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getitdigital review: Focus! DSLRs vs. Dedicated Camcorders

June 15, 2010

This getitdigital review is part of our Buying Guide which is designed to assist you in making the right purchase.

getitdigital review Focus DSLRThe subject of this article was brought to my attention a little earlier in the week. One of the associates at getitdigital stepped in to my office holding a brand new Canon T2i (550D) in his hand with a perplexed look on his face. Experience has prepared me for these little interruptions and seeing that the camera was an HD video capable model, I had a feeling that the question would be about HD video. The question itself illustrates a very basic deficiency, or at least a difficulty, in using a DSLR as a video capturing device. We’ve actually discussed this in a previous article but we haven’t focused (pun intended) on this issue specifically.

The question: “If I zoom in or out, how can I keep the picture in focus?”

The answer: “You can’t have the camera do it automatically.”

That’s right, almost all DSLR cameras are incapable of  keeping continuous focus. Every time the depth of field or focal point changes the video gets all out of focus. This is one of the sacrifices that needs to be made if you want your 12 megapixel or more gigantic sensor to capture motion.

Apparently the camera manufacturers haven’t either created the technology that allows constant communication between the camera’s processor  , the focusing system and the lens that would allow for continued focus over rapidly changing subjects or they’re waiting for the next iteration of the DSLR to become necessary before they release this feature. The latter seems the likely possibility as continuous auto focus is being released on a few current DSLRs for video, mostly in the micro four-thirds category. As these cameras are more consumer oriented, and consequently less picture specific than a traditional (my, how the times have changed) DSLR camera, the customers for these cameras would have demanded camcorder-like capabilities from the outset or at least shortly after the release of the first micro four-thrids cameras.

getitdigital review Focus DSLR 2Nikon and Canon do have some video auto-focus controls but they are rudimentary at best. The Canon T2i (550D) will focus in video mode when you depress the shutter release button half way but cannot do this while actually recording. This is a weak, seemingly quick fix on Canon’s part and even when you do use the auto-focus button, the response is exceedingly slow.

getitdigital review FOcus DSLR 3Nikon has a slightly better system on most of its DSLRs that are video capable. There is a specific button on the back of the camera that allows you to focus when the camera is recording but it is also very slow. It is much better to use the lens itself to focus manually. Although if the lens lacks an Aperture ring, you are out of luck (The Nikon 18-55mm VR lens comes to mind), so choose your lens carefully before you go shooting!

We might conclude with the statement that if HD video is your thing but you don’t feel like focusing yourself get a camcorder but after reading this article, you probably know that already.

Happy Shooting!

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