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Still of DSLR Shooting Video

Last week we did three-day video shoot for one of our clients and shot the video entirely on our digital SLR camera system. It was a great shoot, and although we’ve done plenty of shoots with the DSLR video setup, this was the first time we’ve had it out in the field for such an extended period of time. That really allowed us to get a much better understanding of the pros and cons of shooting in this format.

While we are very pleased with the result overall, there are a few areas where DSLR video shooting differs from a traditional video camera and we thought it’d be valuable to share some observations.

First off, for those that don’t know what DSLR shooting is – it refers to using the video capability that’s recently been added to professional digital still cameras. High-end Canon cameras like the 5d Mark II and 7d offer video recording, as do the higher-end Nikon models.


DSLR Video Pros:

1) Interchangeable lenses allows for much better creative options in the field. If we needed to call attention to actors in the scene being shot, we could throw on the telephoto lens and keep focus tight on the actors and have the background out of focus. Or if we needed to shoot a very wide angle shot in a tight space, we could throw on my wide angle lens instead. BIG plus!

2) DSLR cameras shoot “progressive scan” which is different than traditional video which is generally “interlaced”. Without going into the technical explanation of the difference between the two, shooting 30 or 24 frames per second progressive scan leads to footage which looks very much like something shot on 35mm film. Again...BIG plus!

3) DSLR cameras are significantly more light-sensitive than their video camera counterparts. This meant that many shots which took considerable time to light in the past can be shot with just natural light, all by itself, totally solo. The primary benefit is time savings, but also in many cases the shots just look more natural and less “staged”. HUGE plus!!

DSLR Video Cons:

1) Traditional video cameras generally have a mechanized zoom function, allowing the videographer to slowly zoom in on a person or object. Since the DSLR method uses standard still camera lenses without mechanized zoom, you have to plan shots a bit differently and move the camera or switch lenses to get closeup shots since you can’t rely on a mechanized zoom. This just requires a slightly different thought process when planning shots, and sometimes takes just a bit more time for each shot.

2) Most standard video cameras have more advanced audio recording capabilities, like professional input jacks, headphone audio monitoring, easily changeable record settings/volumes, etc. We’ve mostly worked around this by using an external audio mixer that helps us set levels, monitor audio, and then feeds the audio into the DSLR camera. But it is one extra piece of gear that has to be brought on a shoot.

3) The video processing in standard video cameras is generally more advanced than DSLR video systems. Traditional video cameras generally do a better job at capturing fine patterns, fine lines, and fast-moving objects. Fortunately this is easy to spot and there are some easy work-arounds like slightly defocusing a shot to reduce any moiré patterning or strange flickering.

This is just a starting point list – there are more positives to list and more differences – but those are the ones that are most critical to understand.

In our professional opinion, the positives of shooting video on a DSLR system far outweigh any differences from traditional video cameras. The image quality is superb, the low-light sensitivity is a very welcome treat, and the creative options available with interchangeable lenses makes for great video. We look forward to seeing how things evolve over the next few years, but all-in-all this is a great start and a very welcome addition to our video production arsenal at Mobius.

For another nice summary of differences between the two systems, check out our friends at Luminous Landscape.