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.