Some say it was by mistake, but the truth is that Canon created the trend of using DSLRs for video. The launch of the EOS 5D MK II, in 2008, changed the landscape and allowed more and more people to start exploring with moving images. In 2016, the list of DSLRs able to shoot video continues to grow. Here is a compilation of some of the best.
While the market offers nowadays multiple other options, for many users DSLRs are still the way to go, so it makes sense to compile a listing of the REAL DSLRS available in the market. This new list continues a first one I did for Pro Video Coalition in 2014, and which can still be used if you’re looking for a second-hand DSLR for video. But this new listing points to some of the newest models and choices available for those who are searching for options in a market segment some consider is a dying breed. The continuous update of models suggests they may be wrong…
Before we go ahead, though, its maybe a good idea to correct some misunderstandings and, from my point of view, wrong ideas people have about DSLRs in general and the reasons why people by one system instead of another. Consistency may be a good reason for that choice. That’s something that is still found under some brand names coming from the photographic market and missing in others. A good recent example is Samsung, that entered the market some years ago, first in photography and in association with Pentax, declaring they were going to be number one in a couple of years. Then they were going to be number one in a segment of photography, then another, and another again, and more recently, they simply quit the market. Customers that bought into the system are now left without a forward path and need to start looking in a new direction. Another example, although not video related, is the modular system from Ricoh. Not to speak about all those who bought Lytro cameras, following the excitement of magazines and websites that wrote the days of classical photography were gone and we did not need to focus any longer. Yes… we still do. I am glad it is so!
Although some people suggest that DSLRs as video cameras are going to be a thing of the past, the truth is that DSLRs are here to stay, as many photographers still prefer to use them in their photography, and by extension in their video. For many photographers, video became an extension of their work, and if they keep doing both, it probably makes sense to use a DSLR. Because of that dual function, it also makes sense, when writing about DSLRs, to refer their functionalities both for photography and video, as usually those using them – a lot of people, and a growing segment of the market, it seems – use the cameras both for stills and video. Finally, as is my case, although we can carry multiple cameras, many times the ideal solution is to have one camera that does both things, so you have to carry less gear round. My own experience as led me to search for such a solution, so I can just wander around with a single camera that will do both things. When I absolutely need it, I will carry one or more extra bodies.
Buying into a system is something photographers have done for years, and although some do change from one brand to another, many stay within the same system all their life. This means a huge investment in lenses and other accessories, that can’t simply be thrown out every time a new camera from another brand comes to the market. For a photographer transitioning into video but still keeping a foot in each area, it probably makes sense to find solutions within the brand used, as they are usually available. While I understand that someone starting from the ground may look at the options from the Mirrorless systems available, someone that has been using DSLRs all their life may well want to keep using them. Unless there are very specific reasons not to do so.
So, this list is for those who want to use DSLRs. This said, there is one important question to answer: what is a DSLR? I’ve to go back to this question because I keep seeing cameras from the mirrorless universe and others referred as DSLRs, what is plain wrong. So, I do think it is time to state that a digital single-lens reflex camera (also called a digital SLR or DSLR) is a digital camera combining the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital sensor. This means that such a camera is different from all the others, as the light that travels through the lens to a mirror reaches also an optical viewfinder, offering a real and clean image of the subject. When the shutter is activated the mirror goes up and the light reaches the sensor. That’s what a TRUE original SLR is!
If we leave aside names like Leica, which cater for a small segment of the market, there are only three real DSLR brands in the market today: Canon, Nikon and Pentax. Sony has stopped doing DSLRs in August 2010, and created what they call SLT, or single-lens translucent. Although similar in appearance to a DSLR, these cameras a fixed semi-reflective mirror, a technology Canon used in their SLR Pellix cameras in the sixties of last century but dropped after using in in some early EOS film cameras. Sony, which uses electronic viewfinders, also uses the acronym ILC – Interchangeable-Lens Cameras as an umbrella to all their cameras with… interchangeable lenses.
Sony is not the only camera maker to create models that are similar in appearance to REAL DSLRs. Browsing around the web one finds terms like “DSLR form-factor” or “DSLR-like” referring to models from Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung and others. Although most of those models have no optical viewfinder and rely on LCD screens or electronic viewfinders that, although having evolved from the stage of CCTV camera monitors, still do not compete with the clean image of a REAL optical viewfinder, people tend to call them DSLR, simply because many of them look like… DSLR. What, in fact, they are not! So please, if you feel tempted to comment on this article and mention models from the mirrorless world as a viable choice for this list, please have a look at the title: The best DSLRs for video in 2016.
This list of the best DSLRs for video in 2016 covers both the video and some photographic aspects of the cameras presented, as I do think it makes sense to present each model as a whole, considering buyers will probably be buying a photography tool first but also want to explore the video aspects. This makes complete sense to me and, again, from my experience: I am a photographer that also does some video. For me a DSLR makes absolute sense, the video segment is there as another creative – and professional – option I want to explore. I find many people with similar needs in the real world!
This list, which may be a starting point for your own explorations, picks the most important elements for video as described by the camera makers, and when possible links to articles that will provide you about more information on each model. I left out the entry level models, which although offering video, do not offer the best AF solutions when it comes to DSLRs. It should also be noted that Pentax is present with less models, as their offer in terms of video is, obviously, less exciting than what Nikon and Canon offer. So, without further ado, let us present a list of – some – of the available and most recent DSLRs for video:
Canon EOS 1DX Mark II
For filmmakers and photographers looking to do more than still photography alone with a DSLR camera and EF lenses, the EOS-1D X Mark II camera offers high resolution DCI 4K video at frame rates up-to-60p, with smooth movie recording to an in-camera CFast 2.0 memory card. An additional card slot supports standard CF memory cards up to UDMA 7. The built-in headphone jack supports real-time audio monitoring. Two additional EOS ‘firsts’ include 4K Frame Grab and 120p Full HD recording. The camera’s 4K Frame Grab function allows users to isolate a frame from recorded 4K video and create an 8.8 megapixel still JPEG image in-camera. When combined with the EOS-1D X Mark II’s high-sensitivity full-frame CMOS sensor, the new camera’s ability to record Full HD video at frame rates up to 120p will allow videographers to produce high quality slow motion video even in extremely low light.
To make video shooting even more intuitive, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II camera’s touchscreen LCD allows videographers to select the camera’s AF point before and during video recording with Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which provides responsive, accurate and quiet camcorder-like video autofocus to DSLRs.
The introduction of Dual Pixel AF in this model, along with a touch-screen LCD, points to what may be a Canon decision for their next models in the EOS X and EOS XX series, while the EOS XXX family uses the less sophisticated Hybrid CMOS AF III. This also indicates that Canon will continue to develop the Dual Pixel AF as a viable autofocus system for video with DSLRs. Something that makes the EOS-1D X Mark II and the EOS 80D, which are examples of the new and future generations, quite different from previous models from Canon.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
The 5D Mark III, launched in March 2012, is still the reference for many when it comes to DSLRs used in film making, but its reign may well be about to end, as the introduction of Dual Pixel AF in modern cameras from Canon is changing the whole landscape. Expect a EOS 5D Mark IV, rumored to have dual Pixel AF and touchscreen to be available soon.
A full frame camera, with a 22.3 MP sensor and Full HD (1080p at 30fps) the EOS 5D Mark III builds on the reputation of the EOS 5D Mark II, with a range of new features introduced following feedback received from photographers to provide even better Full HD video performance. As well as offering the depth-of-field control loved by video professionals, the new full-frame sensor combines with the vast processing power of DIGIC 5+ to improve image quality by virtually eradicating the presence of moire, false colour and other artefacts. The addition of a movie mode switch and a recording button also offers greater usability, enabling videographers to begin shooting immediately when movie mode is engaged.
Additional movie functions include manual exposure control and an enhanced range of high bit-rate video compression options, with intraframe (ALL-I) and interframe (IPB) methods both supported. Variable frame rates range from 24fps to 60fps, and the addition of SMPTE timecode support provides greater editing flexibility and easier integration into multi-camera shoots. Users can also check and adjust audio during recording via the camera’s Quick Control screen and a headphone socket enables sound level monitoring both during and after shooting. Enhanced processing power provided by DIGIC 5+ also makes it possible to conveniently trim the length of recorded movies in-camera.
Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Launched at the end of 2014, the EOS 7D Mark II camera offers users the ability to shoot in 1080p Full HD or 720p HD video up to 60p enabling slow-motion capture at full resolution in either ALL-I or IPB codecs with optional embedded time code. Users can also choose between .MOV and .MP4 recording formats for maximum flexibility. The EOS 7D Mark II camera’s mini HDMI port can be used to record uncompressed Full HD video to external recorders.
Canon’s Stepping Motor (STM) lenses, such as the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, significantly reduce focus motor noise, letting the EOS 7D Mark II camera’s built-in microphone capture clear audio of the scene being shot without picking up unwanted noise from the lens. The EOS 7D Mark II camera also features a stereo microphone port and outputs stereo audio via the camera’s mini-HDMI port. The EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR camera is equipped with a headphone jack for real-time audio monitoring, as well as a silent control feature that allows users to adjust audio levels during recordings.
The recent launch of the EOS 80D, makes it difficult, for a photographer that also wants to use video, to choose between the EOS 7D Mark II and the EOS 80D. The touchscreen LCD on the EOS 80D, along with the Dual Pixel AF, make it a better choice for video, a constant reference on all the reviews available about the new camera, which is a video-centric DSLR.
Canon EOS 80D
The EOS 80D is the new video-centric camera from Canon and it takes the promises of the EOS 70D to a new level, with a faster Dual Pixel AF system that now works both for video and stills. It does not offer 4K, but allows users to shoot in 1080p Full HD video up to 60 fps, compared to 30 fps in the Canon EOS 70D, in MP4 format and in either ALL-I or IPB compression modes with optional embedded time code. For expanded creativity, the Canon EOS 80D DSLR camera features HDR movie and Time-Lapse movie modes and Movie creative filters like fantasy, old movie, memory, dramatic monochrome and miniature. Movie Servo AF custom settings allow users to speed up or slow down focusing speeds, enhancing creativity and artistic expression. For added flexibility, the Canon EOS 80D digital SLR camera also features a built-in headphone jack, a built-in stereo microphone with manual audio level adjustment, and an additional stereo microphone jack.
Some will miss the HDMI out and other features that video shooters like to have around, and photographers will also miss some of the AF option present in the EOS 7D Mark II and, probably for marketing reason, not present here, but the initial reaction to the EOS 80D, from multiple sources, points this as one of the best DSLRs Canon launched in recent times, both for photography and video.
Canon EOS 70D
Launched in July 2013, the 20.2 MP APS-C sensor EOS 70D allows photographers to create high quality movies with ease. Full HD (1920 x 1080p) resolution video can be captured with a choice of selectable frame rates, including 30, 25 or 24fps, and 60 and 50fps at 720p, and a range of compression options for post-editing and sharing. Thanks to new Dual Pixel CMOS AF, Movie Servo AF mode tracks subjects as they move, or even as shots are recomposed, ensuring they’re always in focus. Alternatively, users can select different focus areas over 80 per cent of the frame simply by tapping the touch-screen, even when recording – ensuring that movies stay sharp and clear if a subject moves or the user changes the composition of a shot.
Videographers can also enjoy stereo sound using the internal microphone, or enhance audio with the built-in external microphone input terminal. Full control over settings such as aperture and ISO is also possible within manual mode, giving users greater freedom as their skills develop.
The EOS 70D is at the moment the most accessible solution if you want a camera with Dual Pixel AF. Its price is dropping now that the EOS 80D entered the market.
Canon EOS Rebel T6s / EOS 760D
The EOS Rebel T6s is one of two models launched by Canon in 2015, the second being the Rebel T6i (or EOS 750D). I pick here the EOS Rebel T6s because it offers an extra LCD top panel that allows users to better control the camera. The EOS Rebel T6s camera features Canon’s new Hybrid CMOS AF III image sensor-embedded autofocus system, which allows for high levels of speed and accuracy when capturing Full HD video or high-resolution photos in Live View… although not as fast or precise as the Dual Pixel AF system. The camera offers high-speed continuous shooting up to five frames-per-second (fps), has a 19-point all cross-type AF system, as well as focus area selection modes.
The EOS Rebel T6s camera feature EOS Movie mode, which captures Full HD 1080p resolution video up to 30 fps in MP4 format, for high quality shooting and easy movie sharing on select social networking sites. Manual exposure control, digital zoom and an external stereo microphone jack are provided for advanced users using the EOS Rebel T6s.
The D5 supports movie creation in 4K, which offers a resolution higher than HD or full-HD movies, an indispensable feature for professionals involved in film-making and video content creation. High-resolution 4K UHD (3840 x 2160)/30p, 25p, 24p movies can be recorded to a memory card inserted in the camera, or, with simultaneous HDMI output, they can be displayed on an external monitor or recorded as uncompressed video to an external recorder. With support for the maximum standard sensitivity of ISO 102400, as well as even higher sensitivity settings up to Hi 5 (equivalent to ISO 3280000), even movies recorded at these high sensitivities will exhibit superior picture quality, says Nikon in the information provided. 4K UHD time-lapse movies can also be generated in-camera.
The camera has a caveat: a limit of the 4K recording time, which only extends to 3 minutes, contrary to the 30 minutes of the Nikon D500. Apparently Nikon will have a firmware update by June 2016 that changes this, transforming the D5 in a real option for Nikon users that want to use the D5 for video. This, obviously, if you need 4K!
Presented in July 2014, the D810 is the full-frame DSLR that cinematographers, camera operators and multimedia photographers using the Nikon have elected since its arrival. It probably even managed to lure some others to choose the Nikon D810 as their video camera. The Full Frame 36.3MP sensor offers proven and remarkable image quality and dynamic range to 1080p videos recorded at 60/50/30/25/24p uncompressed to an external device like the Atomos Ninja-2, compressed to an internal CF/SD card or both simultaneously. But there is more: you can move between dark and light scenes without any iris or frame-rate adjustments thanks to ISO Auto Adjust and also smoothly change a shot’s depth of field with power iris control.
Launched in September 2014, the D750 is Nikon’s first FX-format D-SLR with a tilting Vari-Angle LCD, with robust construction to meet the needs of working in the field. The precision 3.2-inch, 1,229K dot screen tilts to accommodate shooting overhead, at waist level and is ideal for shooting photos or HD video on a tripod. For those serious about using a DSLR for video, the Nikon D750 delivers the same level of functionality found in the Nikon D810, with the maximum amount of manual control that’s essential for production applications.
The camera can capture video in Full HD 1920×1080 resolution at 60/30/24p and gives videographers and multimedia artists full manual control, including aperture adjustment. Like the D810, the Power Aperture feature provides smooth transitions while adjusting the aperture during recording, and in manual mode, users can control shutter speed and ISO.
The D750’s compact size and affordability will make it a welcome addition to any production environment, as will its FX and DX-format crop modes that make it a snap to adjust the focal range without swapping lenses. Implementing another indispensable feature on-set, footage can be recorded to the dual SD memory card slots, or simultaneously output to an external recorder or monitor via HDMI for a variety of applications. Camera operators also enjoy features such as headphone and microphone jacks, Zebra stripes to spot overexposed areas, as well as the ability to select frequency ranges for the internal stereo microphone. For time lapse, the camera utilizes Exposure Smoothing, a great feature that creates balanced exposure transitions between frames when using the time lapse or intervalometer feature.
Just like the D5, the D500 has the ability to capture 4K UHD video at up to 30p (3840×2160), as well as Full HD (1080p) video at a variety of frame rates. Ready for any production, the camera sports a host of pro video features derived from the D810, including uncompressed HDMI output and Picture Controls, but adds even more great features. These pro-level creative video features include the ability to create 4K time-lapse movies in-camera, Auto ISO smoothing to provide fluid transitions in exposure during recording, and the capability to record 4K UHD video to the card and output to HDMI simultaneously. When capturing 1080p Full HD content, the camera also has a new 3-axis electronic VR feature that can be activated regardless of the lens being used. Challenging video exposures are no problem for the D500, as it also adds in Active D-Lighting to Full HD video to balance exposure values within a scene to help prevent blown-out highlights.
The Nikon D7200 inherits many of the high-end video capabilities of Nikon’s latest full frame DSLRs, the Nikon D810 and Nikon D750. Ready to capture top-quality HD video at a moment’s notice, users can take advantage of a robust video feature set that allows videographers to record uncompressed and compressed Full HD 1080 footage at 30/25/24p and 1080 at 60/50p in 1.3x Crop Mode. Additionally, Auto ISO sensitivity is now available in manual mode, helping create smooth exposure transitions without changing shutter speed or aperture, while “zebra stripes” highlight display is available to confirm exposure. Video controls are available through a dedicated movie menu for quick access, while aspiring videographers can also utilize a built-in stereo microphone with 20 step adjustments to record smooth DSLR audio. The D7200 is also the first Nikon DX-format DSLR to feature a built-in Time Lapse Mode with exposure smoothing, making capturing a beautiful sunset time-lapse easier than ever.
The Pentax K-1 appears in this listing but it really should not be considered as a choice if you’re after a DSLR for video. It’s specifications, which follow previous models from Pentax, are acceptable when it comes to video images, but this is not a camera to compete with the offer from both Canon and Nikon. Ricoh does not even bother to mention video on the official press-release. This camera is mostly a photographer’s tool, and according to recent reviews a fantastic tool at that, so video, while present, is just for those moments when you need some moving images. But don’t expect anything special.
Presented as the world’s smallest dustproof, weather-resistant digital SLR camera with a variable-angle LCD monitor, wireless LAN and NFC functions, available in multiple colours, the Pentax K-S2, from 2015, offers Full HD movie (1920 x 1080 pixels; 30/25/24 frame rate) in the H.264 recording format, along with stereo sound. It even provides advanced movie functions, such as a 4K Interval Movie mode that connects still images recorded at a certain interval to create a single movie file, and a Star Stream mode to fade in and out the traces of stars to recorded movies.
This APS-C model with a 20 megapixel CMOS sensor also features a LCD monitor with a variable-angle design for the first time in a PENTAX digital SLR camera, an interesting option for photographers and video shooters.
Pentax K-3 II
The Pentax K-3 II, launched in 2015 has an evolution of the K-3 from 2013, captures Full HD movie clips (1920 x 1080 pixels; 60i/30p frame rate) in the H.264 recording format. It also comes equipped with a stereo mic terminal for external microphone connection and a headphone terminal. The user can even adjust the audio recording level manually and monitor sound pressure levels during microphone recording. In addition to a host of distinctive visual effects available for movie recording, the K-3 II also provides the interval movie mode, which captures a series of 4K-resolution movie clips at a fixed interval.
While the K-3 II is not exciting in terms of video, it represents, photographically, a major leap forward for Pentax, introducing features as Pixel Shift Resolution System, which is also a feature of the new K-1. A photographic tool, the camera has an APS-C-size CMOS image sensor with approximately 24.35 effective megapixels; an AA-filter-free design for high-resolution image reproduction; a high-performance 27-point AF system; high-speed continuous shooting at approximately 8.3 images per second; and a dependable dustproof, weather-resistant construction.
A final note for this compilation of DSLR cameras: with new models to be launched this year, in time for Photokina, the landscape for this segment of the market may, again, change. Still, not much has changed, and that’s one of the reasons why some models from the previous compilation make it to this one, as they continue to represent viable options, especially if you’re on a budget. But due to the recent introduction, especially by Canon and Nikon, of models that extend the options available in terms of video, it makes complete sense to update the listing of best REAL DSLRs for video. What’s done now! Enjoy!