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Video Recording Limits in Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras

Learn about video recording limits in mirrorless and DSLR cameras, why they exist, and how to overcome them for long-form interviews and other projects.

DSLR shooting video of a long event

For years, DSLR and mirrorless cameras have been bogged down by video recording limits that prevent users from recording for too long. But why? What are these limits? Today, we’ll look at the recording limits of various cameras and discuss some ways to overcome these issues.

Brief History of Video Recording Limits

One of the first DSLR cameras to break into video recording was the Canon 5D Mark II. The camera came with a 12-minute recording limit. There was a very good reason: a 4GB size limit on files in the FAT32 file system the camera used. Because of the way the camera stored files on cards, the files needed to have a cap. If there was no cap, the camera would overheat.

As time went on, the cameras got better at this. Canon released the 5D Mark III in 2012 and recording limits started to change. This big brother to the 5D Mark II had a newly designed interior, overcoming the overheating issue. Seamless file spanning also fixed the 12 minute cap. Suddenly, 30 minutes became the new video recording limit.

Instruction Manual from 5D Mark III Demonstrating Video Recording Limits

More companies began to add video features to their DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Consistently, they met this 30-minute recording cap. Nikon, Sony, and more – all capped at 30 minutes. It seemed you needed a true video camera in order to record any long-form interviews or shoot without having to stop and start your recording. The problem is, most of these video cameras come at an extreme cost.

In 2006, the European Union created a law that added an import duty of 5-12% to any video camera. What determined whether a camera was a video camera? In short, the ability to record longer than 30 minutes. Thus, companies like Canon and Nikon decided to cap their video clip lengths, preventing their enthusiast and prosumer cameras from being considered video cameras.

For years, companies have been able  to avoid this tax because the EU considers photography cameras “information technology products”. Video cameras/camcorders, however, took on the tax because of their ability to record things like television shows and movies, theoretically causing competition for cable companies. This is all supposedly going to get phased out starting in July of 2019 (only about a month from the time of this writing). Keep an eye out here for more news on that front.

Overcoming Current Limits

The reason why this is being questioned is the 30 minute video recording limit is just not necessary. It has nothing to do with file systems and overheating cameras anymore. Nowadays, it is just a way of avoiding the 5-12% tax on cameras in Europe. Were these companies to allow their cameras to record longer, they’d need to increase the cost of the cameras. Because many DSLR users don’t wholly focus on the video aspect of their cameras, this would be an undesirable cost increase for these companies to incur.

Shooting video with an external recorder at a live event

If you need video clips longer than 30 minutes, there are ways to do it:

• You can use an HDMI-connection external recorder, such as the Ninja Flame, to easily capture longer content out of your DSLR. Learn more about how to use external recorders in Crash Course on External Recording Monitors.

• You can use only certain models of cameras, such as the Panasonic GH5S, which don’t have recording limits. The GH5S is one of the first digital cameras of this class and form factor to break away from the video recording limit. Panasonic is putting a lot of effort into video capabilities for its users.

• Used a firmware hack, such as Magic Lantern, that can remove the 30 minute limit on Canon DSLRS. However this will void your warranty.

The Future of Recording Limits and the Information Technology Agreement

It’s hard to know what the future holds in terms of video recording limits in digital cameras. One thing is clear, video is here to stay. These cameras has seen a huge uptick in sales due to their video capabilities. If people are willing to spend a little more to overcome these recording limits, camera companies may decide it’s worth doing. Only time will tell.

Last modified: July 7, 2021