It wasn’t long ago that people used only little camcorders for making videos but now we have a lot of options. Many are turning to DSLRs to get the job done. A good DSLR can take high-quality video, operate well in low light situations, accept external microphones, and, of course, also take high-quality still photographs.
While most modern DSLRs have video capabilities, some rise above the rest when it comes to specific features that videographers want. Here we’ll talk about some of the things to look for when choosing a DSLR or mirrorless camera for video and give recommendations for some of our favorites and picks for the best mirrorless camera for video. You can also check out which photos made our list as the best Canon DSLR for any photographer.
The Best DSLR for Video
Best DSLRs for Video
1. Canon 5D Mark III
($129 7 day rental, $2,500 retail, body only)
Canon’s ever-popular 5D Mark III may be a photography powerhouse but it works as a video camera as well. Because of its low light performance, stunning image quality, and 41 cross-type autofocus points, the 5D Mark III is the best Canon DSLR for video (as of this writing) and leads the field when it comes to autofocus points and low-light performance.
While this camera, which was first released in 2012, lacks some of the features (like a flip-out screen and 4K capabilities) of newer models, its superior image quality and robust autofocus system make it worthy of a place in any videographer’s toolkit.
This camera’s predecessor, the 5D Mark II, has been used extensively in television and film and was used to shoot the entire final episode of the TV show House. Check out the video above, which was shot in Iceland entirely with a Canon 5D Mark III, to see what this camera can do.
2. Sony Alpha a7S II
($171 7 day rental, $3,000 rental, body only)
While we’re focusing largely on DSLRs, they aren’t the only cameras that take excellent video. Sony’s a7SII is a mirrorless camera that excels at videography.
This camera has 169 autofocus points and records 4K video on its full frame sensor. Because the a7S II is mirrorless, it is smaller and weighs considerably less than the other full frame cameras on our list. This camera has built-in image stabilization and is known for working exceptionally well in low-light situations.
Videographers who want the ability to take 4K video, shoot in dark conditions, and don’t want to lug around a DSLR all the time will love the a7S II. A stunning example of the a7S II’s low light performance is above.
3. Nikon D810
($148 7 day rental, $2,800 retail, body only)
The powerful D810 is the best Nikon DSLR for video (as of this writing). This camera, which was released in 2014, shoots 1080p video at 60 FPS, has a 36 MP full frame sensor, and locks into focus with its 15 cross-type (and 51 total) autofocus points. The D810 competes with Canon’s 5D Mark III—and does it well. Watch the video above to see just how good this camera is.
4. Panasonic Lumix GH4
($83 7 day rental, $1,300 retail, body only)
If you like the smaller size of the Sony Alpha a7S II but balk at the price, this may be the camera for you. The GH4 is a mirrorless micro four thirds camera that records 4K video at 24 and 30 FPS and weighs only 1.2 pounds.
It has a 49-point autofocus system and 3” swivel screen. It’s also the only camera on this list that can record videos longer than 29 minutes, 59 seconds. This camera is an ideal option for budget-minded videographers who want a small but extremely powerful camera. Above is an example of what it can do. Those who want even better performance may consider waiting for the release of the GH5, which is coming out soon and is rumored to have 6K video capabilities!
5. Canon 80D
($78 7 day rental, $1,200 retail, body only)
Canon’s 80D is a favorite among vloggers and videographers as a budget friendly DSLR that takes amazing video. This crop sensor camera records 1080p at 60 FPS and has fast and accurate autofocus thanks to its 45-point AF system. The 80D is a good option for videographers who want good image quality at an affordable price and who don’t need a full frame sensor or 4K recording. The 80D’s beautiful imaging can be seen above.
6. Canon T6i
($47 7 day rental, $750 retail, body only)
Canon’s T6i is the newest member (as of this writing) of the Rebel line and a powerful crop sensor DSLR for aspiring videographers. This well-priced DSLR has a flip out screen, 24 MP sensor, and records 1080p video at 30 FPS. This camera is a good fit for those who like the size and video capabilities of the Nikon D3300 (below) but also want a flip screen and improved autofocus. This video above shows just how good the T6i is.
7. Nikon D3300
($39 7 day rental, $550 retail, lens included)
The D3300 is the least expensive camera on our list but don’t be fooled by its low price. This camera, which only comes as a kit if purchased (you can get the body alone if you rent), records 1080p video at 60 FPS on its 24 MP sensor. The D3300 is a suitable option for those who want good video quality at a really great price. If you think you can’t take beautiful video with an entry-level DSLR, check this out.
|Camera||Canon 5D Mark III||Sony a7SII||Nikon D810||Panasonic Lumix GH4||Canon 80D||Canon T6i||Nikon D3300|
|Max Video Res.||1080p at 30 FPS||4K up to 30 FPS, 1080p up to 120 FPS||1080p at 60 FPS||4K at 24 and 30 FPS||1080p at 60 FPS||1080p at 30 FPS||1080p at 60 FPS|
|Sensor Size||22.3MP Full Frame||12.2MP Full Frame||36.3 MP Full Frame||16 MP Micro Four Thirds||24.2 MP APS-C||24.2 MP APS-C||24.2 MP APS-C|
|Battery Life||950 shots||370 shots||900 shots||500 shots||1390 shots||440 shots||700 shots|
|Screen||3.2″ rear screen||3.0” tiltable LCD||3.2″ rear screen||3″ swivel screen||3″ articulating LCD||3″ pivoting LCD||3″ rear screen|
|Weight||1.89 lbs||1.4 lbs||1.9 lbs||1.2 lbs||1.6 lbs||1.2 lbs||0.9 lbs|
|Autofocus||61 points, 41 cross-type||169 points||51 points, 15 cross-type||49 points||45 cross-type||19 cross-type||11 points, 1 cross-type|
Features to look for in a DSLR for Video
When it comes to picking the perfect camera for video, there are some important things to consider. It helps to know how, where, and why you plan to use your camera. Thinking about things like whether you will be shooting in low light, if you plan to take slow motion video, and how big of a camera you are willing to carry around will all help make your decision easier. Here are some features to consider when choosing a DSLR for videos:
Autofocus Type – Modern DSLRs typically have two different types of autofocus points: cross-type and phase detection. Phase detection points are the most common and least powerful. All focus points look for contrast in the frame but phase detection points are only able to detect vertical changes in contrast. Cross-type points are able to detect both horizontal and vertical changes in contrast, allowing them to find focus better and more quickly. Simply put, the more cross-type points you have, the better your autofocus capabilities will be.
Max Video Resolution – Resolution is simply a measure of how many pixels a video or image contains. The more pixels you have, the sharper your image. 4K video resolution is on the rise but it is certainly not always necessary.
You may be surprised to see that two of the top cameras on our list (the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D810) only shoot at resolutions up to 1080p. The truth is that while 4K video may be stunningly beautiful, many screens are not able to make the most of all of those glorious pixels. But that’s not to say that 4K video isn’t worth it.
Having a lot of pixels to play with gives you more cropping options in post processing, allows you to edit for different views (wide angle, zoomed in, etc.) from the same clip, and lets you pull high-quality still images from your videos. So while 1080p is more than enough (as evidenced by our recommendations for cameras that max out well before 4K), it definitely has some advantages. Videographers who want a camera that captures more data, allows for more flexibility in editing, and produces the clearest videos possible should look for 4K capabilities.
Size and Weight – A camera may not seem heavy when you first pick it up but after a long day of shooting your hands and arms will feel it. One of the biggest downsides of full frame DSLRs is that they can be heavy. If you are using a tripod or plan to only shoot in smaller chunks this may not be a big deal but if you see long days behind the camera in your future, you may want to take size and weight into consideration.
Mirrorless cameras (like the Sony a7SII) may be the best option for smaller videographers or those who want a lighter setup. It’s also worth noting that size and weight is one of the few places that crop sensor (APS-C) bodies have a leg up on their full frame counterparts. Crop sensor cameras are generally lighter and smaller.
Battery Life – Recording video eats up camera batteries fast and other camera features like LCD screens and continuous autofocus can drain batteries even faster. While most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have decent battery life, there is some variation across the models. Battery life is typically measured in still shots on one charge but it can still give an idea of how long a battery will last for recording video. You’ll likely need multiple backup batteries for recording a project, and even more to account for lower battery performance in colder climates.
Sensor Size – Modern DSLRs are either full frame or APS-C (also known as crop sensor). A full frame sensor is larger, allowing it to capture more light (for better low light performance), achieve shallower depth of field, and have a brighter viewfinder.
But just because they’re the gold standard in photography doesn’t mean full frame cameras are without drawbacks – like being heavy and expensive. APS-C cameras are typically lighter and cheaper than their full frame counterparts. Videographers who do not plan on shooting in low-light conditions or don’t care about achieving a shallow depth of field may want to forgo the extra cost of a full frame camera and stick with APS-C.
It’s also important to know that the same lens will appear to have a to have a longer reach on an APS-C camera than it does on a full frame (see diagram above), this may be a bad thing if you like wide angle shots but it’s often appreciated by sports and wildlife photographers. Learn more about this in New DSLR Owners: What You Must Know About Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors Before Choosing a Lens.
I/O Ports – Input/Output (I/O) ports on DSLRs allow for greater flexibility in the way the camera interfaces with your computer, phone, and other external devices. Things like headphones, microphones, and USB ports can give you more options for how you use your camera and what you connect it to. Ideally, your camera should have ports for a microphone and pair of headphones as well as HDMI out (for connecting external monitors, etc).
Slow Motion – Sports and action videographers may appreciate the ability to shoot slow motion video. A high frame rate is the key to being able to slow the action down. The faster your frame rate, the more you can slow down your final product. A camera that shoots in 60 FPS or above is ideal for those who know they want to include slow motion in their videos.
Lens Availability – It is important to keep in mind that when you invest in a camera with interchangeable lenses you are also investing in an entire system. A Nikon camera cannot support Canon lenses and vice versa (without using adapters, that is, which can have AF and aperture drawbacks). If there is a specific focal length or type of lens that you want to use for your videos, be sure to choose a camera body that will support it.
Stabilization – Taking smooth video, especially if you are shooting handheld, is hard. Image stabilization (IS) helps to nullify the effects of camera shake. This is especially useful for videographers who will be shooting with longer lenses, as camera shake is more noticeable with increased focal length.
Some cameras, like the Sony a7SII, have built-in stabilization but for most you will want to look for IS in your lenses. This is not as big of a deal for videographers who don’t plan on moving around much or will never use a longer lens but it is something to consider when investing in a camera system.
The Best DSLR for Video under $500
For those who want to keep the budget down while still being able to take high-quality video, Nikon’s D3300 is the way to go. This small crop-sensor DSLR is a good way to try out videography at an excellent price. It is also a good option for a camera is a perfect way to get started while you rent other bodies to see if a more expensive one is right for you.
The Best DSLR for Video under $1,000
Those who want more features and improved performance without breaking the bank will be well-served by the Canon T6i. With its robust autofocus system, flip screen, and ability to shoot high-res video, this is a camera that will make a budget-minded videographer happy for years to come.
The Best DSLR for Video Overall
For those who want the best quality and most features regardless of price, the Canon 5D Mark III is the obvious choice. There’s a reason this is the camera so many pros use. Despite its inability to shoot 4K video, its image quality, 41 cross-type autofocus points, and stellar low-light performance make it the best of the bunch.
There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to picking a DSLR for videography and few things are as useful as actually getting your hands onto the cameras you are considering. Remember that renting cameras before you buy is a good way to be sure that you are making the right choice. Also, don’t forget to check out our other tips and tricks including this guide for the best low light video camera. Make the most out of your videography with the proper gear.
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