So, what camera to buy if you want to shoot both great stills and HD video? It can be quite confusing so I’ll break it down for you. Note that I am only going to list DSLRs, and out of those, only the ones that allow you to manually control the exposure – an absolute must feature in my opinion. You will notice that I left out Pentax and many of the Nikons. They just haven’t stepped up to the plate to offer manual exposure control – the notable exception is the impressive Nikon D3s.
First of all, here’s a sensor size comparison chart to help visualize the differences.
The D3s gives you a full frame sensor that produces beautiful images in both stills and video. The low light capability of this camera in video mode out performs all the Canon DSLRs by a huge margin. Unfortunately, you only get to shoot 24p at 720 – no 1080p resolution. Also, it records in MJPEG format which is not ideal and you can only record at 5 minute clips. And like many others, no manual audio control.
PROS: Full frame, incredible low light in video.
CONS: Expensive, 24p – 720p only, 5 minute clips, MJPEG recording format, no audio control.
Canon Rebel T2i
This is the newest offering from Canon and it is taking everyone by surprise. For it’s price, it gives you plenty…and at great quality. Some say the video image rivals that of it’s big brother, the Canon 7D. The LCD is surprisingly the best resolution of all the Canon DSLRs. With an APS-C chip in it, you get a 1.6x crop of a full frame
It has the same crappy audio options, as in no manual control. But does have the full range of recording options. 24p, 25p and 30p in full HD and 50p and 60p in 720p mode. This means you get to shoot great slow motion.
PROS: Inexpensive, great image in video mode, full list of video modes to record in, nice big APS-C sensor, great LCD screen.
CONS: Not weatherproof, missing top LCD screen, missing second dial, no audio control, no intermediate ISOs, no ability to dial in your white balance.
This camera came out after the success of the 5D and Canon added some great features not offered in the 5D – mainly a better button layout to get to video mode and more shooting modes. It uses the same sensor as in Rebel t2i but in a much better body – completely weather-sealed.
With the 7D, you can shoot at 24p, 25p, and 30p in 1080p mode and 50p and 60p in 720p mode. It has the same audio limitations that we run into again and again. No manual audio controls.
PROS: Great price, superb weatherproofing, stunning image, good in low light, switch for video mode, nice LCD screen.
CONS: Not as good as the 5D and 1D Mark IV, not full frame, crappy audio options, 12 minute record limit.
Canon 5D Mark II
This is the camera that started it all just a short 18 months ago. The full frame sensor produces beautiful images capable of extremely shallow depth of field with fast lenses. Canon also came out with a few firmware upgrades that gives the 5D more frame rates and manual exposure control and manual audio control. Unfortunately, no 60p is offered, some say it will never happen due to over heating issues.
PROS: Beautiful full frame image, manual audio levels, very good in low light, great build quality
CONS: No 720p mode, no overheating warning, 12 minute record limit, not as good weatherproofing as 7D and Mark IV
Canon 1D Mark IV
This is the camera of choice among sports shooters and photojournalists and for video, it does quite well. The 1.3 crop sensor produces beautiful low light video images although it does not come close to the Nikon D3s. It offers all the frame rates of the 7D including 50 and 60p 720, but no manual audio control.
PROS: Incredible build quality, beautiful image, superb low light, great long life batteries.
CONS: Expensive, heavy, crappy audio, 12 minute time limit.
So there you go…plenty to choose from. Keep in mind however, these are all just tools. It’s how you use them that counts the most. Also, as soon as you buy one, it will be outdated and soon replaced with something better but that’s technology for you! Also keep in mind that your big investment should be in the lenses. Those will rarely be outdated.
(8/19/2010) Nikon just announced the D3100 at a price-point of $700. which includes a kit lens. It will shoot 1920 x 1080 24p, and 1280 x 720 24, 25, and 30p. No 60p unfortunately. But, autofocus is possible in video mode (!) which is something Canon does not offer currently.
(8/25/2010) Canon just announced the long rumored EOS 60D. 18 megapixel APS-C sensor, hinged, variable angle LCD screen and all the video features of the 7D.