The incorporation of HD video in DSLRs was a game-changing event in 2008. Suddenly, still photographers were reimagining what it was possible to do with their cameras. It seemed like a door that no one had ever seen before had suddenly been thrown open to reveal a completely unexplored facet of image-making. The Nikon D90, closely followed by the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, were the cameras that heralded a new way for photographers to think about their medium.
What was completely unexpected was the rapid, widespread adoption of the 5D Mark II by pro video shooters. The 5D Mark II’s big sensor yielded high-ISO image quality not seen before in video, plus beautiful narrow depth of field to isolate subjects in a cinematic manner. It was compact and far less costly than pro HD camcorders, and it could do 1080p full HD video with the entire range of Canon EF lenses and TS-E tilt-shift optics.
So began the video DSLR era. Photojournalists could shoot video clips to expand on their still coverage, wedding photographers could add motion and sound to their coverage, and both student and pro moviemakers could turn out excellent footage with gear that cost a fraction of high-end, dedicated movie cameras.
Today, nearly all DSLRs can shoot video, as well as quality stills, but full-frame still rules the pro market, largely because of the extensive control over depth of field it offers. The two most recent DSLR introductions are full-frame models with excellent video capabilities: the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which is the much anticipated successor to the 5D Mark II, and the Nikon D800, which is Nikon’s much anticipated, sub-$3,000, full-frame, full HD DSLR. Both cameras have a lot in common, but what’s equally interesting is looking at where they diverge in features, specs, and both still and motion capabilities.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III As Still Camera
| As popular as the EOS 5D Mark II has been, the 5D Mark III is a better camera in almost every respect—image quality, ISO range, shooting speed, autofocusing, metering, ruggedness and weatherproofing, viewing and even battery life.
Auto Focus. The 5D Mark II used an AF system similar to the one introduced in the original EOS 5D in 2005. The new 5D Mark III features a high-performance 61-point High Density Reticular AF system similar to the one in the pro EOS-1D X, including the same high-performance AI Servo III AF tracking algorithm and the ability to function in light levels as dim as EV -2. There are six AF point selection modes: spot, single-point (you can select any of the 61 AF points manually), single-point with surrounding four points, single-point with surrounding eight points, zone selection and automatic. The central 21 AF points, the center AF point, plus two above and two below it, are ultra-high-precision cross-types at ƒ/2.8 and faster; the 21 central points are standard precision cross-types with apertures of at least ƒ/5.6, and the 10 outer points on each side are high-precision cross-types at ƒ/4 or faster. All 61 AF points are sensitive to horizontal contrast with lenses of ƒ/5.6 and faster. In Live View (and video) mode, you can choose phase-detection AF (with the live view briefly disrupted when the mirror flips up for focusing) or contrast-based AF with no disruption of the live image.
Viewing. Where the 5D Mark II had a 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor, the Mark III has a 3.2-inch monitor, with 1,040,000-dot resolution, just like the one in the new flagship pro EOS-1D X. And where the Mark II has an eye-level viewfinder that shows 98% of the actual image area, the Mark III’s new finder shows 100%. And the Mark III’s finder features the ability to activate a superimposed display of shooting data like the EOS 7D. You can activate gridlines or a dual-axis electronic level in the LCD monitor and viewfinder.
Rugged Body. More rugged and weather-resistant than the 5D Mark II, the Mark III features magnesium-alloy body covers, a stainless-steel lens mount, and improved gaskets and seals against weather and dust. The newly developed shutter has a reduced lag time of just 59 milliseconds and is tested to 150,000 cycles. The mode dial now has a lock, and a custom function allows users to disable other dials to prevent unintended resetting.
Battery.The EOS 5D Mark III uses the same LP-E6 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor (and the EOS 7D and 60D), but it’s good for more shots: an estimated 950 vs. 850 for the Mark II. The new Battery Grip BG-E11 accepts one or two LP-E6 batteries or six AA types, with a full set of controls for shooting vertical-format images. Made of rugged magnesium alloy, the battery grip has the same degree of weather resistance as the Mark III body.
Quicker Shooting. The Mark III improves on the Mark II’s 3.9 fps maximum shooting rate, upping it to a quick 6 fps. There’s also a silent shooting mode for single shots and slower continuous shooting.
Auto HDR. Canon has added in-camera Auto HDR capability—you can set the Mark III to make three bracketed shots and merge them into a single image with expanded detail in shadows and highlights. The brackets can be set to cover a range of +/-3 stops.
Exposure Compensation.You can set exposure compensation up to +/-5 EV and shoot up to seven frames in Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
New Sensor And Processor. While not a quantum leap in pixel count from its predecessor’s 21.1-megapixel count, the 5D Mark III’s new 22.3-megapixel Canon CMOS full-frame sensor combines with the new DIGIC 5+ image processor to provide significantly improved performance. The 5D Mark III has a normal ISO range of 100-25,600 (expandable to 50-102,400) vs. a normal range of 1000-6400 and a top expanded setting of 25,600 for the Mark II. The new sensor features a new photodiode structure and gapless microlenses, while the DIGIC 5+ processor is 17 times faster than the Mark II’s DIGIC 4.
Dual Memory Card Slots. The EOS 5D Mark II saves images on CompactFlash cards. The new Mark III can do that or use SD/SDHC/SDXC media. You can record the same image to each card, record different file types or sizes to each card, or automatically switch to the second card once the first one is filled. While the Mark II could use Type I or II CF cards, the Mark III can use only the thinner Type I.
63-Zone iFCL Metering. The 5D Mark III features a flexible and accurate metering system based on the one introduced in the EOS 7D. The 63-zone iFCL (Focus, Color, Luminance) dual-layer system takes into consideration brightness (luminance), but also color and subject data from the AF system to optimize exposures. You can choose 63-zone evaluative, center-weighted, partial (which reads the central 7.2% of the image area) or 1.5% spot metering.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III As Pro Multimedia Camera
| Just as it improved on its predecessor as a still camera, the EOS 5D Mark III offers better video capabilities than the Mark II.
Full HD Video And More. The 5D Mark III can shoot 1920x1080p full HD video at 30 (29.97) fps and a "film-like" 24 (23.976) fps (25 fps PAL format), 1280x720p HD video at 60 (59.94) fps (50 fps PAL) and 640×480 SD at 30 (29.97) fps. The 5D Mark II originally could do 1920×1080/30p and 640×480/30p; firmware upgrades added 24 fps and changed the rates to the true video rates of 29.97 and 23.976 fps, respectively.
Depth Of Field. The Mark III’s full-frame image sensor produces less depth of field than the smaller sensors used in most pro HD camcorders, allowing the user to throw a background completely out of focus to concentrate attention on the subject. And Canon offers a number of very fast lenses—with maximum apertures from 50mm ƒ/1.2 to 400mm ƒ/2.8—to further control depth of field.
Wide Lens Line. With the EOS 5D Mark III, you can shoot video using any Canon EF or TS-E lens, providing great focal-length flexibility. Available lenses range from an 8-15mm ƒ/4 fisheye zoom and 14mm ƒ/2.8 superwide-angle to an 800mm supertelephoto, including a 1-5X macro lens and tilt-shift lenses from superwide-angle to short telephoto. Note that as with other full-frame Canon DSLRs, EF-S lenses can’t be used—those were designed specifically for the smaller APS-C sensors and vignette if used on a full-frame camera.
Dimensions: 6.0×4.6×3.0 inches
Audio. Like the 5D Mark II, the 5D Mark III provides a built-in mono microphone and a jack for an external stereo mic. But now, besides auto level, you can adjust the sound through 64 levels, before and during recording, and monitor with headphones via a new headphone jack.
New Compression Formats. Recording video in H.264/MPEG-4 AVC High Profile, the 5D Mark III gives you a choice of two compression types. All-I compresses each frame, making it better for editing and extracting frames, but producing larger files. IPB compression compresses by referencing previous and next frames, making for smaller file sizes suitable for longer movies.
Improved Image Processing. The 5D Mark III’s new sensor and DIGIC 5+ image processor make possible improved processing, resulting in video with significantly reduced moiré and color artifacts in scenes with horizontal lines. You can record clips of up to 29 minutes, 59 seconds across multiple 4 GB files: If a clip exceeds 4 GB, the camera automatically splits the file and continues it in a new file (on a second memory card in the camera, if necessary).
Nikon D800 As Still Camera
| The new D800 features three times the pixel count of the Nikon D700. Originally anticipated to replace the D700, the D800, in fact, fits in the Nikon DSLR lineup between the D700 (which remains in the line) and the new flagship D4.
Exposure Compensation. The D800 provides +/-5 stops of exposure compensation, with auto-exposure bracketing of up to 9 frames in 1⁄3-, 1⁄2- or full-stop steps.
Auto HDR. An Auto HDR mode automatically shoots two bracketed frames (+/-3 stops), then combines them in-camera to expand shadow and highlight detail. Nikon’s effective Active D-Lighting is also available to deal with high-contrast scenes.
Quick Shooting. Despite the huge file sizes, the D800 can shoot at 4 fps (5 fps in cropped DX format, 6 fps with the optional MB-D12 Multi Battery Pack), not sports-camera numbers, but plenty fast for a surprisingly large array of shooting situations. The camera is ready to shoot 0.12 seconds after being switched on, also extremely quick.
Rugged Body. Featuring a rugged, yet light body, the D800 has a chassis of magnesium alloy, with seals and gaskets to keep out dirt and moisture. The shutter has been tested to 200,000 cycles and features a very brief 42-millisecond lag time. Built-in sensor cleaning keeps your shots free of dust.
Autofocus. Like the new D4 DSLR, the D800 features a 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type sensors (9 of which function with lens/converter combos as slow as ƒ/8; one cross-type when the TC-20E 2X converter is used). The AF system operates in light levels as dim as EV -1 and works with the metering system in Nikon’s Advanced Scene Recognition System to enhance both AF and metering performance.
Built-In Flash. Unusual for a DSLR in this category, the D800 has a built-in flash unit (ISO 100, GN 39, in feet). It and the dedicated hot-shoe provide i-TTL flash using the 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor (with the SB-910, SB-900, SB-700 and SB-400 Speedlights). There’s also a C terminal for studio flash systems. Maximum flash-sync shutter speed is 1⁄250 sec. (up to 1⁄8000 sec. in high-speed sync mode with compatible flash units).
New Sensor And Processor. At the heart of the D800 is the highest-pixel-count sensor in a 35mm-form-factor DSLR, an all-new 36.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS unit. This gives you the pixels to make really big prints, crop into an image and render very fine detail. Yet despite the high pixel count, the sensor and new EXPEED 3 processing provide a normal ISO range of 100-6400, expandable to 50-25,600.
Viewing. The eye-level SLR finder shows 100% of the actual image area in FX (full-frame) mode and 97% in the cropped formats. The 3.2-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor provides excellent live viewing (and image playback), with up to 46X zooming to check focus. You can call up gridlines or an electronic virtual horizon in the viewfinder on the LCD monitor.
Battery. Utilizing the same EN-EL15 lithium-ion battery as the D7000 (not the EN-EL3e of the D700), the D800 can get about 900 shots on a full charge (per CIPA test criteria). The optional MB-D12 Multi Battery Pack adds controls for more comfortable vertical-format shooting and more capacity. It can take the EN-EL18 battery used in the pro D4 or 8 AAs.
Metering. The D800 features the same new 91,000-pixel 3D Color Matrix III metering system with Advanced Scene recognition as the new flagship D4 DSLR. The system uses brightness, color, subject placement data from the AF system and an onboard database of 30,000 actual images to optimize exposures. The face-detection feature functions even with the optical eye-level viewfinder, not just in Live View mode. Besides the 91,000-pixel 3D Color Matrix III system, you can select centerweighted (75% of the emphasis is on the central 8mm of the image area) or 1.5% spot metering (centered on the selected AF point).
Flexible Formats. Besides 36.3-megapixel, full-frame images, the D800 can record 30.2-megapixel images in a cropped 5:4 format, 25.1-megapixel images in a cropped 1.2X format and 15.4-megapixel images in a cropped DX (APS-C) format—and the DX-format images have more megapixels than the D700’s full images. When you mount a DX Nikkor lens on the camera, it automatically switches to cropped DX format, but you can choose any of the formats with non-DX lenses.
The D800E is identical to the D800 except for the filter over the image sensor and a $300 higher price. The D800 has an anti-aliasing optical low-pass filter, as do nearly all other DSLRs. In the D800E, the anti-aliasing properties of the filter have been removed. The purpose of the low-pass filter is to slightly blur the image at the pixel level, which minimizes the moiré and color artifacts that can occur with certain subject matter with Bayer filter image sensors. But this blurring also slightly reduces image sharpness. The D800E thus produces slightly sharper images than the D800, but in postproduction the photographer may have to deal with any moiré and color artifacts. The D800E comes with Nikon Capture NX 2 software, which has tools for dealing with this.
Nikon D800 As Pro Multimedia Camera
| The D800 joins the new flagship D4 as Nikon’s DSLRs with the best video capabilities.
Audio.A built-in microphone records mono sound, and there’s a jack for an external stereo mic. Sound is recorded in Linear PCM. Audio is adjustable in 30 steps (20 steps with an external mic) and can be monitored using headphones via the D800’s headphone jack or via levels gauges on the LCD monitor.
Full HD And More. The D800 can do 1920x1080p full HD video at 30, 25 and 24 fps, and 1280x720p HD at 60, 50, 30 and 24 fps. The 60, 30 and 24 fps rates are really the true NTSC video rates of 59.94, 29.97 and 23.976, respectively, important for pro projects. The 50 and 25 fps rates are PAL rates, not used in the U.S.
Uncompressed Output Option.Like the D4, the D800 can, via its HDMI port, stream an uncompressed full HD signal (8-bit, 4:2:2) to a display, digital recording device, or display, then recording device. You can view this image both on the camera’s LCD monitor and an external monitor simultaneously.
Full Manual Control. In manual mode, you can adjust exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO manually for videos, as well as for still shooting. And you can focus manually or use contrast-based single-shot or full-time servo AF while shooting videos. In AE mode, you can lock exposure by pressing the AE lock button.
DX Crop Video.You can shoot videos in full-frame FX format or in DX format (to add a 1.5x magnification factor to any lens) at full 1080p and 16:9 aspect ratio.
Format. D800 videos are recorded in MOV format with H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression. B-frame data compression provides a good balance of image quality and file size, allowing for single clips of up to 29 minutes, 59 seconds in length.
Wide Lens Line.You can shoot videos with any Nikon F-mount lens. Current FX (full-frame) AF lenses range from a 14mm ƒ/2.8 superwide-angle and 16mm ƒ/2.8 full-frame fisheye to a 600mm ƒ/4 supertelephoto; DX lenses (the camera will automatically switch to cropped 1.5x DX mode when one is attached) start at the 10-24mm ƒ/3.5 zoom and 10.5mm ƒ/2.8 fisheye. There are also 1:1 macro lenses, PC-E tilt-shift lenses (although you can’t use tilt and shift on the D800) and 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x teleconverters.
Dimensions: 5.7×4.8×3.2 inches Weight: 31.7 ounces Estimated Street Price: $2,999 (D800); $3,299 (D800E) Contact: Nikon