What is the Future of DSLR Video?

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 Alpha SLT-A57

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?


  1. 1) Matrox
    March 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Finally someone noticed that Sony are the only company that offers 1080p 60p in their DSLRs! :) A57, which will get newer AVC HD codec (2.0 version) will be the cheapest DSLR that offers slow motion in Full HD. I’m pretty impressed with this and I’m considering selling my A35 ;)

    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin 1.1) Romanas Naryškin
      March 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

      If you find it a useful feature worth the upgrade, why not ;)

  2. 2) Srini
    March 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    how does Sony compare witih Nikon/Canon for stills and video together? I know a joint comparison is meaningless…I am just wondering if Sony is a better choice for stills and video combo. thanks

    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin 2.1) Romanas Naryškin
      March 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

      I think it largely depends on your personal needs, Srini. What do you find most important in a camera?

      • 2.1.1) Srini
        March 20, 2012 at 10:14 am

        Thanks Roman! Stills mainly, especially in a low light. Quality video in DSLR would be fantastic as we can then take a full advantage of a DSLR in video shooting. I am not sure if it is worth comparing it with something like Nikon D7000 or Canon 7D.

        • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin Romanas Naryškin
          March 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

          Depending on your budget, you could go for a Nikon D7000, Sony Alpha SLT cameras (which, while offering similar high ISO quality, are better suited for video), Canon 60D or 7D, or if money is not a problem, any of the more expensive video-enabled full frame cameras. Which one to choose should really be based on your personal taste – which one is better to hold and handle, and so on. They are all great cameras :)

          • Srini
            March 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm

            Thank Roman. I had initially narrowed down my choice to D7000, while feeling enthusiastic about D800. Sony A77 has complicated the choice. The cost of D800 plus the lens would certainly give a heart-attack to my wife :-) ….

  3. 3) Zoltan
    March 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Having HD Video capability is nice. I have a Sony A77 … BUT … how do we deal with ROLLING SHUTTER rather than GLOBAL or FRAME SHUTTER as opposed to my 3CCD Sony MiniDV Camcorder, as opposed to this new DSLR with CMOS sensor and that blasted ROLLING SHUTTER which even with inside camera stabilization is horribly noticeable handheld with wobble, jiggle and skew !! Not everyone is shooting on fluidhead dollies and scene by scene shot, but actual LIVE footage where holding the camera steady enough, or panning slowly enough on tripod still makes a lot of footage nausiating to watch on a large screen. What’s the solution? Lens stabilized MiniDV camcorders with Super Steady Shot, CCD imager and global shutter had none of these problems even when using large zoom settings and handheld. What’s to keep the manufacturer from not providing global shutters for these new DLSR for HD video also??

    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin 3.1) Romanas Naryškin
      March 20, 2012 at 3:13 am

      Have you tried turning the in-built stabilizer off? Often it add’s to the jumping of the image.
      Shutter speed also has an effect. You should keep it a stop above the framerate, so if you’re shooting 1080p at 60 frames per second, keep that shutter at 1/125. It’s a general rule that applies even with big movies. To set the correct exposure, compensate with ISO and Aperture. Having ND filters helps a lot if you want to shoot wide open in broad daylight.

      • 3.1.1) Zoltan
        March 20, 2012 at 11:20 am

        No, it did not occur to me to turn off the built in sensor stabilization, since I was using it hand held. Normally it’s a given, that when the camera is on a tripod or other steady platform to turn lens or sensor stabilization off, because it could produce unwanted side effects. Did you mean in your reply to turn off the stabilization hand held OR tripod/dolly use OR BOTH?
        In many cases I was shooting in lower light situations, and at 24frames/sec progressive, and even at wide open, I would not have been able to up the shutter speed, but I will try outdoors and see what happens. Cause the one time I used 1080p 60 fps, with stabilizer on in Program mode the rolling shutter effect was horrible with the slightest hand movements, especially if one moved the camera with left right hand toward and away from you, it made the whole frame wobble. Most of the time you can pan slow enough to avoid skew, unless the subject is moving by fast, like out of a train window the fence posts zipping in the frame, but just mild rotation or back and fort motion wobbles the frame image .. very annoying. Something I am totally not used to with global shutter on the CCD sensor vidcams.

  4. 4) owen
    March 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I read an article at nofilmschool about the a57’s 60fps quality, it records 24fps at 24mbps so one would assume that with more than twice the frame data with 60fps being recorded the bitrate should be more than double, yet its only 28mbps, so although it does record 60fps it seems to be highly compressed (more so than standard hdslr compression we’re used to). I haven’t seen any footage yet so this is purely speculation from looking at the specs on paper. Hopefully it turns out to be good quality 60fps

  5. 5) S
    August 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Do you think the new mirrorless cameras or DSLRs that are going to be announced at Photokina 2012 will offer 1080p at 60p? I am confident the GH3 will, but what about the Canon 70D (60D successor)? I would prefer a Canon so I can use my two EF lenses and be able to have a tool for photography and video in one (with the GH3 I wouldn’t use it for photos because I can’t autofocus with non m43 lenses).

    • Profile photo of Romanas Naryškin 5.1) Romanas Naryškin
      August 3, 2012 at 1:03 am

      Hello, S!

      It would be the obvious step, and Sony already offers 1080p/60. We can only expect other manufacturers to do the same.

      As for autofocus, while doing video work most cinematographers prefer manual focus :)

      • 5.1.1) S
        August 3, 2012 at 8:05 pm

        Hi Roman,

        Thanks for the reply! I agree, it definitely would be the obvious step but neither the 5D3 nor the T4i has it so it worries me. Hopefully Canon realizes videographer’s needs.

        Regarding the autofocus, I suppose I wasn’t clear. I mentioned I am also into photography so the autofocus is for when I take stills only. If I buy a GH3 I won’t be able to use it for photos since I won’t be able to auto focus. That’s why I have my fingers crossed for Canon to pull through with some good video specs!!

        Thanks again!

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