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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What’s Hot In HD Video DSLRs

In a year there has been a five-fold increase in the number of cameras offering high-end video capability. There are incredible new opportunities opening up for professional photographers looking to add video to their repertoire. We break it down for you.


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A year ago, there were just two digital SLRs that could shoot video—
the Nikon D90 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. In the ensuing year, there has been an explosion of new models. Today, we have 10 video-capable DSLRs, including two all-out pro models, Canon’s EOS-1D Mark IV and Nikon’s D3S.

This incredibly rapid expansion of video-capable DSLRs provides the pro photographer with a wider choice of multimedia options. Originally conceived as a tool for new-media photojournalists, the video-capable DSLR has attracted a large following among independent moviemakers, as well as pro still photographers. Award-winning still photographer and Canon Explorer of Light Vincent Laforet shot the now-famous video short Reverie in a weekend with an early EOS 5D Mark II and showed that the video-capable DSLR was a legitimate pro filmmaking tool. Chase Jarvis provided a similar demo with the Nikon D90. Laforet is back with Nocturne (shot with the new Canon EOS-1D Mark IV), Nikon has Ami Vitale’s Mirages shot with the D300S, and Vincent Munier’s Summer Variations and Bill Frakes’ All Over Down Under done with the D3S. You can find these and a number of other amazing DSLR-made videos with a quick web search.

Video-capable DSLRs aren’t replacements for pro HD camcorders, but they do offer a number of advantages as video tools. The DSLRs are more compact and less costly than pro HD camcorders. Even the APS-C DSLRs have much larger image sensors than the under-$30,000 camcorders, which translates into better image quality (especially in low light and at higher ISO settings), along with a cinema-like limited depth of field previously unobtainable (or obtainable only via costly accessories) with camcorders. The DSLRs accept a wide range of excellent lenses, including very fast ones, tilt-shift ones, very long ones, macro lenses, fish-eyes and lots of zooms. And the DSLRs let you take a superb-quality still image at anytime, merely by pressing the shutter button (this, of course, briefly disrupts the video recording).

There also are some drawbacks. DSLRs were designed as still cameras and aren’t as ergonomically suited to video shooting. Camcorders offer video-geared features such as smooth (and silent) power zooming and autofocusing. With a DSLR, if focusing is necessary during a video shot, it’s best done manually because the DSLRs provide only slowish and somewhat erratic single-shot contrast-based autofocusing during video shooting, and the built-in microphone will record the sound of the AF motor (serious videographers use an external microphone and probably an external sound-recording device). A device like the Redrock Micro Image Mechanics VCS Kit can help with the ergonomics.

DSLRs also are somewhat limited in terms of shot length; those using most current SD cards can record only 2 GB worth in a single take (about 5 minutes of HD or 20 minutes of SD), while Canon’s can record 4 GB (12 minutes of HD, 30 minutes of SD). But most videos consist of relatively short takes (when was the last time you saw a single shot last more than two minutes in a movie or TV drama?), so this isn’t really a problem. Some pro moviemakers are using DSLRs for some shots, especially for low-light work, action and scenes more easily done with a “compact” device; but the video-capable DSLR isn’t ready to replace an all-out pro HD camcorder for video work.

 

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