DSLRs with HD video group test

Introduction

While almost all digital compact cameras have offered standard definition (640 x 480 pixels) video recording since they became a consumer-friendly option 10 years ago, technological boffins long protested that it wasn’t possible to include the same feature on a more advanced digital SLR camera – at least not an SLR in the conventional sense.

The industry was surprised and delighted, therefore, when Nikon introduced 1,280 x 720-pixel High Definition video on its D90 DSLR in 2008, heralding the start of a new era. Once one manufacturer had found a way, it was only a matter of months before others were jumping on the ‘shoot high-quality video alongside stills’ bandwagon. Nikon’s age-old rival Canon followed suit with its higher-end 5D Mark II model, which offered 1,920 x 1,080-pixel footage – the fabled Full HD. For those serious about the capacity, it’s still ‘the daddy’, so worth revisiting here.

While video may have at first appeared a gimmick (do serious photography enthusiasts, the traditional audience for such cameras, really want to shoot movie clips too?), with the massive uptake in HD TV sets, introducing a product that rides the same technological wave makes sound commercial sense. Also, adding professional-quality video to high-end cameras provides photojournalists and news gatherers with another string to their bow. And in the age of the internet, video is fast becoming king. On that note, a large capacity media card and plenty of space on the hard drive is a must.

Out of the major manufacturers it’s surprising that Sony, with its rich heritage in the camcorder market, is the only one without a DSLR offering HD video. Of course, it doesn’t have the heritage of lenses stretching back decades that manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon and Pentax do. And that’s undoubtedly another advantage of shooting video on a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera – the ability to choose from potentially hundreds of lenses with which to get creative, in Nikon’s case running from 10mm to 600mm. Which dedicated HD camcorder, professional or otherwise, can offer such scope?

So, also taking into account sound (stereo or mono) and frame rate (a higher number of frames per second – or ‘fps’ – theoretically guaranteeing a smoother picture) let’s take a look at what each of our six contenders has to offer, how they match up and, since there’s much more to these products than simply video, how they perform as all-round image capture tools.

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