//Avoiding the DSLR Temptation

Avoiding the DSLR Temptation

It’s hard to explain why but so far I’ve managed to avoid the DSLR temptation. I think that avoidance is based on a little bit of hoping for video camera that offers the results a 5DMkII produces and little of looking at the workflow involved with using a DSLR to shoot with and thinking “you’re kidding.” I must say the waiting part has been getting rather old. There are some excellent cameras out there but what I’m hoping for is one with interchangeable lens, XLR inputs, shoots to SD, 4:2:2 quality, and won’t break the bank (under $10k).

Panasonic has the AF-100 while Sony boosts the new and promising FS-100. There’s also the beautiful JVC GY-HM700U that works with an optional MTF adapter for interchangeable lens and I’m finding it tempting indeed especially given it’s ENG friendly design. The options are appearing, although slower than I hoped they would, and along with the options there’s a collection of fans and critics.

I’ll start by saying why I haven’t crossed over into the DSLR world. First and foremost I’m a videographer. I was a photojournalist first and I still do the odd photo assignment but that line of work seems to have dried up in my region. So I switched to shooting video with a Canon HV20 (this was in my newspaper days), than an XH A1, and now a JVC GY-HD100U. I’ve also shot with a Sony EX and a variety of broadcast cameras. While I love the size on the JVC it has some shooting limitations (low light and DoF) I’m hoping to overcome with an interchangeable lens camera. So, as much as I love the JVC it’s not a good fit for the new line of work. Doesn’t explain why not a DSLR does it? OK, here goes.


Going by my experience shooting video with a DSLR is like fitting a round peg into a square hole. They weren’t designed for videographers they were designed for photojournalists hoping to add some video to their assignments. Everything after the initial “WOW” factor, and it was a big wow factor, is an afterthought. The DoF produced by some DSLRs is stunning and it literally opened up a world of aftermarket add-ons so that DSLR could feel and shoot more like a video camera. IEBA Communications President Anthony Burokas writes “By the time you rig it (a DSLR) out to do everything an ENG camera can, you got the same thing- actually, compared to velcroing two receivers on an ENG camera, I think frankenrig looks and operates much worse. Try feathering a smooth zoom onto your subject while racking focus and opening up the iris- the viewfinder showing you critical peaking for accurate focus and internal waveforms showing your light levels… and the built in speaker next to your ear confirming not only good audio, but that the zoom is motivated by what the actress- some 20 feet away, is saying.” Round peg, square hole.

Of course this is the ergonomics of shooting. If I was still shooting for newspapers I’d go with a DSLR for the odd video because my bread and butter would be still images but now it’s moving pictures so it’s a case of the right tool for the right job. Anthony does a great job of breaking down the issue in his article vDSLRs are not smaller & lighter, nor cheaper. It’s a good read with some photographs to drive the point home. He also delves into the operational factor of using a DSLR for video.

If I’m going to shoot shoulder mounted with an ENG camera it’s as simple as lifting it out of the bag, turning it on, lifting it into place and hitting record. You can’t do that with a DSLR rig because the camera doesn’t function that way. For example a Nikon D3 shoots video via the following steps (as provided by Simon Stafford over at pixiq.com):

  • Before activating Live View, select
[Tripod] mode via the Shooting menu
  • Set the camera to manual focus mode
  • Activate Live View by pressing the LV button
  • Press the OK button to open exposure preview mode
  • Press the info button repeatedly to scroll the information display screens to display a composite (luminance), real-time histogram
  • Adjust the shutter speed to 1/50-second
  • Set the aperture for the required depth of field and adjust the ISO sensitivity to achieve a proper exposure using the exposure preview scale and histogram display on the monitor screen
  • Press the info button again to set aspect ratio
  • Press the Pv button to start recording
  • Here’s the breakdown for my JVC GY-HD100U:

    • Turn it on
    • Hit record

    Every camera is different of course and I’m sure some DSLRs have an easier recording setup but I am willing to bet that none of them have an easier recording setup or are easier to shoot video with than a video camera. With a broadcast camera one can change the audio levels, the gain, focus, aperture, zoom, ND filters, and the white balance without taking your eyes off the viewfinder. Once you get used to that it’s hard to look at something else and think it’d be a better fit.

    Quality wise I’m envious. The material out there from DSLRs has changed how I want to shoot and what I want to create. Simply put the images are stunningly beautiful and I can’t wait to pick up a video camera that I can put a 50mm f1.4 on and see what I can do. Until then I guess my DSLR will do but I’m not contacting the Borg anytime soon to buy some of their gear so I can turn the still camera I have into the video camera I want.

    Over at EOS HD there’s an article titled The Sony FS100 – Why professionals are all mad. Essentially the argument is around the new Sony FS-100 and how much it costs. Pro gear can be pricey, no question, but you usually do get more for the added cost. In this case the author, Andrew Ried, states that the only thing you get over a DSLR for the added price is more buttons and that the end result is the same. For me those added buttons make all the difference in the world and they’re not only what separates a DSLR from a professional video camera but they’re also the reason videographers who choose to shoot with a DSLR have to dress it up so much.

    Thinking of a DSLR for video? You might want to read Philip Blooms Which “Video DSLR” to buy?.

    Good shooting!

    2016-10-21T21:44:09+00:00April 4th, 2011|Categories: Random Posts|Tags: |4 Comments


    1. Julie April 8, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      My friend Keith shoots all his films on a DSLR with a separate audio feed and they look fantastic!

    2. […] Avoiding the DSLR Temptation […]

    3. Glen Canning April 5, 2011 at 12:02 am

      Thanks for your comment. I’d compare what I’m trying to say to pointing out that theatre is different then cinema so if my preference was cinema I wouldn’t set myself up to perform theatre and vis versa.

      The GH2 has XLR inputs?

    4. konstantin semin April 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm

      Totally disagree. My GH2 has all the options of your ENG cam except auto ND filters. It takes 2 minutes to get ready. I can use a long lens to zoom to your actress and simply won’t play with focus while doing so cause it will look weird. All in all your take is clear but…. Wrong!!! I would rather draw division lines between dslrs and prof cams like phantom, red, etc. Resolution, sensor size and frame rate are important these days. What u are trying to do is like defending theatre against the advance of cinema in the 1900s

    Comments are closed.