A video camera is no longer an extra feature to be occasionally used on a DSLR, being elevated to the status of purchasing point. Whether the camera has 1080p Full HD, stereo sound, the ability to support an external mic and which AV sockets are available become important points for the budding videographer. Each DSLR approaches the subject from a different angle, making it all the more important to chose not only a model carefully, but the manufacturer as well.

For this test we’ve chosen six top cameras with the ability to shoot HD video, ranging from full-frame pro models down to beginner models. Each video camera test is designed to press the video mode to the limits, offering a chance to show off how well movement can be tracked, and the quality of colour and exposure. Sound will also be assessed, and the results of each test can be found on the following pages of this video camera tests article. Each model will then be either recommended or dismissed as to the all-round final results, showing you the best DSLR camera for digital video.

Video cameras on DSLRs – Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000

£550 inc 18-55mm

Nikon product shotFrom a specification point of view the D5000 is already at a disadvantage compared to the Canon and Panasonic models, as the video resolution is locked at 720p.

Autofocus, using the contrast-detect method, must be set before recording begins, and any subsequent re-focusing must be done manually. The aperture, too, must be selected prior to recording – thereafter the exposure is adjusted elecronically, via auto ISO selection.

The maximum clip limit of just five minutes in HD (20 minutes at the lower settings) is the shortest of any camera in this test, and somewhat restrictive, even if you’ll rarely need to shoot longer clips than that. It means if you’re recording little Jimmy’s solo in the school concert you’ll be praying that he finishes before your time runs out.

The video quality is noticeably worse than the competition, especially its main rival, the Canon EOS 500D. Whether this is due to the compression applied to the less memory efficient Motion JPEG format that Nikon has chosen to use is hard to say, but the tonal range appears more limited, and colours more detached from real-life. Noise is more apparent, especially in low light, probably due to the ISO sensitivity being cranked up.

The D5000 suffers more than most from the rolling shutter effect which affects all DSLR video to some extent. Vertical lines get diagonally skewed if the camera pans, or subject moves, too fast. This is due to the fact that the horizontal lines on a CMOS sensor are scanned one at a time on a CMOS sensor, so the top of the image may be recorded before the bottom.

The mono built-in audio is fairly low quality and there is no scope to attach an external mic.

Overall, the D5000 is capable of producing high-quality movies in the right conditions, but its video mode is the weakest in this group.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Nikon D5000

From the overly grainy image to the generally poor colour reproduction,
the D5000 was a real letdown.

SPECS

Nikon D5000














Price £550
Video Resolution 1280 x 720
Compression Format M-JPEG
Maximum Clip Length 5 Minutes
Screen Size 2.7”
Built-in Audio Mono, 11 KHz
Frame Rate 24fps
Memory Card SD/SDHC
Sockets USB, AV, HDMI
Video Focus Modes MF
External Mic No
Dimensions 127 x 104 x 90mm
Weight 560g

Video Rating

Likes

Small, light and has a vari-angle screen

Dislikes

Average video quality, poor sound, no mic port

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Video cameras on DSLRs – Canon EOS 500D

Canon EOS 500D

£580 inc 18-55mm

Canon EOS 500DThe EOS 500D was Canon’s second DSLR to feature a video mode (after the 5D Mk II), and while the video specs may seem similar to those of its full-frame brother – it uses the same Quicktime H.264 recording format, for example – if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll see that some compromises have been made. For example, although the 500D offers full 1080p it’s only at a 20fps frame rate for up to 12 minutes at a time (too slow for shooting movement), while at 720p it shoots at 30fps for up to 18 minutes.

There is no external mic input either, and the built-in mono mic is rather puny, though it still boasts four times the sampling rate of the Nikons.

One thing it does have over its big brother though is a dedicated Movie Mode position on the dial, and a movie stop/start record button on the rear.

Like the 5D Mk II, autofocusing during recording is notionally possible but in practice it’s so slow that you’re better off pre-focusing before you start and manually fine-tuning as you go along, if you need to.

The firmware upgrade for the 5D Mk II that enables manual exposure settings has not, at the time of writing, been extended to the 500D. So you are at the mercy of the auto ISO for exposure control, which means that noise can become an issue in poor light conditions.

The video quality is a little over-saturated, with tones at the red end of the spectrum dominating. The auto exposure also failed to handle sudden changes in light conditions as well as the 5D Mk II did.

Overall the video mode on the 500D is the best at this price, though it will be soundly trumped by its newly launched sibling, the EOS 550D, which improves on the 500D spec in every department.

Video Group Test: Video Modes- Canon EOS 500D

Having the same video resolution as the EOS 5D Mk II has both advantages and disadvantages for the EOS 500D.

Specs

Canon 500D














Price £600
Video Resolution 1920 x 1080
Compression Format H.264
Maximum Clip Length 12 Minutes
Screen Size 3″
Built-in Audio Stereo, 44KHz
Frame Rate 20fps, 30fps
Memory Card SD/SDHC
Sockets Mic, AV, USB, HDMI
Video Focus Modes AF, MF
External Mic Yes
Dimensions 128.8 x 97.3 x 62 mm
Weight 530g

Video Rating

Likes

Small body, excellent video resolution

Dislikes

20fps at full HD, so-so audio, no mic input

Stars: 4 out of 5

Video cameras on DSLRs – Pentax K-7

Pentax K-7

£850 (body)

Pentaxt K-7The Pentax K-7 launched last year with a feature set designed to appeal to semi-pro photographers, including HD movie mode. Uniquely, the K-7’s highest resolution setting is 1536 x 1024p in a 3:2 image ratio (the same proportions as DSLR still images), which sits somewhere between the full 1920 x 1080p and smaller 1280 x 720p widescreen formats offered by everyone else. But you can also set 1280 x 720p widescreen if you want to.

Like Nikon, Pentax has gone for the Motion JPEG file format which produces relatively large files compared with AVCHD, and limits the maximum record times – it’s 7 mins 23 secs on a 4GB card, a slight improvement on the Nikons. Pentax has resisted the temptation to reduce the audio sampling rate to save on file sizes, as Nikon has done. Consequently the sound quality is better, though file sizes are larger. There’s also an external mic input for stereo recording if required. Pentax is also the only company here to include a built-in audio meter to monitor the sound.

The movie mode is set using the mode dial and recording started by pressing the shutter button. To control exposure you can either choose a fixed ISO and variable aperture, or set a fixed aperture and let the ISO adjust automatically. The former gives you more control over noise, but the sound of the aperture changing may be picked up by the mic, while the latter option gives you control over the depth of field. The video performance is somewhere in the middle of this group. The sharpness and detail are good, but the clips tended to underexposure as  the metering favoured the highlights but failed to retain as much shadow detail. The rolling shutter problem was also more visible when panning than on some of the other cameras here. 

Overall, as a first stab at video, Pentax has done a creditable, if not a barnstorming, job with the K-7.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Pentax K-7

The K-7 tended to underexpose, making the video appear dark
for the most part and lacking in detail.

Specs

Pentax K-7














Price £850
Video Resolution 1536 x 1024
Compression Format M-JPEG
Maximum Clip Length 7 Minutes 23 Seconds
Screen Size 3″
Built-in Audio Mono, 44.1 KHz
Frame Rate 30fps
Memory Card SD/SDHC
Sockets Mic, USB, AV, HDMI
Video Focus Modes MF, AF
External Mic Yes
Dimensions 131 x 97 x 73mm
Weight 754g

Video Rating

Likes

Excellent sharpness, overall decent colour quality

Dislikes

Footage is far too dark in shadowed areas

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

Video cameras on DSLRs – Panasonic GH1

Panasonic GH1

£1,050 inc 14-140mm

Panasonic GH1 product shotThe GH1 is actually a Micro Four Thirds camera, not a DSLR, and uses an electronic viewfinder rather than an internal mirror/prism assembly. Consequently video is much easier to implement and this shows in the superior video specifications of the GH1.

Recording full 1080p HD at 24fps, or 720p at 60fps in AVCHD mode, it can also shoot in the Motion JPEG format  at 30fps if you prefer, in a range of sizes up to 720p. The built-in mic is Dolby Stereo, and there’s a 2.5mm port for an external mic, such as Panasonic’s own hotshoe mic, or a third-party model (for which you’ll need a 2.5-3.5mm adaptor).

The GH1 is the smallest and lightest camera here, and in fact the heaviest part of the kit is the hefty 14-140mm (10x) f/4-5.8 zoom that’s bundled with it and which was made especially for video, with near-silent AF and Image Stabilisation that can’t be picked up by the mic.

The GH1 is unique here in offering a viewfinder for video recording, which gives more stability and is easier to see in bright light than a screen, but the LCD is also the best on test here, being a high-resolution tilt and swivel affair – making it easier to video at high or low angles, or even video yourself. The clarity and sharpness of both are exemplary.

The GH1 has full AF during recording and, in the Creative mode, full control of exposure and image settings. Recording is started using a dedicated button on the back. If you choose Manual Focus the image can be magnified to aid fine-tuning.

Image quality is excellent. The colours are less punchy than the EOS 5D’s, but arguably more natural. The only real downside is in low light, where images are noticeably noisier than the Canon’s. This is due in part to it having a sensor that’s half the size, and partly to the relatively small maximum aperture of the lens, compared with the fast primes you can use on the 5D Mk II. Overall, though, the GH1 turned in a great performance.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Panasonic GH1

The GH1 utilised the 1080p resolution to its full capacity,
producing some extremely impressive results.

Specs

Panasonic GH1














Price £1,050
Video Resolution 1920 x 1080
Compression Format AVCHD
Maximum Clip Length 29 Minutes
Screen Size 3″
Built-in Audio Stereo, 44KHz
Frame Rate 60fps, 24fps
Memory Card SD/SDHC
Sockets Mic, HDMI, AV, USB
Video Focus Modes AV, MF
External Mic Yes
Dimensions 124 x 89.6 x 45.2 mm
Weight 385g

Video Rating

Likes

Excellent screen, viewfinder, full manual control, high quality video

Dislikes

Slightly muted tones

Stars: 5 out of 5

Video cameras on DSLRs – Nikon D300s

Nikon D300s

£1,100 (body)

Nikon D300In terms of its stills capability the D300s is superb – one of the very best cameras in this test – but sadly the plaudits don’t extend to the camera’s video performance.

Essentially an update of the hugely popular D300, the movie mode is the main addition on the ‘s’ version, along with twin CF/SD media card slots. The camera can be set so that you record stills to one card and video to the other, among other permutations.

The video specification is almost identical to that of the D5000, however, apart from the inclusion of an external mic port for stereo audio. There is also the ability to trim the start and end points of your clips afterwards.

Controls are the same as on the D5000. Focus is manual and the aperture must be pre-set before selecting live view. There is no direct shortcut to the video, nor is there any marking on the camera such as a movie icon, to tell you where it is.

The D300s also employs the AVI Motion JPEG format, offering a restrictive five-minute clip length at the highest 720p HD quality, and 20 minutes in the two non-HD modes.

Outdoors with a good light source the video picture quality can be fairly impressive, although moving subjects are still prone to the rolling shutter problem and the audio quality is not great. Although you can add an external mic for stereo sound, the sampling rate remains a very low 11kHz, a mere quarter of its rivals’ rates.

Like the D5000, in lower light the limitations of the video mode come to the fore, with high noise, weak colours and poor dynamic range.

There’s clearly the scope for Nikon to make a decent HD movie enabled DSLR, if the full-frame models are anything to go by, but neither the D5000 or D300s are in the same ball park as Canon, Panasonic or Pentax on the video front.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Nikon D300s

For a camera making HD movie one of its major features,
the D300s is disappointing overall.

Specs

Nikon D300s














Price £1,100
Video Resolution 1280 x 720
Compression Format M-JPEG
Maximum Clip Length 5 Minutes
Screen Size 3″
Built-in Audio Mono, 11 KHz
Frame Rate 24fps
Memory Card CF, SD/SDHC
Sockets Mic, USB, HDMI, AV
Video Focus Modes AF, MF
External Mic Yes
Dimensions 147 x 114 x 74mm
Weight 840g

Video Rating

Likes

Impressive LCD screen quality, external mic port

Dislikes

Average video quality, poor sound

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

Video cameras on DSLRs – Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

£1,600 (body)

Canon EOS 5D Mk.IIThe 5D Mk II is a phenomenon in the world of DSLR based video. Its video quality has been compared with pro video cameras costing ten times more, which is why it’s been adopted by photojournalists, music video producers and even Hollywood – it was used on the forthcoming Iron Man 2, among others.

The 5D Mk II is the largest, heaviest camera tested here but its unique advantage over the others is its big, full-frame sensor which offers full 1920 x 1080p video. This offers the prospect of better low light shooting, and ultra shallow depth of field. The 5D Mk.II uses the Quicktime MOV format using the H.264 compression codec, which produces higher quality at smaller files sizes than the M-JPEG used by Nikon, and the camera can record for to 29 minutes 59 secs straight. In its original incarnation the user had no control over the exposure settings, but a firmware upgrade (1.10) has added the ability to select any lens aperture, shutter speeds from 1/30sec to 1/4000sec and ISO’s up to 12,800.

Image quality is very impressive. Even in low light it barely missed a beat, producing an impressive lack of noise in spite of often trying conditions. The vibrancy of the colours, especially reds, is exemplary, showing excellent depth. With good-quality lenses the sharpness is exceptional, and the rolling shutter problem that afflicts DSLR video (which causes verticals to slant when the camera or subject moves) is only apparent with very fast movement. The ability to use any of the vast range of Canon-fit lenses, at apertures as wide as f/1.2, coupled with the full-frame sensor and high ISO options, give the EOS 5D Mk II unequalled creative potential.

The downside of all this is, of course, the price tag. By the time you’ve added a suitable full-frame lens the cost is over double that of the Panasonic, and four times that of its sibling, the 500D.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Canon EOS 5D MkII

Reaping the benefits of a full-frame sensor allows the EOS 5D Mark II to
produce some impressively well-balanced results

Specs

Canon EOS 5D Mark II














Price £1,600
Video Resolution 1920 x 1080
Compression Format H.264
Maximum Clip Length 29 Minutes 59 Seconds
Screen Size 3″
Built-in Audio Stereo, 44 KHz
Frame Rate 30fps
Memory Card CF
Sockets USB, AV, HDMI
Video Focus Modes AF, MF
External Mic Yes
Dimensions 152 x 113.5 x 75mm
Weight 810g

Video Rating

Likes

Superb dynamic range, impressive sharpness, low light quality, shallow DoF, lens choice

Dislikes

Over-saturation, camera weight, price

Stars: 5 out of 5

Video cameras on DSLRs – Video Quality

Video Quality

It’s tempting to judge video quality purely by the pixel resolution figure: 1080p is bound to be better than 720p, surely? But while the pixel dimensions are important and determine the physical size at which the video can be viewed, it isn’t the whole story. A number of other elements come into play too.

These include the optical quality of the lens, the size of the sensor, and the file formats and types of compression used to record and save the video.  The Canon EOS 5D Mk II has reaped the benefits of its much larger sensor, delivering a wider dynamic range than the smaller APS-C and MFT sensors, greater subject detail and more tonal depth.

For ultimate quality, however, a premium L series lens should be used. The adequate but not great kit lenses used on the sub £1,000 cameras here will not have helped their cause, though they’re the lenses that 90% of the buyers of these cameras will be using. The Panasonic GH1, in contrast, comes with a ‘kit’ lens, but a superb one, designed for video and which accounts for over 50% of the cost of the camera. (The almost identical but video-free G1 comes with a more typical kit lens and costs a third of the GH1.)

Good auto-exposure performance is paramount with video because, unlike stills photography, the camera will need to continually adjust exposure during recording to compensate for changing light conditions, and it must do so smoothly. Colour and contrast can be fine-tuned before recording, but most buyers will expect these to be optimised at the default settings.

As for file formats, it seems that the MOV formats used by Canon and Panasonic deliver a superior quality to file size ratio than M-JPEG, and longer clips too.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Video Quality

Each camera was given a number of subjects to shoot at Kew Gardens in London, ranging from motion to low light and both indoor and outdoor environments. For full video quality head along to our YouTube channel.

Video cameras on DSLRs – Sound Quality

Sound Quality

How does the audio compare?

All of the cameras in this test possess varying levels of sound recording capabilities, from relying entirely on the built-in option to having the capability to accept an external mic. As sound is just as important as audio when shooting movies, it’s worth comparing the end quality.

The EOS 5D Mark II produced some impressive, extremely clear audio with no audible compression or favouring of the operator’s voice over other environmental noise. Its sibling, the EOS 500D, is similar in terms of producing a reasonably balanced end product, although the higher frequency sound is too loud on playback. At the other end of the scale, both Nikons showed a high amount of compression in the audio quality as with the video, with the end result being tinny and unable to cope with alterations in volume or pitch without distortion. The D5000 actually produced a marginally better balanced result, but with a lack of external mic support there were no options to make any improvements to what is recorded on board.

Panasonic’s GH1 sound was slightly muffled and favoured the lower frequencies, and has a rather annoying bespoke audio input which requires an adaptor to connect a standard mic. Panasonic’s own brand directional mic is excellent though, making it less of an issue. The Pentax K-7 came top of the class though, not only producing excellent built-in audio but also having an audio meter and the ability to plug in a mic without any further attachments required.

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Sound Quality

The audio quality moves in peaks and troughs, as shown here in an example of the EOS 5D Mk II’s wave form, increasing for higher frequency sounds and dropping for lower frequencies.

Video cameras on DSLRs – The Verdict

Which shoots the best HD video?

If one thing is abundantly clear from our tests, it’s that all DSLR video modes are not equal.  Even when the headline specs may appear similar, the results can be quite different. This is partly to do with the complex world of file formats, codecs, sampling rates and other jargon that are lost on most photographers.

The six cameras tested here fall into two distinct camps: the good, and the less good.

Despite the excellence of its cameras for stills photography, Nikon’s implementation of video has been disappointing. In our view its choice of AVI Motion JPEG as the file format is a mistake. The much larger file sizes it produces have directly or indirectly led to shorter clip lengths, more compressed video and a greatly curtailed sampling rate on the audio. The Pentax has also opted for this format, but has managed to retain slightly better image audio quality, albeit with some exposure issues.

It may be a coincidence, but it’s interesting that the two brands occupying the top group, Canon and Panasonic, both make camcorders and so have a lot of video experience. It’s also noteworthy that they all offer full 1080p HD.

The EOS 500D is capable of good results but is limited by its lack of audio input and meagre 20fps at 1080p. Anyone considering it for video should look at the new 550D instead (which we’re reviewing in the next issue), which should be far superior in this area.

The Canon EOS 5D Mk II is without question the best choice if ultimate image quality is the most important factor, and money is no object. The full-frame sensor and the ability to add a vast range of lenses gives it the most creative potential too. But for the best balance between price, features, handling, performance and image quality we have to give the gold medal to the Panasonic GH1 – even though it has technically cheated a bit by not being a DSLR!

Video Group Test: Video Modes - Main Image

 

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Video cameras on DSLRs - Nikon D5000
  3. 3. Video cameras on DSLRs - Canon EOS 500D
  4. 4. Video cameras on DSLRs - Pentax K-7
  5. 5. Video cameras on DSLRs - Panasonic GH1
  6. 6. Video cameras on DSLRs - Nikon D300s
  7. 7. Video cameras on DSLRs - Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  8. 8. Video cameras on DSLRs - Video Quality
  9. 9. Video cameras on DSLRs - Sound Quality
  10. 10. Video cameras on DSLRs - The Verdict
Page 1 of 10 - Show Full List
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    i have been trying but failed to take passport size photo with my D5000. Grateful if you can help or refer me to appropriate website.

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  • Michael Laing

    I am sorry but this must have been written by someone who knows very little about practical video. The 5Dmk2 is not an ideal camera for video. It has limited use. Yes, it is nice for someone shooting a music video or short film, with its sensor size, low light ability and availablity of lenses. But the camera can only be used for a very limited amount of time, around 11 minutes before it starts to over heat. The video has to be compressed to H264, so you are not getting top quality video anyway. The sound is terrible and you are better recording video off camera using a Zoom H4N or Tascam DR-100 (or other recorder). The camera is not balanced for video, so to use properly you need accessories. (this is the same with all DSLRs).