The 10 Best DSLRs For Video
This wiki has been updated 19 times since it was first published in February of 2016. It would be a challenge to find a top-tier DSLR on the market that doesn't shoot video in at least 1080p resolution. Not all sensors and processors are alike, however, and 4K video from an entry-level, APS-C camera is going to look amateurish next to the stunning movies produced by the more professional models we've included on our list, ranked by image quality, ergonomics, and durability. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best dslr for video on Amazon.
December 02, 2019:
It broke my heart to do so, but it was time to remove the Sony a7S II from this list. I shot my first feature film on that camera, in addition to a slew of short films and a few additional features. And its 12MP sensor still offers the best pixel pitch of anything on the market. But it's nearly five years old, its processor is outdated, its bit rate could be better, and every other model in the company's mirrorless Alpha series has been updated at least once since its debut. The harsh reality is that the company might not intend to upgrade it, instead focusing on the Sony a7R IV Mirrorless as an all-in-one model capable of satisfying the most demanding videographers and every stills shooter that isn't professionally covering live sports with their a9 series.
And speaking of old cameras, both the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1Dx Mk II have had their successors announced, but as of this writing, neither model has come to market, so they held onto their spots. What has come to market from both of those companies is a set of mirrorless cameras designed to compete with the likes of Sony's high end mirrorless, with new lens systems, log formatting, and 4K capture on full-frame sensors.
Gaining An Edge In Video Quality
You may notice that some of the DSLRs that are most popular for video don’t really earn the R in DSLR.
That R stands for Reflex, and it refers the movement of an angled mirror that lives behind the lens.
By now, the sight of a DSLR isn’t such a surprise, even at the most low-key family gatherings. They’ve become a lot more affordable at the every level, and, for the most part, they can provide the least talented or experienced photographer with images that far surpass the quality of smaller point-and-shoot cameras.
Video, however, is another animal. Those entry-level DSLRs all shoot video nowadays. Many of them even shoot at resolutions up to 4K. That doesn’t mean the quality’s any good. The sensors you’re liable to see on less expensive DSLRs are not only too small to get the job done, their signal to noise ratios are abysmal–at least by comparison to the cameras that made our cut.
You may notice that some of the DSLRs that are most popular for video don’t really earn the R in DSLR. That R stands for Reflex, and it refers the movement of an angled mirror that lives behind the lens.
In order for you to see through the viewfinder on a traditional DLSR (or SLR for you film shooters), light travels in through the lens, bounces off of that mirror and up through what’s called a pentaprism to reflect the image right-side up in your viewfinder. When you take a picture, that mirror jumps out of the way so that the sensor (or the film cell) can see the light.
Videos generally shoot at 24 frames per second. That would be a lot of movement in the mirror, which would create a ton of unnecessary vibration and very quickly wear out its mechanism. Instead, a DSLR’s mirror stays completely out of the way, and the camera’s sensor is out in the open, absorbing light and giving you a real-time digital image on your back display.
Unfortunately, that means that the mirror is stuck in the up position, so it can’t send light through your viewfinder. On a sunny day, this makes it very difficult to shoot, given all the glare that interferes with those back screens.
The cameras that do away with the R completely do so by doing away with the mirror. These are often referred to as mirrorless cameras or DSLMs. A lot of people just call them mirrorless DSLRs, and we’ll go along with that for simplicity’s sake.
Mirrorless DSLRs tend to be a little smaller than their traditional counterparts. Without a mirror, their viewfinders rely on the same technology that sends your video image to the back screen of a DSLR; they have digital screens where DSLRs have glass viewfinders, so glare is never an issue.
Fewer Pixels, Better Picture
If you’re looking simply to make the highest-quality family movies you can, then it might be smart to opt for the smallest, lightest, least expensive options on our list. Chances are they’ll have slightly smaller sensors, a weaker selection of lenses, and a shorter dynamic range (that’s the amount of detail a camera can pull out of the darkest and brightest parts of an image).
But that’s okay. Those are comparatively small sacrifices to make to ensure you’ll have enough room in your carry-on to take this thing on vacation.
Now think about two cameras with the same full-frame sensor.
When it comes to more professional filmmaking and videography, however, you shouldn’t let size be too much of a factor. After all, once you’ve added on your cinema lens, rail system, gearbox, follow focus, matte box, neutral density filters, shoulder mount, and monitor, you’ll likely have lost any perspective on how big the camera body itself actually is.
Instead, you want to make sure you get a camera with a full-frame sensor. You also want to make sure you don’t get lured in by a high megapixel count. Big megapixel counts are great for high-resolution still images that you intend to blow up. But it’s not quite that simple for video.
Let’s say you want to shoot in 4K. That’s 3840x2160 pixels. That makes for 8.3 million pixels, which is another way of saying 8.3 megapixels. That’s all you need to shoot in 4K.
Now think about two cameras with the same full-frame sensor. One has 12 megapixels, the other has 36. The 12MP camera actually has bigger pixels because the 36MP model had to make them three times as small to fit them on the same size sensor. That means a 12MP sensor uses that much more of its area when collecting light, improving clarity, quality, and low-light noise reduction.
As for the debate between mirrorless and traditional DSLRs, the former will eventually eclipse the latter. For the moment, it’s a pretty even playing field. If you’re planning on getting started by shooting with less expensive lenses and without all that extra gear listed above, going with a mirrorless model will keep your footprint as small as possible. That’s a big benefit if you find yourself shooting something in public without a permit.
A Brief History Of DLSR Videography
When digital photography began to really take off in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it didn’t seem like the hardware was good match for video. The film industry still ran on film, despite efforts by directors like Wim Wenders and Michael Mann. Even those pioneers didn’t use DSLRs to capture their video, mainly because no such camera had come out yet. These filmmakers relied on more conventional, camcorder-style video capture.
This was in part because a third party created a hack for the camera’s software that allowed its users to write uncompressed HD video directly to the camera’s memory cards.
The first DSLR capable of shooting video was the Nikon D90, released in 2008. The camera was a workhorse on a number of fronts, and is still used by a lot of stills shooters.
Unfortunately for Nikon, Canon released their 5D MkII not long after the D90 hit the market. Even today, Canon holds a tiny edge in video quality over Nikon. Some say the difference is imperceptible, but more people believe they can see it.
Canon’s followup to the 5D MkII was the 5D MkIII, which was one of the first DSLRs used on professional sets to capture video. This was in part because a third party created a hack for the camera’s software that allowed its users to write uncompressed HD video directly to the camera’s memory cards.
Filmmakers and TV showrunners that needed to shoot very quickly or in tight spaces found that they could use a 5D MkIII and grade the footage in post to look just like what they’d captured on film or with much bigger, high-end digital cameras.
Both the film industry and the camera industry took notice, and now almost every DSLR in production can shoot video, most in 4K. The advent of these cinema DSLRs has given small-time filmmakers with little money a chance to be seen and heard that they may otherwise never have had.
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