Recording video on a DSLR opens you up to a world of different visual possibilities. Interchangeable lenses and powerful sensors make DSLR cameras an excellent choice for amateur and professional videographers searching for top quality video gear at a cost that won’t break the bank. A camcorder with the same interchangeable lens system and low-light performance of a DSLR costs significantly more for less flexibility than a midrange DSLR body coupled with a couple of quality lens.
What should you look for in a DSLR for video recording? Price is absolutely important, but you should also pay close attention to what you get for the price. You can get started shooting video with a DSLR for well under $1,000 while one used to film feature-length productions can be found for around $3,500. The differences are fairly significant between these price points, so plan your budget according to your video recording needs.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate how much Canon brings to the table for DSLR video recording. While previous Canon bodies offered video recording capability, the Canon 5D Mark II was the first DSLR to really take advantage of video. It had a few minor issues (such as time-limited recording) though that didn’t stop film makers and other videographers from making it the most popular mid-range DSLR on the market.
Here are some of my picks for the best DSLRs for video recording.
Canon 5D Mark III
With the aging 5D Mark II being phased out by Canon, the 5D Mark III has stepped in with a big update to the videographer’s favorite DSLR. The 5D Mark III features 61-point autofocus with 41 cross-type AF points and 5 dual diagonal AF points. This will help keep things in focus while you’re filming, even after the action in front of the camera picks up.
The 5D Mark III can shoot in an array of different frame rates and resolutions. This includes 1080p at 30p, 24p, or 25p. If you take a step down to 720p, you can capture 60 frames per second. The recording time is extended from 12 minutes in the 5D Mark II to 30 minutes for the 5D Mark III, which can be further extended with a firmware hack. Most notably for cinematic video recording, Canon offers a compression mode where each image is treated separately from all other images, allowing you to color correct and make edits on a per frame basis.
The viewfinder on the 5D Mark III shows 100% of what will be included in your shot, which means you won’t accidentally end up with unwanted elements in frame. For storage, the 5D Mark III supports both Compact Flash and SD cards.
At a body-only price around $3,000, it’s no budget amateur’s camera. That said, DSLRs tend to have a 3-4 year active life on the market and the 5D Mark III will likely continue to be a leader in its price range for years to come. Many videographers still use a Canon 5D Mark II even though the 5D Mark III has been available for some time. It’s a great camera body and solid choice for the professional and enthusiast alike.
Canon EOS Rebel T4i (650D)
While the 5D Mark III might be a current favorite for professionals, the Canon EOS Rebel T4i (650D) is arguably the alternative made with the consumer in mind. This crop-sensor DSLR doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the 5D line, but it does produce incredible full 1080p HD video with the same interchangeable lenses you’d use with a full frame DSLR like the 5D Mark III.
The T4i introduced continuous autofocus and a touch screen to the Rebel line, making it a videographer’s dream to use in situations where maintaining focus on moving subject isn’t quite possible. Being able to control many of the features on the camera through a touch screen makes shooting and setting up your shot a faster ordeal than it would be if you were left entirely to manual controls and the directional pad.
Crop frame cameras add a zoom feature due to the perceived focal length differences between a 35x24mm sensor and the smaller sensor found in units like this. You spend less for the camera body, at the expense of forgoing some of the viewing area you’d see on a full frame alternative.
One of the compromises you make with the T4i is the viewfinder showing only 95% of what’s actually being recorded, so you need to compensate for additional elements that may actually be in frame, like if you were to have a microphone somewhere close to the shooting area, for instance. The T4i uses SD cards for image storage and does not include a compression mode for compressing each frame individualy.
If your budget falls somewhere between T4i and the 5D Mark III, you might want to consider a Canon 6D which is priced roughly between the two. Like the 5D Mark III, the 6D has a full-frame sensor. Like the T4i, the Canon 6D uses SD cards for storage. The 6D offers 97% coverage in the viewfinder and the same recording time and compression modes as the 5D Mark III.
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