Pros and Cons of using DSLRs for video

The pros of using DSLRs for video have led to their use by professional TV and movie studios. DSLRs make use of large and very good image sensors, record in high resolutions and give any user the ability to change and experiment with other lenses; therefore the image quality and visual look will naturally be of a very high standard, almost comparable to professional video cameras but costing much less. DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II offer a 35mm full frame sensor and 1080p quality video recording.

Due to their narrow depth of field the user has a huge advantage in creating stylistic pieces and cinematic effects by playing with shallow focus (which is regarded as a professional look by filmmakers in some scenes) wherein the subject is in focus and the background is blurred. Scenes like these are better suited for drama films, scenes with dialogue, beautiful shots (landscapes, animals, etc) or artistic pieces giving emphasis on a particular object or person. For example, one of the episodes of the TV show House was shot entirely on a 5D Mark II and Greg Yaitanes, the director of the show, said that DSLRs like the Canon are the future. Some parts of Marvel’s The Avengers and Drive were shot on a 5D Mark II too. The 5D is also capable of producing good shots in low-light situations. It boasts 24FPS (23.976) recording – due to this frame rate fast movements may appear to stagnate, giving the impression of an ‘artistic’ movie. This also gives it the compatibility with motion picture film cameras (the 5D can also record in 29.97 and 25.00FPS). Mobility is an important factor for film crews and a DSLR can be considered portable when compared to professional cameras, especially when trying to film in tight or hard to access spaces.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark II was the first DSLR to offer 1080p video recording

The narrow depth of field can be a problem for shooting other scenarios, such as action or sports scenes, handheld sequences, crowded scenes or scenes with a lot of movement or fast panning. DSLRs have to work hard to continually auto focus, therefore the video quality will suffer in such instances and deteriorate greatly by not keeping the shot in focus. Manual focus would be required for such instances and even with that, the object may still go out of focus or may be lost entirely. The user has to be experienced to know when manual focus is required, for example, achieving a good shallow focus will require manual focus on the subject and a tripod.

The main problem with DSLRs is the audio quality as the built-in microphone is often only capable of recording mono sound which offers minimal quality. It will pick up noise, wind and other unwanted sounds. One can argue that this problem can be overcome if an external sound microphone is attached, but functionality will be limited. Furthermore, there are sometimes limitations in recording length. For example, movie clips shot on the 5D Mark II are limited to 4GB (which is approx. 12mins of 1080p footage), so using DSLRs for concerts or documentaries with long recording times would not be practical. The battery life may wear out quickly when using the video recording function as its intended use was to take photos, and not constantly record.

DSLRs also suffer from ‘rolling shutter’, when the image sensor takes time to record each frame when scanning from top to bottom, meaning that the image recorded at the bottom may be different to the one at the top. Whilst it can be reduced by adjusting the frame rate and shutter speed, it becomes less of a problem as newer DSLRs have better software and processing to minimise this (for example the 5D Mark III suffers much less than the 5D Mark II). The 5D is also known to get hot when shooting video (Page 13 of the USA users guide, dated January 2010, states the 5D Mark II can cause “slight skin burns.”) so it is advised to cool the camera between takes, making it impractical for long use.

Overall DSLRs offer superb video quality with professional looking effects (shallow depth of field) but have their limitations and cannot be used for all situations.


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