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!