Review of how DSLR cameras work in the field

aussiemick wrote on 10/23/2010, 12:07 AM
I am considering purchase of a DSLR for mainly stills, but would like to take video at oppotune moments. For those who have DSLR's and take video with them, what are their thoughts as to the functioning of these cameras on the job. I realize the video quality is great but are they good to work with.



entilza72 wrote on 10/23/2010, 4:54 AM
Hi Michael,

Having worked as a DoP and a Director on set with these cameras, I can say in my opinion they are pigs to work with compared to pro video or cine cameras. Yes, you can spend a lot of $$$ on rigs to help form factor, but there are many pitfalls.

They can create nice images, but critically not in a lot of scenarios. I've never had a camera dictate what shots I cannot do like these cameras can dictate.

This is a review of how they work on-set in drama:

If you can wait, I'd put on the brakes and wait for a year. I believe we should then start to see the tech turn up in prosumer and pro level cameras, with all the form factor problems and image glitches ironed out.

farss wrote on 10/23/2010, 5:25 AM
I don't own one but the rental house I work for does. We have a 5DMkII, $10K invested in 4 of the fastest Canon primes and over $10K worth of Zacuto and Arri gear to hang off , over and under the camera. We also do a good business renting audio kit to those using the 5D and 7D.
As Jason says, you can get pretty good images out of them if you understand the limitations and can work around them. Due to technical issues image quality is way below what the same camera takes as a still camera. If you can shoot at 3fps in still mode you can get incredible images. Not a practical solution in most scenarios.
We have the new AG-AF100 Panny camera on order, that camera will address many of the issues but by the time you add a lens its neither cheap, takes great stills or exactly small.
If you want a camera to quickly grab a shot of something buy a good palmcorder. Cameras such as Sony's CX550 and the like do a remarkably good job for the size and money.

aussiemick wrote on 10/23/2010, 3:30 PM
Thanks Jason and Bob for your thoughts and practical info. I gathered from the little real info on these cameras about video that DSLR's were still in their infancy as far as a grab and shoot video maker. Artistic set shot yes, but on the run no.
I had a gut feeling that this was the case, but it was hard to get down to earth reviews by people who have owned or used them without a load of expensive gear to make it all happen.

autopilot wrote on 10/23/2010, 3:34 PM
And then there's the audio . . .
PerroneFord wrote on 10/23/2010, 6:53 PM
It really depends on your needs.

EVERY camera has limitations, whether it be the a DSLR, a RED/Alexa, or an ARRI 35mm film camera. Each exacts some type of penalty from the shooter in size, speed, convenience, image quality, cost, etc.

For their cost, the DSLRs are simply unrivaled. There's a reason they are still flying off the shelves and into the hands of people looking to shoot video. Yes, the AF100 looks to address many of the issues, but it costs 6 times what a T2i would cost. For that price gap, I'd expect it would. The RED is 6x the cost of my EX1, and for that money I'd certainly EXPECT a lot more.

You do NOT need to load up the small DSLRs with a bunch of gear to make it shoot movies. You can do that, and I have done it when DPing films, but it's certainly not necessary. I shoot my DSLR twice a week with nothing more than a lens and a tripod. Audio is not critical in my application so I make do with the on-camera audio. It's not very good, but works as a sync track and to me isn't much behind most cheap handycams.

Frankly, the ability to get decent video and excellent stills from the same camera FAR outweighs the camera's limitations. That won't be true for everyone. But I can tell you this much. My EX1 has not been out of the case since July... And I shoot video at least twice a week.
Laurence wrote on 10/23/2010, 7:21 PM
I've been going on again / off again with regards to buying a Canon EOS 60D with the flip out articulating view finder. I shoot documentary stuff exclusively. Interviews and b-roll. I can picture myself with the 60D, a Beachtek, a screw in polarizing filter and a tripod. Interviews would look great with the shallow depth of field. A lot of the B-Roll I could do by half depressing the shutter button for focus and then making sure that I kept a constant distance between myself and the subject. Some shots would be hard though. The typical "walking with the subject" would be impractical without a moving auto-focus. I typically set my Z7 on slow aperture auto for pans. This would be gone. I tend to run into a lot of weird patterned shirts and dresses and have no control over this. I'm worried about weird moire artifacts and aliasing

My question is: how practical would something like an unencumbered 60D be for documentary b-roll? I would love to get shallower depth of field and go a little darker with natural light interviews, but would I regret going this route because of the other limitations?
Laurence wrote on 10/23/2010, 7:35 PM
I just found out about variable ND filters from Vic Milt. Here's what I mean:

It seems like this might be the answer to setting exposure with a fixed shutter rate on a DSLR. Vic says it solves the problem completely but you need step down ring adapters. Anyone else here tried this?
farss wrote on 10/23/2010, 11:31 PM
We use the Fader NDs from Lightcraft Workshop via eBay, about US $100 each. No complaints so far, I also have one for my EX1 for doing timelapse.

The only trap with ALL of these polarising ND filters is to only use the correct range of rotation otherwise really wierd things will happen like getting a dark cross or line over the frame. You should also reset WB after adjusting these. Keep in mind they are polarising filters and apart from being a ND they may or may not remove reflections. Generally this is a good thing but maybe not if you're trying to match shots and the sun moves.

Laurence wrote on 10/25/2010, 5:54 AM
Will a lens cap fit on the end of an adjustable ND filter? How will a Canon DSLR with an adjustable ND filter be for capturing ordinary b-roll?
logiquem wrote on 10/25/2010, 8:03 AM
I frequently use a Pana GH1 as a complement for video shooting. For the price, and the options it gives, it's a no brainer for me, really... Get a Zoom H4N for sound if you use it as a stand alone camera. The only drawback is resynching everything.

I tried a Canon but found it much less usable in video mode (AF, AE, short lenght video takes, etc.).

Wait for the GH2, they have solved about all little quirks the GH1 has and made soooo wonderfull improvements.

The possibility to eventually upgrade/rent an HF100 and use the same great lense is also very interesting.
MUTTLEY wrote on 10/25/2010, 11:26 AM

I jumped to DSLR's from an EX1 rig outfitted with a Letus35 Extreme and in a lot of ways despite its shortcomings it was extremely liberating. More often than not I'm tempted to giggle when I get home and look at the footage that comes out of this "tiny" little camera, I say tiny compared to the setup I was using previous.

The time limit has been the biggest downer for me, in many situations it's almost irrelevant but not being able to do a full concert or event with it is a bit of a drag. Audio hasn't bothered me, using an external recorder and than using Pluraleyes makes it pretty close to effortless. As for lenses, initially I got by with an adapter and the Zeiss and Nikon lenses I had been using with the Letus35 but temptation got the best of me and I got a couple 1.2 Canons and a couple others but don't think I necessarily "had to". The Fader ND has been incredible and if you want that extreme DoF with lenses like the 1.2 its a must have.

Though there are some other great cameras on the horizon for now I'm loving it and even if and or when I get something else I'm relatively confidant that I'll be using this as a B camera for awhile. If you take the time to learn one of them you can really get some stunning footage.

- Ray
Underground Planet
logiquem wrote on 10/28/2010, 5:45 AM
BTW, GH1 don't have any time limit. You can uninterruptedly shoot about 4:30 on a 32 Go card.
Laurence wrote on 10/28/2010, 6:01 AM
Do you know anything about the GH1 hack which is supposed to improve the bitrate on 1080p video?:

There are a number of people online who say that before the hack, only the 720p mode is really usable, but that after the hack, the GH1 is actually sharper than the Canon DSLRs.
24Peter wrote on 10/28/2010, 7:05 AM
I am considering purchase of a DSLR for mainly stills, but would like to take video at oppotune moments. For those who have DSLR's and take video with them, what are their thoughts as to the functioning of these cameras on the job. I realize the video quality is great but are they good to work with.

Michael - As others have alluded to, ergonomically-speaking shooting video with DSLR's pretty much s&%cks. I'm on my 4th video-capable DSLR and currently own a 5DII and 60D. The swizel screen on the 60D is definitely a step in the right direction. Manual audio controls are also helpful, though since most of my video is family videos, even the auto audio on the 60D is fine (vs. the 5DII where auto audio suffers from heavy handed AGC - not so with the 60D.)

Again as others have mentioned there are all kinds of accessories that can make shooting with a DSLR a little easier, but for non-pro applications they're probably overkill (and often many times more expensive than the camera itself).

If your primary interest is still photography, then the video capabilities are just icing on da cake anyway, so you'll quickly find out if it's right for you. If not, you still have a great still camera.
Laurence wrote on 10/28/2010, 9:04 AM
Here's a guy comparing the hacked GH2 and Canon 7D directly:

At least on his video I must say that the hacked GH1 looks quite a bit better.
aussiemick wrote on 10/28/2010, 1:50 PM
The GH-2 does look a more video friendly DSLR. From a Panasonic still camera I had back in the 4 megapixel days, the photos were good and the GH-2 appears to also have excellent quality. It is really hard to judge from reviews whether a camera is what meets your needs. The latest rush for more megapixels on non full frame cameras seems to be introducing some softness into pictures, but if you head back to lower sized sensors you loose a lot of functional improvements.

PerroneFord wrote on 10/29/2010, 5:26 PM
The Hacked GH1 does indeed have a far better codec than the Canon cameras. However, the hack does not solve the biggest issues I have with the camera.

No monitoring externally. It's the small screen on the back or nothing. Not exactly helpful for the 1st AC. On a fully crewed narrative set, this is essentially a showstopper.

It is also not a camera which you can really get to a "neutral" look. Some people REALLY like the look of the camera. I don't. And you can't get it out. This is something Bloom noted as well. You can get the Canon's neutral.

Maybe the GH2 addresses some of these issues. I really haven't taken any note of it.

Additionally, Panasonic locked the camera so that the hack is only viable on the older cameras. The newer cameras have not been hackable since the beginning of summer. So if you don't already have one, you're too late. Unless you buy a used one from last spring or earlier.

DGates wrote on 10/29/2010, 6:12 PM
Anything can eventually be hacked.
PerroneFord wrote on 10/29/2010, 6:44 PM
True. But most people don't buy a $1200 camera on the hopes of "eventually". Especially in light of how quickly this market is moving.