The Advantages of DSLR for HD Video

When pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), emotion was high as supporters flooded the place of her release. Relief, elation and intense optimism electrified the moment when she emerged to a flood of supporters. The event made headlines across the nation, and Aung San Suu Kyi's face graced the cover of Time magazine. However, only one reporter was able to capture high-quality HD footage of her first public appearance and the events that lead up to her release; a reporter for Sky News equipped with a video-capable DSLR (or vDSLR), the Canon 5D Mark ii, evaded authorities and covered the event despite the outlaw of reporters.

While other reporters flew under the authority's radar by using mini-sized camcorders, the Sky News reporter was able to pull off the tourist look with a compact DSLR. In some situations, vDSLRs poses significant advantages over bulky cameras typically used to cover events, and mini, hand-held camcorders that are saturating the market.

The benefits of the vDSLR over mini camcorders lie in the amount of control you have over the camera. Lenses can be switched out to achieve different focal lenghts (you can "zoom in" more or get wider shots) and greater depth of field. Shallow depth of field, which allows you to blur the background while keeping the subject in sharp focus, is a highly sought-after quality in professional video production, and can only be achieved with quality lenses offered by vDSLRs and professional video cameras. In addition, the quality of the lens can dramatically improve the quality of the image captured by the camera, and larger, interchangeable lenses are essential for capturing sharp, distortion-free images. The ability to manually focus, zoom and control features that determine how much light comes into your camera also set vDSLRs apart from their mini counterparts.

While the advantage of vDSLRs over smaller, less expensive camcorders may be obvious, the advantages over larger professional cameras may not be as apparent on first glance. These advantages are primarily due to the vDSLR's affordability and compact size. Video-capable DSLR cameras are a fraction of the cost of professional video cameras, yet they retain the image quality expected from professional video cameras. Indeed, vDSLRs sometimes exceed the quality of professional video cameras due to their larger and more advanced sensor sizes. These sensors allow for extremely shallow depth of field and increased image quality in low-light and night shots. While night shots still look grainy on vDSLRs, the noise is considerably reduced compared to dedicated video cameras.

But possibly the biggest advantage vDSLRs have over professional video cameras is the ability to take the camera to places that would be impossible to take other video cameras, and for the unassuming look of the smaller camera. The Sky News reporter was able to look like a tourist rather than a reporter; the only reason he was able to capture the incredible footage. Video-enabled DSLRs attract less attention, allowing vidoegraphers to acquire footage without drawing attention from the crowd. They can also fit in smaller spaces to enable shots that would be impossible with bulkier video cameras. Airplane travel is simplified, packing up gear is expedited and mobility is increased with the vDSLR.

While it will not replace the professional dedicated video camera, the vDSLR is becoming increasingly popular for its compact size, affordability and professional results, and is appearing on television sets, on indie film sets and snugly in the bags of news reporters everywhere. You can see the Canon that caught the images here.


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Feb 11, 2011
by Anonymous

DSLR vs Professional Camcorder

I had the opportunity to take a Canon T2i for a month long shooting assignment in Thailand.
Overall I agree with the author The camera was lightweight and attracted little attention so I could get some candid shots I wouldn't have been able to get with a regular professional video camera.
The shallow depth of field was both a plus and a minus.
Getting critical focus is extremely important in HD. A shallow depth of field made that even more difficult since DSLR's are mostly set up to frame and focus using the tiny LCD screen.

Here's My major complaints with the T2i (and any similar still camera):

1. You can only view and focus using the small LCD screen...which is useless in bright sunlight. Many daylight shots were not sharply focused, framing was off or it was too difficult to see what the "actors" were doing. Video cameras all have electronic viewfinders which makes them much easier for viewing in bright daylight and for critical focus.

2. T2i (and all other DSLRs) overheats or shuts off at 12 minutes of recording (HD). That made it difficult when I was doing interviews. I would have to stop in the middle of a long interview and restart the camera or wait for the "overheat" warning light to go away. A video camera can record endlessly without a long as you can keep switching "cards" when one becomes full. And it doesn't overheat.

3. The audio on the T2i is terrible. I used my external wireless mic connected to the "audio input" but the T2i has automatic gain that can't be overridden so even if you use a good mic, it's going to pick up "hissing noise" between audio pauses . You can't over ride the AGC "auto" . A video camera has manual and auto modes(I never use auto) PLUS you can adjust the sound levels and see the audio levels on screen (which you can't on the T2i)

4. The T2i can only be operated at eye level. A video camera has an articulating monitor so you can shoot low angle , high angle and unusual angle shots. Because you have to frame using the LCD screen you always have to hold the camera in front of your face. Some DSLRS are coming out with articulating LCD screens , though. If you are set on a DSLR for video, you will want to choose one of these.

5. When you try to focus or zoom while shooting , the T2i picks up the slightest lens noise and records it as a loud "freight train"....which messes up the audio. So if audio is important and you are relying on the camera microphone, Don't zoom or rack focus while shooting. Good video cameras do a very good job of isolating the noise created while zooming and focusing

6. The T2i has No way to monitor sound through a headset. There is no "headset audio out". So in order to make sure the sound is decent you have to record a test shot, play it back and listen carefully through the tinny audio playback monitor on the camera. A video camera has outputs for headsets so you can monitor what the sound is as you record and then play it back to check.

There were a lot of other little annoying features but those were the main ones.

Mar 4, 2011
by Kyle Fiechter

There are definitely a lot

There are definitely a lot of shortfalls in these cameras as well, as they are designed for stills, not video. However, there are workarounds, which you are probably aware of. I'll be focusing on these workarounds in subsequent blogs, in an attempt to provide low-cost solutions to these shortfalls. Of course, some aspects of DSLRs are not going to perform up to the standards of more expensive camcorders, like the 12 minute recording time. Thanks for your comments.