At the beginning of this millennium, the thought of planting video within the digital camera landscape was a preposterous notion. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any gadget that is devoid of video. The standard at the moment is 720p, but 1080p will gradually take the throne later on this year. With a plethora of models to sift through, it is a daunting process when attempting to narrow the field down to the holy grail of High-Definition glory. Today we’re going to be looking at DSLRs in particular and I’m going to share my top picks for the premiere video machines within that genus.
It used to be as easy as picking the first camera released with high-definition recording. The Nikon D90 stormed the market with its 720p HD video capture, though it was only capable of 24fps in the Motion-JPEG format. That’s quite alright, for the Nikon D90 was a wildly popular DSLR that paved the was for video giants to come. Soon to follow was the formidable Nikon D300s S with prosumer shooting features, but it featured the same 720p 24fps Motion-JPEG as the D90. Both are great cameras, but can’t match the advances brought about by Nikon and its competitors today.
Not too long ago, I did a head-to-head with the mid-level Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 60D. Both cameras record in 1920×1080 Full HD, but the 60D had the framerate advantage, offering 30fps compared to the D7000’s 24fps cap. However, the Nikon D7000 had a better auto focus system in video mode. As usual, Canon colors were a tad oversaturated while Nikon’s were more naturalistic and defined in low light. By the end of my quest, I called it a draw. Both DSLRs had performed well in their own rights, and I would recommend either one.
The Canon EOS Rebel T3i also deserves an honorable mention here, thanks to its swivel LCD and 1080p Full HD recording at 30fps, and 60fps shooting at 720p. For budget shooters, the T3i rocks. In line with that, we have the recently-announced Nikon D5100, which offers 1080p Full HD at 30fps as well, and is a direct indication that Nikon is attempting to play catch-up with Canon. Think of this as the minor leagues compared to my D7000 and 60D shootout, as both the T3i and D5100 reside under the $1,000 mark. However, you can expect highly impressive video quality from either camera, and they might be a wiser alternative to their more powerful siblings.
Pentax has also made quite a splash in the entry-to-mid-level DSLR realm, but the quality and overall video experience on the K-x and K-r is about what you’d expect from a camera in that price range. When we talk about the Pentax K-5, that opens a whole different jar of applesauce, as the camera offers 1080p Full HD video that is comparable to the Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 60D. The Olympus E-5 shoots 720p Motion-JPEG at 30fps, though the company’s forte lies within its digital imaging performance, and I would rather snap with an Olympus than roll.
However, my all-time favorite DSLR for recording videos was the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Holy hand grenade, what a fantastic machine. The 5D Mark II’s full frame CMOS chip aided in the camera’s ability to produce stunning low light sensitivity and overall detail. This is the same DSLR used to shoot commercials and snap professional photography, so be prepared to shell out the Benjamins. We should see the Mark II’s replacement this Fall, so if you can hold out until then, the camera’s price will most likely take a dive.
In the end, I recommend sticking with a Canon or a Nikon when it comes to video capture. For still images, I tend to lean toward Nikons while Canons have never let me down in the video department. There are also Sony’s, but buy at your own risk. Canon and Nikon are the best bets.