By Jay Fidell
DSLRs have been in competition with the smaller digital cameras, and in many ways they have lost that competition. This is especially obvious at Christmas time, when so many new cameras get rolled out. The smaller digital cameras, as well as the iPhone and Android smartphones, are cheaper, lighter and have great pictures and functionality, including video, and are easy to put in your pocket and carry around. They take lots of pictures and the batteries last longer than before.
The DSLRs have been larger, heavier and more expensive and not nearly as handy on a trip or in a situation where you can’t lug around a full-size camera. Although they have lost ground to these smaller cameras, they are gaining ground against the larger camcorders. These days the DSLRs are finding a new niche for quality video and for lots of shooters they are replacing dedicated camcorders. Why? It’s because they now have incredible capability in video. Whatever great pictures you can get on a DSLR, you can get video on that DSLR which is just as great, really beautiful. This leaves the smaller cameras and smartphones in the dust.
Where before if you wanted a good camcorder, you’d have to spend thousands on the camera and a backpack of accessories, now you can get a better picture with a cheaper DSLR without so many accessories. For around $1,000, or possibly less, you can get a video DSLR that can take better video than your $2,000+ camcorder. No kidding.
The DSLR will have a bigger sensor and better lenses, and the video pictures will be far better, dollar for dollar. The DSLR will also be lighter to carry than a camcorder with its accessories. And it will take both video and stills with far greater control over the functions and the picture. I predict you will see more and more DSLRs built to take video, and more people switching to them from camcorders, including both hobbyists and professionals. Soon enough, they'll converge and the result will look and operate much more like a DSLR than a camcorder.
That’s not to say that the DSLR technology is fully mature. It’s still improving, and trying to beat challenges on recording time (typically enabled for less than 30 minutes), auto focusing, image stabilization and audio. But these things are better than they were a year ago and they’ll be better again a year from now. It’s a moving target, but at this point any shortfalls are far outweighed by the benefits, so it’s time to make your move.
The good DSLRs come with a built-in microphone and an input port for an external or wireless microphone. The shortfall is that the input is 3.5 mm and doesn’t include adjustable levels, but that’s easily fixed by using a separate audio recorder like a Zoom or Tascam, then synchronizing the audio in post-production. That way you get both great sound and video.
I suppose now after Christmas the prices will come down, so this is a great time to scope out the new video DSLRs. There are lots of new and improved models. Check out the Canon, Sony and Panasonic lines especially. My favorites are the Canon EOS 7D and the new hot Panasonic Lumix GH3, both selling for something over $1,000. Make sure you check them out. You’ll be glad you did, even though it's a little late to call it a Christmas gift.