Our Top-7 HD DSLR Cameras For Video Production

The DSLR video production market has flourished in recent years due to the advantages of shooting full HD footage and the relatively cheap prices when compared to broadcast camcorders. However, with such tight competition in the marketplace at the moment, what is the best DSLR to suit you and at an affordable price?

Nikon D4:

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the imminent release of the Nikon D4, which is the latest model of the highly successful D3 range.

With reports from Nikon stating that the camera would best suit sports and reportage photography (Nikon hoping that this model will be widely used by photographers at the 2012 Olympic Games), the camera has been kitted out with a full frame 18MP sensor with a total of 51 AF points for consistently quality shots.

The D4′s ISO range is standard for the pro market at 100 -- 12800. However, the ISO is extendable to an incredible 50 -- 204800. These ISO capabilities therefore makes this camera very much at the forefront of dynamic range photography.

In terms of video the D4 can shoot full-frame 1080p or 720p at 30, 25 and 24fps. At full resolution however, the D4 can only record 20 minutes at a time, which can become rather limiting, especially with longer shoots. Along with a 3.5mm mic input jack, there is also a headphone jack -- a first for DSLR, which allows monitoring sound in video mode much more precise and efficient.

The D4 records to either CF or the new XQD memory card using H.264 encoding at 24Mb/s with B-frame compression, which is perfect for web based video. Higher bit-rates can be recorded via HDMI output.

At a price of £4799 body only, the D4 is an expensive investment for the DSLR video professional. It’s most suited to a serious photographer who’s also after a professional video camera.

Here’s the official camera promo:

 

Panasonic Lumix GH2:

Following on from the success of the its orginal Micro Four Thirds predecessor -- the GH1, Panasonic have launched the new GH2 as the first of these camera to feature a 16mp sensor. We will try not to be biased since we own this camera but we have done a few high end productions using the GH2 and we have loved it!

Features include HD movie recordings at 1080 and 720: 720 -- 60p, 1080 -- 24p and 60i (25p also available with the new v1.1 firmware). The camera offers a ‘Creative Movie’ mode in which users are able to choose whether to record in Common Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Full Manual (Variable Movie mode can also record at frame rates of 80 -- 300 fps). You can also choose shutter speeds from (1/25) to (1/4000) and any aperture offered by the lens. This amount of freedom when shooting can become extremely handy depending on the footage you’re shooting and the light conditions available. The ISO settings 100 -- 12800 offers a better dynamic range than other Camera’s in the same price bracket, such as the Canon 60D and the Nikon D90.

What makes this camera so exciting is the ability to ‘hack’ the firmware using a number of user-community patches. These patches help vastly improve the shooting bit rate and remove limitations such as the 30 minute recording limit. The much hyped ‘Driftwood’ hack, which increases the recording bit rate from 24mb to 176mb appears to be stable so long as you’re using a decent memory card! Phillip Bloom especially praised this cameras’ performance with this hack .

The downsides of the GH2 are few and far between considering the price of £600 body only, but there are a few worth pointing out. The first being that whilst stating that it can record in slow motion, it can only record at 80% realtime, which can’t really be classed as useful slow motion. The size of the Camera is also incredibly small and makes the usability slightly harder than it’s competitors as the buttons are more compact -- however this may be an advantage in some cases!

For the money, the GH2 armed with the numerous user-hacks is not just the best camera in its categories, but also gives cameras costing 10X the price a run for their money. The body starts at £600 but with a kit lens of either 14-42mm or 14-140mm you’ll be looking more towards the £900/1000 mark.

Two examples of the GH2 in action:

 

Canon 7D:

The 7D comes in at the ‘serious amateur’ price point of Canon’s range. Many presumed that when the camera was released that it would be almost a replica of the 50D, however this has proven to be completely untrue.

It now features an 18mp sensor with an AF system with a dedicated processor, dual Digic 4 processors and a new shutter mechanism to allow 8fps continuous shooting. The build quality is also very good, with the body being made out of a blend of Magnesium and Aluminium leaving the camera very solid and reasonably light for it’s size.

The button layout and usability is pretty much the same as the more expensive 5D MKII, which again is a bonus and as with any other cameras in the Canon range, the aperture and shutter speed can be changed via a scroll wheel next to the display. The 7D offers HD video capture at 1080 at 30, 25 or 24 fps or 720 at 60 or 50 fps and therefore gives you more options than the 5D MK II.

The negatives of this camera however is that due to it having a cropped frame sensor and only 9 focus points, landscape videography does not fare well. The depth of field is lost in instances such as this and can be incredibly limiting when shooting anything detailed. The ISO of 12800 also produces a lot of noise.

The 7D is the leader in it’s category, and the price of £899 body only is very reasonable for the features you’re getting.

Here are two stunning short films created by Vimeo award winner, Eliot Rausch, using the 7D:

 

Canon 5D MkII:

When the 5D was released in 2005, Canon stated that ‘The 5D defined a new DSLR category’ due to it’s compact body and full frame sensor.

The 5D MKII features a 21mp full frame sensor with the same dual digic 4 processors as the 7D, but the 5D MKII can allow an impressive 3.9fps continuous shooting. Movie mode allows you to only shoot in 1080 and 480 at 30fps, with a running time of 12mins in 1080. This can be very limiting in terms of shooting and also for full movie output which is shot at 24p may provide you with some problems. The Camera is easy to navigate and use as with the rest of the Canon range, you can alter settings such as ISO from 100 to 12800 (or simply use Auto), select shutter speeds from 1/30 sec to 1/4000 sec, and use any aperture available on the lens. These controls give you a huge amount of flexibility, allowing at one extreme filming in extremely low light, and at the other shooting for shallow depth of field in bright light. The quality of the video produced is of a very good quality for the price of the camera when comparing to others ( again as with the D4 -- Sony F3 and C300), but produces noise in low light using a higher ISO.

The body only of £1600 is again very reasonable but a good lens will be needed to maximise the Camera’s deserved potential. However, with the imminent release of the MKIII expected in the coming weeks(which is believed to enter into direct competition with the d800), the MKII will drop drastically in price after this.

 

 

Canon C300:

With a Hollywood release in November 2011, Canon certainly had to make a point and they did with the new C300 -- Canon’s first step into the cinema production world. With the tight lipped product launch, most of the world’s film makers were curious what Canon would produce -- another DSLR to take over from the 5D MKII?

The first noticeable feature of the camera is it is not a DSLR is that it only records video and with the price being a hefty £11,760, it would have to be seriously impressive to overtake the competing RED Scarlet and Sony F3. The 4K sensor provides excellent results (as demonstrated in the Phillip Bloom video here) and is just as compact as the RED Scarlet but with a much simpler interface, making it appealing to those who have experience dealing with Canon products in-particular. ISO ranges from 100 -- 20000, the ISO at 20000 has very little noise and is still very crisp in low light and this is largely due to the impressive 8 f-stop system. The preset button allows re-focusing while recording, which is a first for Canon and puts it ahead of its competitors in that respect. The user can also assign buttons which are not being used at that particular instance to ones that are appropriate -- again, very clever. The battery life is also very good with the standard battery recording for 200 minutes and on the larger Battery at 300 minutes. The C300 has two memory card slots which allow either continual recording from one card to the other or two at the same time in dual slot mode so you are supplied with a back up. A choice of mounts are available for different lenses depending on your style of shooting; EF -- DSLR Lenses or PL -- Cinema Lenses

The disadvantages of this camera is that it does not record 1080p Slow Motion which would be almost essential to a Cinema Film maker or Director and it records at 8 bit whereas the F3 in-particular records at 10 bit (4x the colour information).

Due to its easy to use interface, 4k resolution and price range, this camera is warmly welcomed by the Super HD community. This was featured heavily at BVExpo 2012 and we were lucky enough to try a few out with EF and PL mounts and were very impressed!

Here are two C300 reviews:

 

Sony NEX-7:

The smallest Camera of the lot and the most surprising.

The Sony NEX-7 has a impressive 24.3mp sensor which betters all of the DSLR’s on the market today! It also has the ability to shoot full HD Video at 60p, 60i, 25p and 24p. Shooting at 60p allows for lossless editing, and the ability to put straight onto a Blu-Ray disc which is not possible on other DSLRs. Whilst using the Sony, the user can control shutter speed, aperture and exposure whilst recording plus continuous or manual focusing. This is made very easy due to dual control dials and rear scroll wheel to operate the three main exposure settings. The ISO also operates up to 16000 as standard for great low light shooting. Another great surprise about this camera is that it records 1080p Slow Motion, unlike many other cameras including the C300 which can only do 720 slow motion and is 11x the price!

There are downsides to the camera. The first being that the auto focus is very sluggish and especially when shooting action based footage, it can become very aggravating. Also, due to the size of the camera and it’s compactness, the movie button is prone to accidental activation. The lack of Lenses for this Camera is it’s bane. The standard kit lens and Leica Lenses are really the only ones that will fit. This will be a massive draw back for consumers.

For the Price (£900 body only) and the results it produces, this would target the amateur film maker in-particular.

Illustrating it’s compactness and image quality is this video by Quadrocopter:

 

Nikon D800:

Nikon announced the highly anticipated D800 -- the newest in the line of full frame offerings from Nikon.

The Camera features a 36mp CMOS sensor which allows a continuous shooting speed of 4fps, and 51 AF Points. If this is true, the D800 will blow the MKII and every other DSLR out of the water. It offers a standard ISO range of 100 -- 6400 and additional support for equivalents of ISO 50 (Lo 1) and up to ISO 25600 (Hi 2), for superior image and picture quality in dimly lit situations. The Camera features full HD video with 1080 at 24, 25 and 30fps and 720 at 60fps. Introducing a first of its kind in DSLR video, the D800 comes with the ability to stream uncompressed video footage through the included HDMI port onto a recording device such as a Ki Pro or a Nanoflash. This feature would have a large appeal to the film makers across the board, especially on large scale productions. The D800 also allow two varying shoot modes; FX (Full Frame) and DX (Cropped Frame). This is unique and also very clever from Nikon. An example of this is for instance if you were on a shoot and using a 28mm Lens, in FX mode the image will appear to be 28mm, whereas in DX mode due to the cropping of the image by 1.6x, it will appear as 45mm. This extends the possibilites and the range of one lens in particular creating a more practical and user friendly shooting experience.

Nikon have also released the D800 ‘E’ to accompany the release. The ‘E’ is £300 more expensive than the D800 and this is due to the ‘E’ being first to market to not feature a low pass filter on top of the sensor. This therefore allows more light to enter into the sensor to increase detail. There is a problem with removing this as expected. In removing the filter, the affect of moire is far more apparent and the removal of the filter isn’t really necessary as the camera features a 36MP sensor anyway. Is it really worth purchasing?

With the price of body only at £2500, it is considerably more expensive than it’s rival (Canon 5D MKII), but considerably cheaper than it’s predecessor, the D700 . But with the optimum spec this camera has makes it potentially the in-demand kit for professional film makers in 2012.

Here are two newly released short films using theD800:

 

Enough from us. Here’s Phillip Bloom to take us through his verdicts on the Cameras.

 

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