Remember when digital cameras were used to just to take photos? The new generation of DSLRs are still primarily used to snap up life's moments as still lifes, but they're also getting notably more adept at captured video...glorious 1080p video! And this type of video performance isn't relegated to top tier models any longer, with several cameras with 1080p performance in the attainable, mid-tier range.
The Nikon features simplified menu controls, designed specifically not to overwhelm users with sub-menus and extra buttons. But despite the beginner interface, the camera is armed with the same 16.2 Megapixel APS-C Format CMOS sensor as it's big brother, the D7100. A Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm lens isn't going to win awards, but it's a fine walkabout lens. The 3" screen image is comprised of 921k pixels and can notably be pivoted in all manners of positions for shooting in tight quarters, over a crowd or around the corner. The D5100 captures video at 24fps at up to 1920 x 1080p (there's even a low-res Night Vision mode for spooky in the dark footage), and this alongside its smaller form factor makes the D5100 a comfortable carry-around camera for both photo and video duties.
Sony Alpha 55
The Sony Alpha 55 is no slouch in the megapixels department, capturing images at 16.7 megapixels. An APS-C sized CMOS sensor is complemented with the Sony Alpha DT 18-55mm lens, while a 3" screen with a 921k resolution matches Nikon's D5100 dot for fot. Similarly, the Alpha 55 can shoot HD video at 1080p with continuous auto-focus (very helpful tracking kids and pets), but this one adds an additional frame for 25fps. On the effects front, the camera can easily produce HDR images via menu command, and inside a built-in GPS will help keep tabs of where you snapped your photos.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
Okay, this camera belongs to the Micro Four Thirds category, but it's 16.6 megapixel sensor, Lumix G Vario 14-42mm lens and 3" screen offer only a step down performance than the "big boys" at the exchange of portability. What we particularly like about this model is it's very compact size, making it the most pocket-friendly travelers option of the bunch (at least if you've got large pockets). Admittedly, this model won't measure up in quality to the full sensor models from either Nikon or Canon, but neither would be categorize the image quality as anything less than quite good. Image noise is very well controlled and produces great movies at 25fps at 1080p resolution. One thing to note is this model is powered by a slightly small battery and is rated only for about 270 shots; a spare battery is highly recommended.
Canon EOS 600D
The Canon 600D practically makes you feel like a pro, with a stable of manual controls usually only found on more advanced models. 18 megapixels with the APS-C sensor paired with a EF-S 18-55mm lens works with a new Scene Intelligent Auto mode for point-and-shoot use with DSLR performance. Another hint the model was designed aimed at the consumer crowd is the addition of "creative filters", a variety of effect options to convert your ho-hum shot into something more dazzling using fish-eye or toy camera distortions. Impressively, the 600D offers quite a range of frame rates to shoot video in: 24, 25 or 30fps for 1080p or 50/60fps in 720p mode.
Other HD Video Capable Cameras to Consider: