The video recording capabilities in DSLRs have been the subject of lively discussions ever since video-capable DSLRs have been introduced (with Nikon D90 being the first). At first, some thought it was unnecessary and too cumbersome to be of any practical use, while others embraced the new possibilities and the small (in comparison to high-end video cameras) price they came with. Regardless, the first full-frame camera to do video (and Full HD, at that) – the Canon 5D Mark II – quickly became very popular among amateur cinematographers that could not afford high-end RED cameras. A compromise, but not a too painful one. Both the D90 and, slightly more so, the 5D Mark II offered a very broad lens selection, good to great low-light capabilities and, more importantly, brought aesthetics and shallow depth of field of modern photography into the world of videography.
Today, almost all current DSLR cameras offer some sort of video capabilities. For a long time, the standard set by Canon (Full HD 1080p at 30/25/24 frames/second and 720p at 60/50/30/25/24 frames/second) wasn’t pushed forward by any competing manufacturers. Nikon, until recently, stayed behind with their 720p limitation on the Nikon D90 and the D3s. However, is back in the game with uncompressed video offered by the flagship D4, and the D800 also promises to be a very respectable HDSLR as well.
Sony also joined the video club when it introduced the Sony A-560 in the summer of 2010. Ever since Sony acquired Minolta, Alpha-series cameras somewhat lagged behind the two DSLR giants, Canon and Nikon. Fortunately, Sony understood that playing by the rules set by the leading DSLR manufacturers was not going to work very well in this technological segment. The best way to build their reputation as a worthy DSLR manufacturer was to offer more for the money than the competition, and so they decided to focus on what they do best – electronics. Today, not only do we have the great NEX mirrorless system, but also the SLT (Single Lens Translusive – cameras, featuring static, see-through mirrors and EVFs) Alpha line-up, of which all cameras at this moment offer slow-motion Full HD (1080p 60/50 frames per second) video recording. Thanks to the SLT design, one can record videos while looking through the built-in EVF (a limitation on regular DSLRs that must have their mirrors up for live view/video record to work), which leads to better stability while hand-holding the camera, further improved by the in-camera stabilization system.
With all the attention the biggest DSLR manufacturers have been giving to the video recording capability of their cameras, it is safe to assume DSLR video is here to stay. Even the skeptics seem to be less sure of their arguments against such a trend. A new wave of short films hit the broad horizon of the Internet – vimeo.com is now full of short DSLR-filmed movies, and plenty new videos are added every day. The Canon 5D Mark II was even used to film some big-screen movies, such as “Act of Valor” and popular series, such as “House M.D.“.
Up until now, while filming some footage with a Canon 550D DSLR camera with a couple of my friends, I had to choose between the highest quality and the possibility of a need for slow-motion during editing. It was either one or the other (1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps). Sony SLT cameras now offer both in one, and I’m sure plenty of people will find it a great feature to have. Looks like all the new cameras from Nikon and Canon (Nikon D4, D800, Canon 1D X, 5D Mark III) missed the mark on high quality 1080p slow motion video opportunities. Even though it may take another year or two for us to get faster than 30 fps at 1080p from Nikon/Canon, by which time Sony might already offer 120 fps to stay on the competitive edge, we all benefit from their attempts to improve.
I’m glad the possibilities of video in current DSLRs and DSLTs are moving forward, allowing young students like me with a knack for cinematography learn and do what we love for a lot less money than was possible just a few years ago. While not everyone needs this capability, there are plenty of people who will gladly use it.
Things are looking good for videographers. Now the question is – what’s next in the horizon?