The addition of video features to DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras launched a revolution, kicking off with the 1080p video found in the Canon 5D Mark II and evolving continually over years. DSLRs might fundamentally be still cameras, but there has been some amazing video shot with them that has shown up on television, in feature films, and countless music videos and commercials.
The DSLR has always been the classic camera. In recent years they've been increasingly replaced with smaller mirrorless cameras, which lack the internal mirror. However, DSLRs still have a few features that make them special.
The biggest among those features is a true optical viewfinding path. By reflecting light on a mirror that sits in front of the sensor up to the viewfinder, you can look through glass at the actual scene being shot instead of looking at a little video screen. This is great in low-light work where your eye might see things missed on the video screen.
DSLRs also tend to have longer battery life, since you don't need a battery running the screen while looking through the viewfinder, but in video mode, this doesn't apply. DSLR bodies are also typically physically larger to accommodate those mirrors, which some people like for the hand feel. DSLRs are also robust, well-developed technology that will suffer from less overheating issues that newer mirrorless bodies may suffer from.
The reason to consider a DSLR is for serious still shooters who also want great video features. If you are a video-only shooter, we recommend a mirrorless camera or dedicated cinema camera. However, if you are splitting your world between stills and motion and want a DSLR that also puts out great video, there are DSLR bodies that can deliver great stills and video as well.
Investing in a DSLR right now is also a somewhat safe decision in that there is likely to be slower turnover than compared to mirrorless cameras. With that said, let's check out our favorite DSLRs.
Best Overall: Canon 1D X Mark III
Canon has taken the ground breaking features of the Canon EOS 1 DX Mark III and elevated it to another level.
If you are looking for a camera to deliver the benefits of a DSLR, but also perform well for video, we recommend the Canon 1D X Mark III. The 1D X Mark III is hands down the best DSLR Canon has to offer.
The ID X Mark III is everything you could possibly want in a DSLR. It features a large body with a vertical orientation grip built in, which is useful for stills shooters but also useful for vertical work. It comes with a single 2750mAh battery, larger than the standard 1800mAh battery typical of Canon DSLR units.
Its physically larger body also offers more room for cooling technology which should make this camera less likely to overheat. Both the 5D Mark II and the R5 have had overheating issues as video pushes the cameras to their limit, and while the ID X Mark III can still overheat working in hot environments, it does so less often.
Its video specifications are also impressive. By moving to dual CFexpress cards, it's able to increase the file size it records internally, and up the resolution. Most impressive is its headline feature, which is 5.5K 12-bit RAW files.
RAW video will offer you more flexibility in your color grade, and 5.5K is plenty of resolution to oversample for stabilization and reframing even on 4K delivery projects. For jobs with less storage or tighter turnarounds, it also shoots 10-bit 4:2:2 H.265 files in 4K. It shoots 4K up to 60fps, and it can shoot 1080p up to 120fps. It also outputs 4K over HDMI to an external recorder if you want a faster workflow.
It does all this from a 21MP, 5472 x 3648 sensor that's capable of shooting stills up to 20fps. All in a body that runs 3.17lb fully loaded with battery and memory.
The 1D X Mark III is truly the best DSLR Canon has created for video and for stills. If you want to keep DSLR features, and price is no object, this is the camera to go for.
Table of Contents
Best Alternative: Nikon D850
The D850 puts staggering image quality and impressive performance within reach of working creators everywhere.
- 45.7 MP
- 4K UHD Video
- 8K and 4K Timelapse
- Internal 4:2:2 8-bit
If you are a stills shooter exploring video, the Nikon D850 is a great option. At the heart of the D850 is a back-side illuminated (BSI) FX-format full-frame CMOS image sensor with 45.7 megapixels and no optical low-pass filter. A marvel of ingenuity, it achieves extraordinary image quality, enhanced light gathering efficiency, faster data readout, and truer color with virtually no risk of moiré.
An XPEED 5 quickly processes all 45.7 megapixels of data for lower noise, wider dynamic range, subtle tonal and textural details, high-speed continuous shooting at approximately 9 fps and full-frame 4K UHD movie recording. The camera also has great dynamic range with lower ISOs. Like the D810 before it, the D850 has the lowest base ISO of ISO 64 that's expandable down to ISO 32.
In terms of autofocus, it has 153 focus points, 99 cross-type sensors, and a dedicated AF processor. The D850 combines the best of flagship AF technology so that you can be assured that your high-resolution images are as sharp as can be.
With a continuous shooting speed of 7 fps or 9 fps using the optional MB-D18 battery pack with EN-EL 18b/a Lithium-ion Battery, the D850 can capture those perfect moments in action from a bride walking down the aisle to gravity-defying sports shots at its full 45.7 MP resolution.
For video, you can record 16:9 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) in full-frame using the total width of the D850’s back-side illuminated CMOS sensor. Take advantage of the large sensor size for clean output at high ISO and for shooting with zero crop factor with full-frame NIKKOR lenses, including wide and ultra-wide angle lenses.
On top of that, you can create 4K time-lapse movies right in-camera or exquisitely-detailed 8K time-lapse sequences of up to 9,999 full-size stills using D850’s Interval Timer Mode.
The D850 is Nikon's best DSLR to date.
Most of the video world has moved on to the mirrorless platform, but we do know there are a lot of shooters who have hybrid careers. We also know there are a lot of full-time stills shooters who are interested in expanding into video work without abandoning their core business.
For those who want to stay on DSLR, but expand into video, there are plenty of options worth considering. Provided you've fully explored mirrorless and find you can't give up that optical viewfinder, the Canon 1DX Mark III and Nikon D850 will serve you well into the future.