There is a lot of hype, who-ha, praise and promise surrounding the new DSLRs that will also shoot video (also called HDSLR, HD-DSLR, Video DSLR, etc). Here’s my take on why you should take a look too, and what productions will benefit and what you need to know (in non-technical terms).
What is HDSLR?
The DSLR cameras available today by Canon, Nikon and Panasonic (to name a few) are mainly great Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras that happen to take great video as well. From Canon you have the T2i, T3i, T4i, 7D, 5D, etc. There are also great cameras from Nikon D3s, D300S, D90, D5000 and Panasonic GH1.
A few years ago, Canon added the ability to take video in addition to still photos to it’s top of the line cameras. Photojournalists could now also shoot short video clips along with photographs.
Other manufacturers followed suit and a lot of video features have found their way to these small handheld cameras.
The interest in using for DSLR cameras comes from three main points. The first is the quality. The quality of the image you can achieve is amazing and can approach the look of film (as in movies).
SENSOR: The imaging sensor is HUGE compared to standard video cameras. This allows for better low light performance as well as shallower depth of field.
COST: The second point of interest comes from the affordability. Today an entry-level DSLR camera with a nice lens can run under $1000. The top of the line HDSLR camera (Canon 5D Mark III) cost around $3500 (body only).
LENSES: The third point of interest comes from the ability to change lenses. The high-quality lenses you can use make a huge difference in production value, quality, storytelling ability and variety of shots.
Who’s It For?
The cost, quality and flexibility of a modern HDSLR make it a great choice for a wide range of videographers, filmmakers, and video podcasters (not to mention video marketers!).
Filmmakers love the fact that they can shoot at 24fps (frames per second). Without going into too much detail, movies are filmed at 24fps. This is a big advantage over most video cameras.
Videographers like the new DSLRs because it gives them added creative choices like lens selection and shallow depth of field.
Video marketers will appreciate the improved quality over most video cameras that HDSLRs give them.
What Are the Advantages?
The main reason to consider the new HDSLR cameras is cost to quality. As I mentioned before, the image sensor is huge, almost 9 times bigger than your average video camera. To get a comparable sized imaging sensor in a video camera you would be looking at around a $7,000 price tag.
This quality to cost advantage gives you not only an excellent HD video image but it’s a really good still camera too! So, for the same price as a mid-range video camera you can have an excellent “Film Style” camera.
Additionally you can get some great new “looks” to your video productions. When shooting at 24fps, your “videos” will look more like “film”. With the ability to use “prime” lenses (high quality non-zoom lenses) as well as telephoto lenses, you can invest in some very nice lenses that you can continue to use, even after you upgrade your camera down the road.
Fast lenses on a large sensor mean Shallow Depth of Field. Shallow DOF is when the subject is pin sharp and the background is blurry. This ability to selectively focus (as opposed to nearly everything being in focus on a traditional video camera) within a scene gives you an immediate boost in production value.
What Are The Down Sides?
There are some limits to shooting video with HDSLR cameras so let’s dive into those issues.
First, these are still cameras that had video capabilities added. The audio features tend to be lacking. There are a number of workarounds but with workarounds there tends to be more work. Most folks I know are shooting what’s called Dual System. This means that they film the image with the camera and the audio with a dedicated audio recorder. Most modern video editing systems can sync the audio with the video without problem.
Second, the recording time is limited. Due to import restrictions, these cameras are limited to around 12 minutes of record time per clip. HDSLRs wouldn’t be a good choice for recording a long speech, seminar, graduation ceremony etc. In the old film days, you were limited to the length of the film reel. Most folks coming from a filmmaking background are used to this and it’s not worry. When’s the last time you saw a single shot in a movie that lasted over 12 minutes?
One other issue that I haven’t run into yet but others have is image stability when panning quickly. Due to the kind of sensor used in HDSLRs vs. video cameras, the image can get “wobbly” or “tear” during a fast pan (moving the camera left to right, or right to left). This can be mitigated by avoiding fast pans of the camera.
I choose to dive into the HDSLR cameras because after having used video cameras my whole life (actually, 30+ years) I wanted something different. These cameras give me 24fps, HD video, interchangeable lenses, and so many new attachments and toys to play with that I could easily customize the camera to exactly my liking. After taking the plunge a few years ago I haven’t looked back and have had FUN making movies, short videos, interviews, podcasts, etc. with my camera
If you are in the market for an affordable video camera I suggest you take a look at an HDSLR camera. The cost to quality ratio is outstanding. The creative choices that a camera like this gives you can really take your productions up quite a few notches.