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Why Digital Cameras Have a 30 Minute Video Recording Limit and How it Will Soon Change

One of the significant upgrades in Canon’s $3500 5D Mark III DSLR was the extension of the video recording limit from 12 minutes to just under 30 minutes. In the 5D Mark II, 1080p video clips could not be longer than 12 minutes due to the 4GB size limit in the FAT32 file system. DSLRs of that era–the first to record high-definition video–also weren’t optimized for video capture, so the processors would overheat after extended periods of recording. That’s a problem that still exists today in more compact mirrorless cameras that shoot in 720p or 1080p (like the Sony NEX 7). A 12 minute cap might not have affected professionals using DSLRs for TV shows and independent films–where most individual shots don’t last longer than a few minutes–but we definitely felt that crunch when shooting our iPad autopsy video. Newer cameras overcome heating issues with redesigned interior hardware arrangement, and the 12 minute FAT 32 cap is negated with seamless file spanning. But the 30 minute continuous recording cap still stands. And it turns out that it’s completely arbitrary.

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