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DSLR HD Video Feature Comparison

Here’s another way of looking at all the Canon DSLR cameras – a brief feature chart comparing the four Canon DSLR cameras and the Panasonic Lumix GH1.

Click here for all the details.

Not every feature is compared between these cameras. But this ones that are listed are likely the most important for shooting HD video with a DSLR.

Let’s take a look at each feature on the list.

Sensor Size – While the ultimate image area of the video may be 720 pixels wide, the size of the sensor affects both the quality of that image and the way the lens on the camera images on the sensor. The effects of sensor size and pixel density are too deep a subject for this post but it’s something you may want to look into.

The most obvious effect of moving to a smaller sensor is that all your lenses are more telephoto. Or, going the other way, moving from to a larger sensor means your lenses are more wide angle.

The most important issue is that you can always use a full sensor lens on a camera with a smaller sensor with no problem. Putting a lens made for a small sensor camera on a full sensor will likely produce vignetting around the edges and in the corners of the image. If you plan to mix sensor sizes invest in full sensor lenses.

Resolution -This is another area of discussion concerning sensor size and pixel size or density. Here’s a link to an article with a decent explanation of pixel size, image quality and noise. Basically, the bigger the pixels the more light captured and the less noise you’ll get. This is especially true in low light, which is why a lot of film makers are interested in DSLR cameras. They shoot great video in low light.

All of this is partly why the Canon 1D shoots better video in extreme low light than the Canon 5D even though it has a smaller sensor and lower resolution.

Media Slot – Compact Flash cards (CF) cost more than Secure Digital High-Capacity (SDHC) cards. You can get a Firewire CF card reader and pull files to your computer much faster than using a USB reader on an SDHC card. There’s no clear better or worse situation here. Unless you already have a big stash of one type and the camera you want to use is of the other type.

I’ve used all of them and my recommendation is buy the best you can get and immediately create a backup copy of all files. When we shoot tape and tape-less we use the tape for backup. But when all you’ve got of that one incredible shot is a digital file on a card then take no chances.

ISO Range – Higher ISO numbers mean better performance in low light. If you plan to shoot in daylight or with lots of great lighting gear then it doesn’t matter. But that’s not a realistic option for most of us. But you can shoot in normal light so much easier without your video getting noisy when you can crank up the ISO.

Of course, high ISO comes at a price so there’s always a balance to be had that’s right for you and your project.

PL Mount Compatible – This feature is only important to film makers. They’re likely the only ones with a set of PL mount prime lenses sitting around. Yes, there are adapters but the most successful require sending your camera in for physical modification. They need to modify the hardware by doing things like removing the mirror that flips up and down in DSLR’s because the PL lenses stick inside the camera body too far.

The thing about real cinema PL lenses is that they come in set that are extremely consistent in look from one lens to the next. And they have accurate markings for f-stop and focus distance. And the focus and f-stop rings are large and easy for a focus puller to move during a shot consistently. And they can be rented by the day in most major cities.

So aspiring film makers will do well to try them on a project sometime and see if all that is worth the bother.

Monitor Output – This is another sign that this feature list comes from a film guy. Not only is it difficult to accurately focus a DSLR camera using the built-in LCD monitor, no one else can take a look. And on a film set there are lots of people who need to see what’s happening in the camera in real time and for playback.

In fact, most sets will have whole little network for distributing audio and video to various people. If your camera doesn’t have monitor out, it will not be used on a set like this. If you’re shooting by yourself you still need to use a good external monitor sometime and see how much easier it is to focus.

Recording Formats – More is better. A particularly useful feature is shooting at twice the frame rate of the final program. 60 frames a second played back at 30 frames a second gives you a beautiful 2-to-1 slow motion effect with every frame perfectly captured. Taking a 30 fps video and using a function in your editor does not produce the same result. You will get slo-mo but it will not look nearly as good. It may actually have so many artifacts that it’s unusable. In the film world this is called overcranking and all pro film cameras have variable frame rates.

Slow motion is like way-short depth of focus. It’s nice to have that trick in your bag but it’s not something you want to use all the time. From one perspective, just have the option to shoot double the rate is barely enough to make the camera useful. Sometimes you want just a little overcranking, sometimes a lot more than double.

Like I said, it’s clearly a list from a guy who knows a thing or two about making films. And if you’re intent on using a DSLR to shoot your film you’d do well to spend some time thinking about what’s important to you. You may even decide to pick up two different cameras so you can take advantage of their different strengths.

For instance, one set of lenses will produce significant changes in the frame when switched from the full sensor Canon 5D and 7D. Your full sensor 50mm lens on a 7D will be ‘zoomed in’ more than on a 5D. That may be just the effect you’re looking for. Working with a smaller set of great lenses and two camera bodies is likely a good idea.

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