nearly a year ago and some of the video I’ve seen it crank out has been so amazing that I seriously questioned the religion of “bigger camera sensors are always better.” I mean, we’re talking about a camera with only one quarter the sensor size of a full-frame DSLR, yet it shoots 4K video that looks awesome even in lower light than a 2x crop sensor is “supposed to” be able to handle. What I’ve learned is that camera sensors are actually a very complicated subject that can’t be boiled down to “bigger is better” although there are certain aspects of a large sensor camera that tend to live up to that perception.

You see, there are several different sensor types and configurations and even in the same sensor configuration there can be evolution in manufacturing that make a newer sensor far better than an older version of the exact same sensor. CCD used to be the only choice for quality video but the evolution of CMOS sensors has vastly outpaced the venerable CCD to the point that a brand new CMOS sensor will always be better than an equivalent CCD. I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. There are a lot of sensors available on the market and “bigger is better” is a really unfair way to rank them because the field is so much richer than us button-smashing plebs with technical inferiority complexes want it to be.

How could I dispel the myth of large sensor superiority? I thought it over and realized that the solution is deceptively simple. I show a bunch of camera shots of the same thing but don’t say which is which. That way the viewer’s eye has to make the final choice about what’s best and I can tell them what sensor they chose after they’ve been unable to draw on their prejudice against camcorders and small-sensor cameras. That comparison shall now be dispensed unto you, dear viewer! Enjoy it! Video also available at Vidme.

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