In the early 2000’s, the only real options available for shooting video were ‘camcorders’. Fast forward a decade and videographers’ are crying out for a camera that is more compact and budget friendly. And that is where DSLR’s come in.
Those larger ‘traditional’ camcorders aren’t being made anymore, and, after a slight dip in interest when large sensor camcorders such as the Canon C300 and Sony FS100 hit the market, DSLR’s are going from strength to strength in the video market.
- Sensor – If you’re looking for an entry-level or mid-range option, you’re probably going to get a camera with an APS-C sized sensor. This type of sensor has a chip measuring 23.6 x 15.7mm (or 22.2 x 14.8mm on Canon DSLR’s). A high-end offering will likely have a larger sensor with dimensions of 36 x 24mm, which is the same size as a frame of 35mm film and where the term ‘full-frame’ comes from. This sensor offers a 2.5x larger surface area than an APS-C sensor, which allows for larger pixels on the sensor and better light-gathering abilities. This delivers better quality images, especially when shooting at higher sensitivities.
- Video quality – This may sound obvious, but the quality of the video that the camera is able to shoot will be a deciding factor for you. 1080p comes as standard now and will be enough for more videographers. But, if you’re wanting higher quality footage or you’re thinking about future proofing yourself, you might want to consider 4K ability. Just remember that the price tag is likely to be a high as the quality of the footage itself if you go 4K, so you’ll have to decide how much you really need those extra pixels. Not to forget, do you have a laptop or the software capable of 4K video editing?
- Megapixels – the resolution capabilities of a digital camera is measured in megapixels, and one megapixel is equal to one million pixels. Pixels are imperative for good video, but more megapixels don’t strictly mean higher quality footage. Camera phones, for example, might have an impressive amount of pixels, but they’re much smaller than those found in DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Bigger pixels are better at absorbing light, so colors are better and noise is reduced. Most options on the market will offer 20MP and up, so this is likely to be the bare minimum you want in your kit.
- Exposure – the main elements of exposure are aperture range, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity. If you’re anything above an amateur, you’re going to want as much manual control over these aspects as possible as this will allow you to shoot exactly how you want to. But, if you’re taking your first steps into videography, look for an option with more automatic options while you get to know your stuff. This will help to keep the quality of your footage high while you’re learning.
- Image processor – the processor is the brain of your camera, so you need to ensure that it’s up to the job. It’s impossible to compare processors across brands, as they don’t tend to offer comparable specs, so it’s more efficient for you to look at how any given processor can meet your needs. For example, if you’re buying a camera to shoot video, does the model you’re looking at have super-fast autofocusing capabilities when shooting footage? Any serious videographer will need this ability to keep video nice and sharp.
- Connectivity – This might not be something that is a necessity for you, but more and more people are expecting some level of connectivity with their kit. Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth make uploading and sharing footage easy, and some models have an app that allows you to control your camera via your smartphone. You’re likely to pay more for a DSLR with these features, so it’s up to you whether you think you’ll need them or not.
4. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – Best All Rounder
This beauty is widely regarded as the best DSLR for shooting video that’s available on the market right now. Canon’s EOS 5D series has a pretty impressive history, and the first model brought full-frame photography to the masses.
Mark II stepped up its video credential by delivering Full HD for the very first time on a DSLR, and although it wasn’t the showstopper that its big brothers was, the Mark III became a bit of a cult classic in the video production world.
What the Mark IV offers is basically everything that the Mark III does, but better.
As expected, the 30.4MP CMOS sensor is full-frame and delivers spectacularly sharp imagery. The advanced 61 point Auto Focus (AF) system operates over a wider area, so can cover even the most erratic movement across more of your frame. It might not measure up to the Nikon D5’s incredible 173 point AF, but it more than gets the job done.
With 4K filming capabilities you can really take your videos to the next level and can be confident that this camera will stand the test of time. The machine itself is also built to last, and the advanced weather sealing will keep you shooting whatever the conditions. The usability of the Mark IV is a dream, thanks to the 3.2” touch control LCD monitor, USB 3.0 connectivity and built in Wi-Fi and NFC.
Looking a little broader than this particular model, Canon are widely regarded as the masters of color science in the DSLR market, so if vivid and accurate tones are important to you, it’s wise to stick with Canon over other brands offering similar options.
This DSLR dynamo comes with a price tag to match, and the MJPEG codec irritates some users, but stunning performance and cutting edge tech more than make up for these minor short comings.
3. Nikon D810 – a close second
Nikon’s offering once topped the charts as the best DSLR option for video, but falls just short of the top spot due to Canon’s latest gem. Although, watch this space: the D850 has now been released, which may put Nikon back at the top of the pile. Either way, the D810 is still a brilliant option.
Another full-frame offering, the CMOS sensor delivers 36.3MP of stunning detail, while the 51 point AF will do a good job of keeping up with you.
The standard ISO sensitivity goes all the way up to 12,800, keeping exposure strong no matter the conditions.
One of the key differences between the D810 and the 5D mark IV is that this model doesn’t shoot in 4K. This won’t be a game changer to everyone, but it could be a fairly important sticking point for others. 1080p footage can be shot at up to 60 fps, allowing for spectacular time-lapse videos.
Aside from imagery, the D810 boasts impressive sound credentials. Broadcast calibre audio control comes as standard, which negates the need for external mics.
This Nikon perhaps shows its age with its lack of Wi-Fi, as well as being unable to shoot in 4K, but the lower price point compensates for that. And, it’s worth remembering that there’s a reason this model has been around for a while and is still close to topping ‘best DSLR’s for video’ lists. Nikon will always have loyal fans that stick to their beloved brand, so if that’s your preference, you’ll do well to go with this model.
2. Nikon D610 - Best entry level full-frame option
If you started off as an amateur but are wanting to take the next step into videography, the wallet friendly D610 is a strong choice. Due to the lower price point you’re not going to get an all-singing all-dancing model like the D810 or the 5D Mark IV, but this option still packs a pretty impressive punch.
Nikon claim to “empower and inspire filmmakers and video enthusiasts”, and this 24.3MP CMOS lens delivers the quality and clarity to do just that.
1080p video can be shot at frame rates of 30p, 25p or 24p, but if you’re willing to lower the resolution to 720p you can enjoy super smooth 60p slow motion footage. And all this in a compact, lightweight body means you’ll be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.
Standard ISO only goes to 6,400 which is lower than many high-end models, so you’ll be more limited on when and where you can use this camera. The AF also falls short of the top performers with 39 focus points, but if you’re an enthusiast wanting to improve your videos the D610 has got you covered. The newer D750 offers similar perks but with a superior 51 point AF and more advanced metering, so might be worth adding to your short list too.
1. Pentax K-3 II – best option for APS-C sensor
If you’re just getting into videography or you’re working with a smaller budget, an APS-C DSLR will probably be a much more practical and realistic option.
Serving as an update for the much-loved K-3, Pentax have made a couple of tweaks to bring to market a quality DSLR at a much lower price point than many other options on the market.
27 AF points fall below Nikon and Sony’s similar offerings, but still provide a good level of clarity, and the 24MP on offer are more than enough for satisfyingly crisp video. Inbuilt shake reduction benefits any lenses or accessories, making handheld videography much smoother.
4K capabilities are unsurprisingly absent, but you can shoot at up to 60 frames per second in 1080p. The inbuilt microphone input and headphone output are a nice addition for videographers, and it’s possible to record decent audio without the need for external kit.
The K-3 II is the epitome of quality construction for cheaper DSLR’s, and the smaller sensor means a smaller body and excellent compactness, so you can keep it stashed in your bag for impromptu shoots. Weatherproofing further enhances durability of the magnesium alloy frame, and operation is simple and convenient.
Pentax made the decision to remove the built in flash from this model, which has annoyed some of the brand’s fans, but with new technology including GPS and astro tracer taking its place, users aren’t left feeling short changed. Pentax’s K-S2 and Nikon’s D7200 are also strong choices if you’re going APS-C, but the K-3 II takes the crown for budget brilliance. This Pentax is the last stop before you get to full-frame, and is ideal for anyone wanting to get to grips with a DSLR for the first time.
Sony Alpha A9 - Best mirrorless
As mentioned in the introduction, mirrorless cameras aren’t technically DSLR’s, but you’d be hard pushed to find a ‘best of’ list that doesn’t feature at least one of these models. Sony’s flagship Alpha A9 is head and shoulders above the rest in this category, and will astound you with its pure brilliance.
Ideal for action videographers, the lightning fast 693 point AF covers 93% of the image area and is almost unbelievable in its ability.
Backed up by 5-axis image stabilization and two dials and a joystick for selecting an AF point, there’s no excuse for soft footage. It’s this technology that is tempting even the most hardcore Canon and Nikon fans over to Sony.
The 24.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor delivers the crystal clear imagery that you’d expect from a camera of this quality, and comes in just ahead of Canon’s 1D X Mark II and Nikon’s D5. Unsurprisingly for kit of this calibre, the A9 shoots in 4K across the entire width of the image sensor. This allows the camera to collect 6K of data, which is then turned into superb quality 4K footage. 35mm recording is also available, if you prefer.
This is a solid bit of gear that can take anything you throw at it. The body is constructed from magnesium alloy and is weather-sealed, which again is perfect for outdoor action videography.
The 3” tilting touchscreen isn’t the best when it comes to taking control, and there are no XQD card slots, but frankly who cares when performance is so blindingly spectacular. You’ll need to save up for this beauty though, this is not a cheap option.
Wrapping it up
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is the last word in expert-level DSLR videography. In comparison to other models at the top of the range, the Mark IV boasts superior autofocus, shooting speeds and LCD screen.
Building on a strong heritage of EOS 5D offerings, Canon have delivered once again, and dedicated brand lovers feel that they’re correct in sticking with Canon over Nikon.
Although, we want to see more of the D850 before we pick a side. If you’re a serious videographer and you know your way around a DSLR, this is the one for you. That being said, if you can live without 4K and Wi-Fi and have a little less to spend, Nikon’s D810 is in no way a bad option.
If you’ve been shooting on a DSLR for a while and fancy a change, give Sony’s mirrorless option a try. It’s worth every penny and will really make you think twice about how you shoot; potentially opening you up to new ways of making videos. Alternatively, if you’re new to DSLR videography you’d be best to stick to Nikon’s budget full-frame offering or Pentax’s top end APS-C option.
You’ll pick up new video skills and learn to navigate your way around your kit much quicker on a more basic model, and you can always upgrade to a higher spec model later down the line.
How to DSLRs work?
DSLR stands for “digital single-lens reflex”. These cameras use a special reflex design which sets them apart from other video camera options. They work by allowing light to travel through a lens and a mirror, which then combine and send the image or video to the built-in image sensor. This design delivers higher quality and efficiency than a standard digital camera. That aside, the benefits of DSLR’s compared to more traditional options are plentiful. For one, they are much more conspicuous, which is ideal for guerrilla or fast paced action videography. Portability is also a huge bonus, assuming that you haven’t got a big rig with lots of extra accessories. With a DSLR you can be set up and ready to shoot in minutes, plus you won’t be lugging around heavy kit all day long.
So what’s the big deal with DSLR’s? Full-frame cameras were once only a sensible option for professional videographers, but now prices are dropping and more budget friendly options are appearing, so amateurs and video enthusiasts can get a slice of the action too. Although they’re not strictly DSLR’s, it’s also worth mentioning here full-frame mirrorless cameras as an alternative option for people with big budgets wanting to shoot video. Bodies tend to be smaller and lighter, which is handy for sports and action videography. This is, in part, down to the lack of the mirror that DSLR’s have, which means there’s no optical viewfinder to take up space.