Best DSLRs for video: 15 cameras from £400 to £2,400

So we have seen a that huge breadth of cameras results in an equally huge variety of results. Of all the cameras seen there are some that, irrelevant of price, just don't cut the mustard. To quickly oust these culprits, the Olympus E-5 and Pentax K-5 are best left behind from a video capture perspective. Whether that correlates to the Motion-JPEG (AVI) capture format being inadequate for video capture is certainly an argument.

Sink or swim?

Within each price group there's a favourite model to be had, but round all the cameras up into a single group and it's the DSLRs that tend to sink and the CSCs that float to the top.

In the sub-£1000 categories very few models offer full manual exposure control (the Canon EOS 600D is the DSLR exception here), which leaves the DSLRs struggling on account of their comparably poor autofocus in video mode and final quality that's often little better than their compact system counterparts.

It's a testament to just how good the CSC market is for video capture as the wide range of models performed very well indeed. If you want something that's easy to use then each and every CSC in this test performed well, though it's the Panasonic Lumix range where the most advantage is made by throwing touchscreen technology into the mix (something the Olympus E-P3 has but doesn't make use of for its movie capture). Herein lie the most camcorder-like of models, which will appeal to the masses looking for that extra splash of quality and, of course, the ability to capture great still shots too.

Some figures don't figure

One thing this test does reveal is that figures on paper don't always correlate to their real world success. But, deep down, we probably all knew that already. Final quality and other areas simply can't be looked up on a manufacturer website or in a brochure:

'Flickering' when shifting between one exposure level and the next was a problem seen in a number of models, though the Samsung NX11 was the worst culprit here.

Other models, such as the E-P3 lay on plenty of manual control, but then prevent these controls from being used in real time during capture.

Resolution-wise there's often a bit of a mis-sell too:

While 1080i may look bigger and better on paper than 720p, don't forget that interlaced (i) capture isn't as good as its progressive (p) bigger brother. It's been long-argued that a 720p file will - despite its lower resolution - be better than a 1080i one, on the assumption that all other conditions are the same.

As much as we'd say that's true, it's those 'other conditions' such as compression and frame rate that put a spanner in the works.

The Panasonic G3's 1080i files may look better than the 1080p files from the Nikon D3100, for example, yet the Canon 1100D's 720p final quality supersedes the both of them. That's all well and good, until you try and autofocus with the Canon before promptly surrendering in favour of the G3's sublime continuous AF.

The point being there are any number of digits available to try and sell a camera, but peel back the marketing, look at the results for yourself and balance up whether a camera can deliver all of your 'must haves' in order to warrant purchase. Matching the right kit to your needs is important.

The future

As video technology in stills cameras is only a couple of years old there must still be plenty more to come: imagine powered zoom lenses, faster focusing systems, larger data streams and improved electronic viewfinders and this market will overrun a section of the camcorder market in years to come. The division between DSLRs and CSCs is likely to become even greater as technology advances too.
As we look around the corner there are higher resolutions already in existence that will cross into consumer territory in years to come. As every camera in this test has a sensor far larger than native 'Full HD' 1080p, there's already the theoretical possibility of shooting 4K resolutions and beyond.

So which camera is best for video?

All things considered, the very best of all the cameras we have looked are so because they offer either the best final quality, are easiest to use or incorporate useful innovation. Arguably no single camera rolls all of that into one, instead each model offers its own unique selling point:

1st place: for quality

Cameras for video canon eos 5d mkii

Canon EOS 5D Mk II for its pro-spec video quality and full manual controls.

It's nothing like a camcorder but isn't even trying to be; it's a true high-spec movie machine that offers unrivalled quality, though you'll need some video know-how and a big bank account to get the most from it.

The EOS 7D offers similar quality for less cash.

2nd place: for ease of use

Panasonic g3

The Panasonic Lumix G3 for its excellent continuous autofocus. Hands-on touchscreen focus control makes it easy to maintain subject focus.

Although the Lumix GH2 has better final quality overall, the limitations to the latter's on-screen focus area and extra price hike puts the more consumer-friendly G3 up a peg or two.

3rd place: for innovation

Sony alpha 55

The Sony Alpha A55 for its super-fast continuous autofocus. This one's a unique camera in the running. It may not be perfect due to lack of fine-tuning and focus area control that would make it all the better, but nonetheless it's mightily impressive and very quick.