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HD video from a digital SLR--beginning of a revolution?

When shooting video, the camera displays the image in "Live View" mode.
When shooting video, the camera displays the image in "Live View" mode.
Photographer: Bill Bertram

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Camcorders can shoot still pictures in addition to video, and point-and-shoot cameras can shoot video in addition to still photos.  But the public mostly yawns and says, “That’s nice.”  The convergence of still and video into one hybrid has not taken the world by storm, to put it mildly.  But that might be about to change.

Enter the digital single lens reflex (D-SLR) camera with video capability.  Don’t think of it as a turbocharged point-and-shoot camera.  If the point-and-shoot is a house cat, the D-SLR is not a larger housecat—it is a tiger.  The folks at Steve’s Digicam  explained it this way:  In layman's terms, a dSLR movie often looks like something you'd see in a theater while a camcorder movie may look more like something your uncle shot in his back yard.

So what makes D-SLR video so much better?  Sensor size.  Sensors are the electronic chips inside cameras and camcorders that capture an image.  The sensors in all D-SLR’s are much larger than those in camcorders, and some D-SLR sensors are larger than those in professional video cameras.

Large sensors have at least three advantages over small ones.


    Larger sensors have a higher dynamic range.   They capture subtleties of tone and color better, without lost detail in the highlights and shadows.

  • ·Larger sensors work better in low light than small sensors.  They have less electronic noise.

  • ·Larger sensors use larger focal length lenses.  Since larger focal lengths give a shallower depth of field, they make it easier to blur the background behind a subject when the videographer wants all the attention to be on the subject.

In short, “full-frame” D-SLR’s like the Nikon D3S or the Canon 5D Mark II  offer video quality much superior to camcorders costing several times as much, and the image quality would be equal to, or better than, the cameras used by Hollywood (costing hundreds of thousands of dollars) if they used “raw” video instead of “compressed” video.

This video by Vincent Laforet shows how good the Canon 5D Mark II can be in the hands of someone who understands its potential.

Stay tuned for more articles on D-SLR video.