Why DSLR Cameras Don't Need 4K Video

August 7, 2017
Gear News and Ideas
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A little over a month ago, the folks at Canon did the unthinkable. They made a DSLR announcement that wasn’t aimed at the video community! That’s right, Canon’s new full frame camera has the audacity to not shoot 4K. Add this to a long list of offenses Canon has made to the videography community since capturing our hearts with the 5D MK II nine years ago.

That’s right, the 5D MK II was announced almost a decade ago.

The Canon 6D MKII was announced in June 2017.

A lot has changed since then. Not only has DSLR technology failed to stay competitive with similarly-priced mirrorless and cinema camera options in the video department, they’re barely keeping up as photography tools. DSLR’s haven’t stopped offering reliable, quality, video, but they are far from cutting-edge anymore. How can we feign outrage at a $1,600 camera that doesn’t shoot 4K when the camera wasn’t going to be competitive for videographers even with 4K included?

Mirrorless Has Replaced the DSLR for Video

The DSLR video surge initially took place for two reasons: DSLR’s were small and offered the best image quality for the money. Neither of these cases are true today. The first reason is simple, mirrorless cameras and smartphones are significantly smaller than DSLR’s. The second point isn’t much more complicated.

Budget-friendly image quality in video has been dominated by DSLR’s in recent years. Super low budget? The Panasonic G7 or GH5 are good starting points. A little higher up there’s the Sony a7SII and, after that, you’re getting into cinema camera territory. Companies like Panasonic, Sony, and Olympus have put a high priority on features like resolution and image stabilization while becoming on par with Canon and Nikon in the autofocus arena. Mirrorless cameras have become friends to the video community, and Canon and Nikon are fine with that.

Canon never made a video-focused DSLR, they simply added video to a DSLR and filmmakers flocked to it. We’re almost a decade into the DSLR-video world and people still have to hack into their 5D’s in order to get features that mirrorless cameras offer out-of-the box (zebras, focus peaking, no AGC. etc.) Canon has its cinema camera line for professional video features, so they don’t need to take a bite out of their own market by going above and beyond with their DSLR’s.

Mirrorless cameras, however, haven’t been the only thing to make DSLR videography obsolete.

The Sub-$6,000 Video Market is Filled with Camera Options

Two of the biggest changes to indie cinema over the past six years has been the rise of affordable cinema cameras and drones. Blackmagic changed the game with its first cinema camera and changed the game again with the Pocket Cinema Camera. All of the sudden, filmmakers were given access to equipment designed to get cinematic images. Equally importantly, these cameras were designed with filmmaking, not photography, in mind.

For filmmakers with a budget over $3,000, cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro, Canon C100 MKII, and Sony FS5 offer so many filmmaker-friendly options that there is no reason to consider a DSLR. These cameras have become gradually more affordable over the years and this seems like only the beginning. For filmmakers with a lower budget, however, there are options off the beaten path.

Drones might not provide the image quality of a DSLR, but the kinds of shots you can get for a $1,000 drone today were unheard of for a tenth of the price eight years ago. That technology has also found its way to land. For a certain kind of filmmaker, there is no better way to spend $600 than on a DJI Osmo (and I will die on this hill). The rapid advancement of gimbal technology in the wake of drones has redefined cinematic movement for indie filmmakers. In the sub-$1,000 video market of 2017, DSLR’s have to compete with mirrorless cameras, drones, micro cinema cameras, weird gimbal cameras, and one more thing…

The Future!

Look, we all watched the video to see what the RED Hydrogen phone looks like in the flesh. I’m not going to pretend to know what kind of video device that thing will be, but I will say one thing. This is the future.


Cameras are getting slimmer and phones are becoming better cameras. These two things are about to merge in some meaningful way. Maybe phones will come with lens mounts or make lens mounts obsolete at their price point. I don’t know, but it will certainly add another competitor to the DSLR market.

Here’s the thing, DSLR’s are fine and many of them continue to shoot stunning video. If you’re buying a new camera for video purposes, though, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where you would choose a DSLR over something else. With that being the case, why would you be upset about a new DSLR’s lack of video features? If you’re going to buy a DSLR in 2017, it won’t be for the video.

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Brent L Zaffino

I am a filmmaker out of Atlanta, Georgia currently working as a freelance director and videographer for music videos, short films, and corporate videos.

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