Mirrorless Camera Video Modes

If you're considering buying a mirrorless camera, you're not just getting a still camera: you're also buying a rather capable video camera.

All mirrorless cameras - with a few notable exceptions - include the ability to capture movies. So how do you decide between all the available options?

When it comes to video, there are THREE main factors that you'll need to consider:

  1. Resolution - the dimensions (in pixels) of the video image
  2. Format - the type of compression applied to the video
  3. Sound - mono or stereo (with the ability to add an external microphone)

While some mirrorless cameras will provide fairly basic video recording options, others will rival the quality of some high-end video cameras.

Resolution

There are two primary resolutions for digital video: 1920 x 1080 and 1280 x 720.

Both of these are High Definition (HD) formats, which means that they are designed to be played back on an HDTV or a widescreen computer monitor. The height and width match the proportions of your TV so that the image fills up the entire screen.

The larger size (1080) is often called Full HD while the smaller (720) is just HD.

In addition to the size, there are two different ways that HD video can be scanned: interlaced or progressive.

Imagine that your TV screen is divided into thin horizontal lines:

  1. When video is interlaced, each frame of video is split in TWO separate fields: first the even lines display, quickly followed by the odd ones
  2. When video is progressive, each frame is displayed at once

Interlaced video is really a by-product of older televisions screens that are not HDTV (High Definition TV) - these televisions are also called CRT screens.

CRT screens displayed video as interlaced, but all modern computer monitors and HDTV display progressive.

How can you tell which type of video a camera captures? Look for either an "i" or a "p" at the end of the resolution number.

  1. 720p - this is a video image that measures 1280 x 720 and is scanned progressively (note: 720 video can ONLY be scanned progressively)
  2. 1080i - this is a video image that measures 1920 x 1080 and is scanned interlaced
  3. 1080p - a video image that measures 1920 x 1080 and is scanned progressively

In the end, a lot depends on the DISPLAY that you're going to use when you watch your videos. If you will only ever watch videos on a computer monitor then it's less important to have the 1080 size - 720 should look VERY nice.

However, if you want to connect your camera to a large wide-screen HDTV, then you might consider the 1080 size for higher-quality video images.

When it comes to 1080i vs. 1080p, many agree that the progressive format produces a better video image than the interlaced one. Having said that, if you find a mirrorless Camera that has all the other features you want and "only" 1080i video, I think that you'll still be quite pleased with the quality.

Format

In addition to the differences in video size and scanning, different cameras also compress video differently.

Compression is necessary to keep down the size of video files. Even with compression, video files will quickly eat up the space on your memory cards and you computer's hard drive.

The first common format is Motion JPEG or M-JPEG for short. With the M-JPEG format, each individual video frame is compressed much like a standard JPG is compressed. This makes editing the video at the frame level easier.

The next two formats are AVCHD and AVCHD lite.

Since this format was jointly developed by Panasonic and Sony, it should come as no suprise that mirroless cameras from these companies use it.

The AVCHD format is compatible with 1080p, 1080i and 720p while the AVCHD lite format is limited to only 720p.

Camera Comparison

M-JPEG (720p)MP4AVCHD Lite (720p)AVCHD