Ever missed the perfect family photo because you were holding your video camera instead? Or perhaps a classic YouTube moment slipped by as you were fiddling with your digital camera? A new breed of camera hopes to end those missed moments by offering the ability to take both professional-grade photos and high-definition videos in a single package.
Nikon unveiled the first DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera that also shoots HD (high definition) video in 2008. Today there are more than a dozen models that blur the line between cameras and camcorders.
“These cameras have really been a game changer for the pros, but they are also great for the hobbyist and they cost about the same as a good stand-alone video camera,” says Sean Manton at Toronto-based Vistek Camera.
How good is the video quality? Good enough that the entire season finale of the hit show House was filmed entirely using Canon DSLRs with HD video.
Still, they do have limitations that could be a deal breaker for some people. For one thing, the manual viewfinder and autofocus features are usually not available in movie mode. Also, the sound quality in movie mode is poor compared to many video recorders.
But if you are willing to work within those restrictions, these camera hybrids are a great option. Here’s our top picks, ranked in order of preference below:
1. Canon EOS Rebel T2i ($900 body only, $1,000 with 18-55mm lens):Shoots video at full 1080p HD and takes stunning pictures at 18 MP. A single push button can interrupt video mode to grab a quick still. Plus, this is our only pick that can use an external mic for better sound.
2. Nikon D5000 ($620 body only, $750 with 18-55mm lens): A true DSLR at a very competitive price. Shoots stills at 12 MP and HD video at 720p. It features a tilt and swivel LCD screen, but you need to manually focus in movie mode.
3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ($800 body only, $1,000 with 20mm lens): Technically not a true DSLR, but if the idea of manually focusing puts you off, this camera keeps point-and-shoot simple. It takes still images at 12 MP and records HD video at 720p.