A More User Friendly Camera

So, last week we looked at some of the advantages and disadvantages of shooting video with the DSLR. Here’s another look at the disadvantages and what we can do to make these cameras a bit more user – friendly.

Ergonomics not suited for video
These cameras are designed for stills and work great for that but trying to hold them steady for video is another matter. The camera is just too small and even too light. Some sort of support is needed. A tripod helps of course but you need support off the tripod at times and that’s where a shoulder rig comes in handy. There are all kinds of companies now offering shoulder rigs specifically for these DSLRs. Zacuto, Redrock, IndiSYSTEM, Jag35, just to name a few of the more popular ones. Most come with a hefty price tag.

No auto focus while shooting
No solution to this right now. Although pro film makers rarely rely on auto focus, there are times when it comes in handy and with the DSLR, you can’t auto focus due to the mirror. The mirror blocks the viewfinder.

Difficult to manually focus
Since the mirror blocks the viewfinder, you need to compose and focus with the lcd screen – not ideal, but it works. Outdoors or when critical focus is needed it helps greatly to have a magnifying loupe over the lcd. This magnifies the image, blocks any possible glare and adds another point of contact to minimize camera shake. A must have accessory in my opinion. Zacuto, Hoodman, Cavision, LCDVF and Letus now make loupes for the lcd.

Poor audio : no balanced xlr, no audio meters, no headphone jack
Audio in a film is as important or some will say more important that the visuals. The DSLR has a very poor quality mic which picks up all the camera handling noises. Most also have evil AGC (auto gain control) with no way of turning it off. And without a headphone jack or visible audio meters, you have no idea what the camera is recording. The best way around all of these issues is to record on a separate device with high quality mics. The Zoom H4N and The Tascam DR-100 are two popular compact recorders that take xlr mics, show levels and have headphone jacks. Only disadvantage to recording to a separate device is that it requires extra time in post (editing) syncing the video to the audio. Another solution to poor audio is using a high quality preamp along with an external mic. JuicedLink and Beachtek make great somewhat compact amps which eliminate the AGC in some of the DSLRs.

No auto zoom
No solution here although this is not a huge disadvantage in my opinion. It’s rarely used by the pro shooters and way overused by the amateur. You can do some zoom in post if you really need to.

No image stabilization built into the body – need to rely on noisy lens stabilizers
The image stabilization even on the cheap consumer cams work much better than the ones on these DSLRs however that said, anything helps so when looking at purchasing a lens for video, look for those that have the IS feature. Every little bit helps. Just be aware that the IS motors in the lens makes noise that your mic can pick up.

No built in ND filter
When shooting in video mode, you are usually shooting at shutter speeds of 1/50 sec – 1/125 sec so you need neutral density filters to cut light when shooting outdoors. Also, one of the great advantages of shooting video with these DSLRs is the ability to shoot with fast lenses that allow you to produce very shallow depth of field. To do so outdoors, you need a very strong ND filter.

Records only 12 minutes at a time
The 12 minute limit is because that’s roughly 4GB at full res HD… 4GB is relevant because that’s the maximum file size on the FAT32 file format used with these compact flash cards. If you drop down to standard definition you can record about 24 minutes of video. After that, you just need to power the camera off, then on again to resume shooting.

Can produce rolling shutter and aliasing
Rolling shutter is an issue because of the CMOS chip and how the camera records the image. Only way to prevent or reduce it is to try and keep the camera movement to a minimum. Aliasing is an issue for any camera thanks to the great lenses we have these days. Best way to avoid or reduce aliasing is to watch for it and change angles or focus. Also, turning down the sharpness of your lens can help.

Overheating issues
The DSLRs in video mode can really tax the camera’s processor – especially if left running to the 4 gig limit when shooting in heat. The camera will warn you that it’s over heating so all you can do is turn the camera off to let it cool.

Highly-compressed codec
The files coming from these DSLR’s look beautiful on the computer screen but unfortunately are highly compressed and not so great for editing. Canon uses the superior H.264-based codec which is of higher quality than the MJPEG codec of Nikon and Pentax and the lower-bitrate AVCHD offering from Panasonic. But, we’ll see better codecs from all in the near future.

No raw format
This is a huge drawback. Your post production work suffers without the image control raw offers. Just like not having raw format for your stills. When will we see it for DSLRs? Not soon enough!

So, that’s a look at the drawbacks of shooting video with a DSLR. Some are certainly a hassle but the image quality these cameras produce makes it all worthwhile.

In later posts, we’ll look in more detail at some of these issues and solutions.

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