High-Definition Wedding Photography

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Still photography and weddings have coexisted and depended on one another for just about as long as photographs have been made. Over the course of the 180 or so years of photography, the technology has obviously evolved and has been adapted to record these special events. Ranging from just the simple progression of posed portraiture to taking images of a more spontaneous nature, and more recently the notion of making moving pictures of weddings, creating movies of these special ceremonies is increasing in popularity and is largely enabled by the technology available today.

High-definition video recording and still photography digital SLRs have become synonymous with one another; each lending its notable traits to the other. When compared to high-definition camcorders, DSLRs often feature a much leaner package and the obvious support for excellent still-imaging capabilities. The integration of HD video and DSLRs makes perfect sense in the way motion recording can make use of the ever-improving sensor and image processor performance, and by combining two high-end mediums into a single entity, offers the greatest support and breadth for a contemporary image maker. Almost all DSLRs today offer some form of HD video recording capabilities; certain cameras are better geared for professional-level movie making while others offer the average consumer the chance to simply make great looking home videos with the convenience of their family camera. When you take into consideration this utilitarian package and pair it with an event that cries out for healthy documentation, an HDSLR is often the ideal choice.

HDSLRs and DSLRs, in general, cannot so be divided easily into the four categories: professional, semi-professional, prosumer and consumer. This is not to say that consumer-level HDSLRs are not capable of capturing great-looking movies; it is more pointing to the fact that several notable cameras have broadcast-quality video and performance, while others are best suited for creating videos simply for in-home or Web viewing. In terms of how this applies to recording a wedding depends on your budget and needs. Do you need to be able to produce videos that require the highest level of production? Or are you more interested in simply documenting the wedding in a straightforward manner with an easy-to-use camera?

Consumer HDSLRs

Consumer HDSLRs offer you the friendliest package at the most reasonable price. These cameras feature high-definition capabilities in either 720 or 1080 recording formats and most have the ability to output video from an HDMI port. The file formats tend to be either MOV or MP4, which are perfect for Web sharing but do require conversion if you want to write the files to a DVD for your wedding guests. These cameras also tend to be significantly lighter in weight compared to the more advanced models; this can be quite a benefit when filming, especially long wedding ceremonies and receptions.

Canon

Canon has three very reasonably priced options for HDSLR recording: the EOS Rebel T3, T2i and T3i. The EOS Rebel T3 is able to record in 720/30p and 25p formats and features an easily navigable interface and intuitive controls. Video exposure is handled automatically by the camera for a quickened working pace with less time spent modifying settings.

The EOS Rebel T2i improves upon this basic set of video features by upping the resolution to include 1080/30p and 24p recording formats. The T2i also provides more creative options for filming, including the Movie Crop function for magnifying a portion of your image up to 7x. This camera supports the use of a wider range of lenses; both EF and EF-S lenses are compatible, including fisheye lenses for wide views of the wedding event. HDMI output is also available for simple HD viewing after the reception.

The EOS Rebel T3i provides the greatest range of controls in the Rebel line and allows manual exposure adjustment over the video image. This can play a large factor in properly exposing situations in darkened houses of worship or large banquet halls. The T3i also distances itself from the pack by including a flip-out, tilt and rotatable LCD monitor. This allows you to monitor your filming from a much wider variety of angles and dramatically increases the opportunity to capture low and high angles. One of the caveats to using the Rebel series of cameras for video work is that they do not support continuous autofocusing while recording. Manual focus is still supported, but can be increasingly difficult when the lights are low. The best way to ensure that your subjects stay sharp is to limit wide panning and tracking shots, or use wider lenses and small apertures when possible.

Nikon

Nikon’s offerings for the entry-level HDSLR all feature the proprietary D-Movie mode for seamless HD recording in either 720p or 1080p formats. The Nikon D90 was the first DSLR to integrate full HD recording into its design and thus supports a limited range of features. It is capable of 720/24p cinematic-quality recording, but struggles in the sense that your aperture must be selected prior to entering movie mode. Once filming, exposure adjustment is made automatically by altering the gain, which can appear a bit stepped when moving between differently lit situations.

The D5100 shows a marked improvement over the D90’s video capabilities and truly separates itself with the incorporation of full-time autofocus. This feature provides you with a greater range of opportunities to record video while moving; something that is more than likely necessary when filming a busy wedding reception. It also adds a flip-out LCD for greater viewing possibilities, a button to directly enter live view and movie mode, and it supports 1080/30p and 24p formats.

The recently released D3200 also supports 1080/30p recording and adds the ability to shoot in 1280 x 720 at 60 fps. With the D5100 and D3200, manual and automatic exposure control is supported and both provide the option to attach an optional external microphone for recording sound.

Sony

Sony has three options for HDSLR recording and all are a bit more geared for the video enthusiast than some of the other DSLRs in this range. The most notable difference between Sony and other brands is the use of a translucent mirror as opposed to a standard, opaque mirror. This means the mirror is fixed in place and is used only to provide light to the phase-detection autofocus system—the camera sports an electronic viewfinder as opposed to an optical one. Since the mirror remains in place during use, continuous phase-detection autofocusing is possible while recording video with any of these cameras, which proves to be faster and more accurate than the contrast-detection focusing on other systems. Where this becomes a hindrance is that there is a half-stop decrease in exposure to the sensor, and thus, low-light performance is not quite as strong.

These Sony DSLRs are also able to make use of the AVCHD format for video, a larger format than the MP4 compression found on other cameras. The SLT-A35 supports 1080/60i in AVCHD and 1080/30p in MP4 format and is able to record up to 29-minute clips at a time. The SLT-A55’s video features are very similar to the A35 in performance, but this camera separates itself with the integration of a flip-out LCD for a broader range of viewing options. By not limiting viewing to eye level, you can capture low and high angles much more easily, which could be perfect when contending with large crowds or filming in a more inconspicuous manner. The last of Sony’s cameras in this range is the SLT-A57, which provides a few upgrades from its brethren. The A57 is capable of capturing 1080/60p and 24p video (as opposed to the interlaced format of the others) and features a peaking function for greater precision when manually focusing. Aside from this, the A57 also features a translucent mirror design and full time continuous autofocus.

Prosumer HDSLRs

Prosumer HDSLRs’ main advantage over consumer-level HDSLRs is the quality of video, due mostly to faster image processors and better integration of video into the camera’s infrastructure. The similarities to consumer cameras are also present—most of these cameras are not able to control aperture during filming.

Nikon

The Nikon D300S is capable of recording video at 720/24p and the Nikon D7000 is capable of recording at 1080/24p or 720p at 30 or 24 fps. Both of these cameras feature a high level of sensitivity for capturing video in low light, and support autofocusing while recording. The D7000 is also able to modify shutter speeds while recording, but neither is able to modify the aperture once filming. The strengths of these cameras lie in their still-photography performance, coupled with the ability to produce high-quality video.

Olympus

The Olympus E-5 is the company’s only HDSLR offering and is capable of recording video at 720/30p. Like previously mentioned cameras, the E-5 is unable to control aperture and shutter speed while filming, but you can select both before recording, while in live view. The quality of the video is quite nice, as is the still-photograph quality, but there are some quirks to working with this camera in movie mode. It features a simplistic interface for accessing movie mode, but when moving from live view to recording, the aspect ratio changes; you are not able to preview your scene in the 16:9 aspect ratio in live view.

Pentax

Very similar to other cameras in this range, the Pentax K-5 features the ability to capture videos in 1080/25p and 720/30p and records files as Motion JPEGs. Movie recording is accessed from the live view mode and you have the ability to select your aperture for depth-of-field control before recording. This camera slightly falters in comparison in that autofocus during recording is not possible, so you must either pre-focus or use manual focus while filming.

Semi-Professional HDSLRs

Semi-Professional HDSLRs feature better video quality than those in the consumer and prosumer ranges. They often showcase video as more of a prominent feature rather than an option, and they tend to be a more straightforward approach to attaining the best video possible. They also offer the capability to change the aperture or shutter speed during filming. While there is more room for you to control the video the way you like, these cameras feature intelligent auto exposure and continuous autofocus modes.

Canon

The Canon 60D features 1080p at 30, 25 or 24 fps, or 720p at 60 or 50 fps and the ability to control your focus and exposure modes. When using Live Mode a contrast detection AF is employed; this is a bit slower than the phase detection AF, but does allow you to use live view on the LCD. The 60D also features a flip-out LCD for additional monitoring options while recording. The Canon 7D features similar video performance as the 60D, but does have a more intuitive infrastructure for accessing the movie mode. It does, however, lack an articulating LCD, and viewing must be done at eye level. In-camera clip editing is also supported with the 7D, allowing you to trim clips and free up memory card space.

Both of these cameras make use of the APS-C-sized sensor for great visual depth when recording video. The use of interchangeable lenses in conjunction with this allows you to produce videos with a high level of selective focus. Both cameras are also capable of recording for up to 12 minutes in HD formats and 24 minutes in standard definition. The feature that truly separates these cameras from the consumer-grade HDSLRs is the ability to modify your shutter speeds and apertures while recording. This range of controls will allow you to more accurately expose in a variety of situations, something you are bound to find if recording indoors during the daytime. These cameras also support the use of external microphones via the 3.5mm headphone jack, for greater control over the resulting sound when compared to internal, monaural microphones.

Sony

Sony’s two options for this range, the SLT-A65 and SLT-A77 both allow manual control of aperture and shutter speeds while recording, but with one exception: you cannot use full-time autofocus and manual exposure simultaneously. When using the movie exposure mode you can alter the exposure settings, but you must work within the program AE mode in order to take advantage of autofocus capabilities (you are also relegated to using your lens’s maximum aperture when using AF). With this consideration in mind, both cameras are capable of recording high-quality HD video at 1080p AVCHD 2.0 for writing to Blu-ray discs. Both cameras feature an articulating LCD; however, the A77’s screen is triple-hinged and allows you to move the screen to face forward, toward the lens. The differences between these two cameras lie mostly within the still-photography field, the A77 displaying more dominance within the AF and speed realms.

Movie mode is accessible by simply pressing the movie button when working within a P, A, S or M mode, and clip lengths can be recorded up to 29 minutes in length. These cameras also utilize the translucent mirror technology found in the other Sony DSLRs, and thus support the use of either the EVF or LCD when monitoring video. Support for an external microphone is also available as well as an integrated wind-cut function to improve the quality of the internal mic.

Professional HDSLRs

Professional HDSLRs are the top-of-the line DSLRs with HD movie capability. These cameras feature the greatest amount of control you can have over your resulting movies and they record with the highest quality. While their recording formats are the same as previously mentioned cameras, all of the professional cameras feature full-frame sensors for greater visual depth in your images. They also tend to feature faster, more powerful image processors for greater speed when recording at higher low-light sensitivities. The fact that these cameras have been used to record feature films and television shows also gives merit to their quality; if your duty is to produce the highest-quality recording of the wedding possible, these cameras should be a major consideration.

Canon

Canon features four different cameras that all provide a wealth of features for the highest-quality capture possible. The oldest HDSLR they produce in this range, the 5D Mark II, has been the benchmark for HDSLR recording for a number of years. While it has just recently been eclipsed by the newest line of cameras, it still provides a number of features and quality that has yet to be matched by lower-level DSLRs. It is able to record in 1080p and save files in the QuickTime MOV format. What truly sets this camera above others is full manual control of exposure settings while recording video. This gives you the ability to modify your depth of field, brightness and movement rendition more easily. It can also function in a variety of ISO sensitivities, providing you with a high level of low-light reliability.

The recently announced Canon 5D Mark III takes the Mark II’s successes and further improves upon them by integrating a much faster image processor and upgraded autofocus capabilities. The main issue with the Mark II was its slow and lacking 9-point autofocus; the Mark III utilizes a 61-point AF system for more precise and faster focusing. The improved processor aids in capture speed and also increases the clip recording length from 12 minutes to 29 minutes 59 seconds. The Mark III also supports All I-frame and IPB compressions for higher-quality playback and is able to embed a time code within the video for easier multi-camera filming. The last major improvement over the Mark II is the inclusion of a headphone jack on the camera body for live monitoring of sound.

The Canon 1D Mark IV is very similar to the 5D cameras in quality and speed. Where the 1D Mark IV differs slightly is how you access the movie mode; it requires a two-step process and isn’t quite as intuitive as the 5D models. This is a non-issue if you are simply using the camera to film the wedding, though. It also supports a full ISO range for filming as high as ISO 102400, which can be perfect for dark spaces and capturing movement at a fast pace.

The Canon 1D X is the new flagship model from Canon and only differs from the other Canon professional cameras in terms of speed. It, too, supports filming in 1080p at a variety of frame rates and features fully manual control of all exposure settings while filming. Where this camera will truly excel is with processing speed and low-light sensitivity. It features 2 DIGIC 5+ images processors compared to the 5D Mark III’s single processor. It contains the same 64-step volume control for precise monitoring and sound recording. It is also able to split video files larger than 4GB into multiple files for extended recording times up to 29 minutes 59 seconds.

Nikon

The Nikon D4 is the successor to the recently discontinued D3s and significantly improves on a number of the video features. Firstly, the D4 is now capable of 1080p recording in a variety of frame rates and is able to record clips up to 29 minutes 59 seconds. One of the inherent traits to HDSLR filming, especially with full-frame sensors, is their ability to produce extremely shallow depth of field. While this can be an appealing look, it can often be an issue as well. The D4 counters this and provides three separate options for varying depth perception while all recording in 1080 sizing. The FX mode makes use of the full frame of the sensor and produces the greatest amount of selective focus; the DX mode slightly crops in and simulates the sensor size of smaller cameras for greater depth of field; and lastly you can crop directly to 1920 x 1080px which zooms about 2.7x into your image for an increase in focal length and depth fidelity. The other notable difference with the D4 is the ability to directly output your video to an external storage device via an HDMI connection. This emulates the idea of photographing in a tethered manner and allows you to output uncompressed, raw video files for the greatest quality possible.

The Nikon D800 (and D800E) is very similar to the D4 in terms of video quality and features many of the same features that were introduced with it. It has the ability to record video tethered to an external storage device via HDMI and simultaneously record to CF or SD cards (however, when recording to both mediums, the video output through HDMI will only be at or less than 720p). The D800/E also integrates a headphone jack into the camera body for live monitoring and features 20-step audio control.

Using an HDSLR for recording video of a wedding is certainly a trend that will continue to gain prominence with the advent of better and better quality in these smaller-sized cameras. The ability to produce HD video, up to broadcast quality, with the same camera you would use to record stills is a very noble and attractive idea when you consider how much shooting time is involved at a wedding. A smaller-sized camera will lessen the burden of recording video at a wedding; its form factor makes it more compact and less intimidating when recording candid footage, as well as easier to manipulate on the fly when recording more planned scenes. The appeal also lies in the fact that you will potentially only need one type of camera to do all forms of recording—without sacrificing quality.

Depending on your needs and quality demands, there is a large range of cameras to choose from, ranging from the ability to simply record high-definition video plain and simple, to shooting with a camera that is capable of producing a feature-length film.


The Takeaway

  • If you will be working in a large variety of lighting conditions and moving often, consider a camera that allows for greater exposure control and has extended low-light sensitivity.
  • If you will be recording from stationary positions, you can potentially work with more simplistic cameras that only allow you to preselect the exposure and focus points.
  • Higher-end cameras allow you to output larger, more detailed files for more manipulative possibilities during the editing stages.
  • Unless utilizing external audio recording, consider investing in an external microphone (when applicable) for minimizing the internal noises of the camera’s autofocus system.
  • Depending on the final product you are looking to create, take into account the resolution and file types of the videos and how they work in conjunction with your post-production workflow.
  • Due to overheating concerns, each of these cameras limits the length of clips you can record, and you need to plan accordingly. Make sure to allow enough of a buffer time so you can record all of the important scenes of the wedding without having to wait for your camera to write files to a card.

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Very comprehensive simple reviews of dslrs from different brands. I am wondering why Panasonic's GH1 and GH2 are not in the list when they are arguably considered to be versatile cameras that can use even PL lenses?

Thanks for the comparo

The primary reason they weren’t included is because the article was based on HDSLRs and those are mirrorless cameras, not an SLR design.