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.