In a year there has been a five-fold increase in the number of cameras offering high-end video capability. There are incredible new opportunities opening up for professional photographers looking to add video to their repertoire. We break it down for you.
Also Consider:Nikon D90
The D90 was the first DSLR to offer HD video capability—and at well under $1,000, it’s a great choice for the budget-minded shooter. Features include a self-cleaning, 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, excellent AF performance and image quality, the same 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor used in the pro Nikons, quick 0.15-second startup, 4.5 fps shooting, Active D-Lighting to control high-contrast situations and D-Movie. The D90 can shoot 720p HD video at 24 fps for up to 5 minutes per clip (up to 20 minutes for SD video), with mono sound via a built-in microphone (but no external mic jack).
DSLRs aren’t the only “serious” still cameras to offer HD video capability. It’s also available in the new class of cameras exemplified by the Micro Four Thirds System and Samsung’s new NX system—very compact non-SLRs that feature SLR-sized sensors and image quality. (Note: Sigma actually offered the first models in the large-sensor compact-camera category, the DP1 and DP2, which feature the same unique Foveon sensor used in Sigma’s DSLRs, but the DP1 and DP2 don’t provide HD video capability.) These cameras are interesting choices for the still photographer who wants to get into HD video because they’re very compact and relatively inexpensive and can turn out excellent still images as well as HD video.
Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH1 is a 12.1-megapixel Micro Four Thirds System camera that resembles a small DSLR, but has an electronic rather than an optical eye-level finder. (It also has a free-angle 3.0-inch LCD monitor that makes it easy to shoot at odd angles.) The GH1 does 1920x1080p full HD video at 24 fps and 1280x720p HD video at 60 fps, both in AVCHD format, plus 1280x720, 848x480, 640x480 and 320x240 video at 30 fps in Motion JPEG format. A built-in microphone records stereo sound via Dolby Digital Stereo Creator, and you can set shutter speed, aperture and ISO in Movie mode. Unlike the video-capable DSLRs, the GH1 offers continuous autofocusing during video recording, and the 14-140mm lens provides near-silent zooming and focusing. The GH1 measures just 4.9x3.3x1.8 inches and weighs 13.6 ounces.
Samsung’s new NX10 features a 14.6-megapixel APS-C format sensor (1.5x crop factor) in a very compact body. It can shoot 1280x720p HD, 640x480p SD and 320x240p video, all at 30 fps, in AVCHD format. The NX10 takes new NX-mount lenses (a K-mount adapter will be available for Pentax lenses to expand the options), has a 3.0-inch, 614,000-dot OLED monitor, plus a 921,000-dot electronic viewfinder, and can shoot at 3 fps (30 fps for up to 30 1.4-megapixel still images).
The GH1 and NX10 look and handle like small DSLRs. The Micro Four Thirds System also includes even more compact models—the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2 and Panasonic DMC-GF1—which operate more like compact digital cameras, but provide SLR-size sensors and HD video capability (the E-P2 and GF1 offer accessory eye-level electronic viewfinders). These are actually pocketable (with big pockets, anyway) and handy when portability is paramount.
Pentax’s top-of-the-line K-7 is by far the lowest-cost weatherproof DSLR (it’s also cold- and dust-resistant) and incorporates a host of fine features. It has a 14.6-megapixel CMOS sensor and a 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot Live View LCD monitor, can shoot up to 5.2 fps, incorporates sensor-shift image stabilization that works with all lenses, plus built-in sensor-dust reduction, can do three-shot HDR images in-camera (as well as in-camera corrections of distortion and lateral chromatic aberration with DA-series lenses) and more—all in a very compact 5.1x3.8x2.9-inch body. The K-7 can record RAW images in Pentax PEF format or Adobe’s “universal” DNG format; a handy button lets you switch between JPEG and RAW recording.
Video features include the ability to shoot 16:9 aspect-ratio 720p HD video, as well as 3:2-ratio 1536x1024 and 640x416 video, all at 30 fps. You can choose the aperture, use the built-in sensor-shift shake reduction and record mono sound via the built-in microphone or stereo sound via an optional external microphone. You can record up to 4 GB per video clip; this works out to about 7.5 minutes of 1024p, 9.5 minutes of 720p HD or 25 minutes of SD video. You can’t shoot a still image while in video mode, however.