We’re here to answer your question: are DSLR cameras good for video?
Right at the top, we have to state that, for the purposes of this discussion, we’re including both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in the same category.
The camera geeks out there will know that DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are technically different categories, with mirrorless cameras being the more modern and much lighter option compared to the DSLRs of the last twenty years or so.
But for people looking to shoot some video on a DSLR, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are probably interchangeable. They have the same form factor, and they can accept many different lenses from different manufacturers.
They also both have similar battery life and even price points, so we’re going to be lumping them together in this article.
The other categories of cameras we’re going to be comparing them against are very low-end options, such as smartphones and fixed-lens camcorders, and high-end options, which are almost exclusively professional-grade film and digital cinema cameras, which can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $80,000, approximately.
But at the heart of the discussion we have these compact little cameras that can actually do quite a lot, and we’ll be looking at both sides of the equation: why they’re good for video and why they’re maybe not good for video.
Also, the answer depends pretty heavily on what you’re trying to do. Are you making a feature-length indie film or just capturing some footage of the kids’ birthday parties?
In general, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are a fine choice for casual video capture, but when we consider actual filmmaking, things get more complicated.
Ok let’s get to it.
Here are some of the reasons why DSLRs (and mirrorless cameras) are actually very good for video, in almost every use case we could think of.
DSLRs are pretty affordable now, for the most part. There are a bunch of caveats to that statement, but basically, if you want to shoot video on a DSLR, you could get a camera body and a basic kit lens for $500 or less and be good to go.
Well, you’d need an SD card probably, but other than that, you’re good to go. And since the sensors inside these cameras have been steadily improving for years, even a low-end DSLR will probably be able to deliver incredible image quality, whether for still images or videos.
But if you’re looking to shoot some professional-grade stuff, then you’ll end up spending a lot more money, which is something we’ll get to in the NO section.
DSLRs are actually very versatile. Part of that versatility comes from the huge array of options you’ll get with a modern DSLR, and another big part is its ability to use different lenses, which are ultimately the most important part of shooting video on one of these devices.
But the fact of the matter is most DSLRs can shoot great video in a variety of different conditions and for very different types of projects.
As we already mentioned, these are still cameras as well, so if you need something that can handle both photography and video capture, it’s an easy choice.
Lastly, these devices tend to be quite small and light, especially if you go for a mirrorless camera.
Compared to professional cameras, DSLRs are much easier to carry and move around, making it much easier to shoot with them. You might need a rig or stabilizer to prevent shaking, but on their own, these are easy to use and not exactly a pain to carry around with you when shooting video.
Ok, now it’s time to talk about why DSLRs and mirrorless cameras might not be a great option for shooting video, depending on your situation of course.
Not That Affordable
So remember how we said that DSLRs are affordable? Well, they are, especially compared to professional cameras, which typically don’t come with any lenses at all.
And for the average user just hoping to mess around with some video capture stuff, DSLRs are no doubt the best option around for high-quality video, though built-in phone cameras are kind of catching up, kind of.
But if you’re going to be using a DSLR for a more professional application, such as shooting a commercial or capturing footage of a wedding, then you can’t just buy the basic kit and leave things at that.
Kit lenses included with new DSLRs are usually pretty nice, but this kit lens is still only a single lens with its own set of specs and limitations.
So let’s say you want to shoot some stuff in low light. Even if your camera body is pretty decent at handling these conditions, that kit lens might only have a lowest F-Stop of 3, for example, when you’d really need an F-Stop of about 1.8 to cut down on visual noise in these shooting conditions.
Ever wonder why there are so many hundreds of lenses out there? Well, this is why. Different lenses have different specialties, and for professionals, picking out the right lens can make or break an entire shoot.
You can get by on just a handful of staple lens types, like three or four, but even just buying that many lenses could easily run you over a thousand dollars, potentially more than the price of the camera itself.
Now, for a pro, that’s not exactly bad news. Buying a bunch of lenses for your DSLR will still cost less than buying a bunch of lenses for a professional video camera.
But to be clear, you can’t just do absolutely anything with a basic kit lens.
Battery Life + Storage
Battery life is a big drawback for shooting video on a DSLR. Though battery life is improving, and though there are some accessories out there that can help extend the camera’s battery life or even convert wall outlet power to work with the camera, it’s still just not very good.
Now, professional cameras have challenging power needs as well, but professional productions have solutions for those power needs.
Someone shooting run-and-gun style on a DSLR is going to need to keep their camera ready to go just about always, and that basically requires extra accessories or having a bunch of spare batteries on-hand.
Right out of the box, you can expect your DSLR to be able to shoot video for about 30 minutes before the battery really starts to die.
And if you find yourself out on a shoot with a dead battery and no backup batteries, you’re gonna be in real trouble.
Storage, of course, is another kettle of tea, but of course DSLRs can only store so much footage at one time, most commonly on an SD card of the owner’s choosing.
But even if you buy a very fast card with more than 200 GB of storage, high-resolution video is still going to fill up that card faster than you might think. So like batteries, you’ll need some spares handy when you’re working a job.
Not the Most Professional
This one’s a bit obvious, but DSLRs and mirrorless cameras just aren’t the most professional option out there, and if you’re getting paid a few thousand dollars to shoot footage of a live event, for example, and you show up with a basic DSLR, the client will probably be disappointed.
Professional videographers should have a number of different cameras to choose from, and they can aso rent cameras and lenses as needed, but DSLRs really work best for people who aren’t working on the professional level.
Honestly, if you’re just getting into video, then a DSLR or a mirrorless camera for $500 or less is probably an excellent choice.
It can do a lot right out of the box, and if you want it to do even more, you can spend some more money on lenses, accessories, etc.
Even if you want to shoot a low-budget feature film, having a few DSLRs could be an excellent option, especially if you’ve got people who really know how to use them.
There are reasons to buy more expensive cameras, and there are some who would do best to simply stick with their built-in phone camera instead of spending hundreds of dollars.
But if you need to capture high-quality video and you don’t want to spend thousands, then a DSLR is a great pick.