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Thread: What is this I hear about using DSLR cameras for shooting video?

  1. #1

    Cool What is this I hear about using DSLR cameras for shooting video?

    Hello All,

    I have heard here and there, references to videoing an event with DSLR cameras.

    But aren't DSLR cameras for still photography? I mean, yeah, they probably have some onboard video capability, but would not a camcorder be best?

    I have heard this reference from some serious video editors in charge of editing footage for T.V. or cable broadcast.

    Can anyone clarify this for me?


  2. #2


    DSLRs have both positive and negative elements regarding video.

    The DSLR craze took off very quickly following the initial release of the Nikon D90 (720p) and then the 5D mkII (1080p).

    I've used both real video cameras and DSLRs professionally over many years and have worked around the issues where needed.

    When talking about DSLR for video most people are indirectly referencing the Canon line of DSLR, but of course others exist and the numbers are growing.

    The biggest problem of DSLRs from a 'video' point of view (leaving audio aside for a second) is that they have typically used a line skipping method to get from a high resolution sensor down to a 1080p picture. This caused many problems, including aliasing (the stair stepping on straight lines), moiré (coloured artefacts on fine detail) and relatively low over all resolution. While the files are encoded in a 1080p wrapper, the level of resolvable detail was rarely more than 750-800 lines within the 1080 line encoding. To editors and producers used to working with true 1080 resolution the DSLR images can look a little muddy.

    DSLRs have a certain 'look' to them, especially full frame cameras such as the 5D2 and 5D3. That look is a combination of full frame (35mm) sensors and fast primes. All of a sudden people could get really shallow DOF quite easily, while also being able to shoot in quite low light situations. Many people jumped on the bandwagon thinking this was the secret to a 'filmic' look. In reality films had never been shot with that shallow a DOF because Hollywood never shot with full frame 35mm film anyway! 35mm film is approx half that of 35mm still photography, and the majority of digital film making cameras use a crop sensor, not 'full frame'. The DOF people were obtaining with DSLRs was in fact shallower than had been seen before, but in turn that makes it much harder to work with because keeping a moving subject in-focus is also much harder.

    The next problem was the codec. DSLRs compressed the hell out of the files, typically coming down to an 8 bit 4:2:0 H264 24mbit codec that robbed even more detail, while smoothing out the digital noise just a little. While DSLRs were shooting stills in raw mode, the video frames were more highly compressed than JPEG files and were not as highly malleable in post production. Could it be done? Of course, famous examples exist, like episodes of 'House' or some Hollywood films that used them when they needed small cameras to get in tight spaces.

    Next was the problem of rolling shutter 'jello'. The bigger sensors were slower to read the data from, so as the camera panned through the scene, or as people / objects move sideways through a scene (even on a fixed camera) there was a warping of the image due to time shifting of the sensor read out.

    Then we have all the audio problems. The built in microphones are Ok for home movies, but for professional use - forget it. And the idea that you can feed external audio in through the poor quality pre-amps and get pro-quality audio doesn't fly either (if you are quality critical), so professional film making stuck with dual audio, i.e. the real audio was captured using external high quality devices (think Sound Devices, not cheap zooms etc), then sync'd in post production. The cheaper end of the market of course adopted the cheaper solutions, e.g. the Zoom H4n etc. and most people were happy.

    As time went on, camera manufacturers started listening more. The 5D3 addressed the aliasing and moiré issues, but in doing so they blurred the picture a little, and I've never been entirely happy with the final result, even when sharpened, compared to dedicated cameras like the C300, C100 etc. The 5D3 was also capable of higher bit rates, getting around the older 24mbit H264 problem, even adding intra-frame encoding, but alas the picture quality still wasn't 'stunning'. It took Magic Lantern raw to start to truly exploit the possibilities, but the workflow is cumbersome.

    The Panasonic GH4 has taken a step further and gone to 4K. The output of this camera is truly amazing, has a higher bit rate encoding and frankly blows away most video cameras, provided you can keep things within it's dynamic range and have good glass. Like any other camera, if you stick a jam jar lens in front, you get less than great footage. The new Sony A7s also has amazing low light capabilities, but being native 3200 ISO requires a lot of ND filters to use in broad daylight at low shutter speeds shooting wide open.

    Auto focus is the something not present in the early DSLRs but it's starting to show it's head now in various different cameras models. Of course professionally, cameras didn't have auto focus, and Hollywood (and TV) has employed 'focus pullers' to keep the camera in focus while the camera was operated by the camera man. Lack of auto focus was seen by many as a reason the DSLRs were not 'professional' but in reality they were only showing ignorance of how professional shooting actually happens.

    So, does all this mean that DSLRs have no place in film making, or content for TV / Cable? No, it just means that those using them have to be aware of the limitations and be prepared to work around them. There are quite a few program makers using them for various reasons, but of course not everyone likes them and people will find both reasons to use them or not to use them where it suits. If you can accept that 'some' of the DSLRs aren't producing true 1080p footage, have horribly compressed footage and some nasty digital noise that you'll have to work around in post then yeah, you can quite happily use them. If someone asked me to do a job and insisted the only cameras we could use were DSLRs then no problem. OTOH if they said they wanted something 'better' then of course DSLRs may not be the right choice.

    They are not a perfect tool, but then no tools are perfect for every situation.

  3. #3


    Thanks very much Dave!

    Great information. Would have never known.

    If I was a still photog I would go for the DSLR with video.

    But I think a camcorder will be my best bet.

    Thanks again!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2014


    My partner is a professional wedding photographer and I've been having her film me on her DSLR. The quality is amazing!

  5. Default

    My friend also had a DSLR at my wedding last june NOT BAD....4k FTW

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