Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras Shoot Video
The Canon EOS Rebel T2i
Retail for $899, including an 18-55 mm kit lens
The Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras have taken the video and film worlds by storm. Looking very much like Single Lens Reflex cameras, these cameras can also function as High Definition camcorders. And what makes this special is the shallow depth of field that is possible. That feature is one that separates the typical feature film look from the typical look of video.
The DSLRs have larger sensors than most camcorders and this allows for shallow depth of field which is a common visual trait of movies. The resolution is still 1080 or 720, but it’s that pleasing look of throwing the background out of focus which gives the image that “film look” which videographers have been chasing for years. Video, on the other hand, often exhibits a deep depth of field so that most everything is in focus. This removes the mystery and dream-like quality that makes film so special.
Another way to get that shallow depth of field film look is with a 35mm adapter. You can use 35mm lenses on some video cameras with these special adapters that provide the depth of field characteristics of 35mm film on your 1/3″ chip or similar video camera. You can also use them on 2/3″ chip cameras, but the adapters work best on the smaller chips.
Here are some of the players in the 35mm adapter field:
The other factor that helps video look like film is 24p. This is video that captures 24 frames per second rather than the normal 30 frames per second. The “p” means the frames are scanned by a progressive mode rather than the normal interlace (or every other frame) mode of video. Film cameras record at 24 frames per second so recording video at this rate also makes it look more like film than video.
These two aesthetics – shallow depth of field and 24p – are what make these cameras appealing for video production.
Here’s an example of what you can do with the Canon 5D Mark II. Reverie, is an independently-produced short video by Director of Photography Vincent Laforet.
There are a number of challenges for shooting video with these cams.
1. You’ll need to add a monitor since the fixed LCD makes shooting awkward.
2. Audio is problematic. So far no DSLRs with XLR inputs. Most do not have manual audio controls. There’s no jack for headphones.
These days there are some great audio options. For more information on the audio digital recorders see the Audio Forum at VideoUniversity.
3. There’s no power zoom.
4. Zebras are pretty different on these cameras.
5. The CMOS sensors, unlike the CCD sensors, have a problem called rolling shutter that is evident when there is vibration or fast panning.
While this was not shot with a DSLR, this video clearly shows the jello effect in a CMOS camera, Canon’s HV20. Some claim it is caused by the rolling shutter while others claim it is caused by the optical image stabilization.
Not all CMOS-based pro video cameras such as the Sony EX1 and EX3, and the Red One show this much “jellocam.” They may show some image distortion on rapid pans or subject motion, but far less than the this is far less that is seen with Combocams.
6. There are no built-in ND filters with DSLR cameras because still cameras unlike video cameras can use aperture, shutter and ISO to control exposure and therefore aperture settings. Most video camcorders have built-in ND filters to help you choose your lens aperture and resulting depth of field.
Zacuto has a whole range of pricey accessories that allow users to make DSLR’s work much like camcorders and film cameras. You can add a follow focus, matt box and other accessories common to cinematography.
7. Storage cards have limited space of 22 minutes.
In a refreshing move a young man and his father in Sweden created a DIY wooden DSLR shoulder rig inspired by the Zacuto hardware.
The Canon 5D Mark II shoots great looking 1080P video:
It allows many more lenses, anything that can be adapted to the EF mount. Its 35mm full-frame sensor is larger than the RED ONE’s sensor. This gives it shallower depth-of-field than any camera or camcorder, except for the Phantom 65.
The dynamic range and latitude are close to the capabilities of high-end HD cameras.
It’s better in low light than any other video camera including the Red One.
Despite these significant advantages the Canon 5D Mark II still has some debilitating disadvantages for video. So one adventurous soul, Trammell Hudson, wrote his own firmware to bring camcorder luxuries to this DSLR.
It’s called Magic Lantern. It improves audio recording by adding onscreen level meters, disabling automatic gain control, and adding manual gain control. It improves video by enabling zebra stripes and the various crop marks for 16:9, 2.35:1 and 4:3.
Here’s a video which explains the Magic Lantern in more detail.
Magic Lantern introduction from Trammell Hudson.
It’s not yet sanctioned by Canon so there is some risk to installing it on your camera. I’d guess that Canon will, sooner or later, adopt this or similar firmware. For more information or to download it.
Philip Bloom, a UK based Director of Photography has created something of a cottage industry showing people how to get film like results from these DSLR cameras.
Bloom interviewed GREG YAITANES, the director of the TV series”House.” The season finale of this show was shot entirely with a Canon 5D Mark II. Canon called this “a paradigm shift in the way professional cinematographers and filmmakers capture HD video.” At the same time Canon never made this camera to be a movie camera even though many are planning to use it for low budget feature film work.
Bruce Dorn, a professional photographer and videographer working for Canon
offers the following tips for shooting with the Canon EOS Rebel T2i
A good shutter speed for video is 1/50th second. That’s the “classic sweet spot”
* Set the ISO to 200.
* The aperture setting of F/5.6 is favored by many cinematographers. Most lenses look best at this aperture.
• Shoot at 24 fps video capture.
• Avoid auto white balance at all costs. Instead, pick one white balance mode and stick with it throughout the video.
What are your experiences with these DSLR cameras?