Fall 2010 Prosumer video DSLR roundup (Part 2)

This is part two of the prosumer video DSLR roundup.  In part one, I described the background and reasoning behind why these features were the things that most interested me.

This table is best viewed with at least 1450px width resolution.  If you have problems viewing it, you can download the OpenDocument format spreadsheet.

Sony NEX 7 Sony a55 Panasonic GH1 Panasonic GH2 Canon T2i (550D) Canon 60D Nikon D7000 Current value
body 1000? 750 0 0 750 1100 1200 350 (D80)
Sigma/Tamron 70-200 2.8 n/a (though might AF HSM through adapter) 650 nothing similar nothing similar 600 600 600
18-whatever (cheap/fast/reach) 1200 450 1000 1500 600 600 600 (18-200VR)
small/fast 200 150 350 350 80 80 80 (50 1.8G)
flash (4AA) 150 (should use alpha?) 150 400 400 200 200 170 (SB600)
TOTAL cost $2550 $2150 $1750 $2250 $2230 $2580 $1200 (total system value of $2650) $1800
Articulating LCD Probably Bottom Bottom Side Side No Side No No
LCD 3” 920k 3” 460k 3” 460k (touch sensitive) 3” 1.04M 3” 1.04M 3” 920k 2.5” 230k
Wireless Flash Probably? Yes No Doubtful No Yes (ONE flash only) Yes Yes
Wireless Remote Almost Definitely Yes Only with wired adapter Doubtful without wired adapter Yes Yes Yes Yes
In body IS No Yes No No No No No No
GPS Yes No No No No No (external addon) No
60 fps video 1080p (720p 120fps) No 720p 720p (but 1080i stores from 60fps to reduce rolling shutter 720p 720p No No
continuous fps (RAW) 10 for 20, 6 for 20 (4 in RJ), 3 for 21 3.3 fps for 4 frames 5 fps 3.4 for 5 or 6 5.3 fps for 16 frames 6 fps 3 fps for 6 frames
video time 29 min expected 29min / 9min w/ IS Limited only by SDHC card (30 min in EU) 30 min? 30 min or 4 GB file 30 min (maybe 11) 20 min n/a
AF in video Yes (perfect but forced f/3.5) Yes (decent) Yes (better than every other contrast AF) Basically unusable Basically unusable Yes (contrast) n/a
Dynamic range Excellent Not good (constant highlight clipping) Unknown – possibly improved Good Good Excellent Very Good
Noise Good (but bad NR for JPEG (auto better than weak); shoot RAW) Not good (two stops lower than APS-C) Decent? (supposed to be 1 stop better than GH1) Good Good Probably Best Good
Tiny body in mount Yes No Yes Yes No No No No
MP 16? 16 12 16 18 18 16 10
SDXC Yes Yes (plus MemoryStick) No Yes Yes Yes Yes (2 slots) No
Mic input Almost Definitely Yes Yes Yes (includes 80/100/120% gain control) Yes Yes Yes No
HDR mode Yes Yes No No No No No No
Adjust aperture in vid Yes Yes (MF only!)
(& AF maybe w/ shim or aperture
On lens)
Yes Yes Yes Yes Probably n/a
Adjust shutter in vid No Yes Yes Yes Yes Probably n/a
HDMI output Yes Yes Yes Yes (output during framing and recording
But skips frames during recording?)
Yes Yes Yes No
Viewfinder EVF EVF (highest quality to this point) EVF (wasn’t that great) EVF (60 fps – might be better than A55) OVF (pentamirror) OVF (pentaprism) OVF (100%) OVF (pentaprism)
Battery Grip Doubtful No No No Yes ($35 on ebay) Yes Yes Yes
Comments Including this
Because it will be
Sony’s direct
Competitor to the
Panasonic GH2Not expected until
Christmas
(UPDATE:  Now expected OCT 2011)

Love a 2nd tiny APSC body
(NEX 3/5)

Because 18-200 NEX
Is $1200, I’d get a
$200 alpha adapt. and an alpha zoom lens

Tamron 17-50 2.8 lens $400Sigma HSM OS 17-70 2.8-4 $450

Sigma HSM
OS 18-250 $500

Leaning toward HSM for silent video

IS on every lens!!

440g body (500g w/ batt)

small/fast = 35mm 1.8

or 24mm 2.8

60 fps mode = poor rolling shutter

Biggest limitation is that AF in
Video only works at f/3.5 or the lens’s
max aperture

It’s possible but unlikely that the lens can be
shimmed to decrease the
aperture.

No shutter
Control in video, either

AF is wicked fast and metering is
great

A33 shipping in Sept 2010
A55 shipping in Oct 10, 2010

Like a 2nd tiny body (GF1)720p 60 fps

Firmware hacks improve videos further

Smaller sensor = worst noise performance

small/fast lens is 20mm f 1.7 pancake
(probably prefer new 14 f2.5 pancake)

385g body (460 w/ batt)

Flash is overpriced. No wireless
flash

GH1 + 14-140 lens for $1k right now

Few wide/fast zoom options with IS (any?)

Body only is $900Like a 2nd tiny body (GF1)

720p 60 fps & 1080p 60fps (in 1080i container)

2.6x digital zoom in 1080 and 2.6x/3.9x in other res

(Allows digital zoom to 1:1 of sensor data
(high quality digital zoom))

TOUCH FOCUS (game changer)
http://vimeo.com/9936494

Mic gain control

Zebra blown out highlights in video

Firmware hacks will be attempted heavily

Noise performance and dynamic range are supposed to be improved; unknown how much at this point

small/fast lens is 20mm f 1.7 pancake
(probably prefer new 14 f2.5 pancake)

Flash is overpriced for what you get. No wireless

394g body (470 w/ batt)

Side Articulating touch sensitive LCD (but can ignore touch)

Few wide/fast zoom options with IS (any?)

Announced Sept 21 (will ship in Dec)

Released Nov 2009 Announced Aug. 26LCD, OVF, and wireless flash are is biggest differences with T2i

755g w/ batt

550-650g
Metal bodyShould have best noise performance

Announced:
Sept 15 (ships in late October)

D7000 is basically a D300 with better video and sensor

668g body+batt
No artic. LCD
3 fps

WINNERS

Best Photo DSLR: Nikon D7000

If the best photos are your primary concern, then the D7000 is the way to go.  Tons of great glass, especially the high quality/value 18-105VR lens that can be had for <$300 on ebay.  Unfortunately, reviews are still forthcoming, so I have no idea how well the contrast AF works in video (Is it better than the Canon AF?  GH1?  GH2?) and still lack proof of how good the DR/ISO is.  It has the best viewfinder in this class and the only camera to offer AF microadjust, a metal body, and two simultaneous memory cards.  I was astounded when I found out that it was going to cost $200 more than the D90 2 years ago but not have 60fps or built-in GPS or an articulating LCD. It’s clearly a photographer’s camera.

Best Video DSLR: Panasonic GH2

It’s not remotely close.  It has everything you want from a video DSLR.  Ok, not everything, but you can’t buy a camera with global shutter, in body IS, power zoom, and >24 mbps yet.  Touch focus looks to be a game changer. and the autofocus looks like it could be good enough to be perfectly usable and get sharp video… though that has yet to be proven.  The digital zoom idea is fantastic and needs to be implemented by every manufacturer immediately.  Biggest problem is that it doesn’t look like they did much to improve the photo side, and it still has to use adapters to use a flash wirelessly or trip a shutter remotely.  Panasonic is clearly focusing on the video guys here and ignoring photographers.

Best all around DSLR: Sony A55

It’s $750, cheaper than nearly every other DSLR here.  It has in body IS, wireless flash, wireless remote, lenses and accessories are on the cheaper side and it has third party support.  And it has the game-changing full-time phase detect autofocus, which means your videos will have awesome sharpness and it brings in 10 fps mode…. which are much better than any other camera in this range.  In order to get that, though, you have to give up aperture/shutter/ISO control in video/10fps, which is quite a sacrifice.  The #1 problem with the camera is that it doesn’t support 60 fps so rolling shutter is definitely an issue.  I’d definitely prefer a side articulating LCD as well, but it doesn’t look like Sony is going in that direction soon.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

You might wonder why the commentary on Canon is so sparse.  Part of it is that they weren’t on my radar until I found out the T2i had 720p 60fps.  I then started following the 60D/T2i but discovered that the AF wasn’t great, and it was basically useless in video.  The sensor is not as good as the D90’s, and the D7000 just came out with a better one.  So they have a solid all-around product but no standout feature.  Everything seems to be at least a notch below the competition.  I was astounded at the price of the 60D because I figured it would be $200 more than the T2i.

The Panasonic GH1 w/ 14-140 at $1000 is an excellent value for the video shooter.  At $500 less than the GH2 kit, it still has a lot to offer.  It’s best in the hands of either someone who will only use the 14-140 lens as basically a very, very glorified camcorder or in the hands of a pro who can deal with manual focus, stabilization rigs, lens adapters, and firmware hacking.  Note that current new models of the GH1 do not have hacked firmware.

I like the idea of mirrorless cameras because they open up a wider range of camera bodies to the same lenses.  While these bodies don’t exist yet, you could have pro bodies and tiny compact bodies, and both can use the same pro or consumer glass.  So you can buy a body in this range or even higher and a cheap tiny body and have a lot more versatility in what you carry and still be able to take much much higher quality pics/video than a point and shoot.

Sony’s biggest downside is that instead of cutting the price on their lenses because they don’t have in lens IS or even in lens motors, they actually charge the same or more than equivalent Nikon/Canon glass.  So you have to go with 3rd party lens suppliers.  I have no problem doing that, but you want a quiet focus motor when recording video with audio, and that rules out Tamron, and all Sony lenses except SSM (SAM is loud — Nikon only uses those motors on their 18-55 and 55-200 lenses, but Sony uses it on everything <$700).  All that is left is Sigma, who has many HSM lenses, but they just announced that all their lenses have to be re-chipped to support the A33/A55 focusing.  Ugh.  That’s just a tough situation right now.

I included the NEX 7 because that will be Sony’s competitor to the Panasonic GHx series.  The E-mount camcorder Sony brought out was a little underwhelming (still no 60fps) so only time will tell if the NEX 7 brings what is rumored.  If Sony prepared well enough to replicate the features of the GH2 on an APSC sensor and bring some improvements as well (wireless flash/remote, for one), then the NEX 7 could be the new winner.  At the same time, it still doesn’t have anything to touch the 14-140 lens on the GHx series, which has a stepless aperture ring and completely silent focusing.

CONCLUSION

This was a harder call than I expected.  I didn’t expect the AF improvements or touch focus in the GH2, and that almost grabbed me.  If it had in body stabilization, that might have been enough, especially once they confirm the sensor improvements they’ve been touting.  And it brings the GF1 into play.  As it is, the A55 is just more usable with better autofocus and better photo features/quality and better value lenses/accessories.

So I’m buying a Sony A55, likely a Sigma 17-70 HSM (and deal with the chipping) lens, Sony 24 2.8 lens, and probably a Sigma 70-200 2.8 HSM lens… and selling all my Nikon gear.  My hope is that the A77 will have a similarly high value and introduce 60 fps mode.  Otherwise, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the day when we have phase detect autofocus on the sensor, which will be the dawn of the Mirrorless Era.  That day is closer than you think.

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16 thoughts on “Fall 2010 Prosumer video DSLR roundup (Part 2)

  1. Surprised that you went with the A55 given it doesn’t have 60fps so rolling shutter will be bad and doesn’t have a battery grip (as you said shooting video drains battery fast). The D7000 also lacks 60fps. Seems to me the GH2 or 60d would be better bets with the GH2 being better at video and the 60d better at pics. Nevertheless, thanks for the break down, it’s very useful.

  2. The 60 fps is really my primary frustration with the A55. It came down to Focus/IS vs. rolling shutter, and I decided that great focus and in body IS was worth more to me than rolling shutter fixes, especially since 60 fps is inevitable for all cameras (I’d expect the A77 to have it), but in body IS and phase detect video AF will probably be relegated to Sony for the foreseeable future. And then I’m just looking at a body upgrade. Battery life won’t be that different from the GH2 as the battery size is pretty similar. Multiple batteries are pretty easy to carry around, and they are NEX batteries, which offers an advantage should I go NEX in the future. The GH2 was very tempting but just not as good of a value, especially for photos.

  3. Why is the in body IS worth more? Don’t most of the Canon lenses have IS anyway? Obviously, the AF is a big one and seems more of a trade off against 60fps and better MF controls of the 60d while shooting video. Battery life seems easy to work around though many claim the battery grips make the cameras easier to handle (though bulky). The GH2 seems like an interesting camera. Best video (potentially) but weaker for stills. A lot easier to bring around because of its size. If it’s not clear, I don’t own any DSLR/EVIL camera but I’m doing a lot of research for my first step into purchasing one. As such, I thank you for your input.

  4. Most recent Canon/Nikon zoom lenses do. However, the faster/wider lenses often don’t, and no prime <200mm does, and adding VR to each lens significantly increases the price. Of the 3 lenses I own, only one has IS.

    One thing I use IS for is to shoot creamy waterfall shots with an ND filter without a tripod. It's also vital for me to shoot video handheld because I'm not paying $700 for a Steadicam.

    I also value in body IS even higher on the Panasonic bodies because a) they hardly have any lenses with IS, b) it's just begging to use adapters with other manufacturer lenses, and c) I value fast pancake primes, which cannot have IS on them. Additionally, those are the lenses I'd want to hike with the most.

    The problem with the 60D is because the AF is near useless and I've already tried manual focusing video enough to know that I can't do it well using a 3" LCD, so it would be useless for event video without being wide with a small aperture. So that makes it pretty limiting. Comparing the 60D to the D7000, the only reasons to prefer the 60D are the articulating LCD and 60 fps. Everything else is better on the D7000 for $100 more.

  5. Good point about the primes, however, the ‘speed’ of those lenses should compensate, no?

    As for the AF, I viewed a sample of the A55 and found it distracting at an event shoot as people would walk in front of the camera and it would keep readjusting the focus. I wonder what would happen, say, if I was filming my sons soccer game. Would I have the same problem with different kids at different distances confusing the camera?

    The D7000 does seem better (assuming it can adjust aperature/shutter in vid) minus the screen and 60fps but HOW much better is it really? Slight ISO increase, 0.7fps in burst? Dual SD is nice but are those slight increases worth giving up 60fps that gives you slo-mo and reduces rolling shutter? Course the D7000 has the better body (probably better for a hiker such as yourself).
    You’d have to also consider the 7D is only $50 more than the D7000.

    Grrrr…it all blends together for me.

  6. Yes, it compensates, provisionally. My 18-200VR is at f/4.8 at 50mm. In the room I’m in at ISO 200, that is about 1/8s shutter speed. Bracing with my arm on the chair, I can get about 1/2 of the images to be reasonably sharp. Comparatively, my 50mm f/1.8 lens is around 1/40s, and I get about 2/3 sharp. However, I’m also forced to use f/1.8. What if I want to use f/4? In the same vein, for handholding waterfall shots, you want to have the shutter speed be at least 2-4x slower than it should normally be for a focal length to get a creamy blur. This cannot be done without IS, a tripod, or maybe a monopod.

    If you’re filming your kid’s soccer game and you see someone about to walk in front of you, flip the lens switch to MF until they walk by. It is annoying that the A55 doesn’t have an AF/MF switch on the body as many small primes don’t have an MF lens switch. But in the soccer case, you’ll probably be shooting a long zoom lens, and all of them have it that I’m aware of. Every AF camera (except possibly the GH2 if touch focus w/ follow actually works) is going to have this problem if a person walks in front of the AF sensor.

    We won’t know how much better the D7000 image quality or video AF is until the reviews come out for the pair. BTW, the 7D is $1500 — $300 more than the D7000.

    BTW, this is the type of comparison that sold me on the A55 (plus this table and the price :)).
    Nikon D3100 video AF:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pOJ1eikUeQ
    Canon T2i vs. Sony A55 video AF
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHPaVD0pHpQ
    Sony A55 video AF:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEFqR9-V_-I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_EdU4tB8Gk (first few seconds)

    The focus in those Sony videos just isn’t something you’re going to get with any other camera.

  7. Great Article. I’m in the same boat. I have the GH1 and there is no great leap forward. Have you looked at the D3100? I’ve had Canon and now panasonic and I seriously think Nikon may have the best balance of photo/video dslr combos. Why give up on Nikon when they have great glass?

  8. The D3100 wasn’t on my radar because it lacked basically everything on my feature list above and it’s only $50 less than the Sony A55, which offers much more.

  9. There’s a workaround for getting the shutter speed that you want on the A55.
    1. Press the Menu button and set the AEL Button to “AEL Toggle”.
    2. Make sure the aperture and shutter speed are displayed on the LCD.
    3. Choose the appropriate ISO
    4. Once your aperture is set (auto or manually) point the camera NEAR a light source, and move it away from the light source until you get the shutter speed to 1/60 (if you are recording at 30p).
    4. Quickly press the AEL button while the shutter speed is at 1/60.

    Now your shutter speed is set and your exposure won’t fluctuate.

  10. thanks for the spreadsheet/ breakdown of these affordable/ commonly purchased cameras. im thinking of upgrading to the sony a55 (too many only minolta lenses to start over) and found this compairson very useful.

  11. I’m glad I decided not to wait for the NEX 7. It was rumored to arrive in 2010 or 1Q 2011 but now the rumor is Oct. 2011. I’ve updated the spreadsheet accordingly

  12. Joel,

    Great site and great info. Dude, this camera thing is killing me. I think in the past 5 months I had purchased and tried just about every camera out there. I, like you, want a good two-in-one (camera & video in one). I started with the a33 but my wife was not too impressed with the pictures (me-video, wife-photos). So, here is my overview and I would love your thoughts:

    a33-Good video, great auto-focus, good to grab and shot any moving objects (video or else), pictures are okay, camera handle is very small and camera feels a bit cheap, noise with the incamera mic while recording video

    Nex-3-Good video, nice lens, soild feel, pictures were a bit more grainy than the a33, no external mic jack, lens very few and very $$$$

    T2i-Okay, yes it is a Canon-colors in pictures, very flat, video so/so, has a nice hack to control audio (big plus), but overall, not worth the $$$

    Nikon D5100-just came out I got it. Nice, very nice pictures, video is okay with a useless auto focus, back to the store you go!

    Lumix GH2- Man, how I love this camera, it is small, lots of great controls, focus is the best…but the low light is not good and pictures, forgetaboutit. I wish I could spend $1300 on the G2 but I just don’t think it is wise.

    I am sadly thinking to go back to the a33. I am going to once more try to get better pictures out of the GH2 (RAW) but it just does not look good.

    Thoughts on this? Returning to the a33? Are you still working with your a55?

  13. Sorry, I made and error…I owned a G2 not a GH2! I would like a GH2 but don’t want to spend the $$$!

  14. The A55 does have a better sensor than the A33. You might go that direction to get better image quality for only $100 more unless you find an A33 clearance deal.

    If you want good AF in video, your options are A33/A55 or GH2. Nothing else measures up. And since you care about still image quality, I see no other option than the A33 or A55.

    Do you shoot RAW? If not, then I highly recommend that as it will allow you to get the pictures you’re looking for with a little editing. Coming from the D80, I have no complaints about the A55 stills other than blown out highlights can have ghosting due to the mirror.

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