Using a DSLR for HD video production changes the game

When we first acquired our first DSLR about 18 months ago, it was done as an experiment. Could what looks totally like a still photographer’s tool be used for video production? How would this new style of camera integrate into our existing selection of HD cameras? As you know from reading various publications, watching the results both on television and the “big screen,” yes – you can.

Today, the use of the DSLR is an essential part of many videographer and director of photography camera kits. A recent article in Broadcast Engineering described in detail how the Canon EOS 5D Mark II was used in the making of Relativity Media’s Act of Valor. Although the article was posted as a virtual press release, the content is right on the mark: the DSLR in general and Canon’s cameras specifically change the game of film production.

Originally, the thought was that the combination of size and the ability to manage a film camera-like depth of field would enable low budget productions to gain quality without added cost. While those capabilities do exist, it is the overall performance, combined with the size of the camera that is really the game changer.

In our shop, I began using the DSLR and immediately found it an incredible tool. One of our other videographers was more comfortable using our Sony HD cameras. The thought of learning all of the DSLR bits was just a bit too much – especially when you’re busy and shooting all the time. However, when this camera operator first used our DSLR, it became an instant favorite. They’re that intoxicating.

Another excellent example of the power a DSLR can bring to a production is the recent Showtime documentary, Game of Honor. This excellent story about the rivalry between Army and Navy was made more possible by the ability of the camera operators to integrate themselves into both institutions without interfering with the action and the natural environment of the students, parents, professors and coaches. The “Making Of” video is worth watching, and you’ll see camera operators in various shots, including the use of Canon 5D MKII cameras.

You can make a DSLR into a motion picture film rig in about 15 minutes. You can add a prime lens, monitor, and camera rig and exceed the cost of the camera body by 10X. Most importantly, you can take these cameras into places you would never take a full size film or video camera. We do it every week.

We’re in the midst of multiple productions, and our Canon DSLRs (we use Canon 7D cameras) are hard at work. One of our projects is a pilot for automobile lovers about the people who love their cars. The pilot involves the Mini Cooper, which is not a large vehicle. Getting inside with a large video camera would be potentially tragic for the camera operator, but with our DSLRs, we not only get in there, but the images are stunning.

We’re also producing an educational film about kids and accidents. Standing among kids with a video camera is a challenge, as many will come up and just start talking – “Yo! We gonna be on TV?” However, they’re so used to seeing still cameras, that even with a shotgun mic and other video bits on board, they for the most part just let us do our thing. The camera should always be invisible, and these small cameras – with their remarkable imagery – make this a different environment. We’ll post some examples of why the use of these cameras benefits not only ourselves, but our clients as well.

As we look at how we shoot our shows, we’re finding new ways to be creative, thanks to the remarkable revolution that is the DSLR. It doesn’t put our HD cameras out to pasture. It merely gives us both a new tool, and new options on how to “get the shot,” and make the story shine. Of course, now that there is the Canon C300, and several other cameras on the horizon, the speed of technology is outpacing even Formula One. That’s the scary bit.


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