Canon's EOS 650D has a hybrid digital focusing system.
Canon's boffins are working on solving the problems of maintaining focus while taking video on an SLR.
NIKON started a small revolution in camera design when it introduced the D90 DSLR in 2008. This was the first DSLR to shoot video, and Nikon's competitors were quick to catch up. But there was a fly in the ointment of the hybrid single-lens reflex - what to do about focusing?
Once the mirror is locked up, as it must be for continuous video recording, the camera loses its autofocus ability. Sony solved the problem by splitting the incoming light using a semi-transparent mirror. The other makers simply advised manual focus for video.
DSLRs focus using a system called ''phase detect'', but for video the required system is ''contrast detect''.
Canon has created a hybrid system with the EOS 650D, the technical details of which need not concern us here. The only thing we need to know is, does it work? Is it possible to have tracking autofocus in a DSLR similar to that which is taken for granted in compacts and mirrorless-system cameras?
First, let's make it clear that the 650D is an excellent camera for still photography. At the price ($899 at canon.com.au), it is remarkable value, producing consistently superb results. It is well worth the entry price, even if you never intend to shoot a minute of video. The swivelling touchscreen works well in live-view video mode.
Video quality is a mixed bag. We walked around town videoing moving objects (see tinyurl.com/8cfmcfp) and the autofocus was, at times, slow to lock on, and it didn't work on wide-angle shots where there was no obvious object to be the focal point. We used manual focus in these situations.
The Canon has an inbuilt stereo microphone that isn't up to the job. It also has a microphone socket and the recording volume is adjustable, clumsily, through the menu system. The inbuilt microphone picks up the noise of the lens focusing, a common problem with video in still cameras. It is not an issue with the external microphone input option.
Video editing made easy
We edited our footage in Adobe Premiere Elements 11. This latest version of of the software sports a new interface, as well as a different layout and implementation of tools. It is now truly intuitive and a delight to use.
Using Premiere Elements 11, we turned our video into a DVD and also uploaded it to YouTube. We viewed the finished product on a high-definition TV, a PC and an iPad. Results are good enough to give the camera the thumbs up.
The Canon EOS 650D is a lot of camera for the money. Think of it as a first-class single-lens reflex that just happens to do a reasonable job of video. It is highly recommended.
As for Adobe's Premiere Elements 11 - sheer bliss to use. Video editing has never been so easy.