Digital SLRs - Movie Modes

The presence of movie modes on DSLRs has been a little slow to catch on. Traditionally, shooting movies has been seen as the domain of the camcorder, and people have simply used DSLRs for shooting still pictures. Alongside this, when DSLR makers have ventured into movie functionality, there have been technological challenges (e.g. over the best focusing method to use) and concerns about the limitations of how much recording time can be squeezed on to a relatively low-capacity memory card.

However, things are rapidly changing, and 'convergence' is the big buzz word these days, with manufacturers striving to produce cameras that will be just as capable of shooting high-quality video as they are at shooting still photos. The presence of a movie mode on a DSLR is no longer just a gimmick, but is now sometimes the number one priority for buyers, and the quality of results has improved to the point that we are now seeing TV programmes and even cinema productions shot on DSLRs.

Certainly high end Digital SLRs are producing video of exceptional quality. With this type of camera you can easily produce sufficient quality to shoot short films.

digital slrs

Getting the Best Video Quality

It is not the aim of this guide to give an in-depth account of the complexities of video, but one key concept is whether the camera is capable of producing 'HD-quality' video. HD, or high definition, is determined by a couple of different factors. Firstly, how many horizontal lines are used to make up the picture - the more lines, the more detail.

The usual options are 720 or 1080. Secondly, is each frame produced by 'interlacing' two separate images, each made up from half of the horizontal lines, or is it a single image produced by a 'progressive' scan? The 'p' method generally produces sharper, better-quality pictures, but the 'i' method is better at capturing fast action.

The combination of these two factors is important and it is quite possible to get better results from a 720p recording than a 1080i one, for example. If you want the best of both worlds, then look for a camera capable of 1080p shooting. Some entry-level models, such as the Canon 1100D, can only shoot 720p, while others, like the Nikon D3100, can shoot 1080p. However, more expensive models will also have much more sophisticated auto focus capabilities for video shooting.

Movie Sound

Less-expensive entry-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D3100 and Canon EOS 1100D will only record mono sound when shooting movies, but spending more will get you the ability to record in stereo. However, you do tend to get considerable background noise from the internal microphone on a DSLR, and for better quality sound you may want to consider buying an external microphone that can be attached to the accessory shoe.

Digital SLR Guide Pages

Digital SLR Basics
Digital SLRs and Digital Cameras Key Differences
Digital SLR or Compact System Cameras
Digital SLR Handling
Help for Beginners

Lenses and Accessories
Buying a Camera Lens
Memory Cards
Digital SLR Accessories

Learn More About Features
Resolution and Sensor Size
Sensor Cleaning
Manual Exposure Modes
ISO Range
White Balance
Auto Focus
Drive Modes
Scene Modes
Help With Tricky Lighting
Metering Modes
RAW Mode
Live View and Articulated Screens
Flash Options
Movie Modes
Depth of Field Preview Button
Image Stabilisation
Mirror Lockup

Current and Recommended Models
Summary of Current Models
Recommended Digital SLRs

Digital SLR Guide Author
This guide was written by Ian Younger

Getting the Right Memory Card

Not all memory cards are able to record movie footage. Camera specifications are likely to tell you the minimum memory card requirements for shooting movies. For example many Digital SLRs that are compatible with SD cards need a Class 6 or above card to be able to record movies. As technology moves on the class of card required is likely to creep higher. Therefore always double check your Digital SLR specification before buying a memory card for storing movies.

When buying a memory card another point to consider is card capacity. If you are shooting High Definition Movies memory cards soon become full, especially when shooting at 1080 resolution.

Stills and Video

There are occasions when it is useful to be able to take a still photograph while shooting a movie. Watch out for Digital SLRs that offer this feature.

Video and Lenses

Your choice of lens is important when shooting a video. In addition to being able to zoom in and out the same rules apply for video as for stills when working in challenging conditions. For example if you are in a lowlight situation then choosing a lens with a large aperture can make a difference to the quality of your video clips.

Opportunities Created by Video

As video quality has improved a number of opportunities have opened up for photographers. Even if you are an amateur photographer taking pictures and shooting movie clips purely for fun you now have the option of leaving a camcorder at home when you take a holiday and using your Digital SLR to capture movie clips.

For a professional photographer looking for business opportunities the introduction of high quality video capture is a game changer. With the requisite practice and experience wedding photographers can now augment still images with a selection of short video clips taken throughout the day. Commercial photographers can shoot short promotional videos in addition to offering stills photography. As companies look to channels such as YouTube to promote themselves, being able to shoot reasonably priced video is an extra incentive to clients to use your services.