Video With a DSLR Camera: Pros and Cons

*DSLR stands for Dig­i­tal Sin­gle Lens Reflex. It’s a type of camera used exclusively for photography in the past. In 2008 Canon start­ing adding a video mode to their DSLR cam­eras. They had no idea the phe­nom­e­non that it would bring.

DSLRs have huge sen­sors (the mech­a­nism that con­verts light to video) and way more, cheaper, high qual­ity lenses (also referred to as “glass”). These fac­tors give DSLR cam­eras very sharp imagery as well as a very shal­low depth of field. Depth of field or DOF, refers to the focus of the image or video. A deep DOF is when the fore­ground and the back­ground of an image are both in focus. You see this com­monly in land­scape shots.

Example Video Filmed Primarily with Canon 5D Mark II’s and Canon Rebel T2i’s:

Shal­low Dof is when one part of the image is in focus while the rest is not. For exam­ple, imag­ine a romance movie. About 3/4 of the way through the film, the man and woman run to one another and kiss in the rain. On a close-up of them kiss­ing, you’d see them in focus, with the back­ground out of focus. You see it all the time in the movies, almost always used dur­ing back and forth dia­logue when 2 actors are talk­ing. This is a very sought after look by video pro­fes­sion­als and before DSLR video was extremely expen­sive to achieve. DSLR cam­eras achieve this look for a fifth of the price.

I started my videog­ra­phy career with a Sony VX-2000. It’s an older lit­tle Sony pro­sumer standard-def cam­corder. After I mas­tered that I was ready to upgrade to a Hi-def cam­era, but I didn’t have much money and good cam­eras are very expen­sive. I saw the qual­ity that DSLRs are capa­ble of and I became very inter­ested. The Canon 60D was in my price range and I bought it. It came with a 18-135mm EF-S lens. It shot 1080i and 720p at 24, 30 and 60fps (frames per sec­ond). It was a good cam­era and I really liked it. How­ever I got the oppor­tu­nity to upgrade to the Mer­cedes Benz of DSLRs…. The Canon 5D Mark II. I also got it with a 24-105mm canon L-series lens. It shoots beau­ti­ful, crys­tal clear, film­like video and I love it. Now here are the pros and cons

What’s great about DSLRs for video, and the rea­son they are so pop­u­lar, is the film­like qual­ity with the shal­low depth of field you can obtain for a much, much lower price. For exam­ple, experts often com­pare the canon 5d mark II to the Red One cam­era, which costs $25k. Now of course the Red One is a nicer cam­era, it shoots at 2k res­o­lu­tion, but it’s $25,000, the canon 5d mark II is $2,500 and the qual­ity is com­pa­ra­ble. For Inter­net and DVD pur­poses, the qual­ity is neg­li­gi­ble. In the­atre it would be obvi­ous, but what your video looks like in movie the­atres is not rel­e­vant to most. Any­way the point is the qual­ity for the price is incredible.

Now here’s the cons. No mat­ter how awe­some the video qual­ity is, it doesn’t change the fact that DSLRs are built for still pho­tog­ra­phy and only recently started offer­ing video. This means that they have crude audio capa­bil­i­ties. No man­ual audio gain con­trols with­out hacks or patches, no xlr (high qual­ity audio input), the built in mic is too low qual­ity to use, also it’s small and with­out a han­dle so it’s dif­fi­cult to oper­ate smoothly and it doesn’t have a con­trolled zoom.

All these cons have workarounds but it’s a more dif­fi­cult process than with a reg­u­lar video cam­era and it costs money. Even with these costly extras DSLR cam­eras are still worth the money but the ease of use and time it takes to bal­ance out the short­com­ings depend entirely on you. You absolutely have to get a sta­bi­liz­ing rig for smooth shoot­ing off the shoul­der, oth­er­wise your footage will be too shaky. These rigs aver­age around $500 with the higher qual­ity ones around $2,000. You can do what some peo­ple do and build your own rig or order the com­po­nents sep­a­rately and assem­ble it your­self. I’m going to do an entire post ded­i­cated to choos­ing or build­ing a rig and once it’s com­plete I’ll insert a link to it here.

Because the DSLR has poor audio capa­bil­i­ties, what most peo­ple do is buy a portable audio recorder to cap­ture audio sep­a­rately from the cam­era. You plug your mic in use that to dig­i­tally record your audio. Thats a great way to get high qual­ity audio, the prob­lem is, since the video and audio are not being recorded by the same device, you’ll need to sync these in post. You can do this man­u­ally using the a clap­per or snap etc. but there is a much sim­pler solu­tion which is a pro­gram called plural eyes. Plural eyes will auto­mat­i­cally sync your video to your audio in your time­line. It does this by lin­ing up the sep­a­rately recorded audio wave­forms to the audio wave­forms recorded by your low qual­ity built in cam­era mic. It’s not always per­fect but if you’re get­ting decent audio from your cam­era then it works quickly and effec­tively. There’s also a sis­ter pro­gram called dual eyes that will auto­mat­i­cally sync all the video files to all the audio files out­side of your edit­ing application.

In con­clu­sion, DSLRs give you excel­lent qual­ity for the price. How­ever, you’ll need to decide for your­self whether or not the short­com­ings of shoot­ing with a pho­tog­ra­phy cam­era are accept­able to you as a video creator.

I hope this article outlining the pros and cons of shooting video with a DSLR has been helpful to you…

About the Author:
For more information regarding videography or editing, please visit The Video Genius. Lowell Brillante, Videographer and Digital Editor based in Charlotte NC.

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9 responses to “Video With a DSLR Camera: Pros and Cons”

  1. Isko Jose says:

    Canon did not release the first dslr with video capability. the nikon d90 is truely the first video dslr (although not full HD).

  2. Ken` says:

    Could one use an SRL camera in movie mode for taking video as a private investigator? Don’t know if zoom lens would work wel for distance shots.

  3. Anthony says:

    Hello,

    What about using an external microphone such as the Azden High-performance (SMX-10) Stereo Condenser Microphone?

    Anthony

  4. Judsonian says:

    Who cares if Nikon released the first… not the point of the article.

    Yes. A fast lens with IS and a stabilizer of sorts you can get great HD video as well as have the capability to grab stills.

    Correct. The recording on HDDSLRs is great .. its the microphone that sucks. What I do is use an external mic as well as a digital recorder with an external mic. Now you have two audio sources in case on gets trolled by a crying baby or gabby adults.

  5. dave says:

    I currenly ownthe canon t2i and love it because of iys functionality

  6. Lowell says:

    Yea Isko who cares,?? squaddin up on you now son…. no but seriously….

    Yea you’re right the nikon offered it first but it was the short film Reverie shot by Vincent Laforet on the Canon 5d mk ii that started a revolution.

  7. @Anthony, the only solution for capturing synced audio is by using an adapter with a preamp, here’s a link to a popular one.

    http://www.beachtek.com/products/hdslr/dxa-slr/

    Most people use dual system audio and sync with pluraleyes. It’s a pain but it works, and you can get great audio from recorders like the h4n.

    Don’t believe any company that says you can use their mic straight to a dslr without a preamp. If you’re looking for additional control over your audio I recommend getting the magic lantern firmware.

  8. Randy Davis says:

    Why would anyone shoot video on a regular basis with a DSLR? Seriously! The only time that I use my Canon 5D for video is if it’s mounted on the hood of a car. I don’t know a single video professional who uses these “still” cameras for video. No XLR input, no way to jam time codes, heats up fast and turns off during long shoots.

    DSLR’s are for wedding video people, not true professionals.

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