The benefits of using a DSLR to shoot video

The benefits of using a DSLR to shoot video

By Steve on January 26, 2011

When shooting professional video, there is a hot debate going on at the moment as the traditional Prosumer HDV camcorder is seeing huge competition from DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras with HD video capabilities. This all began when Canon released the Canon 5D MkII with a bolted on ability to take quick HD quality (up to 1920×1080) video at the flick of a switch.

Canon 5D MkII

This was designed for the likes of wedding photographers who wanted a quick 10-20 seconds of footage to compliment their stills of the day. As such the video “add-on” was limited in it’s manual control, but after users saw the potential of the camera’s video capturing ability from the likes of Vincent Laforet’s Reverie and a host of user hacks to unlock the cameras functions for full user control Canon released a new firmware update which allowed for different resolutions, frame rates and full user control of exposure.

(Note: the HD version has been removed by Canon due to bandwidth issues)

After this the floodgates opened and the DSLR was seen as a cheaper alternative to Prosumer HDV camcorders and their characteristics when capturing footage with their large image sensor, interchangeable lenses and high bit rate linked more to film production than digital capture.

And their lie the strengths of the DSLR as a professional filming camera. With their much larger sensor size they are able to capture footage with shallower depth of field (more like film) and lower noise levels leading to a clearer picture. Indie film makers saw the potential of the DSLR as a film camera; allowing them to be more creative, have full control of the shot and at a fraction of the cost of using either real film cameras of HDV equipment.

The use of HD capturing DSLR cameras rather than traditional camcorders and even film cameras is becoming more common as their features improve and more end users begin to use them. Recently the Canon 5D MkII (considered the daddy of HD DSLR videography) has been used for SNL (Saturday Night Live) in the US. It replaced the traditional 35mm film cameras for “Help Me” episode of House and the seventh series, BBC Two comedy Shelfstackers and upcoming series of BBC One Hustle. As well as these accolades the DSLR has been taken to the hearts of Indie film makers as their medium of choice as far as image quality, productivity, expandability and cost savings compared to traditional film or converting HDV format to match something similar to shot film in post video production.

With any emerging technology there are known weaknesses, and with DSLR cameras it would be the sound recording abilities, and the form factor. If you are able to invest in a basic sound recording setup or are happy with the camera’s built in recording abilities then that is not such as issue. And you can purchase or build one of the many custom rigs for making a traditional “camera” form factor feel more camcorder-ish in the users shoulder. Unless most of your shots will be mounted on a tripod, in which case the feel of the camera is not an issue. The finished product and benefits mentioned above far outweigh the current weaknesses identified by users.

Example of custom rig for DSLR cameras
Example of a professional rig from

If you have been thinking of taking the plunge into video production, and looking for quality HD recording equipment which is within your budget – a HD capable DSLR may well be suited for you. Being a Canon shooter, and several years under my belt shooting commerical photography (including wedding photographywith Canon EOS models I tend to be a Canon Fanboy slightly biased towards Canon. However, in the photography and videographer sites on the net Canon’s are considered to have the edge over rivals such as Nikon and Sony when it comes to shooting HD footage. This does of course depend on what kit you currently have, and the cost in investing in new lenses, mounts etc for a specific brand tends to steer you towards the camera make you already have.

However, if you are thinking of getting a great HD capable camera, I would highly recommend the Canon 5D MkII, or if you are unable to afford the price tag that goes with this legendary full frame shooter, then the Canon 7D or 60D are a great alternative, with a new generation of bells and whistles on top of the 5D to aid in video production.

To finish off, check out this amazing short film shot with a Canon 7D…

An amazing documentory about just one of the many Elvis impersonators in Vegas (shot with a Canon 5D MkII…

And this fascinating short shot with a mix of HD footage and stop animation using a Canon 5D MkII (give it to at least 1 minute in)…