UPDATE: Many new DSLRs have been released since the publication of this article last year. I just published an updated article on the 3 best DSLRs for professional videos in 2014 that you can watch here!
Many people have asked me, "What is the best DSLR for video?" And although there is not a single best DSLR, there are a few that have made a name for themselves and have gone beyond the enormous number of cameras video functions. The purpose of this post is, of course, to look at some of the best options and discuss their strengths.
Many of the recently released high quality camcorders like the Canon C100 / C300, the Sony FS700 and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera have taken the limelight off the DSLRs, at least as far as video recording is concerned. This is because DSLRs represent a quality improvement in many ways and usually have a form factor that is designed for video as opposed to still images (especially in the case of the Canon C-Line), as is the case with many DSLR shooters I've been waiting for it for years. Still, DSLRs are still exceptionally good tools and can often deliver results that are close (or in some cases better than) cameras at much higher prices, and can often still be the best possible choice for many tasks.
For example, DSLRs are great for documentaries where accessibility and ease of use can be more important than a slight increase in quality. DSLRs can also offer some level of anonymity and allow you to blend into the rest of the world with your little camera, which makes guerrilla style shooting really easy. Even Aronofsky used a 7D on Black Swan for the subway scenes.
I recently had to color-evaluate a project that was shot with a very wide mix of formats, from a RED camera to FS100 to two DSLRs (5D MKIII and GH3). What struck me was that although the RED footage obviously had a higher resolution, the DSLR material held up very well, especially from the GH3. And because the cameras were really white balanced and the show was well lit, there was actually a decent amount of flexibility in the post that allowed me to give the DSLR footage a nice, stylized look without it falling apart. Now when I look at the end product, I almost forget which camera was which. When they matched and the video was mastered, everything looked very accurate.
Where a RED or Alexa or Blackmagic or another raw camera lights up is in the color class. You have seemingly endless possibilities. However, this does not mean that you cannot get very similar results with a DSLR in the camera. As long as you don't starve your light camera and have your white balance in the right stadium, the footage from DSLRs can really hold up well. The same applies to raw cameras. Just because they're raw doesn't mean you don't have to properly illuminate / expose your recordings – Raw can only save you to a certain extent. And while it's great to have the flexibility of raw material, 9 out of 10 if a project is well received, you don't have to post it much in the mail and your raw material is rarely fully utilized. Just a little bit of contrast and balance. Seeing the results of this project actually inspired me to take out my GH3 and take more pictures with it, as has been the case recently in the Pelican case.
That is why I wrote this top 5 list because I think that in the past year or so, although some great new DSLRs have been released, many of these cameras have not received the attention they deserve, like many of the new camcorders and raw cameras out there stole the limelight.
The following cameras are listed in order of their price. This is not a comparison of these cameras, but a general information point about what I think are the 5 best DSLRs for videos. Please also note that I have limited it to 5 cameras here, but there are countless other DSLRs that are excellent tools and just haven't made this list – mainly due to personal bias.
The other thing to note is that I wanted this list to be well rounded in terms of prices and features, so it took into account why some of these cameras made it onto the list.
Before we start here, I would also like to mention that I will be doing a shootout with several different cameras in the next few months and would like to hear from you which cameras you would like to be recorded on. Please comment below and let me know which cameras from this list you would like to see (and which are not on the list). It's not just limited to DSLRs.
Panasonic G6 – $ 749
Technically speaking, it is not a DSLR (and not the GH3 on this list), but I have grouped them in the same category because they have an almost identical form factor. They are simply mirrorless. The G6 is a brand new camera (which will be out of stock for about a month) that is certainly worthy of attention on this list. It is the latest from Panasonic's G-series and offers a real breakthrough given the low price. The camera is reported to use the same sensor as the Lumix GH2, which is slightly larger than the GH3's sensor, and anyone who comes from a GH2 shot knows how good this sensor actually is.
Here is the list of technical data:
- 16MP Live MOS sensor
- Venus Engine image processor
- Micro Four Thirds Standard
- Focus peaking
- 3.0 "1,036k point tiltable touchscreen LCD
- OLED Live View Finder with 1,440,000 points
- Full HD 1080p video recording at 60 fps
- Integrated wireless and NFC connectivity
- 7 fps recording with full resolution
- Speed of light autofocus system
Considering that you can get all of these features for $ 749 and the picture looks as good as it is, it's pretty amazing. What I love about Panasonic is that they bring out affordable, video controlled DSLRs. What their DSLRs often lack in the still image department, they make up for in video mode. Not to say that the still images are by no means terrible, but I would not say that they are the strength of this camera or a Panasonic DSLR. This is not a problem for me because I do not primarily take still pictures. However, if you want to use this as a professional still camera and video mode is second for you, there are better options on this list. If you just look at the video functionality, it is hard to beat this camera.
The G6 has some really cool and innovative features – some of which are even the bigger brother that the GH3 doesn't have. For example, this camera has a focus tip built in, which is absolutely amazing. I can't count the number of times I was in need on my GH3 without an external monitor and wish I had a focus tip to guide me through the shot. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love this camera. It also has a 1080 / 60p mode that the GH3 has, but you won't find it in most DSLRs, including the 5D MKIII.
If you've never shot with an MFT mount camera before, this has some tremendous advantages, but it takes getting used to. The biggest advantage is the fact that you can mount almost any lens on the camera because of the short flange spacing and the fact that it is mirrorless. The sensor size is smaller than that of APS-C and Full Frame, for which many popular lenses have been developed, so that most common lenses can be adapted to this sensor size without vignetting. The downside to this is that due to the smaller sensor size (and the 1.86x crop factor associated with it), you may need new glass, as a 24mm full frame lens of this camera comes closer to a 45mm lens.
Advantages: IIt is small, light and inexpensive. Has excellent video quality and a great sensor. Rich functions with 1080 / 60p recording and focus peaking.
Disadvantage: Medium-sized sensor (smaller than APS-C), no headphone jack, build quality and still image quality are both mediocre.
Why it made the list: Incredible camera with many functions at a very low price.
NIKON D5200 – $ 796
This is a camera that is making a name for itself very quickly, and one of the cameras I want to test the most in my shootout next month. For ages, Nikon hadn't released a decent video mode on any of their cameras. I love Nikons and I prefer them for stills over Canon in many circumstances, but for the past year or two, it never seemed to them really important to implement a solid video mode. They were slowly starting to release more impressive video features on their DSLRs, and the D800 was the first of their cameras I used that really did have great video mode. But it wasn't until the D5200 came out that I was really impressed when it turned out that they were serious about implementing solid video capabilities in their cameras.
Take a look at the technical data:
- 24.1MP DX CMOS sensor
- EXPEED 3 image processing engine
- 3.0-inch 921k point variable angle LCD monitor
- 39-point AF system with 9 cross types
- Full HD video with full-time servo AF
- Extendable ISO from 100-25600
- Continuous shooting at 5 frames per second
- Scene detection system
- Compatible with WU-1a wireless adapter
The two big highlights of this camera for me are the performance in low light conditions – which is fantastic and one of the best of all DSLRs – and the fact that you can record uncompressed 4: 2: 2 from HDMI to an external recorder like the Blackmagic Hyperdeck Commute. The still images of this camera are also excellent and it has a large 24 megapixel sensor of size APS-C. This is my favorite sensor size as it comes closest to the 35mm movie. Full screen is great, especially in low light, but I usually find that the depth of field may be too shallow for my taste and the wides may go a little too far for my taste. This is a great thing for certain shooting scenarios, but to get the closest to the movie, APS-C is just the thing.
This camera has few disadvantages. One of them is (like most DSLRs) that it doesn't have a headphone jack. The other disadvantage is that the Nikon frame is one of the least customizable frames. So if you want to use PL glass or any number of other lens types, you can't. Nikon lenses are great, and there are some manufacturers like Zeiss that make great Nikon lenses. Depending on your lens collection, many of your lenses may not be suitable for this camera. The other problem that many people have with this camera is the inability to change the aperture in video mode. You actually have to exit video mode, change the aperture, and then get back in, which does the job but can be annoying!
Advantages: Amazing price, fantastic in low light, great still pictures, uncompressed 4: 2: 2 HDMI output.
Disadvantage: No headphone jack, limited lens selection, aperture needs to be changed from still mode.
Why it made the list: Uncompressed 4: 2: 2 and amazing low-light capability on an entry-level DSLR are almost unknown.
GH3 – $ 1,298
A personal favorite of mine, as many of you who are regulars on this website will know. This is a great all-round camera with a phenomenal picture and lots of functions. If you liked the G6, but you might want to go a step further, the GH3 is your best. Since it is an MFT frame, it is very adaptable to many lenses (as described above with the G6) and the image quality is among the best of all cameras on this list. I recently worked on a project shot with the GH3 and C300, and the GH3 looked just as sharp in many scenarios in a real-world scenario.
It is a very rounded camera and you will see what I mean by the following specifications:
- 16.05MP Digital Live MOS Sensor
- 4-CPU Venus Engine
- Micro Four Thirds System
- 3.0 "614k point free-angle OLED monitor
- 1744k dot OLED Live View Finder
- Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps
- 20fps continuous shooting
- Built-in Wi-Fi to connect to smart devices
- Full-area autofocus system, precise AF
- Magnesium alloy, weatherproof body
While this camera has many cool innovations (like the wireless remote control), the overall image quality is the most impressive thing about the camera. Every time I take pictures with it, I am more and more impressed. For example, compared to a 5D, the clarity, sharpness and general IQ of the image is much higher. This is mainly thanks to the strong recording modes with 50 Mbit / s / 72 Mbit / s in which the camera records. It's not a king in low light like the 5D or FS700, but it still works very well in low light and is very clean up to ISO 1600. I will often use it as a B-Cam for my Blackmagic camera, since the BMCC cannot and does not record 1080 / 60fps. They also both seem to have a very similar low light threshold, possibly because the sensor size is quite similar. Apart from other basic but crucial functions of the GH3 (like the headphone jack and the incredibly long-lasting battery), the camera is also well built. It is weatherproof and I used it to shoot in heavy snow and temperatures below 0 ° C, and it didn't close an eye. My older GH2 would not have worked at all in this scenario.
The biggest disadvantages of this camera are the little things that could have been implemented, but not. Focus peaking is the biggest for me, especially considering how the G6 does it. It's kind of a joke that we don't get it on the GH3. Although some are hopeful, there will be a firmware upgrade in the future. There are other little extras that I was hoping for, like a 120 fps mode in 720p, but unfortunately they didn't implement that on the camera.
Advantages: One of the sharpest pictures of a DSLR. Great bonus functions such as WiFi control, 1080 / 60p, amazingly durable dough, well built and weatherproof.
Disadvantage: No focusing (although this should be technically possible), sensor section of 2x (compared to the full screen), HDMI output limited to 4: 2: 0.
Why it made the list: Best all-round camera on this list, very adaptable and amazing overall value.
Canon 5D MKIII – $ 3,499
The one who started it all – the MKII. While the 5D is no longer the obviously best DSLR for video (unless you're considering the new firmware hack), it's still an excellent camera that has improved since the MKII. One thing I will mention before going into the specifics of this camera is that one of the biggest things about the 5D is the fact that it is industry standard. Almost every professional shoot where I used DSLRs ran with the 5D. It is the proven DSLR that most manufacturers and production companies trust because they have already used it and it always works. This is by no means the only reason why you should buy this camera. However, if you plan to use or rent your DSLR in a professional setting, landing gigs can be very helpful as most productions looking for DSLRs still request 5Ds to this day.
Here is the official list of specifications:
- 22.3 MP full screen CMOS sensor
- 3.2 ″ Clear View High resolution LCD
- DIGIC 5+ image processor
- 61-point high-density AF
- Full HD 1080 / 30p and 720 / 60p formats
- Built-in HDR and multiple exposure modes
- Extended ISO range (50-102400)
- Continuous mode with up to 6.0 FPS
- Two CF and SD memory card slots
- Durable magnesium alloy construction
Much of what I can say about 5D has been said by many others over the years. It has a very nice picture, although it is relatively soft compared to other DSLRs, it is very good in low light conditions or without light and the colors of the camera are very pleasant. Although I usually prefer to shoot GH3 over 5D, the main benefit of 5D footage for me is that the colors straight from the card are a little more comfortable for my eye. The other great thing about the 5D is that it's an amazing still camera. Probably the best on this list outside of the next camera (the 1DC). It is also very well built and there are loads of accessories for it as it is the most commonly used camera on this list.
The 5D Curveball is the latest release of a new custom firmware from Magic Lantern. With this firmware you can effectively record raw videos on the MKIII. This is a huge breakthrough that has never been possible on a DSLR. The firmware is still under development and is not yet completely stable. In the coming months, however, more and more Magic Lantern 5Ds will be on the market when the new firmware becomes stable. The biggest problem with raw shooting on the MKIII, however, is the recording media you need (which is extremely expensive because you need very fast cards. The other big problem is the raw workflow – it records in DNG files (not in Cinema DNG) So you can't embed it in DaVinci, FCP X, Premiere or any other NLE and just work with it. It has to be transcoded just like RED footage. For me personally I wouldn't mind doing this. The additional image quality is You get a much wider dynamic range, even better performance in low light, and an overall sharper and better picture, but if you record events, corporate material, or documentation, you will probably never want to use this firmware unless it's shot here or there for the strange beauty.
Advantages: Industry standard, great stills, excellent lowlight, raw ready, headphone jack.
Disadvantage: On the expensive side, no 60p in 1080 mode, relatively soft video even in 1080p, no articulation screen.
Why it made the list: Industry standard camera that is constantly improving with new raw functions.
Canon 1DC – $ 11,999
This is a camera that I can't wait to test in my shootout next month. It's the first DSLR to offer 4K video, which is an amazing feature, although the 4K still records in 8 bits, not 10 bits, as I hoped. The camera is of course the most expensive on this list and in my opinion far too expensive, although the image quality is the best of all DSLRs on this list. The reason I'm saying it's overpriced is simply that Canon also sells an identical camera (the 1DX) that is literally the same in almost every way, but its firmware doesn't have a video mode. At $ 6,799, this camera is almost half the price of the 1DC. Granted, I'm sure Canon didn't want to spoil the sale of the C300 and other C-series cameras by offering a 4K alternative for $ 6,800, but it's still a slap in the face. Especially when you consider that you could have a 1DX for still images and a 4k Blackmagic Production Camera for $ 11,999. Pricing just doesn't make sense.
Regardless, the specifications speak for themselves:
- 18.1 MP CMOS sensor
- Cinema quality 4K video
- 1920 x 1080 Full HD video
- Dual DIGIC 5+ image processors
- 3.2 "LCD screen
- Pentaprism viewfinder at eye level
- Dual CF card recording media
- Canon EF lens mount
- Magnesium alloy body
- 61-point high-density autofocus
The most impressive specification on the list is clearly the ability to take 4K shots, which in turn are not available on any other DSLR. If 4K is a must for you and you like the ergonomics of a DSLR body for the type of shot you take, this is your camera. The strange thing about the price of the 1DC is that while it is the only 4K DSLR available, once you hit that price range, there are several options for 4K cameras that will cost you less (Blackmagic production camera, Red Scarlet, Red, etc .). So this may appeal to a very niche market – one that requires 4K but also needs the stealth form factor of a DSLR (although the body is still quite large). Documentaries and indie filmmakers who want to shoot in guerrilla style may be the most supported by this camera, but unfortunately the price is very limited. The other group that will address this are of course photographers, as this is one of the best DSLRs on the market in terms of still images. So if you want to capture many stills professionally in addition to video, this camera is a good choice. If the price were lower, this would definitely be a camera that I would consider for myself, but the only reason I don't buy it is the cost. I have no problem paying for a camera of this price if I know I will get what I pay for, but if I know this is marked so strongly, I don't want to buy it. That is one of the reasons why I support Panasonic so much. They take the opposite approach and offer their cameras huge features at much lower prices.
Advantages: Amazing picture (best on the list), 4K, incredible still pictures, very well built.
Disadvantage: Far too expensive, 8-bit codec (you should get at least 10 bits for this price), no articulating screen.
Why it made the list: The first and only 4K DSLR on the market and the best image quality on the list.
TO UPDATE! By popular request, I added a camera that was initially almost on the list:
Sony A99- $ 2,798
This fantastic camera almost made my first list, but in the interest of a top 5 list (not a top 6!), I decided not to include it because its direct competitor, the 5D MKIII, had the advantage of being the industry standard there was an advantage. Nevertheless, I received many emails about this camera asking for it to be added to the list and decided that an update of this post is absolutely necessary. The sixth place officially goes to the Sony A99! It really is a great camera from Sony that offers excellent image quality (for both video and still images), a full screen sensor, a 1080 / 60p mode and more. While the price isn't as low as a GH3 with similar specs, this is preferable for many users who need a full-frame camera, but are looking for something that offers more features than anything else in the Canon range.
Check out the impressive specification list:
- 24.3 MP full screen CMOS Exmor sensor
- Translucent mirror technology
- ISO range: 100-5,600 (ISO low 50 is also available)
- 102 points AF system
- 3 "tiltable 921k dots LCD screen
- Full HD video recording with 1920 × 1080 / 60p
- Auto HDR capability
- HDMI output
- Built-in stereo microphone
- Headphone jack
- Selective noise reduction
- Two memory slots: SD and SD + MS
The Sony A99 really offers everything you can expect from a DSLR. The three most important functions for many shooters are of course the full-screen sensor 1080 / 60p and a headphone jack. I would assume that one of the only reasons why this camera didn't completely steal the Canon 5D headlights was probably the price. Most DSLR shooters, who sit at about the same price as the 5D, will likely choose the more well-known brand because it has been standardized to some extent. However, I would bet that if the price of the A99 was only slightly lower than it is, more Canon shooters would jump the ship, as the decision would be a snap at that point. If you are considering a 5D and are not planning on using it with the hack, I would definitely recommend taking a closer look at the A99 beforehand. In my opinion it is the better of the two cameras.
The disadvantages of this camera are pretty minor. The biggest complaint that most users have is that the battery life is quite short, which for me would not be a deal breaker. Although I was spoiled by the GH3's insanely long battery life, I will always prefer the image quality to convenience, so this shouldn't be a big problem. The other problem is that the autofocus performance is not optimal. However, for most DSLR shooters, autofocus is not an important factor, as they are often used on a rig with follow focus for more planned shots.
Advantages: Full frame, great in low light, beautiful still pictures, 1080 / 60p.
Disadvantage: A bit expensive if you mainly use it for videos, poor battery life and below average auto focus.
Why it made the list: A viable competitor of the 5D MKIII and added by popular request!
So who would use any camera?
All 6 of these cameras are excellent tools in their own way. I think most users will be torn between the 5D MK III and the GH3 as both offer proven quality at a reasonable price. And the decision between these two really depends on how important still images are to you and what type of lenses you want to take photos with. Others like the G6 and D5200 are likely to develop small niches for themselves, similar to the GH1 and GH2 years ago. These are great cameras, but for one reason or another, like the small form factor or brand name, these cameras are unlikely to become well-known cameras like the 5D. Regardless, these two options are good choices – especially for the Nikon (if you don't mind mainly using Nikon lenses), if someone mainly photographs their own content and is not worried about being hired because they are one owns certain device. The A99 is a fantastic alternative to the 5D, especially when you don't need to take raw photos and need slow motion in full screen mode. And the 1DC is by far the least used because it's so expensive, but may be a favorite for photo journalists shooting videos, pawnshops as a cheap 4K option, and indie filmmakers looking for a stealth form factor with a high quality Image.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, there are many, many more cameras that are almost as good or better in some ways. There is no right or wrong camera, it's just a matter of finding the one that suits your needs and budget and tells your story. And in the end it's really not about the camera, it's about what you do with it. More on that in my previous article – The importance of history
If you want to take the next step and develop your craft further, be sure to read mine Instructions for taking film pictures with your DSLR.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!