Inexpensive Video-Capable DSLRs Now Used in Big-Budget Productions
The affordable price of video-capable DSLR cameras from Canon are an obvious attraction for independent filmmakers, but the revolutionary cameras are also attracting attention from Hollywood and television shows. Lucasfilm used the 5D, 7D and 1D cameras for footage in their new WWII movie Red Tails, using both DSLRs and the Sony F35. “The footage [created with DSLRs] inter-cut with the footage we saw on the F35 was indistinguishable,” says Lucasfilm's Rick McCallum.
In Red Tails, the DSLR was essential for shots in airplane cockpits that would have been impossible with traditional cameras. Similarly, director of photography Gale Tattersall used 5D Mark II cameras in the season 6 finale of the television show House for “ease of use in tight spaces.” Virtually every episode of season 7 of the show uses Canon DSLRs in some way.
If you watched any episode of Saturday Night Live in the 2009/2010 season of the show, you saw Canon DSLR cameras in action; the opening sequence was shot entirely on the D5 Mark II and D7. The directors used these cameras in place of traditional cameras for their stealth factor and unassuming nature. The goal was to capture profiles of people on New York's streets, so the small size and portability of the DSLRs made it easier to capture people behaving as they would on a typical Saturday night. (Large camera rigs and crews tend to draw a little more attention than a guy holding a camera.)
DSLRs are becoming more common on the equipment lists of documentary filmmakers, as in Danfung Dennis' documentary Obama's War, but the documentary style is also useful in big-ticket films such as Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Canon DSLRs were used in scenes of the hit 2011 movie so the cinematographers could move the camera as if they were documenting real people's lives; this lends to the real-life feel of the film.
A myriad of examples in movies today give DSLR cameras credibility, even in the initial stages of video-capable DSLR development. Currently, the cameras are often used as B cameras, or secondary cameras, rather than the primary cameras on a set. This is likely to change quickly when DSLRs carry the capability of exporting RAW (uncompressed) footage and when cinema-style lenses are developed for them – two large limitations currently associated with DSLRs in the movie industry. We are likely to see more use of these agile cameras in Hollywood as more directors and cinematographers embrace the capabilities of DSLR video.
DSLR Video and Photography Writer