Buying a HDSLR camera? Wait…Read this first!(The best of HDSLR comparison Tests)

14 Jun

So you’re thinking about buying a nice new HDSLR camera, you think to yourself yes, now is a good time to buy. Prices are steadily falling on the canon 550d, the Panasonic gh2 is due to be replaced soon (making it cheap) and there’s a whole host of ‘affordable’ HDSLR’s on the market – a long with tonnes of comparison videos and reviews. This article is here to pluck the very best from comparisons between the Nikon d800, the canon 5dmrkiii, the canon 550d and the Panasonic gh2.

But don’t rush! The cameras are still going to be on sale in two weeks I know you’re probably very eager to get out and shoot. Wait, make sure you weigh up you’re options…. find comparisons and weigh up the pros and cons for what YOU need the camera for. Ask your self……

  • What’s my price  for Body Only
  • What lenses will I need without having to compromise sharpness (price)
  • WHAT WILL I BE FILMING?? SHORT FILMS?? MUSIC VIDEOS??
  • Do I really need low light performance (do I shot out doors or with lighting set ups?)
  • Do I need to shoot in tight spaces? (fast wide lenses, full frame sensors)
  • Is resolution more important to me than anything else? (green screening)
  • Do I need on board audio recording?

After you have considered all these factors write down you’re own ideal features YOU need and read on……..(Write down next to the above questions which camera best suits that feature and at the end see which camera you have written down the most……buy that camera).

FULL FRAME HDSLR

First up we have the most expensive of the group, Full Frame. Full frame has HUGE benefits, amazing low light, the ability to get very wide, better build quality, headphone jacks, manual audio e.t.c but it comes at a price. If you’re considering going Full Frame here are the two main contenders for this field. The canon 5dmrkiii and the Nikon d800. Here’s their specs:

Canon 5dmrk iii

  • Full Frame sensor
  • h.264 compression All I & IPB
  • 29:59 continues recording
  • 1080/30p (29.97), 24p (23.976), 25p; 720/60p (59.94), 50p; 480/30p (29.97), 25p
  • ISO 100-25600 (Incredible Low light)
  • DIGI 5 processor
  • Headphone Jack
  • Manual silent touch audio metering
  • Downloadable picture profiles (cinestyle)
  • Improved moire issues
Negatives:
  • Poor resolution (Very soft, but can add to the film look)
  • No clean HDMI out
  • All I compression not that good (stick to IPB)
  • Magnified focus button moved to irritating place
  • Expensive
  • Amazing still image improvements but no improvements on video from the mrkii
Nikon d800:
  • Full Frame
  • h.264 compression Mpeg 4 .mov
  • 1,920 × 1,080; 30p, 25p, 24p • 1,280 × 720; 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p; actual frame rates
  • Manual audio metering
  • Headphone jack
  • CLEAN HDMI OUT!
  • ISO 100 to 6400 in steps of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV; can also be set to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7
    or 1 EV (ISO 50 equivalent) below ISO 100 or to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1 or 2 EV (ISO
    25600 equivalent)
  • FX & DX Modes (can crop into sensor whilst retaining full HD video)
  • Sharper resolution that the Canon 5dmrkiii!
Negatives:
  • Big Moire issues (like on the early 5dmrkii), A massive turn off.
  • Internal codec is not brilliant
  • Low Light not as good as the 5dmrkiii
Here’s a nice comparison video by PhilipBloom, ignore the Nikon d4:
Personal thoughts – I have done a lot of shooting on the Canon 5dmrkiii, in very high pressured environments and I can say that you simply learn to play to the cameras strength, yes it’s not got the resolution but that’s why I get in as close as possible to the action whilst another camera (with better res)gets the wide. I got my eyes opened up to how god getting in super close is (pure emotion) and for that I really feel you don’t want to have super crisp resolution, softness compliments the person in shot thus pores e.t.c are not as visible -much better when shooting wedding videos. On the down side, it’s a lot of money and the lack of HDMI on the Canon is a big minus next to the Nikon (which is also cheaper). Weigh up your options for what you’re going to be shooting, if you have Nikon glass already then it would be an easier investment to buy Nikon but always be aware of the Moire issues on this camera, their massive!  If you want full frame that badly but have less money you can always purchase a Canon 5dmrkii? Just don’t forget there’s moire issues, lack of manual audio/headphone jacks and recording restrictions, But it was good enough to shoot Reverie right??!)

CROP SENSORS

Ok so you’ve decided you don’t really have the money for a full frame, that’s ok, here’s some camera’s that are VERY cheap but can deliver some really nice features, especially when hacked with Magic Lantern and The driftwood patch.
I shot my short film on this (Solvo Curso) and encountered a lot of problems that I can now tell you to avoid for the future. This camera Moires like crazy in 720p be aware of this and has similar problems in full 1080. It’s build its plastic and horrible but then again its cheap. Its crop sensor and you wont be able to get fast wide without buying APC-S sized lenses (a pain in the arse because eventually you will upgrade to full frame and  you simply can’t use these lenses for it). On the plus it offers very similar quality to the Canon 5dmrkiii when in well-lit conditions and you can still achieve some really nice filmic images with this thing.
  • h.264 recording
  • Full manual video controls
  • 1080 x 1920 25fps, 24fps and 720p at 50fps
  • Downloadable picture profiles
  • ISO 100-6400
  • External Microphone socket
  • HDMI port

Negatives

  • Crop sensor (will crop your full frame lenses by 1.6x)
  • Less low light sensitivity (thought still quite good in my opinion)
  • Recording Limit
  • Moire
  • No manual audio
So this camera is not as good, the resolution is similar to the mark ii (soft) and the low light only usable below and around 6400iso, SO WHAT ITS ONLY £400!!!! For the price you need to realise what you’re getting with this camera, a cheap cinematography platform that you can upgrade from as long as you remember to invest is Full Frame lenses like the canon 24-20mm EF. On top of this you can download the Magic Lantern Hack, upping the bit-rate, adding focus peeking and removing any record time restrictions, oh, and did I mention this hack ads Audio Metering on-screen!. Starting to look like a good investment? . Here’s a nice comparison video:

Canon 7d 

I only want to briefly talk about this camera because in terms of video mode don’t get any misconceptions that its better, it’s simply not. The video mode is EXACTLY the same as the 550d, the reason why I want to talk about it is the fact that its body is much more robust. Its actually weather sealed so if you are going to be shooting out doors in whatever scenario you’re going to be safer shooting with this. Finally, this week it has been leaked that this camera is getting a firmware upgrade very shortly, improving the stills features but also giving us on board manual audio control like on the 5dmrkiii. TAKE NOTE< YOU CANNOT HACK THIS CAMERA WITH MAGIC LANTERN SO WAIT TO SEE WHAT THIS FIRMWARE UPDATE REALLY BRINGS (probably going to be very similar to the canon 6506/t4i announced earlier this week.

PANASONIC GH2 (microfourthirds)

Last but certainly not least is the Panasonic gh2, this has astonished the film making world with its incredible high-resolution when hacked with the driftwood hack. There’s no doubt about it, if you need fine detail and not low light get this. The camera sells for £700 and has been compared to the Canon c300 and Sony fs100! This is not however, a camera you want to touch when audio is concerned, I always record audio externally for better quality  anyway so it doesn’t really affect me but if you don’t then start doing, the external Mic connection is 1.5mm and flimsy, don’t even consider recording audio with it. I must say this is a crop sensor and is EVEN smaller than the canon 550d‘s APS-C sensor so its going to give you almost 1.9x crop factor on a full frame lens, making it very difficult to get wide without buying lenses for this sensor. Here’s the specs with the driftwood hack:
  • Higher Bit-rate for Video creates film like image detail & motion quality.
  • High dynamic range, easier to pull shadow detail in post.
  • Ability to allocate data towards Motion vs still scene detail quality.
  • Higher Bit-rate for Audio, Boost audio quality from 192,000bps to 440,000bps.
  • Pal & 25p frame rate by switching PAl & NTSC in camera. Full HD.
  • Unlocked ISO up to 12,800k enables you to shoot in extreme dark conditions or overcome a slow lens.
WANT TO HACK YOURS? HERES THE HOW TO LINK
This is what I am talking about, edit feel rough on this but you can really see how much you can push it in post with the hack:
When shooting with this camera try to get a really steady rig its got a tiny form factor and will shake like mad hand-held so you will probably need to invest in a steady cam too. In all seriousness you can buy this camera, get the cheap m4/3 adaptors from Amazon to put your Nikon mount lenses’, get some Nikkor lens, get a nice shoulder rig and still be under the price of the Canon 5dmrkiii.
Skip to about 13mins in to see the gh2 in action:
I hope this post has helped you decide what your needs really are when buying your camera, just make sure you take everything in context, is not the tool that makes the film, it’s the film maker………point and example:


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