As DSLRs have become more popular — and more affordable — manufacturers have started adding features that appeal to everyday shooters, such as in-camera editing effects and video capture.

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This year, Nikon and Canon broke new ground by introducing digital still cameras that can shoot video.

But wait, you may be thinking, my little point-and-shoot camera can record video, so what’s the big deal?

These new models are DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras, the larger, more professional versions that feature interchangeable lenses and more sophisticated manual controls.

As DSLRs have become more popular — and more affordable — manufacturers have started adding features that appeal to everyday shooters, such as in-camera editing effects and video capture.

I tested the Nikon D90, the first DSLR on the market to feature video. Canon is set to release its video-capable EOS 5D Mark II.

The two cameras are aimed at different markets: the D90 ($1,000 body-only) is a high-end consumer DSLR, while the EOS 5D Mark II ($2,700 body-only) is a camera for professionals or very enthusiastic amateurs.

The video capabilities that tie them together are going to start changing the way we look at still cameras.

One advantage of putting video recording into a DSLR is the convenience of carrying just one device for video and still images — and knowing that both formats will offer high quality. Most point-and-shoot cameras record only passable video, and camcorders tend to skimp on still-image quality.

You also can shoot video using any lens that works on the camera, increasing the options for shooting wide-angle vistas or controlling depth of field to create soft backgrounds.

A DSLR’s capture sensor is larger than most camcorders, meaning you can snag more data at higher qualities.

Each model records at high-definition sizes — the D90 at 720p and the EOS 5D Mark II at 1080p (the “p” stands for progressive, where each line of video is recorded).

At the higher end of the spectrum, shooters covering breaking news with stills and video will have more of a competitive advantage. The same may apply to wedding and event photographers, as well.

With all that said, we’re not quite there. I can only comment on the Nikon D90, which, although it can claim the title of first DSLR with video, has a number of video shortcomings.

The D90 features a Live View mode that moves the mirror (which enables you to see through the lens using the viewfinder) out of the way and displays a live preview on the display on the back of the camera. Pressing the OK button begins recording.

However, the autofocus in Live View is slow and not too reliable, especially compared with shooting stills. Once you begin recording, autofocus doesn’t kick in at all. That’s fine if you’re shooting stationary objects from a tripod, but difficult shooting everyday events.

The D90 also records only mono audio, not stereo.

Worse, the video “jellies.” Because a sensor records each frame from top to bottom, instead of exposing the entire frame at once, moving the camera can make objects wobble and sway as if they’re made of taffy. (I’ve posted an example at

However, in all other respects, the D90 is an impressive DSLR — even if you never touch the video feature.

I own the camera’s predecessor, the Nikon D80, and for me the best new feature is improved lowlight performance. Shooting at ISO 1600 creates good-looking images. On the D80, the amount of noise introduced at that level is unbearable to me.

The new 3-inch display on the back is large and vivid, with a 920,000-dot resolution. That screen is also put to good use by a new Info display that shows all of the current shooting settings.

I found it helpful when shooting long exposures in low light. I could see and change the shutter speed without activating the backlight on the top LCD display, which takes more strength and increases the likelihood that I’d bump the camera.

The D90 also improves its burst shooting mode to 4.5 shots per second. And this is completely subjective, but I find the shutter click just feels better than the D80.

If video is your primary consideration, the D90 is not the camera for you. It’s better to think of the video capture as a first step toward better video a generation or two in the future.

With the arrival of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which appears to shoot pretty impressive video, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nikon is working hard to overcome these limitations. To be taken seriously in the market, it will have to.

What’s clear with these cameras is that video is going to become more important at the higher end of the photo spectrum. If you’re a still shooter, it’s almost time to start brushing up on your video shooting and editing skills.

Jeff Carlson co-writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. He can be reached at