“Which camera should I buy?” I get asked this the most. Apart from which lenses should I buy. There is a lot of confusion amongst potential buyers as to which camera to buy. Not just from the Canon line, that is the Rebel T2i/ 55D, 7D, 5DmkII and 1DmkIV but also the GH1, GH2 and the various Nikons.
It’s almost impossible for me to recommend which model camera to buy because they all have their plusses and minuses and many of those are subjective, down to personal opinion. What may be important to me may not be important to you. Even when context is provided such as they are mostly shooting music videos, events, documentaries, movies etc then I still cannot answer.
What I am going to do in this blog post is list what I believe are the pros and cons of each camera.Take that info and then decide for yourself what is the most important for you. For example some people love the look of the 5DmkII over the others whilst others find the shallow depth of field too much…
I am in the fortunate position of owning most of the cameras in this post so I feel quite qualified to give my opinion on this topic…but to be honest any one of these will give you great results, it’s not all about the camera…that is just a tool…but obviously some of the features of one will appeal to you more than others.
Here is a sensor chart showing you the different sizes available in the market. I will be referring to this a few times in the blog.
First off let us go over the non Canon options as that’s easier. I have to say unless you have an huge array of G series Nikon lenses (if you have manual aperture Nikon lenses then your lenses will work will the Canons using a simple adaptor like the Fotodiox Pro) then forget the D90, D5000 and D300s as they don’t offer full manual control in video mode making them a huge pain in the backside to shoot with. The only Nikon that offers full manual control is the D3s. To get the full manual mode you need to be in tripod live view mode rather than hand held live view mode.
What do I think of the D3s? It is an incredible stills camera and a so-so video camera. It has a full frame sensor, one of only two cameras in this blog to have that. The thing that made me buy it was the absolutely incredible low light performance as highlighted in the Zacuto Shootout. It was this alone that made me buy it. In my low light test I shot at 25,000 ISO and got incredibly clean pictures due to a brilliant NR chip in there for video. This makes it outperform all the Canon DSLRs by a huge margin in low light. It’s just a shame that it is not as impressive in general use. All the Nikons are 720p 24p only too. That is not a huge dealbreaker but it’s a limitation. As is the old fashioned MJPEG recording format and 5 minute clip length. The HDMI live out seems to be slower than 24p when you hit record.
I bought this camera as a low light tool to supplement my Canon DSLRs, not to shoot whole projects on. For some of my documentary work low light will be extreme and this camera will shine. I will be able to shoot in very low light without having to shoot wide open with crazy shallow DOF. To think I could shoot in candlelight at F4 and it will look gorgeous…That’s epic for me. Shooting wide open is great but sometimes you don’t want that crazy shallow DOF, you want to control it. This camera will give you that option. You can stop right down and with the incredible high ISO you can shoot in not much light and still get exposure!
Sound wise it has a crappy built in mic like most of the cameras here but you can put an external mic in, but there is limited control of the audio with no meters, but the ability to set 4 levels of sensitivity but more importantly no way to monitor it.
So that’s the Nikon D3s. A great stills camera with a killer low light video ability. Shame the rest is not great.
PROS: Full frame, INCREDIBLE low light in video
CONS: Expensive, 720p only, 24p only, 5 minute clips, MJPEG recording format, poor monitor out, no audio control.
Nikon’s answer to the T2i is a disappointment. Their first camera to feature full HD 25p but no manual controls. Simply a huge problem and unless fixed should be avoided.
The first full HD Nikon to feature full manual controls.
I like the image, very pleasing and low light is good. It has semi manual audio, HD HDMI (but not clean) out whilst recording (but also turns off the LCD like the Canons), it records full HD but only in 24p mode. For 30p and 25p it’s 720p only and there is no 50p or 60p. There also seems to be an issue that I cannot figure out. Where is the exposure meter in live view?
UPDATE: I tried shooting with it but the lack of meter is frustrating me too much, which is a shame as I think the image is really nice, good in low light. But until that meter is displayed it’s too annoying to shoot with. Why would they miss such a basic thing? Also the inability to change F-Stop after rolling is just plain dumb. I use older Nikon lenses so am ok with that, although I do have two newer ones and they have this issue.
The Panasonic GH1 I have had since April 2009. It’s not a DSLR as it has no mirror but is often bunched up in the term Video DSLRs as it is a still camera with a video function too. We really should not get hung up on names for these cameras.
What do I think of the GH1? Well I love the small size. Love the EVF, moveable LCD, ability to take so many different types of lenses due to the lack of mirror and of course the price. Downside is the 1080p bit rate if a bit stingy meaning it breaks ups quite easily when trying to grade it. The 720p mode seems to hold up better but it’s such a shame that the 1080p is lacking. The 720p mode is 50p or 60p depending on where you buy the camera.
The camera comes in different flavours depending on where you buy it. In the EU it is 25p in 1080p mode (embedded in a 1080i stream) and 50p in 720p mode, so great for slow motion. Record time is limited to 29.59 minutes for EU tax reasons. If it could record 30 minutes or more it would be classified as a video camera and therefore have higher tax. Other PAL countries get this camera also in 25p but with the record time limitation. The US gets it in 24p (again embedded in a 60i stream) and 60p in 720p mode with no record time limitations. All the Canon cameras shoot in either 24p, 25p or 30p. They are non regional specific. A big downer on these cameras.
It has the best built in mic on all of the cameras and it’s stereo, although again we have no headphone jack. NONE of the cameras in this test have a headphone jack! If you plug in a monitor it switches off when you hit record. A big downer really! That needs to be fixed in the GH2.
Negatives aside. It’s a great little camera. The stock lens has the most impressive auto focus I have ever seen on a video camera as it tracks people’s faces and with a large sensor like in this camera (four thirds) it makes a huge difference. This makes it ideal for steadicam work as you can let the focus do it’s thing. Normally I say DO NOT USE AUTO FOCUS on any video camera. Manual will always be the way to operate a camera for me until it can read my mind and know what I want to be in focus! The image out of the camera is also pretty damn good. Of course what I want is a GH2 with better bit rate and proper monitor out, a headphone jack and controllable audio levels. A lot of this camera is already very good, it just needs a bump up in specs…
Low light is not brilliant. I find 1600 ISO way too noisy. Even 800 is not great.
PROS: Cheap, light, small, 50p/60p mode in 720p, full HD, nice stereo mic, EVF, articulated LCD, great lens mount, some Panasonic lenses have amazing auto focus ability. No overheating
CONS: Weak AVCHD code, no HDMI out when recording, low light average performance, poor audio options again, recording limitations in EU, geographically locked recording formats, 24p and 24p wrapped in 60i and 50i.
EDIT: With the third party hacked firmware by Tester 13 we can get native 24p and 25p and motion jpeg full hd in very high bit rate and much improved AVCHD. It’s a massive leap up but it’s still 3rd party and not officially supported. Read more about it here…The major issue is all new GH1s CANNOT be hacked as they have the latest firmware which is not hacked. SO BE CAREFUL if you go this route.
I am very impressed with this update to the GH1. It is a big step up from the GH1 although there are a couple of key features missing.
There is finally a native 24p full HD mode (called cinema mode) which records in the very acceptable 24mb/s. Unfortunately it is only 24p not 25p which as a European shooter I need for broadcast here. There is no 25p mode. There is a 50p mode in 720p which means you can simply drop every other frame so you can achieve 25p but this is not ideal. I REALLY hope this can be addressed with a firmware update.
HDMI is clean out, no graphics but I have not done any testing with the Nanoflash yet. Reports so far say the quality is lower than the recorded. I cannot confirm or deny yet.
Articulating screen is great and the EVF is improved over the GH1 so is very usable. It has a built in slow down to 80% mode (effectively giving you what 30p would be if you conformed to 24p) and a built in speed up motion of two steps that can give you effectively a basic undercranking.
The M43 sensor gives you around a 1.9x crop of a full frame due to it being a native 16×9 sensor
Audio meters can be displayed on the screen whilst recording. Sounds basic but so lacking from DSLRs. Still no headphone jack. You also have manual control over the audio, well a number of steps you can set it at. The built in stereo mic is not horrible. Check out the cooking piece below…all the sound other than sync was done with it.
Low light is a world away from the GH1 which had nasty lines come up at ISO 800. I have shot 3200 ISO and it is totally acceptable. A HUGE STEP UP.
It has an excellent feature called 1:1 sampling. It samples the centre of the sensor in which equates to 1920×1080 and records that meaning NO moire or aliasing and gives you a nice extra boost on your lenses with no loss in quality.
It takes any lenses with the right adaptor, even S16 with the 1:1 sampling. A big plus this.
Image quality is superb with very little moire and aliasing. Rolling shutter seems the same as the GH1. Some users are reporting it worse but I have not done a side by side comparison.
So all in all a big improvement over the Gh1 but PLEASE we NEEED 25p!!!!! If 25p is irrelevant to you this is simply one of the best “DSLRs” on the market for shooting video. The stills mode is pretty good too!
EDIT: Another firmware hack has made this a fantastic option. 25p, no recording time and high bitrate makes this a much more attractive camera.
PROS: Great image, great 24p mode. Minimal moire and rolling shutter, live HDMI out and clean! Manual audio with live meters, articulating screen, improved EVF. No recording limit in non EU versions. 1:1 mode is awesome, good touch screen. Internal stereo mic not too bad. Has the best auto focus video system out there!
CONS: 25p where are you? Rolling shutter is not improved. 29 minutes 59 seconds max recording per clip in EU version
Canon Rebel T2i/ 550d
The new kid on the block and a damn impressive one too. I have left the 500D/ T1i out of this. Even though I own it, but due to the odd 20FPS 1080p mode, 720p 30p only mode but mainly (and this is reason why 3 Nikons aren’t reviewed) the lack of manual control. This baby ups the game and is the first consumer DSLR that Canon have made with full HD and full manual control. It’s killer. With an image of almost comparable quality to the pro 7D it has taken the market by storm and rightly so.
With an APS-C chip in it which is a 1.6x crop of a full frame it has a bigger sensor than the GH1 but smaller than the D3s. It takes all the EF lenses designed for full frame cameras as well as the special EF-S lenses which are designed for this sized chip. These lenses are generally cheaper than their full frame versions so you can save money that way. Only downside is EF-S lenses cannot be used on full frame camera if you come to upgrade cameras at some point. The major investment with any of these camera is the glass, not the body. So always keep that in mind when buying lenses.
It has the same crappy audio options, as in no control and no headphone jack. But does have the full range of recording options. 24p, 25p and 30p in full HD and 50p and 60p in 720p mode. Meaning you get shoot great slow motion with this baby.
I am a big fan of this camera as it has brought the power of DSLR filmmaking to the mass market. Some people see this as a bad thing, in that by making the cameras so affordable there will a flood of people on the market selling themselves as cameramen. It’s only a tool, like any camera. What we will have is people discovering or even re-discovering a love of video due to this large sensor.
Things I don’t like about this camera? Well it’s a consumer camera and is therefore missing a lot of what I love in the PRO bodies. It uses SDHC cards, they are cheap are small but I hate their flimsiness. I much prefer CF cards, but that’s just me! I miss the top LCD. We have no display on this camera other than the main LCD. Not a deal breaker but a shame not to have it. Also missing is the second dial on the back of the body which means aperture and shutter speed are controlled by the same dial, via pressing a button in at the same time. I don’t like this at all. The build quality is pretty good, but when compared to the pro line, in particular the 7D it comes across as bit cheap, but then again it is! It uses different batteries to the 7D and 5Dmkii, but they are cheaper…HDMI out sucks too….it’s 1080i letterboxed image live out which drops to 480p when you hit record. You do get full 16×9 playback though.
Like all the Canon cameras the most you can record at a time is about 12 minutes. If you point at something that does not move much you can get it up to 14 minutes or so. The LCD is surprisingly the best of the bunch of all the Canon DSLRs. Highest resolution.
There is much debate over how good the video is of this camera compared to the 7D. Very damn close. I haven’t seen any specific side by sides, only that in my limited use of the T2i it just seems to be not quite as good as the 7D and am not sure why…it’s close. But just not quite as good…I would love someone to show me what it is that is different!
PROS: Cracking image in video mode, very cheap, smaller than the pro line, full list of video modes to record in, nice big APS-C sensor, great LCD screen
CONS: Not weatherproofed like the pro line, missing top LCD screen, missing second dial, poor HDMI out, no audio control, no headphone jack, no intermediate ISOs, no ability to dial in your white balance like the pro line, 12 minute record limit.
This camera is effectively a replacement for the T2i and certainly improves on a number of features of the camera. Video wise I see little difference between this and the T2i but I haven’t shot anywhere near enough with the camera to categorically say this…
It has all the same features and frame rates as the T2i…New features include the articulating screen of the 60D which is a massive plus, it makes shooting on a tripod SO much easier and for ground shots too…other improvements at manual audio like the 60D and 5DmkII but it’s not well implemented being within a menu and not being adjustable whilst recording or displaying meters or a headphone jack.
A nice new feature is the 3x digital crop…ignore the rest of it, it goes from 3x to 10x…anything over 3x is a digital zoom and looks like poo…the 3x isn’t perfect. It isn’t super sharp but it’s a neat feature. I don’t think it’s as well implemented as the GH2 version.
It’s a really good camera, but I do recommend the 60D over it still due to better build quality, better AF for stills, more ISOs and if you look hard enough it’s not much more than the T3i!
I have to admit I love this camera. It’s almost my favourite of the Canons. The image out of the 5Dmk2 is still my favourite but this camera is a dream to use. Why? That articulating screen makes life so much easier and is the best quality LCD so far from Canon.
Picture quality seems identical to the 7D, some users have reported improved low light sensitivity but I cannot confirm this yet. I have shot some low light stuff with it but I need to do a side by side to see. There is no improvement in moire, aliasing or rolling shutter over the others…
It has manual audio levels like the 5DmkII, but still buried away in the menus and does not display whilst recording or can be changed whilst recording. A bit frustrating but better than being stuck with AGC.
It’s odd as it is a bit of the 550D and a bit of the 7D. It is plastic like the 550D not magnesium alloy body like the 7D BUT feels a lot more substantial and rugged than the 550d. It has the missing features of the 550D/ T2i, fully selectable ISOs, manual white balance, 2 dials for shutter and aperture and a top LCD screen for info. It takes 7D/ 5Dmk2 batteries but takes SDHC cards. So it really is a bit of both.
A number of people have done some long shooting tests on the 60D and have found it is not prone to overheating like the other Canons.
The HDMI HD signal drops to SD when you hit record like the 550D and the 5Dmk2. A shame, if this did not happen this would be my recommendation of camera for most people, over the 7D and T2i/ 550D. If HDMI HD out does not bother you and you don’t want or need full frame this is the camera to get. This is also the camera to get rather than the T2i/ 550D. Save your money. The extra features are worth the bit extra in cash. I promise you!
PROS: lovely video, articulating screen is awesome, all the frame rates including 50p 60p. Appears to not have the same overheating issues as the T2i, 7D and 5Dmk2
CONS: HDMI live out whilst recording is SD, no improvement in picture issues, SHDC rather than compact flash
The first Canon camera to embrace the video feature as it has a switch to set it in video mode or stills mode!
It’s got the same sized chip in it as the 550D/ T2i albeit in a MUCH more robust package. The 7D is a beast. It’s completely weathersealed. I have left this camera outside for 4 days in snow and rain doing timelapses and it has come through without a glitch. This is for me what sets it apart from it’s cheaper brother. The build quality is simply superb.
Video feature wise it’s the same…24p, 25p, 30p in 1080p mode and 50p 60p in 720p mode. It can also rattle off about 8 or 9 pictures a second in stills mode. Very impressive. It has the same audio limitations that we run into again and again. No manual audio controls and no headphone jack.
The image out of it is superb. It’s sensor is almost the same sized as the sensor in 35mm movie cameras meaning with a mod or two it can take proper cinema lenses. A massive plus in the indie movie world and of course in the big movie world! I have used it with Cinema lenses three times now and it’s simply incredible!
The live HDMI out is the best of the cameras so far. Still letterboxed 1080i but it stays like this even when you hit record. This is a big deal and something you must consider when looking at the different cameras to buy. Getting critical focus when the image drops to SD when you hit record is very very hard!
Some people say it overheats a lot, something people say happens with their 550D too. But I have not experienced this much. Although I do live in a bloody cold country! I did experience it when I was doing very long interviews for 2 hours or so of non stop recording, but even then it was just a warning light. It never switched off.
Low light ability seems to be about the same as the T2i but not a patch on the D3s
PROS: Superb weatherproofing, stunning image, good in low light, switch for video mode, HD monitoring even when recording, Nice LCD screen, great price.
CONS: Not as good as the other pro Canon line in low light, not full frame, crappy audio options AGAIN, 12 minute record limit
This was the one that started it all and is still for me the camera with the nicest image. That comes down to it’s full frame goodness and full HD. The 5DmkII is absolutely unique in the video world as it is the only video camera in the world, currently, that shoots video in full HD with a sensor as big as this. The sensor is 864mmNow this does cause us some issues. Some people find that the full frame sensor makes it harder to get focus, as the larger the sensor the more shallow the depth of field. For me, I always say if it’s too shallow then stop down! It has great low light, better than the 7d but nowhere near as good as the D3s, so you can easily stop down and up the ISO to compensate…It’s aesthetically unique and that is what attracts so many filmmakers to it, including me, there is nothing else out there like this. The 7D has better options…the 5Dmkii has no 720p mode, has the same crappy hit record and drop to SD mode HDMI out, no dedicated video button. It does have manual audio levels which have been pointlessly hidden away in a menu that you can only set before you hit record and give you no audio levels on the LCD at all so there is still no way of knowing if you have are recording sound or not.
It’s highly unlikely we will ever see this camera get 50p and 60p. I simply think it cannot take it…It would overheat too much…talking of overheating, this camera has no warning light telling you it is overheating. What can happen, and I stress CAN, is the image can degrade the more heated up it gets. Then it will just switch off.
PROS: My favourite image out of them all, full frame beauty, manual audio levels, very good in low light, great build quality, you can get this camera for not that much more than the 7D if you shop around, did I say incredible full frame image godliness?
CONS: HDMI live out sucks, manual audio buried away in menus, no 720p mode, no overheating warning, DOF too shallow for some (although as I say just stop down!), 12 minute record limit, not as good weatherproofing as other pro Canon cameras, probably the most susceptible to rolling shutter issues of the pro Canons.
The big daddy of the Canon line. This is first and foremost a stills sports shooters camera. The video is hidden away and is obviously secondary BUT must not be overlooked as it betters the other Canon cameras in it’s low light ability. It has a strange sized APS-H chip which is a 1.3x crop. This is a bit annoying for wide angles as there are no lenses made for this chip size so you will lose some length on the wide end.
The low light as I said is very powerful, again, not a patch on the DS3 but very impressive anyway. 3200 ISO is pretty clean, 6400 ISO is usable with a bit of post cleaning up.
It has the same video options as the 7D so we do have 720p 50p and 60p and we also have the same HD monitoring out even when recording. Audio of course still sucks with no manual audio level and of course no headphone jack.
The camera is built like a tank. It makes the build quality of the 7D look like the T2i and that is saying something. This is one camera that can probably take some serious knocks and keep on going. It takes both CF cards and those flimsy SDHC cards. It also takes it’s own special batteries which make it last a lot longer in video mode. The batteries in the 7D and 5DmkII get eaten up very fast!
PROS: Incredible build quality, beautiful image, superb low light, great long life batteries, probably the best of the bunch for least rolling shutter issues.
CONS: Awkward 1.3x crop, heavy, expensive, crappy audio, 12 minute time limit.
Updated post to come shortly.
Is that helpful? I hope so. As I said, there is no one clear favourite…I prefer the full frame image out of the 5DmkII for sure, but the HDMI out is killing me, on a professional set it is just a big problem. Also it doesn’t have the 720p mode that all the other Canon cameras have. Although the 720p mode is not great due to the hideous aliasing and moire that it can bring up if not careful.
The 7D is probably the best all rounder. Has all the video rates your want, HDMI HD monitoring and is a great price. Many prefer the aesthetics of the 7D over the 5DmkII, me I don’t but it simply comes down to personal preference. It has best build quality for the money, great image…but I just prefer the 5DmkII image…it probably ticks more boxes than the rest. Please don’t put weatherproofing as not that important. Being from the video world where nothing is weatherproofed, it’s so exciting to use these cameras in appalling conditions and not worry about them!
Of course one thing that also holds people back is the worry that a replacement will come out for one of these making their camera obsolete. Well, that is a danger with everything in life! That is why your main investment is in the glass, not the body. Your lenses will last 20 years! For pro users your bodies will change every 2/3 years. That’s the market!
Sony will soon jump on the bandwagon with the Alpha range. Be very interested to see what they are bringing to the table. I have heard a couple of interesting rumours. I wonder if they are true? The Sony NEX 5 and 3 are coming out soon and are very cute but lack manual controls in video mode and are only 30p…
Whichever camera you chose, don’t forget…it’s only a tool! The most important thing is what you do with it!
Next blog up is lenses…
Here are some pieces of work I have done with each camera: