Best DSLRs for video: 15 cameras from £400 to £2,400

11th Aug 2011 | 08:48

Best DSLRs for video: 15 cameras from £400 to £2,400

Which DSLRs for video is right for you? We help you choose

Best DSLR for video: Introduction

UPDATE: To discover the best all-rounders, read our article on the best DSLR for you.

If you're thinking of purchasing a DSLR or compact system camera (CSC) for movie making then there's a lot to consider, so read on to find out what DSLR for video is right for you.

The main feature that differentiates DSLRs and CSCs from camcorder technology is sensor size. Camcorders just don't offer the kind of physical sensor size that allows for greater depth of field control (ie blurred backgrounds with a wonderful bokeh effect).

Of course, you'll need to invest in a good lens with a wide aperture to achieve such a look, but that brings us to the second clincher: all DSLRs and CSCs have removable lenses. It's inherent in their very makeup.

Access to a portfolio of lenses doesn't come cheap, but it does mean you can control whether you're looking at a scene like through your own eyes, taking a wide-angle shot that can 'see' twice as much as the human eye, or zooming in to distant subjects magnified well beyond normal vision.

The stills camera market is forging a bridge between consumer and professional video capture, and in doing so has generated its own sector that's perhaps not directly comparable to the other two.

CSC: a new breed of camera

Camcorders are designed for ease of use, everything's well positioned for steady holding and easy zooming with minimal fuss and the built-in lens tends to offer huge zoom possibilities too. DSLRs, on the other hand, are based on an older design and video capture isn't what they were originally intended for. This causes issues with both focus speed and accuracy that's an issue for all DSLR cameras, whatever their price.

By comparison, the latest CSC technology works in a fundamentally different way that lends itself far better to smooth and accurate continuous autofocus in video mode. It's the ultimate balance between camcorder-like ease of use and accurate focus, but with that crucial medium-large sensor size that adds to the overall look, feel and final quality of shots.

Limitations

Despite all the positives, stills cameras have to come under strict sets of rules in the EU, after all they are stills rather than video cameras. For classification and tax reasons this means a single shot cannot last longer than 29 minutes and 59 seconds.

A second issue is that file sizes are capped at 4GB due to the FAT32 formatting that memory cards adhere to (some manufacturers cap to 2GB, depending on the camera). So when shooting high definition video you're far more likely to hit the file size roof that could limit clip length to around 7 minutes for some models.

Large sensor sizes also means lots of additional processing in order to 'squash' the full capture down to the HD resolution. This can result in a lot of heat to the point of overheating where the camera turns itself off.

So without further ado here are the best DSLRs for video and the best compact system cameras for the same task, broken down into three convenient price brackets: under £500; from £500 to £1,000; and over £1,000.

Best DSLRs for video under £500

Nikon d3100

A modern day DSLR or compact system camera (CSC) is almost guaranteed to feature video capture in addition to its stills prowess. But with so much jargon out there and often very little information in manufacturer's specifications it can be tough to work out which is the best DSLR for video.

At the budget end of the market there are a whole host of DSLRs and CSCs available for under the £500 mark. But which DSLR or compact system camera should you choose for the best video capture?

In our guide we separate the interlaced 'i's from the progressive 'p's, break down movie frame rates, resolution, compression, focusing ability, audio options and connectivity to ensure you know the ins and outs of which camera will best match what you're looking for.

We've seen all these cameras individually and assessed them on their overall ability, but in this feature we'll be solely focused on each camera's movie capture abilities.

Best DSLRs for video under £500: Canon EOS 1100D

Canon 1100d

Canon's latest entry-level DSLR may be a budget piece of excellence for stills shooting, but it has a few hurdles when it comes to HD video recording.

The Canon 1100D offers three forms of focus for movie capture: AF Live for single autofocus during capture; Face Detection AF for adjusting focus once a face is detected; and Quick AF Live View which disengages the live view mode, acquires focus and then begins recording (this latter mode can't be used during capture, only before hand).

If you wish to make HD recordings of subjects at fixed focus distances then the 1100D does a perfectly good job, but it's when focusing that difficulties arise. The contrast-detection based AF system is slow off the mark and can take quite a few seconds to acquire focus. This will relay back to the capture and so show in your final shots.

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Tracking subjects through different focus distances (such as when a subject moves towards the camera, for example) isn't on the cards, and while manual focus is available, there's no provision for a manual focus assist to magnify the rear screen's image for fine-tuning focus.

During capture it's possible to utilise the 1100D's exposure compensation, while white balance, image effects and auto-correct for image brightness can also be adjusted prior to recording commencing.

The 1100D's 720p resolution is captured at either 25 or 30fps (ideal for UK PAL and US NTSC systems respectively) and rendered using the H.264 compression format to create MOV format files. A minute of footage will come in at around 220MB in size, so there's plenty of data being squeezed into the files.

Performance

In good light shots are decent and there's plenty of clarity to subjects, though lower light (and thus higher ISO) reveals visible colour noise, which shows up as flecks of subtle red-coloured blotches that flicker through the scene. The latter isn't reserved for Canon cameras, however, as all stills and video cameras will see a rise in this kind of result due to upping the ISO sensitivity, a requirement when there's little available light.

Audio is taken care of by the built-in microphone and, although mono, quality is good. However, the 18-55mm kit lens is very noisy when autofocusing and can pose a problem.

Canon EOS 1100D key video spec

Approx price: £449 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized sensor (1.6x magnification)
Resolution: 720p capture (1280x720px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 30 or 25fps
Compression: H.264 video compression

File format: Linear PCM audio and MOV
Exposure mode: Programme shooting mode
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports

Best DSLRs for video under £500: Nikon D3100

Nikon d3100

For a more budget DSLR the Nikon D3100 has plenty of movie features on offer: it's the only sub-£500 model with Full HD 1080p recording at 24fps 'cinema' mode and has a continuous autofocus option too. There's even a 30fps option at 720p resolution.

However, there're words on paper and then there's the reality of how a function truly operates. With the D3100 it's a bit of a mixed bag.

Although the camera's new live view AF system is faster than any other Nikon DSLR it won't outsmart the likes of a compact system camera's speedy autofocus for example, and this reveals itself when recording videos of moving subjects. While the D3100's autofocusing speed is certainly good, the camera hasn't quite eradicated the over- and under-focusing issues that show just prior to attaining final focus.

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The D3100's AF-Area modes - that allow the user to select how and where the camera will focus - are more comprehensive than many competitor cameras. Subject Tracking AF is designed to track moving subjects by 'recognising' them and their movements on screen, while Face-Priority AF is of a similar ilk but can auto-recognise facial features (as represented by a boxed area around the face) and then focus on them. Both have a lot of potential but neither stop the slight mis-focusing issue.

As well as a wide, automated focus array there's also a very cool user-defined AF mode (with a rather conventional 'Normal-area AF' namesake) where the focus point, represented by a small rectangle, can be moved to any point of the screen using the d-pad. It's rare a camera can offer edge-to-edge focusing across the entirety of the screen, but even better than that you get to choose exactly where focus takes place.

During capture it's possible to adjust the exposure compensation with the results shown live on screen. Although it's possible to change the aperture value displayed on screen during recording this has no correlation to the actual aperture - the camera automatically sets this itself on each occasion, so the D3100 repertoire lacks any manual video modes.

Performance

Using the H.264 codec the D3100's MOV files stream at around 20mbit/s to create files of 150MB per minute. The compression's a little on the high side and detail isn't as forthcoming as it should be. Add to this muted colours and the final files don't wash quite as well as the specification would have you believe.

Yet, of course, the D3100's focusing controls are beyond many other DSLRs so it's a case of weighing up potential use against final quality.

In terms of audio the D3100 is a lot like the Canon 1100D. The on-board mono microphone captures decent quality audio, but any sounds from the lens autofocusing are amplified and prominently picked up in clips.

Nikon D3100 key video spec

Approx street price: £459 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized sensor (1.5x magnification)
Resolution: 1080p capture (1920x1080px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 24fps (30fps at 720p resolution)
Compression: H.264 video compression

File format: Linear PCM audio and MOV file format
Exposure mode: Programme shooting mode
Focus modes: Full time (AF-F), Single (AF-S) and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports

Best DSLRs for video under £500: Olympus E-PL2

Olympus e-pl2

Olympus's Micro Four Thirds standard compact system camera is a bit of a dark horse when it comes to video - perhaps because the majority of its movie controls are tucked away in a sub menu of another menu.

But if you do dig in those menus, the E-PL2 quickly reveals that it can shoot movies in a point-and-shoot fashion yet also offers full user-defined manual control. Aperture, shutter, ISO and exposure compensation values can be adjusted as you please, but, in all cases, only prior to capture taking place. This means you can create those more intricately exposed shots should you care to spend the time experimenting.

One other trump card the E-PL2 has is its swift autofocus system that gleefully glides between one subject and another using the continuous autofocus system. At any time you can use a half depression of the camera's shutter to engage a single autofocus override too, though this does cause slight over- and under-focusing (but it's very quick to resolve focus).

The main qualm with the E-PL2's control is that, despite plenty of focus-point control for stills shooting, the camera's movie mode dictates what's going to be focused on. It's not possible to be more specific and tell the camera to focus on the left-most autofocus point position of the screen, for example.

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Manual focus can also be employed but, again, there's a lack of thought here: without the ability to zoom into the image shown on screen it's nigh on impossible to fine tune the focus with accuracy (fortunately the autofocus is good, so manual focus is unlikely to be at the top of your list).

Performance

Despite its good points the thorn in the E-PL2's side is the format it records in: while the 720p, 30fps specification looks good on paper, the chosen Motion-JPEG format, which is like a series of compressed still images reeled through in quick succession, looks over-compressed and lacks finer details even when recording in good light.

Movies are rendered as AVI files but the format is large at around 260MB per minute. Big files, low quality - a bit of a let down, really.

Although there's no conventional 2.5 or 3.5mm microphone port, there is an optional microphone accessory that can connect via the E-PL2's Accessory Port. This is the only way to capture stereo sound, as the microphone built into the camera's body is mono only (an oddity, we know), though audio is of good quality despite this single channel format.

Olympus E-PL2 video spec

Approx street price: £470 with 14-42mm kit lens
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds sensor (2x magnification)
Resolution: 720p capture (1280x720px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 30fps
Compression: 1/12 video compression (for HD)
File format: Stereo PCM 16bit 44.1kHz Wave Format Base audio (however: internal mic is mono only) and AVI (Motion JPEG)
Exposure modes: Programme, Aperture Priority, Manual and Art Modes 1-6
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports

Best DSLRs for video under £500: Samsung NX11

Samsung nx11

The Samsung NX11 is the company's second generation compact system camera and it's far more adept at video shooting than the original NX10 was.

This improvement is partly down to the Samsung NX11's Depth of Field Preview button that doubles up to allow quick toggling between continuous autofocus on or off (though AF-S isn't an option) when recording video.

Manual focus is also available and includes an MF Assist that magnifies part of the image on the rear screen to aid fine-tuning focus during capture - the downside to this, however, is that the zoom-in area is always centrally-aligned even if that's not where your subject is.


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The NX11's video autofocus speed is good, certainly among the faster contrast-detection types available in a CSC and it outshines any DSLR's live view (and therefore video AF) system by comparison. Focusing is slower than during stills capture, but the camera 'thinks' that extra bit harder and it's rare that there's any over- or under-focusing in normal conditions, instead transitions between subjects are smooth.

However it's not possible to adjust the size of the autofocus area and this can be limiting for fine focus where smaller subjects are concerned.

In the menus it's possible to select either 'A' (Aperture Priority to select the lens's aperture to control depth of field) or 'P' (Programme to let the camera choose the settings - though exposure compensation can be adjusted). It's disappointing that exposure compensation adjustment can only take place prior to capture beginning, plus the exposure lock (AEL) isn't available during capture, both of which would have been of significant use. This, plus the lack of ISO control (Auto ISO is the only option) mean the NX11 doesn't offer true manual movie control.

For a bit of fun it is possible to employ the Picture Wizard mode, which handles colour presets such as Vivid and Black & White. The NX11's 720p 30 frames per second (30fps) 'High Quality (HQ)' setting produced files between 75-80MB per minute (more compressed 'Norm' files are also available at the same 30fps frame rate), meaning a full 25mins of capture is possible in any one sitting.

Performance

Using the well-regarded H.264 compression codec, MP4 files come direct from the NX11, but these are over-compressed as there should have been plenty more scope for greater data transmission and larger files from such a system camera.

Picture quality is reasonable, but not great, and low-light conditions amplify this shortcoming with a 'graininess' that's visible through the frame. The biggest issue, however, is that the auto-exposure can 'jump' between exposure levels and this can show abruptly in playback where the image will suddenly show brighter or darker - the metering isn't very subtle or elegant at switching between values.

Audio can only be recorded direct from the camera's built-in microphone and is rendered as single channel mono using AAC (Advanced Audio Codec). The quality's akin to a mid-level bitrate MP3 file, though the restrictions of mono and any close-to-camera sounds such as the lens autofocusing can easily be picked up during recording.

Samsung NX11 video specs

Approx street price: £480 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized sensor (1.5x magnification)
Resolution: 720p capture (1280x720px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 30fps
Compression: H.264 video and AAC (mono) audio compression
File format: MP4 file format
Exposure mode: Programme & Aperture Priority modes
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports

Best DSLRs for video under £500: Verdict

In the sub-£500 market, it's an equal mix of video-capable DSLRs versus compact system cameras. All four models tested here perform with some merit - and that's saying something when considering how primitive DSLR movie modes were upon their conception back in 2008. So which of our foursome is the best stills camera for video under the £500 mark?

First and foremost there's autofocus and focus control. No stills camera has got this quite perfect yet, and certainly not at this lower price point. The Canon EOS 1100D's autofocus isn't up to scratch for use during movie capture and, even though the Nikon D3100 is streets ahead in terms of autofocusing speed and AF-Area options, it's still not able to offer perfect transitions from one subject or focal plane to another. However, the variety of tracking options and a user-controllable focus point do make the D3100 the greatest success in this area, autofocus issues ignored.

Canon eos 1100d

Then there's the Samsung NX11 that's able to continuously autofocus and can do so with some accuracy, but the feedback on the screen is limited and AF-Area control non-existent.

Samsung nx11

It's the Olympus E-PL2 that wins in terms of its continuous focus capability - it's a camera that can elegantly glide between a close-up macro frame, then pan out to a wider shot and the focus will gently slide into place, usually without any focusing problems. It can take a little time to do so, but at least it does so with accuracy, though it's a shame there isn't more user control of where the focus is targeted.

Olympus e-pl2

Quality-wise, however, and that result is shaken up once again. The E-PL2's M-JPEG quality won't stand up to critical work and the AVI file format is large, yet the Olympus E-PL2 is the only camera of the four to offer manual exposure modes.

Despite the Full HD 1080p quality of the Nikon D3100 the final files look a little dull and the compression is too high. The Samsung NX11 suffers from too little data being streamed into its files, which results in so-so quality, plus the exposure metering is the least reliable as it 'jumps' between exposure values. Despite the Canon 1100D having the weakest autofocusing by far, its quality is marginally ahead of the others.

Nikon d3100

In short there's no one winner here. All the cameras have various issues, and there isn't one model that sweeps top prize in every important area. There are plenty of positives to be had too, of course, as all the cameras produce more-than-credible files. For continuous autofocus the E-PL2 is the most consistent, for focusing area options the D3100 has the most comprehensive range available at this price point, while it's the Canon 1100D's 720p final quality that packs in the most detail.

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000

Most stills cameras - whether a DSLR, compact system camera (CSC) or one of Sony's latest Single Lens Translucent (SLT) models - come equipped with a video capture mode.

If you're looking to spend upwards of £500, but less than the crucial £1,000 mark, then there's a wide choice available of models that each offer their own pros and cons. Spending more money doesn't always equate to a 'better' movie mode, however, so there's a lot to consider.

In our guide to the best DSLRs, SLTs and CSCs between £500 and £1,000, we'll explore every detail through from operability to final capture and audio quality.

While we've seen all of these cameras individually, and assessed them on their overall ability, this feature solely focuses on each camera's movie capture abilities. The selection of models represents the most prolific cross section available on the market within the price bracket. So which of these sub-£1,000 models is best for video capture? Read on…

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Sony Alpha A55

Sony alpha 55

The Sony Alpha A55 is among the first of a new breed of camera. Dubbed an 'SLT' (Single Lens Translucent), the A55 may appear to be a DSLR on the outside, but its internal construction is quite different.

The mirror inside is translucent, which means light can permanently pass to the sensor while reflected light is always fed to the autofocus sensor.

As technological as this may sound, all you need to know is that this allows for true continuous autofocus that's perfect for tracking moving subjects during movie recording.

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Auto focus

The A55's continuous autofocus works like a dream – indeed it's the best continuous AF system for movie of any stills camera, although it's not without its issues.

Clever though it may be to quickly slide focus between one subject and another, there's little choice of what the camera will focus on, because the camera always focuses on the most central point. Should someone walk through your shot, for example, the camera will quickly adjust to this new subject, even if that's not your intention.

What the A55 lacks is the ability to easily toggle the focus on or off, or manipulate the focus sensitivity. It is possible to pop many lenses into manual focus using their direct AF/MF switches, but this isn't a practical way of 'pausing' the focus.

Exposure

The Sony Alpha A55's movie shooting mode doesn't venture outside of the automated Programme mode either, which means beyond the ability to control exposure compensation and exposure lock (AEL) during capture, there's little else at your disposal.

LCD

Design-wise the Sony Alpha A55 comes equipped with an LCD screen that's mounted on a vari-angle bracket. This means the screen can be moved away from the camera and rotated through a variety of angles. This is most useful for waist-level shooting for lower-angle shots.

Performance

With Sony, as with Panasonic cameras, the choice to use AVCHD as its primary movie capture format has a series of benefits and downsides.

On the one hand, the H.264 compression is very good, because it maintains high quality while rendering small file sizes. The 17MB/s data rate is high for a camera of this type, and a minute of footage equates to around 135MB.

On the other hand, the native MTS files captured aren't useable in most computer programs or editing suites (VideoLAN - VLC can read them, but not always smoothly) and this means files need to be decoded into a different format, such as the larger MOV file type, using (free) software such as Windows Movie Maker or Apple's iMovie.

The 'Full HD' branding of the Sony Alpha A55 comes with a slight pinch of salt: the sensor captures files at 25fps in an interlaced format, ie odd lines are captured on one pass of the sensor, and even lines are captured on the next pass. It can be hard for the human eye to recognise this as a problem – until, that is, fast moving subjects show signs of 'tearing', which is like seeing one frame in a position and the next frame slightly offset from the other half.

Downgrade to Sony's 'AVC' capture and you'll get progressive capture, but at a 1440 x 1080 resolution with a far lower data rate that's then upscaled to Full HD. This secondary option produces MP4 files direct from camera that are more immediately useable, but the quality isn't as top-notch.

Audio

Audio is handled by the camera's built-in microphone, although this will pick up surrounding sounds such as the lens's autofocus. However, flip open a panel on the left side of the camera and a 3.5mm microphone jack means you can record using an external mic, with improved results.

Overall, the Sony Alpha A55 is up there with the best when it comes to point-and-shoot capture and continuous autofocus. It's not 100% reliable, however, because using the sensor's SteadyShot image stabilisation system will cause overheating (resulting in cut out) after around nine minutes, depending on the ambient temperature. It's not an exclusive Sony issue, but it's one to be aware of.

Key video specifications

Approx price: £600 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C-sized sensor (1.5x magnification)
Maximum resolution: 1080i (1920 x 1080px)
Frame rate: 25fps
Compression and file format: H.264 for AVCHD video and AAC audio compression, AVCHD format requires decoding; 1440x1080 Motion JPEG format playable straight from camera as MP4 files
Exposure mode: Programme mode with exposure compensation, AEL, ISO control and (prior to recording only) aperture adjustment
Connectivity: HDMI-C out port with Bravia Sync, 3.5mm audio jack for external microphones

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Panasonic G3

Panasonic g3

Panasonic's champion mid-level compact system camera, the Lumix G3, is small in body but big on its automated movie features.

The camera's 3-inch, vari-angle touchscreen LCD screen extends from the side of the body and can be rotated through any angle. The Panasonic Lumix G3 even includes a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) that, due to the camera's construction, can be used during capture for extra stability where needed (this isn't possible with any DSLR camera).

Auto focus

What really sells the G3's movie mode is the camera's continuous autofocus (AF-C) mode combined with the touchscreen technology. Pressing a finger onto the screen itself dictates the point of focus, and this can be used in real time during recording – the camera glides the subject into focus and rarely over- or under-focuses, due to the controlled speed of focusing.

Focus can be achieved anywhere across the screen, meaning that even subjects to the edge of the frame aren't out of reach. For more accurate focusing, the 1-Area AF Mode realises a square-shaped focus area that can also be resized with the drag of a finger.

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Face Detection, Subject Tracking and a 23-Area auto mode are also available. Pop the camera into single autofocus mode (AF-S) and focusing is just about as quick as it gets, due to the impressive live view AF speed. But this can falter a little, from time to time.

Manual focus is also available, and a 'macro-landscape slider' shows on the screen to assist with focus distance. But its generalised terms aren't overly helpful, and no full-size zoom assist to show the recording in actual size on the screen means tweaking the focus can be problematic.

Using the zoom during recording can cause a bit of a battle with the autofocus system, too, because the focus here fails to keep up.

Performance

Although the Panasonic Lumix G3 fails to offer full manual control (something seemingly reserved for the higher-pegged Lumix GH2 model), the AVCHD 1080i capture at 50fps (output at 25fps for PAL or 60i output at 30fps for NTSC standards) is of good quality, although the MTS files will need to be decoded into MOV files (using software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker) for use with other devices.

Exposure compensation is available, but this is only before you start recording, rather than during capture.

Exposure itself can occasionally 'jump' between levels as the light changes, although slow shifts in light won't cause such problems. In addition to AVCHD, Motion-JPEG capture is also available, which produces larger-sized AVI files of lesser quality, but which require no processing for use straight from camera.

Audio

Sound-wise, the Panasonic Lumix G3 has an onboard stereo microphone in front of the hotshoe. This location keeps the mic out of reach from the lens, and no autofocus sounds are audible in playback.

The Panasonic Lumix G3 is a great point-and-shoot bit of kit for video capture that can accurately track subjects and glide between focal depths with accuracy. It's just the lack of manual controls that hold it back.

Key video specs

Approx price: £619 with 14-42mm kit lens
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds Sensor (2x magnification)
Maximum resolution: 1080i capture (1920x1080px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 50i (25fps sensor output) PAL / 60i (30fps sensor output) NTSC
Compression: H.264 for AVCHD video and AAC audio compression
File format: AVCHD format MTS files require decoding; M-JPEG
Exposure mode: Programme mode
Focus modes: Full time (AF-C), Subject Tracking, Single (AF-C) and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectivity: HDMI & A/V outs

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Nikon D5100

Nikon d5100

The thing that really sells the Nikon D5100 is its 921k-dot, 3-inch, vari-angle LCD screen. Because this is mounted on a side hinge, it's possible to turn it away from the camera and rotate it through any angle. This provision is particularly useful for video capture where a waist-level or high-up shooting position may be desired.

It's worth noting that the D5100 was released before the more budget Nikon D3100. However, the latter release benefitted from live view improvements that translated into faster movie autofocusing. When the D5100 was released, these improvements hadn't been rolled out, so, as a benchmark, the D3100 is actually a more capable video shooting machine in terms of its autofocus ability.

Auto Focus

The D5100 offers edge-to-edge focusing across the whole screen, and it's possible to move the AF-Area focus point anywhere, using the D-pad. In addition, there are Face-Priority AF and Subject Tracking AF modes that do a good job of selecting subjects and recognising their movements, yet can't always follow this up with the swift autofocus to maintain focus at all times.

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Performance

Although the D5100 offers a 24 or 25fps frame rate choice at both 1080p and 720p, the resulting (1080p) MOV files equate to around 150MB per minute and have the same excess compression characteristics of the D3100's files.

There's just not the biting detail that you'd expect from a Full HD file because of this, plus exposure can 'jump' between brightness levels in certain circumstances.

Exposure

Control-wise, the Programme mode takes care of all the settings and, despite the screen relaying aperture and shutter values these are only displayed as a carry-over from the stills shooting side, they're not values that apply to the movie capture - the camera takes care of all that.

The only exposure control that can be tweaked live during capture is exposure compensation adjustment.

As well as a built in mono microphone, the D5100 adds a 3.5mm microphone jack for use with external microphones. When using the in-built option it's easy to pick up lens focusing sounds, so the capacity to use an external mic is a significant and essential benefit. 


Key video specifications

Approx price: £690 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized sensor (1.5x magnification)
LCD screen: 3-inch, 921k-dot, vari-angle
Maximum resolution: 1080p capture (1920 x 1080px)
Frame rate: 24 or 25fps
Compression: H.264 video compression and Linear PCM audio
File format: MOV
Exposure mode: Programme shooting mode
Focus modes: Full time (AF-F), Single (AF-S) and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Canon EOS 600D

Canon eos 600d

The direct competitor for Nikon's D5100, the Canon EOS 600D has notable similarities - most prominently a 3-inch, vari-angle LCD screen. However in the Canon camera's instance the screen is as high a resolution as they (currently) come, at a whopping 1,040k-dots. The articulating mount means it can be put through almost any angle for unusual framing and is particularly useful for lower-angled shots when capturing video.

Auto Focus

The 600D utilises a contrast-detection autofocus system when in live view (and therefore movie mode), which is far from swift off the mark. Indeed focusing isn't any better than the budget Canon EOS 1100D model and has trouble with over- and under-focusing when attempting to acquire focus. It's therefore best not to re-focus during movie capture unless you're tweaking manual focus only.

Unlike the Nikon D5100, the 600D doesn't offer a continuous autofocus option during movie capture.

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Exposure

Although the autofocus isn't great, the 600D offers plenty of manual control - through from aperture and shutter speed to ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation, everything is at your disposal should you so wish. Of course a quick flick of a button in the main menu can also set the exposure to 'Auto' for point-and-shoot simplicity too.

Movie Digital Zoom

One quirk of the 600D is the Movie Digital Zoom option that gives an additional 3x magnification without loss of resolution (it can offer up to 10x mag though this will come with some loss of detail).

As the 1920x1080 Full HD movie resolution only equates to around 2-megapixels in total, it's far smaller than the full 18-megapixel sensor on offer. By using a smaller portion of the sensor, the camera is able to multiply its zoom capabilities.

Theoretically the 600D's sensor could fit three 1080p captures side by side across its sensor, hence the 3x equating to no detail loss.

Performance

Video files are captured at 24, 25 or 30fps and rendered as MOV files using the H.264 compression codec.

Quality is very good overall, with a (variable) 45mbit/sec data rate in our test squeezing some 360MB of footage into a single minute.

Audio is dealt with using on on-board microphone, though those looking for better sound will be pleased to see the 3.5mm mic jack for external microphones. The linear PCM sound quality is good (though can get distorted due to wind when using the built-in mic).

Key video specifications

Approx price: £700 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized (1.6x magnification)
LCD screen: 3-inch, 1040k-dot, vari-angle
Maximum resolution: 1080p capture (1920x1080px)
Frame rate: 24, 25 or 30fps
Compression: H.264 video compression and Linear PCM audio
File format: MOV file format
Exposure modes: Programme and Manual shooting options
Focus mode: Single (AF-S) and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectiveity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports, 3.5mm jack for external microphones

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Olympus PEN E-P3

Olympus pen e-p3

Like a suped-up version of the E-PL2 (as found in the under £500 section of this article), the latest Olympus PEN E-P3 has a lot of video control on offer.

This is the first PEN model to introduce AVCHD capture, though this doesn't directly replace the Motion JPEG capture of previous models - both options are available.

Read our full Olympus PEN E-P3 review

AVCHD capture uses better compression for smaller files that then need to be rendered outside of camera, whereas M-JPEG is a series of JPEG images replayed as a movie (AVI format) that can be used straight from camera.

Exposure

The E-P3's movie capabilities have some great quirks: Full manual control means aperture, shutter and ISO options can be adjusted for absolute control. However none of these settings can be changed during capture, a significant oversight that could have stepped up the camera's capabilities considerably.

Pressing the one-touch movie button will start recording rolling, but accurate composition is flawed here as the E-P3 uses a different portion of the sensor for movie capture. This causes cropping, i.e. the original frame you thought was going to be captured will suddenly be more 'zoomed in' and lose the surrounding edge (this even occurs if set to 16:9 ratio in stills mode). Small details like this hold the E-P3 back from having a more pro-fulfilling movie mode.

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Auto focus

During recording there's the option of continuous autofocus, single autofocus (both of which can have the addition of manual override) or manual focus.

The E-P3's continuous autofocus mode is the one that particularly impresses, as it eases subjects into focus with little problems. It's a frustration that the focus point can't be moved around during capture, which becomes yet more of a misgiving when considering the E-P3's touch-sensitive screen (that's rendered useless in movie mode). It should have taken a leaf out of the Panasonic G3's book and allowed for full touchscreen focus control during capture.

Performance

The E-P3's 20Mbps data rate should produce high quality, though compression seems a bit over the top at times - looking in detail areas reveals processed, 'fuzzy' edges. A lower 'Normal' compression option is also available as a further space-saving option.

Sound is captured via the on-board stereo microphone, though wind noise can be an issue. While it's possible to employ an external microphone the Olympus-only Accessory Port means there's only one current microphone (SEMA-1) available. A standard 3.5mm fitting for third party microphones would have made more sense and opened the camera up to an even wider audience.

Overall the E-P3 improves capture options from previous models but fails to iron out small details that would have taken this good camera to levels of greatness.

Key video specifications

Approx price: £799 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds (2x magnification)
Screen: 3-inch, 610k-dot, OLED touschsreen
Maximum resolution: 1080i capture (1920x1080px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 60i (output as 30fps)
File format: AVCHD or Motion JPEG recording
Exposure modes: Full Manual and Auto shooting options
Focus modes: Continuous (AF-C), Single (AF-S) with Manual Focus override available
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports, accessory port for Olympus SEMA-1 microphone

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Pentax K-5

Pentax k-5

Pentax's K-5 is the company's most able video-shooting DSLR, capable of capturing Full HD 1080p clips at 25fps in the Motion JEPG (AVI) format.

Although the K-5's body is rugged and weather-sealed, which makes it hard wearing and ideal for use in sandy or rainy conditions, there aren't too many movie-based perks for the videographer.

Auto focus

The main thing lacking from the K-5 is that there's no autofocus available during video capture - instead it's only possible to predetermine the focal point and then commence recording after.

When attaining focus prior to capture, the K-5's focus system, as per its live view operation, is very quick and will zoom in to the image (to actual size to ensure accurate focus is made).

Manual focus is also available, but this isn't always practical as assessing focal distance isn't easy to judge using a DSLR. It's made more tricky by the K-5's lack of a manual focus assist (to show the image zoomed in to actual size on screen for more accurate focusing).

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Exposure

The K-5 makes up for its AF shortfall elsewhere by the provision of Aperture Priority exposure control (though the aperture can only be set prior to recording) and the inclusion of a 3.5mm mic jack to connect an external microphone.

Exposure compensation and exposure lock are available during capture for more critical exposure decisions, as in Aperture Priority mode the camera auto-adjusts the exposure level.

Other fun options include 'Cross Processing' and Digital Filter modes that can also be applied to videos to add an 'arty' edge (but once they're applied there's no way of removing the final effect).

Performance

The K-5's final movie quality is very good, though there are some signs of grain in shadow areas. The rendered AVI files are also huge, with a minute of footage eating up some 430MB of space (though this is why the quality is high). A three-tiered compression option accessible via the main menu means file size can be reduced by compromising further on quality should you need the extra space. Sound-wise it's mono recording only, which is of adequate quality, though not a match for straightforward stereo sound.

Pentax K-5 Key video specs

Approx price: £930 with 18-55mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized (1.5x magnification)
LCD screen: 3-inch, 921k-dot
Maximum resolution: 1080p capture (1920x1080px)
Frame rate: 25fps
Compression: Motion JPEG and mono sound
File format: AVI file format
Exposure modes: Programme and Aperture Priority shooting options
Focus modes: Fixed pre-focus only and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectivity: HDMI-C and mini-USB AV out ports, 3.5mm jack for external microphones

Best DSLRs for video £500-£1000: Verdict

As the price bracket increases so does the expectation for more features and greater control over video making, though this won't be realised in every purchase.

Despite the Pentax K-5 being the most expensive of the cameras on test in this price bracket, it's the only camera that doesn't offer any autofocus ability for its movie mode. While, arguably, some of the other cameras' autofocus modes aren't of pratical use, and therefore obsolete, this is certainly an area Pentax needs to see some progression in. The AVI files are good quality, but the file sizes are huge and this just isn't going to cut it for more pro-grade applications either.

The other two remaining DSLRs - the Nikon D5100 and Canon 600D - are very similar on paper and have some great features, but are quite different beasts.

The vari-angle screens of both cameras are very practical for movie shooting and the 3.5mm mic jack of each model means external microphones can be connected for sound recording. The D5100's continuous autofocus is a step in the right direction, but it's not fast enough to deal with all subjects and the video files are a little 'choppy' rather than 'cinematic' in playback.

Although the Canon 600D's files may look the better of the pair, its single autofocus system is no better than that found in the Canon EOS 1100D, which mis-focuses by such a margin that it's next to useless (this could explain why Pentax avoids implementing such a system in the K-5).

Then things step up a notch.

The E-PL3's movie capture abilities are great, there's full manual control and the continuous autofocus is fantastic too. The letdown is in the final quality however, which lacks the sharpness and clarity of its peers due to over-processing. But still a very strong effort that's a breeze to use.

The Sony Alpha A55 also puts in a sterling effort. Its continuous autofocus is very, very fast and equally as accurate, which allows for swift focusing between a variety of subjects. However the A55's main autofocus strength is also its main 'weakness' in other regards: as the camera can only autofocus to the centre-point of the screen there's a lack of control; no single autofocus features; nor are there manual controls. But it is the cheapest one of the bunch here, and for that it's a grand performer that's far faster than anything else out there.

At the top of the tree is Panasonic's G3. For the snap-happy consumer crowd this camera has (almost) everything you could need. Final quality is great, the touchscreen is fantastic for changing focus points during capture (something the Olympus E-P3 failed to address), the continuous autofocus is very smooth as is the ability to track moving subjects. I

t may not be quite as swift as the Sony A55, its 2.5mm mic jack is annoying and there's no full manual control. But what you do get, however, is a device that's small, affordable, endlessly useable and will appeal to the wider masses that want good video capture and controls right at their fingertips.

Best DSLRs for video: over £1000

At the over £1,000 and sub £2,000 price point there are several DSLRs and compact system cameras (CSCs) that have taken movie capture to a high-spec level. Some offer top-notch settings that promise professional quality and intelligent controls.

When spending upwards of £1,000 there's a lot to consider: which model produces the best quality footage; which can autofocus with ease (if this is important to your movie making); or how much manual control do you get over exposure?

There's also a mixture of Four Thirds, APS-C and full-frame sensors available.

We've rounded up five current models over the £1,000 threshold and break down what they're capable of to help you choose the right model for shooting video.

Best DSLRs for video £1000+: Panasonic GH2

Cameras for video: panasonic lumix gh2

The bigger brother of the Lumix G3, the Micro Four Thirds GH2 is Panasonic's ultimate movie-recording stills camera. Its 3-inch, vari-angle touchscreen can be positioned through any angle and is ideal for movie shooting, plus the hands-on 'touch for focus' approach makes for unique yet pinpoint autofocus control.

The GH2 provides the full array of manual controls as well as automated movie shooting. This means that both shutter and aperture can be controlled in real time when recording - though doing so will cause a small 'blip' of overexposure while the camera quickly adjusts. It doesn't look particularly smooth, so sticking to exposure compensation for a more fluid exposure transitions is one way to maintain smoother results.

The Programme Auto (P) mode leaves the GH2 in charge of most settings for more simplified point-and-shoot recording, as commenced by the one touch button just behind the main shutter button.

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Sensor

As the GH2 has a different Four Thirds sensor than other Lumix cameras (this one has more processing power and is a slightly different size to accommodate all aspect ratios, including 16:9 movie, without unnecessary cropping) its readout is of a higher capacity too. This translates into a 24p (progressive) cinema mode, compared to all other Lumix cameras that capture interlaced files.

It also means a 24Mbps data rate, which is on par with that of a professional spec camcorder, and adds that extra depth of quality to final files.

The GH2 also provides a 50 or 60i capture should this be preferable, plus there's a Variable Movie mode that can capture at 80%, 160%, 200% or 300% of usual speed inside the camera (by adding or skipping frames) for a slower motion or sped-up capture. It's an extra wave of creativity, and similarly there's also an Ex Tele Converter mode that uses an exact 1920x1080 pixel section of the sensor for a 3x magnification without quality loss.

Autofocus

Autofocus is super fast when using single focus (AF-S), and the full time autofocus (AF-A) is very smooth and accurate when shifting between subjects. This is the same system as employed in the excellent Lumix G3, though the GH2 does have one distinct downer - the focus area is restricted to a far more central portion of the screen that causes distinct limitations.

Panasonic's AVCHD capture format means movies need to be processed in order to use them outside of the camera, but this keeps file sizes far smaller than they would be otherwise.

Audio

Sound-wise the GH2's built-in stereo microphone captures decent quality audio, though the 2.5mm (again, not the more standard 3.5mm fitting) will have those wishing to use many third party microphones at a loss. Panasonic makes a variety of microphones with the 2.5mm fitting or there are 2.5-3.5mm converters available for little money, though using the latter isn't the most elegant or reliable way of recording.

Video specs

Approx price: £1,049 with 14-140mm kit lens
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds (2x magnification)
Maximum resolution: 1080p capture (1920x1080px)
Frame rate: 24fps (1080p) / 50/60i fields per second also available (output as 25/30fps)
Compression: AVCHD capture (or Motion JPEG at QVGA resolution only)
Audio support: 2.5mm mini audio jack for external microphones
File format: AVCHD format MTS files require decoding; M-JPEG
Exposure mode: Programme mode with real time exposure compensation; Manual mode with real time shutter and aperture control; Aperture & Shutter Priority modes
Focus modes: Full time (AF-C), Subject Tracking, Single (AF-C) and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectivity: HDMI & A/V outs

Best DSLRs for video £1000+: Nikon D7000

Cameras for video: nikon d7000

At the top end of Nikon's APS-C format 'consumer' range, the D7000 doesn't claim to be a professional camera, though a browse through its features list quickly suggests otherwise. It's the most proficient Nikon DSLR for movie recording, even above and beyond the full-frame D3s (the latter's older sensor accommodates inferior Motion-JPEG recording only).

Autofocus

With the ability to use single (AF-S) or full time (AF-A) autofocus, the D7000 has among the most responsive live view focusing systems to be found in a DSLR camera. However, the continuous autofocus, as per that of the D5100, isn't quite quick enough to keep up with all subjects, plus the audible clicking sound of autofocus is picked up in shots.

Furthermore the AF seems lazy when zooming the lens, often resulting in an out of focus shot that needs a half shutter depression to coax the system back into play. However, compared to much of the competition it is an effective autofocus system overall - just not a patch on many Compact System Cameras or Sony's A55.

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Manual control

Where the D7000 outdoes its D5100 cousin is with the addition of manual control. Manual mode allows for adjustment of shutter and aperture as a means to set exposure, though the latter can only be adjusted outside of live view mode - an oddity as this means a lot of unnecessary flicking of switches and dials just to set the aperture as desired.

Although it appears that Aperture and Shutter Priority modes are also available, they're not, as the values displayed on screen are nothing more than relics from stills shooting that the camera ignores in practice. Using the camera in its auto mode is most proficient as real time exposure compensation and exposure lock are both available and make it easy to fix exposure/brightness as required.

The D7000's 1080p movies are captured at the cinematic 24 frames per second frame rate and output as MOV files. H.264 compression means quality is good, though the 175MB/minute rate is less than some other models out there and this shows in the final captures - although decent, they've not for the same cutting detail and smoothness as from, say, the Canon EOS 7D (which we'll look at later in this article).

Audio

Sound is dealt with using an on-board microphone or there's a 3.5mm mic jack for third party microphones. The latter is particularly useful as sound is a little muffled; it sounds 'squashed' and over-compressed when recorded from the camera body.

Nikon D7000 Key video specs

Approx price: £1,059 with 18-105mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized (1.5x magnification)
Maximum resolution:1080p capture (1920x1080px)
Frame rate: 24fps (1080p) / 25/30fps (720p)
Compression: H.264 compression for video and Linear PCM audio (mono)
Audio support: 3.5mm audio jack for external microphones (stereo)
File format: MOV
Exposure mode:
Programme mode with exposure compensation & AEL; Manual mode with live shutter control and pre-determined aperture control
Focus modes: Single autofocus (AF-S), Full-time autofocus (AF-A), Manual focus
Connectivity: HDMI-C out, A/V out

Best DSLRs for video £1000+: Olympus E-5

Cameras for video: olympus e-5

As Olympus focuses its attention on its PEN range of Compact System Cameras there's been a lot of suggestion that the Four Thirds format E-5 will be the company's final DSLR camera. Even so it's also the first Olympus DSLR to feature a movie mode.

Able to capture 720p HD clips, the E-5 utilises the Motion JPEG format at a 1/12 compression ratio to capture its AVI movie files. The format means large files at around 285MB/min, but the final quality doesn't seem to correspond to this high number.

Compression is excessive, colours appear muted and shadow areas (even at lower ISO settings) show presence of mottled image noise that doesn't make for the most appealing shots. Framing up is also difficult as the movie mode uses a different portion of the sensor than for its stills shots (even in 16:9 mode) that results in a sudden 'crop in' where recording captures a slightly different frame.

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Autofocus and manual control

However there are some plus points: the E-5's autofocus system is nippy (though only single autofocus or manual focus is available); full manual controls are available for shutter and aperture control; a 3.5mm mic jack means external microphones can be attached; and Art Filter modes can also be used in movie capture for added in-camera creativity such as Grainy Film, Soft Focus and several more.

On the downside the camera is expensive (£1420 covers just the body without a lens) and the Art Filter modes drop the movie frame rate so low that they're unlikely to be of use. Even when setting focus prior to shot the final captures are often a little out of focus unless focus is re-acquired during recording, manual controls can't be adjusted in real time during capture, plus the on-board microphone captures a hissing mid-high frequency that's distracting compared to competitor models.

Indeed the E-5's movie mode feels like it was 'tacked on' rather than added as an intrinsic part of this camera.

Olympus E-5 Key video specs

Approx price: £1,419 body only
Sensor: Four Thirds (2x magnification)
Maximum resolution: 720p capture (1280x720px)
Frame rate: 30fps
Compression: Motion JPEG 1/12
Audio support: 3.5mm audio jack for external microphones
File format: AVI
Exposure mode:
Programme mode with pre-shooting aperture, ISO and exposure compensation control; full Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority control (pre-determined values prior to recording only)
Focus modes: Single autofocus (AF-S), Full-time autofocus (AF-A), Manual focus
Connectivity: HDMI-C out, A/V out, USB out

Best DSLRs for video £1000+: Canon EOS 7D

Cameras for video: canon eos 7d

One of the big guns when it comes to stills shooting, Canon's APS-C format semi-pro spec 7D also delivers quality on the movie front too.

On the rear of the camera there's a movie live view mode switch that surrounds a Start/Stop button to commence recording. As this individual control features here the position of the main mode dial on top of the camera - to select between Programme or Manual modes - is crucial depending on how much exposure control you want to have.

Shooting modes

The 7D doesn't do things by half measures: either you take full control of both aperture and shutter values (and ISO if you should choose) when in Manual mode; or the P (Programme Auto) mode automates exposure and controls all settings on your behalf.

Aperture and Shutter Priority modes are not available, instead these act as per the P mode, and it's only in Manual that full control of all settings is available.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted live during recording using the rear rotational wheel, and the exposure lock button can also fix the exposure value to the current subject in order to stop the camera adjusting for changes in light. The occasional flash of light can occur as the camera auto adjusts for exposure, though it's not a common occurrence.

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Autofocus and manual control

Focus-wise it's either single autofocus (AF-S), as controlled by the AF-ON button on the rear of the camera (that's quite awkward to use due to its placement) or manual focus. The focus is as per many other DSLR cameras - there will often be over- and under-focusing issues, plus the camera (even when in Manual mode) may briefly up the exposure value in order to obtain a higher area of contrast for focusing and this then relays in final capture playback. So it's not so slick unless you take full control of everything, including focus, by hand.

Although the 7D isn't a point-and-shoot model by any means, the main reason to consider buying one is the final quality of its movie clips. The 1080p files can be captured at 24, 25 or 30fps and are rendered as MOV files using H.264 compression. The end quality is quite staggering in terms of fine detail, motion fluidity and careful use of compression - indeed at around 375MB/minute there's a whole lot of data being squeezed into the clips, and it shows.

Audio is handled by an on-board microphone or a third party microphone can be plugged into the 3.5mm mic jack for more professional off-camera recording.

For full manual control and high quality movie clips the 7D does a fantastic job, though the autofocus system is best avoided if you're after truly professional quality final clips. 


Video specs

Approx price: £1,445 with 18-135mm kit lens
Sensor: APS-C sized sensor (1.6x magnification)
Maximum resolution:1080p capture (1920x1080px)
Frame rate: 24, 25 and 30fps
Compression: H.264 compression for video and Linear PCM audio
Audio support: 3.5mm audio jack for external microphones
File format: MOV
Exposure mode:
Programme mode with exposure compensation & AEL; Manual mode with live aperture and shutter control
Focus modes: Single autofocus or manual focus
Connectivity: HDMI-C out, A/V out

Best DSLRs for video £1000+: EOS 5D MkII

Cameras for video: canon eos 5d mkii

Canon's 5D MkII is deemed by many as the ultimate stills camera for shooting pro-spec videos - so much so it's even been used in Hollywood movies such as Iron Man 2.

It's clear to see why the industry in the know is keen on the Canon's technology too. The 5D mkII's 1080p capture can record at the cinematic 24fps frame rate or native PAL (25fps) and NTSC (30fps) settings. Although we're not talking about true Digital Cinema 4K capture (or indeed higher; but that's outside of any still camera's reach at the moment), the final quality of the Canon's clips is fantastic.

Full-frame sensor

There's a twofold reason for this: as per the 7D, the 5D MkII squeezes some 375MB/min into its MOV files; but it's the full-frame sensor's extra physical size that adds pronounced shallow depth of field (blurred background) that's out of reach of smaller-sensor cameras. Pair the 5D mkII up with some stunning wide aperture lenses and its clips will exude professional quality.

Of course such extra physical size can cause some constraints. For example, a 50mm lens on the 5D mkII equates to roughly peripheral vision, whereas the same lens on a Canon 7D would equate to 80mm. If you want long-reaching shots from telephoto lenses on the 5D mkII then be prepared to surrender not only your wallet due to the sheer expense, but also your spine thanks to the potential weight burden (depending on how much kit you intend to carry).

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Shooting modes

Control-wise and the 5D mkII has exposure provisions as good as any other model we've seen. Manual, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority modes each provide full control over settings that can be manipulated live during capture. Do note that stopping the aperture up or down while recording can result in a very brief 'flash' of overexposure however.

Programme mode can be used much like an 'Auto' option, though it's still possible to adjust exposure compensation or fix the exposure to a specific subject using AEL (exposure lock) while recording.

Autofocus is akin to the 7D's control, where the 'AF-ON' button on the rear of the camera is used to adjust the single autofocus. However it's less accurate than its sister model and can sometimes miss focus completely - certainly not the way the Hollywood movie buffs will be using the camera.

Lens advice

Lens focusing noises can also be picked up by the onboard microphone (depending upon what's mounted and whether it has silent focusing or not - always worth checking for Canon's USM, aka Ultrasonic Motor, for silent focusing), although a 3.5mm mic jack is available to connect third party microphones for more professional off-camera audio recording. Although autofocus is one noise of concern, image stabilisation may also produce a continual whirring/clicking sound - something else to keep an ear out for, but that's dependent on the lens in use.

The 5D MkII's white balance isn't a problem, as such, though leave the camera on AWB (Auto White Balance) and you may find changes in light being overcompensated for or stronger colours appearing more muted then they ought to. Setting the WB manually overcomes this issue easily.

This camera isn't one for casual point-and-shoot users, largely down to the so-so single autofocus mode and lack of any other camcorder-like features. But aspiring moviemakers will be pleased by the 5D mkII's immense final quality and provision for full manual control. The large sensor delivers quality not matched by any other (the Nikon D3s is the only other current full-frame, movie-capable stills camera), though adding extra kit to hone your steady hold and manual focusing abilities may be an essential in order to deliver true pro-looking shots.

Canon EOS 5D MK II Key Video specs

Approx price: £1,700 body only
Sensor: Full-frame 35mm (1x magnification)
Maximum resolution:1080p capture (1920x1080px)
Frame rate: 24, 25 and 30fps
Compression: H.264 compression for video and Linear PCM audio
Audio support: 3.5mm audio jack for external microphones
File format: MOV
Exposure mode:
Programme mode with exposure compensation & AEL; Manual mode with live aperture and shutter control; Aperture Priority with live control; Shutter Priority with live control
Focus modes: Single autofocus or manual focus
Connectivity: HDMI-C out, A/V out

Best DSLRs for video £1000+: Verdict


All five of these stills cameras provide some level of manual control, in itself signifying that these aren't low-level playthings. Often pro-spec, it's likely you'll need some existing camera, video and lens knowledge to make the most out of using these models for the best possible video capture.

Only the D7000 and GH2 provide continuous autofocus that's likely to appeal to the more casual point-and-shoot user, whereas the other models are big beasts designed for pro-aspiring users in the know.
Of the five models the Olympus E-5 is at the bottom of the pack (in fact lesser models will achieve far more). Its low resolution, low quality files and AVI format just won't cut it in today's market and this model feels out of date in a video capture world that's moving at a rapid pace.

A step above is the Nikon D7000. It's got plenty to sell it such as the continuous autofocus mode, but focus and fluidity of playback fall just below the mark at this price level.

Cameras for video: canon eos 5d mkii

The two Canon models are of a similar high-spec ilk, though the 5D mkII has unrivalled final quality thanks to its full-frame sensor. If quality is what you're after and full manual focus and controls are integral to you (an aspiring film maker, perhaps) then this is a great route to head down. Canon's lenses, while not to the same level (or cost) of, say, Panavision lenses, they are still staggeringly good and there are a whole host of wide aperture primes available that can take your shots to the next level.

Cameras for video: panasonic gh2

For the more point-and-shoot minded the GH2 is the most successful marriage of quality and ease of use. The smaller sensor means files don't outdo the 5D mkII, but the Lumix's 24Mbps 1080p quality is up there with top of the range camcorders. Add to this the touchscreen control and silky smooth continuous autofocus and there's a whole lot to like about the Panasonic - it's the one most likely to banish camcorder rivals off the shelves.

Best DLSR for video: Overall verdict

So we have seen a that huge breadth of cameras results in an equally huge variety of results. Of all the cameras seen there are some that, irrelevant of price, just don't cut the mustard. To quickly oust these culprits, the Olympus E-5 and Pentax K-5 are best left behind from a video capture perspective. Whether that correlates to the Motion-JPEG (AVI) capture format being inadequate for video capture is certainly an argument.

Sink or swim?

Within each price group there's a favourite model to be had, but round all the cameras up into a single group and it's the DSLRs that tend to sink and the CSCs that float to the top.

In the sub-£1000 categories very few models offer full manual exposure control (the Canon EOS 600D is the DSLR exception here), which leaves the DSLRs struggling on account of their comparably poor autofocus in video mode and final quality that's often little better than their compact system counterparts.

It's a testament to just how good the CSC market is for video capture as the wide range of models performed very well indeed. If you want something that's easy to use then each and every CSC in this test performed well, though it's the Panasonic Lumix range where the most advantage is made by throwing touchscreen technology into the mix (something the Olympus E-P3 has but doesn't make use of for its movie capture). Herein lie the most camcorder-like of models, which will appeal to the masses looking for that extra splash of quality and, of course, the ability to capture great still shots too.

Some figures don't figure

One thing this test does reveal is that figures on paper don't always correlate to their real world success. But, deep down, we probably all knew that already. Final quality and other areas simply can't be looked up on a manufacturer website or in a brochure:

'Flickering' when shifting between one exposure level and the next was a problem seen in a number of models, though the Samsung NX11 was the worst culprit here.

Other models, such as the E-P3 lay on plenty of manual control, but then prevent these controls from being used in real time during capture.

Resolution-wise there's often a bit of a mis-sell too:

While 1080i may look bigger and better on paper than 720p, don't forget that interlaced (i) capture isn't as good as its progressive (p) bigger brother. It's been long-argued that a 720p file will - despite its lower resolution - be better than a 1080i one, on the assumption that all other conditions are the same.

As much as we'd say that's true, it's those 'other conditions' such as compression and frame rate that put a spanner in the works.

The Panasonic G3's 1080i files may look better than the 1080p files from the Nikon D3100, for example, yet the Canon 1100D's 720p final quality supersedes the both of them. That's all well and good, until you try and autofocus with the Canon before promptly surrendering in favour of the G3's sublime continuous AF.

The point being there are any number of digits available to try and sell a camera, but peel back the marketing, look at the results for yourself and balance up whether a camera can deliver all of your 'must haves' in order to warrant purchase. Matching the right kit to your needs is important.

The future

As video technology in stills cameras is only a couple of years old there must still be plenty more to come: imagine powered zoom lenses, faster focusing systems, larger data streams and improved electronic viewfinders and this market will overrun a section of the camcorder market in years to come. The division between DSLRs and CSCs is likely to become even greater as technology advances too.
As we look around the corner there are higher resolutions already in existence that will cross into consumer territory in years to come. As every camera in this test has a sensor far larger than native 'Full HD' 1080p, there's already the theoretical possibility of shooting 4K resolutions and beyond.

So which camera is best for video?

All things considered, the very best of all the cameras we have looked are so because they offer either the best final quality, are easiest to use or incorporate useful innovation. Arguably no single camera rolls all of that into one, instead each model offers its own unique selling point:

1st place: for quality

Cameras for video: canon eos 5d mkii

Canon EOS 5D Mk II for its pro-spec video quality and full manual controls.

It's nothing like a camcorder but isn't even trying to be; it's a true high-spec movie machine that offers unrivalled quality, though you'll need some video know-how and a big bank account to get the most from it.

The EOS 7D offers similar quality for less cash.

2nd place: for ease of use

Panasonic g3

The Panasonic Lumix G3 for its excellent continuous autofocus. Hands-on touchscreen focus control makes it easy to maintain subject focus.

Although the Lumix GH2 has better final quality overall, the limitations to the latter's on-screen focus area and extra price hike puts the more consumer-friendly G3 up a peg or two.

3rd place: for innovation

Sony alpha 55

The Sony Alpha A55 for its super-fast continuous autofocus. This one's a unique camera in the running. It may not be perfect due to lack of fine-tuning and focus area control that would make it all the better, but nonetheless it's mightily impressive and very quick.

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Liked this? Then check out Best DSLR: top cameras by price and brand

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