The low-down on Digital SLRs

Digital SLR (DSLR) cameras with video recording capability have created exciting new opportunities for film-makers. Over the last year, we have used a number of different models (Canon 5D, Canon 7D and Canon 550D) to shoot some exceptional footage with a minimum of fuss.

The choice of lens and shallow depth-of-field provided by a professional stills camera is now available to film-makers. This means that the latest generation of guerilla film-makers can easily achieve far more filmic results than what was previously possible with a video camcorder. The DSLR cameras are not ideal for all situations but if you can plan your shoot in advance and work around the known limitations, DSLR shoots can involve significantly smaller and lighter gear. We were able to unobtrusively shoot steadicam sequences at a Sydney hospital with a tiny crew to achieve results which would have been nigh on impossible prior to DSLRs.


When managed properly, your post production workflow can also benefit from DSLRs. These cameras save recordings as video files which can be copied direct to a computer's hard drive and played immediately. No more expensive tape transfer costs.

Like anything else, DSLR film-making has its weaknesses as well as strengths. File-based cameras require greater focus on your asset management. It is too easy to delete or corrupt content if backup processes are not robust. The video files themselves are highly compressed so this can present problems with post production processes such as chromakeying that work best on uncompressed material.

What's more, the CMOS image sensor technology used in DSLRs does not cope well with fast "whip-pan" movements. The rolling shutter issue (often referred to as jellocam) where the video appears to strobe means that DSLRs are not the best tool for all shots. However when shooting with a locked-off camera or with slow movement, the resulting footage can often be indistinguishable from that shot from cameras four or five times the cost of a DSLR.

I'll leave the last words to Rick McCallum (who produced all of the Star Wars films to-date). Interviewed last year at NAB, Rick described how Lucasfilm is using the Canon DSLR cameras on-set to go to places where a conventional camera setup can't reach, such as inside an aircraft cockpit.

"This is B Camera land… in many cases the footage is indistinguishable.. once we get RAW, then it goes from B camera to A camera."

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