It’s safe to say that since HD video entered the DSLR arena, no other feature has garnered as much attention from both photographers and videographers, or seen as much improvement in quality and control. Now, if you’re a pro photographer looking to shoot an award-winning video or merely looking to add HD video recording to your services in order to remain competitive, the question you should be asking is whether the latest pro DSLR models can deliver the best of both mediums or if there are more affordable alternatives for capturing high-quality HD video.
The answer may depend on your personal shooting style and business strategy. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer currently shooting with a 21-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (pre-HD DSLR era), should you invest $2,500 in the full-frame, 21-megapixel EOS 5D Mark II in order to add full HD 1080p video-recording capability? Or does it make more sense to keep the EOS-1Ds Mark III as your primary camera and dedicate a more affordable, lighter backup camera such as the 18-megapixel Canon EOS Rebel T3i ($900) to shoot 1080p HD video? If you choose the EOS T3i, you can get away with using its lower-cost, image-stabilized EF-S 18-55mm kit lens without lowering video quality. Plus, the T3i features a dedicated movie button, a swiveling three-inch LCD monitor (ideal for overhead or low-level shots), a Movie Digital Zoom function that can turn a prime lens into a 3x-10x zoom while maintaining HD video resolution and a Video Snapshot function that lets you capture a high-res still photo during video recording.
HD DSLR Cameras Compared
If you’re a Nikon shooter, you might consider the $1,200 Nikon D7000 (with 1080p video, stereo input jack and active AF in video mode) as your primary video camera instead of the more expensive $5,200 D3S (with 720p video, no stereo input and manual focus in video mode), or even the semipro D300S ($1,700, with 720p res and manual focus only in video mode). Sony shooters can only look toward the advanced DSLR models for video, as neither of Sony’s full-frame, pro-level cameras offer it. A good choice is the new 16.2-megapixel Sony A580, which produces stabilized 1080p video, has an articulating three-inch LCD and a dedicated video record button, and stores video in AVCHD or MP4 formats. For a few hundred dollars less, the 16.2-megapixel A55 enables high-speed phase-detection autofocus in video record mode (thanks to translucent mirror technology), but features a high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of an optical viewfinder.
Olympus shooters may be wondering why the pro-level E-5 only features up to 720p video, but it shares that limitation with a few pro-level DSLRs from Canon and Nikon. And, for the moment, it’s the only Olympus DSLR with HD video recording of any kind.
For Pentax shooters, the pro-level, 16.3-megapixel Pentax K-5 ($1,700) is a better choice than any of its advanced DSLR siblings. It records stabilized 1080p video at up to 25 fps, is weather-sealed and cold-proof (to 14º F), and has a stereo input jack and a high-res, three-inch LCD monitor.