DSLR video

Last DSLR Joke (maybe)

Well, I was going to stop ridiculing DSLRs as video cameras, because I figure that's just about over - (the ability, in good conscience, to give them crap) since any day now DSLRs should fully morph into ‘real’ video cameras.


But then I open my e-mail this morning and I see this picture on the cover of Audiomedia. This is the kind of thing that kills me. DSLRs are so awesome!* But if you want to record decent quality video, you need an external recorder. And if you want to record decent quality audio,
you need an external recorder. And if you want all this stuff to function together as a unit, you need some sort of rig.

Now admittedly, I'm going around with an Atomos Samurai hanging off of my camera rails, which has extended the life of my EX-1, so in a sense I don't have a leg to stand on. But I'm a big believer in fully functional camcorders, particularly in the real world of live and corporate and running gun.

I remember the days when ‘tape operator’ was a separate job because
the recorder was so heavy it required a second person to carry and operate it. But for a long time now you have been able to get cameras with good optics, good codecs, a fully functional zoom lens, and reasonable ergonomics at a reasonable price. Heck, some of those BetaCam rigs used to cost more than a luxury car.

So this return to separate imaging devices with external video and audio recording devices cracks me up. I suppose if you are shooting Cine-style, it harkens back to shooting film with audio recording on a Nagra. But I mean seriously, that's as if you had a film camera, but had to have
a separate film recorder external to the camera!

Don't get me wrong, I'm actually excited about where all this is headed. I love this point in a technology, where you see something new evolving, and you are not entirely sure what it is going to become.

So let me have my last 10 minutes of fun.

*Don't give me a hard time about this joking statement. I know, they are actually awesome.

Canon 1DC and Panasonic GH4 - They're Almost Video Cameras!

The thing that's killing me about this new crop of cameras is that we are getting to the point where a given DSLRs’ video performance is exceeding its still picture performance.


Yep - this is my new Pentaxasonic VHS DSLR. Both the rig and the footage from it have a nice “retro high end” look. It rests on the shoulder pretty well, and grabbing the far side makes for a stable platform. This weekend though, I think I’ll take the feet off the VCR and screw the butterfly handlebars from my Schwinn upside-down into the bottom. It’ll be retro-bitchin’. The drawback to this rig is that you do need a really long extension cord for powering the VCR. I have a team working on a car battery adaptor and tray for it that fits underneath – balances the rig out pretty well.

I thought I would get this product out there on the market before sub-$10k DSLRs really do turn into video cameras. Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s one or two at NAB 2014 next month. Of course, I’ve been expecting that for a while now.

I admit sometimes I can’t figure out why “the DSLR revolution” irks me so much. I guess I come from the olden times when cameras were cameras, and you knew what was still and what moved, and the twain did not meet.

Used to be that video-capable DSLRs were always very good still cameras, so you could forgive some of the video shortcomings - but now some reports and imagery from the 1DC and GH4 suggest they are somewhat underwhelming as still cameras at their given price points. The ironic thing is that they are still lacking major functionality features of video cameras. So still not quite fish or fowl.

I get the appeal of DSLRs - they can take big, fat, high-resolution, big pixel images with easily limited depth of field, yielding a filmic look. If you own lenses that fit on them, you’re half kitted out already. If you are a still photographer, you can move into videography with minimal investment.

Yet most have been hobbled by crap codecs - a bit like recording a very nice lens and sensor to VHS tape - as well as functionality limits which, if missing from a pro camcorder, would get you laughed out of the room (and no sales). You need to spend an average of one to two times the cost of most DSLRs on ancillary gear to make it
simulate a pro video camera’s functionality.

The GH4 is taking the step of offering some of that functionality in a $2k add-on box. So you’re at around $3,700 for something approaching a video camera. And the 1DC? $10k for the body alone. You can get some nice camcorders with a fully functional zoom lens for that.

Yet they continue to grow in popularity. I’ve noticed more and more recent online freelance job solicitations specifying the desire for DSLRs and DSLR experience. Do you want to place any bets on how many of those client-side folk have any idea why they are asking for it? (Bob in accounting has one.) And none of those same folks were specifying the
type of HD camera they wanted prior to the DSLR revolution.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter! Never really has. It’s not about the gear. It’s what you point it at. Not that we’re going to stop talking about the gear…