The #1 Reason New Entry-Level DSLRs Record Better Video

zoomlenz image For a number of years, entry-level DSLR cameras have brought more pro-like features, functions and capabilities to many digital photographers who were ready to advance beyond compact cameras and become more serious about composing and capturing great images. The Canon EOS Rebel series, Nikon’s D3100 and Sony’s Alpha 33, 55, 580L and other entry-level models all could shoot HD video, and most at 1080p.

Digital photographers’ primary disappointment with these DSLRs was that the auto-focus (AF) system that did an excellent job when shooting stills didn’t perform well during video recording. The irony was that beginner DSLR photographers preferred these cameras to standard camcorders for shooting video because the DSLR models had imaging chips approximately 20 times larger. The video was stunning, colorful and crisp, but the AF system generally failed whenever the photographer, the camera or the subject moved; and they didn’t have to move much to confuse the AF.

At the time, the major DSLR camera manufacturer faced two challenges that may caused the positive and negative video performance of their cameras. First, entry-level cameras with video were rather new and many consumers were still shooting video with older camcorders. It may have been difficult for the companies to convince beginner DSLR photographers to shelve the camcorder and rely solely on their first DSLR camera. Second, AF technology had developed to a point that it should be part of the feature package in these cameras, but that same technology wasn’t quite as advanced as the cameras’ capability to record high quality, full HD video.

The major camera manufacturers may have been aware of this conundrum from the beginning. The history is interesting, but no longer important because the latest batch of entry-level DSLRs from Canon, Nikon and Sony feature AF technology that has significantly improved and is capable of a firm focus lock on most moving subjects.

The Nikon D3200 and Sony A57 DSLRs were released at approximately the same time, late March/early April 2012, and the Sony A37 during May 2012. The new Canon EOS Rebel T4i was released during mid-June 2012. All three are giving beginner DSLR photographers features and functions that were common in pro-level cameras just a few years ago. The Nikon D3200 has the largest sensor at 24.2 megapixels, but this is almost overkill for most of the digital photography needs of entry-level enthusiasts. The Rebel T4i’s 18 megapixels and the Sony A57’s 16 megapixels produce all the imaging quality a photographer new to DSLRs would want.

The Nikon D3200 records 1080p Full-HD video at 24 or 30 fps and video clips as much as 20 minutes. It also includes a HDMI jack, making it easy to show images and video directly on an HDTV. Nikon claims to be delivering “full-time” AF by improving the Face and Contrast Detection capabilities. In at least one online report, a Nikon spokesperson clearly admitted that the company had been aware of this discrepancy between the quality of video and the lack of AF performance. The upgrade to the AF technology in the D3200 appears to be generating positive comments, as more digital photographers are creating, not just shooting, with HD video.

Sony released the A57 and A 37 to go head-to-head with the Rebel T4i and D3200. Many experts and reviewers give Sony big ups for its fixed-mirror design. Unlike the “standard” DSLR, there is no moving mirror in either Sony model, so more of the light entering the lens is directed to the sensor. The advantage for the first-time DSLR buyer is that the camera is capable of focusing and continuing to shoot stills and movies without pausing for the mirror to return to its original position. The A57’s video specs are equally competitive, at 1080 Full-HD at 60 fps (as well as 24 fps) in AVCHD 2.0 standard capture. Plus, the A57 records video clips as much as 29 minutes. The A37 features 1080/60i/24p HD video in AVCHD format, but also includes a number of very helpful features: built-in stereo microphones and a wind-cut filter.

Canon is equally serious about advance AF technology. The new EOS Rebel T4i is the first EOS model with a Movie Servo AF that operates very evenly and silently, especially when the camera is paired with Canon’s new EF and EF-S STM lenses. The Movie Servo AF functions continuously during video recording and gives your movies the same bokeh, or background blur effect, that DSLRs achieve in still images. The camera also features the new Hybrid CMOS autofocus system, a first for an EOS camera. It includes a 9-point all cross-type AF array, with a high-precision, dual-cross f/2.8 point at center. With this much faster AF system, the T4i will spend less time focus hunting and operate continuously for stills or video in Live View.

The Canon EOS Rebel T4i records more than 29 minutes of video at 1080/30p as well as various lengths for other frames rates: 1080/25p, 720/60p and 50p and 480/30p and 25p.

With the great improvement in the AF systems in the Rebel T4i, Sony A57 and Nikon D3200, beginner DSLR photographers are receiving much greater value. They have a camera that captures excellent stills and now much better video. This is definitely the year of the dual-capability DSLR many of us have always wanted.


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