One of the questions that I get most from our camera audience is: what is the best DSLR for video? To answer that in 2017 is not as easy as it has been in the past years due to the influx of quality mirrorless competitors entering the space and seizing market share away from DSLRs.
If you don't have time to read the entire article, we believe the best overall DSLR for filmmaking is the Canon 1DX Mark II. Should you consider a newer mirrorless camera with nearly all the features, at a smaller size and cheaper price then you should consider the Panasonic GH4 or Sony A7S II.
In the remainder this article, I'll do my best to cover the best DSLR for video along with several potential mirrorless options that you'll want to consider when in the market for a new video camera. Remember, everyone's needs are different, and the right camera for one reader might be an entirely different model for another depending on their shooting style, footage requirements or overall budget.
Should You Choose DSLR Versus Mirrorless?
The great DSLR versus mirrorless debate is something that has only begun in the past few years, but it is as fierce as the iPhone/Android or PC/Mac rivalry with no clear winner to date.
DSLR stands for the digital single-lens reflex camera and is the traditional digital camera technology that evolved from 35mm SLR film cameras. This design utilizes a mirror inside the camera body to reflect light coming through the lens up to the prism and then into the viewfinder for your shot preview. Once the shutter button has been pressed to take an image, the mirror flips opening the shutter so that the light falls directly onto the image sensor which captures the resulting image.
On the other hand, a mirrorless design has light pass through the lens and projects it directly onto the image sensor (skipping any mirror components). This allows the user to see exactly what the camera is seeing through electronic signals sent to the back LCD and viewfinder.
Here's a great video produced by Sony showcasing the differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras:
Advantages Of DSLRs For Video
- Better battery life as DSLR bodies are traditionally larger thus being able to house bigger batteries and the optical viewfinder doesn't require power
- Better autofocus/tracking thanks to phase detection (the dual-pixel AF found on some Canon DSLR models is stellar)
Advantages Of Mirrorless For Video
- Smaller, lighter form-factor as the extra room isn't required for a mirror system
- Better image quality/less noise in low-light conditions
- Electronic viewfinders allow you to see exactly what the sensor sees even in high brightness situations (aka outdoors in direct sunlight)
- Offer native monitoring functionality (zebras, focus peaking, sensor grid, etc.)
- Ability to use a broad range of lenses via third-party adapters like the Metabones due to the flange distance
- Sensor-based image stabilization (can be used in conjunction with lens stabilization)
- More common for models to offer recording in 4K resolution
- More likely to have modes with higher frames per second for slow-motion (sometimes via variable frame rate modes)
- Greater value as mirrorless models are typically cheaper while offering more features
Now seeing the advantages laid out in a matter like this, you should be able to see why so many DSLR video shooters are switching to the mirrorless market.
Does that mean you shouldn't buy a new DSLR for shooting video? Absolutely not, but it is important to understand the current market during your search for a new camera to help make the best purchase decision about which model to buy for your video shooting needs.
Size Matters: Full Frame vs. APS-C vs. Micro Four-Thirds
Both DSLR and mirrorless models offer different sensor sizes, and they are broken up into three main types: Full Frame, APS-C, and Micro Four Thirds. With such a dramatic difference in size between sensors, the recorded image will be affected in numerous ways.
While it is possible that the descriptions may differ in some situations, here is a general overview of sensor sizes and common traits regarding them:
- Full frame sensors – the biggest sensor you'll see in a DSLR or mirrorless thus being capable of letting in the most light (best in low light conditions). From a defined distanced, it will offer the widest field of view and the greatest depth of field. These sensors are commonly used in the higher-end DSLRs and mirrorless models as they are the most expensive to produce. Due to the increased size of the sensor, DSLR and mirrorless models that use these typically result in larger camera bodies.
- APS-C sensors – the middle ground sensor that is most common in DSLRs and found in only some mirrorless models due to their lower cost to produce, but the smaller sensor will let in less light (mediocre in low light conditions). From a defined distance, it will display a narrower field of view (usually around 1.5x crop factor) and depth of field.
- Micro four thirds sensors – the smallest sensor size offered and exclusive to mirrorless cameras as Panasonic and Olympus introduced the sensor technology back in 2008. It is the smallest of the three sensors by a significant margin meaning it will get the least amount of light (worse performance in low light conditions) From a defined distance, you'll get the smallest field of view (typically a 2x crop factor) and the least depth of field. These sensors are the cheapest to produce, so you'll often find them on entry or lower end models despite them still packing competitive features.
Something that is important to note about APS-C and micro four thirds mirrorless cameras as opposed to DSLRs is that despite the smaller sensor size, you have the option to purchase a speedbooster which uses magnification to optically enlarge the sensor thus letting in more light, widening the field of view and increasing depth of field without compromising image quality.
This means you can turn an APS-C mirrorless model to perform like a full-frame sensor or a micro four-thirds mirrorless to perform as an APS-C or full-frame sensor. The primary downside to this approach is that you'll have to have the extra cash to invest in a speedbooster which usually cost at least $500 and utilize DSLR lenses (of which you might already own like I did). However, mirrorless models are typically cheaper than their comparable DSLRs so the price difference could even out nicely.
Best DSLR For Video 2017 (New)
Canon 1DX Mark II – $5,499.00 (Amazon)
The latest and greatest high-end DSLR from Canon which replaces their original 1DX Mark I. Designed primarily for action photographers, the 1DX Mark II also brings a lot of video capabilities to the table which is a first for Canon's 1DX lineup. The full-frame sensor is one of the best Canon offers with the best greatest sensitivity and enough resolution achieve cinema 4K recording at up to 60 frames per second. Its rear touch screen and dual-pixel autofocus make pulling focus and tracking moving subjects a breeze plus Canon's color science is notorious for its excellence and accuracy without the need to tweak much in post.
Something the 1DX Mark II is known for is being built like a tank for use in even the most grueling conditions with a durable and weatherproof construction. It is the largest camera body on this list but is still suitable for use on most video rigs and gimbals. The large size allows it to achieve the high frame rate C4k without overheating as well as use dual batteries for prolonged battery life.
As a photographer and filmmaker myself, the 1DX Mark II is something I've considered purchasing for my own use. My primary concerns are that the image quality is comparable to high-end mirrorless models like the a7S, a7RII, and GH5 which cost only a fraction of the price. Additionally, for shooting 4K Canon is using Motion JPEG which is a format that each still image is compressed as a single JPEG. While this retains excellent quality, the resulting file is overly cumbersome so it can become a major hassle to work with in your editing software or store on your hard drives due to the inefficient file size.
Canon 5D Mark IV – $3,299.00 (Amazon)
Canon's 5D Mark lineup has always been a flagship for the company, and the 5D Mark II paved the way for DSLR video shooters, especially after Magic Lantern. The 5D line is known for its large, durable design with a full-frame sensor and solid low-light capabilities.
While the 5D Mark II to Mark III wasn't all that big of change, the Mark IV added some significant changes to remain relevant as Canon's market share dwindles due to mirrorless competition. This new iteration offers a 30.4MP Full-Frame CMOS sensor and DIGIC 6+ processor providing Cinema 4K video up to 30 fps and 1080P FHD video up to 60fps.
Similar to the 1DX, the 5D Mark IV has adopted the use of Canon's stellar dual-pixel autofocus technology and improves upon of the convenience with a rear touchscreen display that allows you to quickly rack focus from one subject to another or lock onto a particular subject.
Sony a7RII – $2,898.00 (Amazon)
Sony in the past has kept their a7R mirrorless line dedicated to photography instead of video, but the release of their a7RII shook things up as it offered both 4K up to 30fps video in both full-frame and APS-C modes. The a7RII can shoot FHD 1080P up to 60fps, but it doesn't offer any higher frame rate options.
With a full-frame sensor packing a whopping 42.4MP, the a7RII achieves the best picture quality (crispest detail with the least amount of noise) with the native APS-C mode turned on in the settings as it utilizes less of the sensor thus reduces pixel binning. Another useful attribute in the a7RII is the integrated 5-axis image stabilization on the sensor which helps it achieve smoother handheld footage free from micro vibrations.
You have the ability to equip third-party adapters like the Metabones or even the Metabones Speedbooster with Canon, Nikon or other third-party lenses. The a7RII is one of two DSLR/mirrorless style cameras that I currently use for filmmaking, and when I made the switch from my 5D Mark III, I didn't bother to sell off any of my Canon glass.
Instead, I bought a Metabones Mark IV adapter so I can utilize the best Canon L and Sigma ART series glass without having to deal with the hassles of selling and rebuying my entire kit while taking advantage of some of the highest performance optics on the market.
Sony a7SII – $2,698.00 (Amazon)
Unlike the a7RII, the a7SII is designed specifically with video shooters in mind and comes in slightly lower at price than its older sibling. While both models utilize full frame sensors, the one found on the a7SII has only 12.2 MP. This decrease in pixels helps it achieve less noise in low-light conditions and better video performance while using the entire sensor.
Just like its older sibling, the a7SII does offer 5-axis image stabilization the sensor, so you are getting the very best tech packed into this video-centric mirrorless body. If you are shooting video on the a7SII, you'll have to stick to full frame unlike the a7RII's preferred APS-C (crop) mode as he a7SII doesn't have enough pixels on the sensor to shoot 4K while in APS-C mode.
Beyond the full frame video and low-light advantages of the a7SII, it can also shoot FHD 1080P at up to 120 frames per second. While this is a huge advantage for slow-motion shooters, the downside is that in this mode you are stuck with a 2.2x crop. High frame rate files will automatically be output in 5x slo-mo in a 24fps clip or 4x slo-mo in a 30fps clip.
Another great aspect about the a7SII is the ability to shoot in S-Gamut3.Cine/S-Log3 which is Sony's logarithmic (flat) picture profile that achieves the best dynamic range and latitude in both the shadows and the highlights. With S-Log3, you'll need to learn or know how to correctly expose and correct the image in post-production, but it will help keep the shadows and highlights in your scene from blowing out giving you the best-looking picture.
Panasonic GH5 – $1,997.99 (Amazon)
In the mirrorless market, Panasonic has been the top producer of micro four thirds cameras especially when it comes to models geared for filmmaking. The Panasonic GH4 broke the company out of indie filmmakers and into the mainstream as it was the first mirrorless camera to offer 4K shooting coupled with high frame rate 1080P FHD video (96 fps) for under $2K.
This time around, the GH5 offers a slightly bulkier body yet this comes with even greater features and functionality in return. For example, the GH5 now shoots either 4K resolution (C4K or UHD) in 10-bit 4:2:2 up to 30fps or 4K in 8-bit 4:2:0 up to 60 frames per second. This makes it the cheapest 4K camera on the market that harnesses internal 10-bit color. Beyond this, the slow motion capabilities of the 1080P FHD modes brings it to a staggering 180 fps when in the variable frame rate mode (this mode records no audio).
All footage is recorded to affordable SD card media, and the addition of an extra SD card slot (bringing the total to two) makes this the most affordable camera to own regarding media for its high technical specs. Another benefit of the dual slots is you can record to both cards simultaneously (if the initial media fails) or have it automatically switch the recording to the new source when the original card fills up.
To compete with Sony, Panasonic has added in-body image stabilization directly on the sensor giving filmmakers less of a headache when it comes to handheld shooting or the nuisance of micro-vibrations. They have also improved various elements via small but beneficial tweaks to the user menus, color science, audio and body design.
For those looking to shoot in a flat color profile like Sony's sLog, you'll have to create your own using the in-camera picture profile editor (not ideal, but the results are relatively flat) or dish out an extra $99 for an access code to unlock V-Log L which is Panasonic's proprietary logarithmic camera profile.
Canon 80D – $1,099.00 (Amazon)
The 70D was the first DSLR camera released by Canon that was specifically geared for video shooters due to their stellar dual-pixel autofocus system. Since then, the company has released the 80D which improves upon the original model in several ways and has been a favorite among YouTubers and social media celebrities. For example, Casey Neistat shot many of his vlogs on this camera and the 70D before switching to a GH5.
Sharing this attribute with the GH5, the 80D is the only other camera model on this list that has a flip out screen that articulates allowing you to film yourself in “selfie” mode or place it on a tripod and still see what you are shooting from in front of the camera. This screen is also touch enabled with improved dual pixel AF making it simple to lock on your subject and precisely track their movement with ease.
If you are an absolute beginner to DSLR filmmaking, then the 80D is probably the best starting point as it is very user-friendly with the easiest menu system and least amount of knowledge to operate. However, its limitations to shooting 1080P up to 60fps at 8-bit 4:2:0 makes it dwindle in value as your experience and knowledge in the filmmaking world expand thus requiring a more capable camera body for video shooting.
Budget: Should You Buy New Or Buy Used?
This is a big question a lot of consumers make when they are looking to buy a new DSLR for video, and the answer depends on many variables:
- Do you have the budget to buy any of the above models new? (don't forget the cost of lenses, spare batteries, recording media, lighting & rigging gear) If yes then buy new
- Are you okay with spending a large sum on a used or pre-owned model that may already show visible wear or markings? If no then buy new
- Are you comfortable with and could you afford potential repair costs associated with purchasing a pre-owned camera that is more than likely out of the original manufacturer's warranty? If no then buy new
Over the course of my filmmaking career, I've purchased both new and used DSLR/mirrorless camera models, and my decision as to which condition I went through with has always been situational.
I have nothing against buying used and have done so on many occasions in the past, but if I opt to go down this route, I always make sure to do my homework. For any used camera in question, I make sure that I fully understand the exact condition (with pictures) before purchasing so that there are no surprises when it arrives.
When looking for deals on used DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, I always check the following websites:
- B&H Photo (Used Department) – one of the biggest camera retailers that have great deals on pre-owned cameras
- Amazon (Used) – beyond selling new cameras, Amazon also allows third-party sellers to sell used cameras
- eBay – one of the largest online marketplaces for used goods from individual sellers
- BorrowLenses – one of the best places to rent a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but often sell off older rental units with a lot of life left in them
- Adorama (Used) – another big camera retailer that lists used camera deals often
- Craigslist – biggest risk, but can potentially score a great deal locally
Finding a good deal on a used camera is all about timing. You'll find plenty of used models in good condition late into the lifespan of the product, but a newer camera model will have significantly less or even no pre-owned units available.
If you can't find any of the camera models that I previously mentioned in used conditions via the websites that I listed, you might also want to consider these DSLR/mirrorless models as well since they are still relevant for video shooters despite older technology:
Keep in mind, there is always a significantly bigger risk in buying a used DSLR/mirrorless camera off the internet. However, it can pay off hugely to the tune of hundreds or even thousands off retail if you can score a reputable deal.
So Which Is The Best DSLR For Video In 2017?
Most people came to this article expecting a single model that I'd recommend to all, but there is no clear answer as every filmmaker has their own specific needs. Always remember, the best camera for me and my potential uses might be an entirely different model than what I'd recommend for you.
With that being said I think it has reached a point in the market where DSLRs are a much tougher sell than modern mirrorless models as you are getting a lot more for your money and the mirrorless technology almost always surpasses older DSLR technology for video shooting purposes. The best DSLR for video debate should likely be switched to the best interchangeable lens camera for video since DSLRs aren't innovating nearly as much as their mirrorless competition.
If I were shooting more than 75% video compared to stills photography, I'd say your best investment overall will be purchasing the A7SII or GH5. How I would determine which I'd buy between the two is whether you will require the need for excellent low light performance.
If you will be shooting primarily in bright conditions or bringing your own lighting, the GH5 is the best bang for your buck video camera that can compete with models even 5x its cost. Otherwise, I'd recommend the a7SII as its noise performance in low-light is unmatched.
If you are looking for the best overall DSLR/mirrorless camera for both video and photo use in a 50-50 spread or more photo than video functionality, I'd recommend the going with the a7RII or Canon 5D Mark IV. While the a7RII has a higher megapixels in its sensor which is great for stills, the 5D Mark IV does offer that signature Canon color science and can get the job done with video as long as you understand the codec limitations and trouble points.
Did we help you determine the best DSLR for video? Comment below!