Why a DSLR & Video Page?
When hundreds of people are applying for the same job, it’s a fact of life that it’s often what’s NOT on the page that will get you hired. This applies to virtually every industry, and it is especially true in Hollywood.
When I was in film school in the early 1990′s, we had free access to equipment and facilities, yet it still took several months and about $10,000 to make a modest short film. Twenty years later, a feature film made on a $2500 DSLR camera was sold to Paramount for 4 million dollars! DSLR cameras are even being used in blockbuster feature films, such as the recent “Captain America.”
What does this mean for you? You could shoot your own short film, feature film, webisodes, sketch comedy, or documentary, and not only will it provide great production experience that will inform your writing, it may also be what gets you noticed, and what separates you from the rest of the pile.
I was university trained in film & television, and am an internationally award winning short film producer. In the last 13 years I have worked in reality TV editing, but I have also been a consultant (aka “gear guy”) to many television companies and networks in Toronto. I get insane about researching the latest video technologies, and I am happy to report my findings to you, to help you get started.
When possible, I will note the least expensive solution, a midrange solution, and the large wallet solution.
Especially if you are green at filmmaking or DSLR cameras, looking at the options can give you a major headache! I’ve done the research already, own my own Panasonic GH3 with a wide assortment of lenses, lights, and audio gear, and have bought most of the books I recommend and much of the equipment I’m recommending.
If you are interested in getting started, and are willing to buy your gear through the site to support the podcast, I would be more than happy to consult with you for free, to help you get set up with the right gear and resources.
For free consulting, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and give me an idea of your budget, wants, and needs.
DSLR OR CAMCORDER?
OK, DSLR cameras can shoot amazing video for less than $1000 (a basic Panasonic GH2 package). They have interchangeable lenses, a vastly larger sensor than video cameras (which results in shorter depth of field, higher quality, and better low light performance). Are they better than a $1500 video camcorder? If you want cinematic depth of field, yes. But are they better than a $6,000+ pro camcorder? Even the sub-$1000 Panasonic GH2 or $1,300 GH3 has been proven to shoot higher quality video than any other camera or camcorder under $3,000. Pros and cons are listed below. I personally have owned both, and use each type for different needs.
Some of the shortcomings of DSLR video as compared to a $5,000+ camcorder:
• No XLR audio input (which allows longer cable runs with no interference)
• Often no ability to monitor the audio (i.e. to hook up headphones)
• Less control over audio (often can’t turn off Auto Gain Control)
• Lossy H264 video codec, often capped at 44 Mbit data rate (though it is better than AVCHD)
• Canons may overheat when shooting more than 12 minutes continuously
• May not have uncompressed output or full raster 1920x1080p HDMI output
• “Rolling Shutter” which makes quick camera movements look like Jell-O
• Can exhibit moire artifacts with some types of patterned backgrounds (though Philip Bloom announced that a new $400 filter for the Canon 5D will fix the moire pattern, and development is underway for other Canon models)
• May not have interlaced shooting (though progressive is generally preferred, and more future-proof)
• May not have electronic viewfinder
• Not much optical stabilization — camcorders are much easier to hold steady, due to finely tuned stabilizers
• Not easy to shoulder-mount — you may need to accessorize with a lot of gear to approach ergonomics and functionality of a pro camcorder
• Auto-focus while in video mode doesn’t work as well as dedicated camcorders
• Power zoom
So why shoot video with DSLR?
• Larger sensor, which means higher quality at much lower price, great low light performance, and more shallow depth of field (for a more filmic look)
• Interchangeable lenses at low cost
• Access to incredibly wide selection of amazing lenses
• Can also take amazing still photos
• Usually lower cost overall, even taking extra gear into account
• Some have genuine 60p slow motion
• Can shoot 4K or higher timelapses (sometimes need external controller).
NOTE: While Canon and Nikon are better known because of the still photography world, the Panasonic GH3 mirrorless cameras have higher quality video output, cost only $1600 with lens, and solve many of the above issues. For instance, they have an electronic viewfinder, shoot up to 2 hours at better-than-broadcast quality, can shoot interlaced, can shoot at much higher data rates (up to 72 Mbit), don’t overheat, and can monitor audio. It has been proven to exceed the video quality even of the newest Canon and Nikon cameras. Plus, the lenses are compatible with the Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, so your investment can do double duty if you want to shoot RAW video too!
For a very shallow depth of field, you may wish to buy the expensive ($3500 without lens) Canon 5D Mk III or new Canon 6D ($2099 without lens). However, for virtually all uses I highly recommend the mirrorless Panasonic GH3 (large-aperture “fast” lenses are available that can give it a filmic shallow depth of field).
When would I choose a camcorder over a DSLR?
• Following focus is much easier with a camcorder (though GH3 can constantly autofocus while shooting video, unlike most DSLRs)
• Camcorders can smoothly zoom (some power zoom lenses are available for GH3 which do this)
• For many purposes, like ENG-style shooting, you don’t want a large depth of field
• Full HDMI or SDI out (on better camcorders) means you can record to external field recorder, at much higher quality, in 4:2:2 color space
• Usually higher fidelity onboard audio recording, with better manual control (on better camcorders)
• Better camcorders offer LANC remote control, which is helpful when using a crane or jib (though the newest DSLRs, like the GH3, go one step further with wireless viewing and control from an iOS or Android device).
EXPLAINED IN VIDEO: UK-based director/filmmaker Philip Bloom on the pros and cons of DSLR Movie Making (20:51)
Which DSLR Camera to Choose?
MY RECOMMENDED GEAR: PANASONIC GH3
At $1,299 for body only, it brings some powerhouse new features, including:
- 1080/60p for true slow motion – GREAT DEMAND for slow motion stock footage
- 72 Mbit All-I codec, with ready-to-edit Quicktime files — broadcast or cinema quality!
- No need to hack
- quad core processor (Canon and Nikon’s best are dual core)
- true time code
- clean 1080p HDMI output
- wireless control and viewing by iOS or Android device
- rugged, weather sealed design
- battery grip and XLR audio available
- headphone jack, wireless flash sync
SPECIAL MINI-AMAZON STORE WITH LENSES AND ACCESSORIES FOR GH2 AND GH3: CLICK HERE
What about 4K?
2014 is the year of 4K video. 4K is roughly 4 times the resolution of 1080p, and is the preferred format for digital cinema projection. While there are many flavors of 4K, the main formats are either “Cinema 4K,” which is 4096×2160 at 24 fps, or “QFHD 4K” (also called “Ultra HD” or “UHD”), which is 3840×2160 at up to 30 fps. The latest season of House of Cards was shot in 4K, and 4K televisions can be purchased for as low as $699 at your local Wal-Mart.
Unlike 3D, which is difficult to work with in production and post, and most consumers saw as an unnecessary gimmick, 4K is easy to work with and has many practical purposes. It allows you to project your image much larger, zoom in to your image without quality loss, and also future-proof your material. Are you still shooting anything in standard definition? We will be asking that question about 1080p soon enough.
LOWER BUDGET: PANASONIC GH4
The Panasonic GH4 is available for pre-order at $1,6990 (body only), and brings pristine full cinema 4K at this incredible price. Plus an adapter is available that gives you XLR audio inputs, and HD-SDI at 10-bit 4:2:2. If you want to shoot at 1080p, it offers 96 fps shutter speeds for amazing slow motion, and you can also shoot 4k and downsample via post processing to achieve a full 10 bit 4:4:4 color space!
It supports virtually any lens via inexpensive lens adapters, and the native micro 4/3 lenses offer amazing quality at very low prices.
PREFER TO ORDER FROM AMAZON.COM? NO PROBLEM!
Special Amazon mini-store for GH4, lenses & accessories: CLICK HERE
Check back here for more details as they develop, and please use podcast links to order when you do!
CLICK HERE for lots more info about the GH4 and sample footage.
HIGHER BUDGET: BLACKMAGIC PRODUCTION CAMERA 4K
The new Blackmagic Production Camera 4K is an amazing camera — recording ProRes 422 directly to SSD is a huge advantage. Plus, it offers a global shutter, which means no rolling shutter or jello shots with high movement. Plus, you can shoot RAW for incredible color grading flexibility in post.
The drawbacks are several: it still suffers from the black spot if you have a bright light source (like the sun) in your shot, and the file sizes are HUGE, especially if you’re shooting RAW. There are no audio meters, and not even an indicator for how much recording space is remaining. The EF lens mount may limit your lens options (for instance, no ENG zoom lenses). But after all these caveats, the footage is STUNNING, and at $2,995 (body only), this is the camera to beat if there’s much movement in the shot. Just be prepared to accessorize with a lot of gear, including audio preamps that show the audio level.
CLICK HERE to order the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, or the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.
Where to Buy Cameras & Accessories:
CLICK HERE to browse the TV Writer Podcast mini-store’s GH2/GH3 section.
CLICK HERE to browse the TV Writer Podcast mini-store’s DSLR & Video section.
• CLICK HERE to browse selection of LED lighting and audio gear
• CLICK HERE to browse other camera accessories, including camera rigs, LCD field monitors, and more
• CLICK HERE to browse Amazon.com’s full site, but still support the podcast.
OTHER WAYS TO BUY GEAR:
Did you know that online retailers often have the best deals, and you can sometimes get free shipping? If you use the links below, you pay the exact same as you would if you didn’t use them, but a small percentage of your purchase price goes to support the podcast.
BUY GEAR HERE (and support podcast):
Here is a continuously updated list of helpful DSLR & indie filmmaking sites (please add your suggestions to the comments below):
The Big Guns:
cinema5d.com – Massive forum for DSLR filmmakers. You might just interact with Hollywood cinematographers there!
www.hurlbutvisuals.com – tips from ASC cinematographers!
Other Blogs and Sites to Check Out:
blog.vincentlaforet.com – blog of Pulitzer-winning French American photographer.
philipbloom.net/blog – blog of UK-based director/filmmaker Philip Bloom.
Kirk Tuck’s “Visual Science Lab” blog – Look for his articles on LED lighting!
milapse’s YouTube Channel – Amazing timelapses, including HDR (High Dynamic Range) timelapses.
rossching.com – LA-based director, known for his amazing “Eclectic” timelapse videos.
DSLR & FILMMAKING BOOKS:
Please add your book suggestions to the comments below. Buying books through the site helps support the podcast too!
• DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video – Kurt Lancaster
• From Still to Motion: A photographer’s guide to creating video with your DSLR – James Ball, Robbie Carman, Matt Gottshalk, Richard Harrington
• Mastering HD Video with Your DSLR – Helmut Kraus, Uwe Steinmueller
• Video Shooter, 2nd Edition: Storytelling with HD Cameras – Barry Braverman
• The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques – Barry Anderson, Janie L. Geyen
• Master Shots: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie – Christopher Kenworthy
• 101 Top Tips for DSLR Video: Using Your Camera to Make Great Movies – David Newton
• Killer Camera Rigs That You Can Build: How to Build Your Own Camera Cranes, Car Mounts, Stabilizers, Dollies, and More! – Dan Selakovich
• Photocine: Digital Filmmaking with DSLRs – Lou Lesko, Michael Britt, Snehal Patel
• The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition – Gustavo Mercado
Even books relating to still photography are helpful, for learning about lenses, lighting, and camera gear, and to master exposure, composition, close-ups, night photography, high dynamic range (useful for timelapses), and much more.
• Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set – Scott Kelby
• Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition – Bryan Peterson
• Understanding Close-Up Photography – Bryan Peterson
• Contemporary Landscape Photography – Carl Heilman
• Night Photography: Finding your way in the Dark – Lance Keimig
• Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography – Ferrell McCollough
SELLING STOCK FOOTAGE:
Do you know that you can make thousands of dollars, just by uploading your videos to a stock footage site? If you have general interest videos between 5 and 60 seconds, that are well lit, focused, and shot (preferably on a tripod), you can upload them to a stock footage site. You set the price, and 50% of every sale goes in your pocket. One example… a single 30-second shot of a crowd of people walking made the artist over $60,000!
CLICK HERE for lots more info!