When to DSLR it

At Studio Post, it has become more and more common for us to see video arrive by way of a DSLR camera. While primarily designed for still use, models such as the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D and Nikon’s D7000 are capable of shooting stunning 1080 video.

There are several limitations to these cameras that most Cinematographers are well aware of, but the reality is, the trend is increasing towards tapeless and more economical workflows.

Strengths of shooting DSLR:

  • Low light: The image sensor on a DSLR require less light to obtain properly exposed images thereby allowing greater flexibility in how you shoot.
  • Bokeh or “blur quality”: Using the robust lens and aperture options afforded to still cameras in a video environment gives great control over depth of field.
  • Portability: A DSLR is much smaller than a professional video camera so it is easy to carry around and can fit into tighter spaces. When combined with low light capabilities this greatly expands your shooting and location options.
  • Affordability: Camera bodies and lenses are much more affordable for still cameras, providing you greater shooting options on a limited budget.

Weaknesses of shooting DSLR:

  • Rolling Shutter or “Jello-Vision”: The CMOS sensor in DSLR cameras capture a frame incrementally from top to bottom. It is a very quick transition that goes undetected in a still frame. However in video, when shooting handheld and panning, the shot can appear to wobble. ¬†There are software based solutionsto help remedy rolling shutter, but extra care should be taken when shooting to avoid it.
  • Compression: In order to deliver a file that will fit on a memory card, a considerable amount of compression is introduced to your DSLR video. As a result you will have less flexibility in Post Production in regards to green screen keying and color correction. Read Sam Toms’ article to learn more about video codecs and compression.
  • Moir√©: while also common in other video, the phenomenon where details in an image appears to vibrate intermittently is more common with a DSLR.
  • Frame Rate: This is a bit of a moving target as the technology is rapidly changing, but traditional Video and Film cameras offer interlacing and more slow motion options for filming.
  • Other issues such as sound recording, field monitoring and overheating can become crucial detractors depending on the nature of your shoot.

If the preceding list of cons set off red flags in your shooting schedule, it should! Seasoned Cinematographers swear by their expensive equipment for a reason. But don’t let it scare you off.

DSLR video can be seen everywhere from dramatic television and high end commercials to corporate and instructional videos. The savings in production costs can allow for a greater post production budget to spend more time in editing and color correction, the inclusion of custom designed titles and motion graphics, and sound design and audio mixing.

The key is determining your needs and picking the best equipment.

Below is a list of resources to learn more about how to better use a DSLR to shoot video.

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