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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brave New World

Two new cameras bring HD video capability to the D-SLR and create a new way for nature photographers to see and share the world through imagery

Labels: CamerasVideo

This Article Features Photo Zoom

For all of the power of a single frozen moment in time that a photograph represents, sometimes it’s just not enough. We’ve all lamented the still frame’s inability to adequately capture the motion within a scene. Wildlife photographers, in particular, like to have a compact digital video camera handy to record dramatic action in the field. These compact video cameras can fall short on image quality, but they’ve been the best option for a nature photographer who wants to have the motion, but doesn’t want to invest the time and resources into a professional video setup—until now. Two new D-SLRs, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the Nikon D90, have changed the playing field, and a new era is dawning. The introduction of Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II and Nikon’s D90 provides outdoor photographers with a whole new way to depict the great natural world: with motion and sound. Yes, video capability has come to the D-SLR—and high-quality HD video, no less! While still photographers work to capture the “decisive moment,” the single shot (or sequence) that clearly shows the viewer a particular animal action or gorgeous landscape scene, some wildlife behavior is better depicted with motion and sound. Adding this capability lets you show nature’s magical moments in new ways, from nestling feedings to mist rising from roaring waterfalls. Wildlife researchers can document behavior, and photographers can deliver photo essays on DVD with both stills and video clips.

How We Got Here
D-SLR video capability is an extension of Live View, and in both the D90 and the EOS 5D Mark II, operates from the Live View mode. D-SLR image sensor and processor technology has finally advanced to where data can be captured and passed along to the LCD monitor quickly enough to provide smooth HD video capability. In Canon’s case, a new 21.1-megapixel, full-frame CMOS image sensor outputs image data at high speed to a new DIGIC 4 processor that’s far more powerful than its DIGIC III predecessor—it can process the information quickly enough to turn out 1920x1080-resolution HD video at 30 fps. In Nikon’s case, a 12.3-megapixel, DX-format CMOS sensor provides high-speed multichannel readout directly into the high-speed EXPEED image-processing pipeline, and the live data stream is recorded and saved to the installed SD memory card.

D-SLR Video Advantages

D-SLRs offer a number of video advantages over not only the compact digicams, but dedicated HD camcorders as well. For one thing, the D-SLRs have much larger image sensors. The resulting bigger pixels mean image quality is a lot better, especially at higher ISO settings and in low-light situations. Second, the larger sensors reduce depth of field, which creates a professional “look” unobtainable with a camcorder and allows for effective “selective focus” photography, keeping viewers’ attention on the subject. Third, the D-SLRs accept a wide range of excellent lenses, including fish-eye, super-wide, super-telephoto, macro and even tilt-shift, many with built-in image stabilization. And finally, with the D-SLR, you can record a superb high-resolution still image at any time during video recording simply by pressing the shutter button (there will be a brief gap in the video each time you do this, of course).

Now, in all fairness, the video capabilities in the D90 and EOS 5D Mark II don’t quite match the functionality of a dedicated HD camcorder—there’s no articulated LCD monitor or electronic viewfinder or power zooming or practical autofocusing, for example, and the sound capabilities are limited—but these D-SLRs offer the still photographer an opportunity to record excellent video.

If you’d like to see what these two D-SLRs can do as camcorders, google “EOS 5D Mark II: Sample Videos,” and “Chase Jarvis RAW” for a Nikon look. (There should be other good examples available online by the time you read this.)


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