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posted by - Friday, 17 July 2009

At Abel, we like to stay on the cutting edge of technology, and keep a close watch on the film industry. This usually means that we are working with the latest Digital Cinema, HD, and film cameras. So it came as a bit of a surprise to us when we started seeing HD video clips originated from digital still cameras. For many years now, still cameras have been shooting low-resolution video, but a few still cameras out there just recently started capturing full HD video. This is an exciting feature in the still imaging world for sure, but what does it mean to the professional HD market?

We have been testing two of these cameras, the Lumix GH1 and Canon 5D Mark II, and exploring how they can be best used by our customers. What we discovered was a world of possibilities in an unprecedented small form factor. These tools, which we are calling HDSLR cameras, definitely have a place in our market. Keep reading to learn about these first cameras in our HDSLR lineup.

Panasonic Lumix GH1

Panasonic released the small form-factor (small for a still camera) G1 body in 2008. The G1 was one of the first still cameras to use a Micro 4/3 mount. This system is not a traditional DSLR; it was built from the ground up to be all digital without a complex light path or optical viewfinder. Instead, it has a very short flange depth, small body and electronic viewfinder. The Panasonic GH1 was released in June 2009 and made some big improvements over the original. The biggest is full HD video recording. The GH1 sensor is a 12 Megapixel 4/3 CMOS imager (17.3mm × 13mm), which is considerably larger then the 2/3” sensor found on most broadcast cameras. Actually the sensor is just a bit smaller than Super 35mm negative (see the Sensor Size chart below).

Lumix GH1 with PL MountLens Adaptability

The micro 4/3 system was designed to be adaptable to many other lens systems. The short flange depth of the camera means that Canon EF, Nikon F, and even PL mount lenses can be adapted to work. This is exciting for filmmakers because it opens the possibility of using cinema style lenses on a low cost HD video camera. A new manufacturing company called Hot Rod Camera has created a PL Mount Adapter designed specifically for the Lumix GH1 and other micro 4/3 cameras. This elegant device really brings out the potential of the GH1 and, when combined with the new Zeiss Compact Primes, this setup really shines. (Watch Andy’s vlog to see this setup in action.)


The GH1 has several features normally found on Compact HD cameras including: Flip Out LCD, Audio Input (2.5mm mini-jack) and HDMI video output. Note: The HDMI output will only function on playback (no live feed). During video capture the camera features full manual exposure adjustment, and the stock lens has a silent continuously auto-focusing motor. The camera records to high-speed SDHC cards in 17 Mb/s AVCHD format in both 720 60P and 1080 24P. AVCHD is becoming more accepted as an acquisition format and out performs 25 Mb/s HDV in many circumstances. The workflow has evolved overtime and many NLEs have native support.

Canon 5D Mark II

The Canon 5D Mark II is a full size DSLR designed for the professional photography market. It has a full frame (21 megapixel) sensor, which affords it very sharp images and excellent low light sensitivity. The extreme size of the sensor (see chart below) allows for a very narrow depth of field. The 5D Mark II takes extremely high-resolution images, and amazingly it can also shoot in 1080 30P. The HD video this camera produces is extremely impressive, especially considering the original intent of the camera was strictly for still use only.

Canon 5D Mark II - Arri MatteboxDetails

The camera has a standard Canon EOS lens mount, and many photo lenses can be adapted to fit it. PL mount lenses are not compatible, due to the flange distance of the mount and the internal mirror used with the optical viewfinder. The Canon 5D Mark II also has several features found in video cameras including: high resolution LCD, Audio Input (mini-jack), AV Output and HDMI output. Several audio and viewfinder accessories have already been created to add functionality to the camera. With the latest firmware release (1.10), Canon has enabled full manual control of exposure and focus during movie recording. This feature has opened up the camera for a wide variety of professional video applications.

The camera records to Compact Flash cards in 38 Mb/s H.264 format. The files are in QuickTime (MOV) format, which simplifies the workflow. However, slower machines will need to transcode the footage to work with it on a timeline. Several companies, including Glue Tools, have announced software tools to help speed up the workflow.


Sensor Size Comparision Chart

- Chart provided by Hot Rod Cameras

by Andy Shipsides

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