Pro’s and con’s of using a DSLR for filming

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The use of DSLR’s for filming has opened up a world of opportunities for indie filmmakers ,with major companies such as Canon and Nikon now giving those who don’t quite own caravan sized cameras like this one the chance to create cinematic quality films with greater ease.

Using a DSLR (Digital single lens reflex) camera has vastly become common practice within the world of film and of course has its obvious advantages. Dslr’s come in a wider price range to suit different pockets to suit those who are interested in filmmaking as a hobby and upwards where as quality dedicated film camera tend to start at an industry cost only. Another obvious appeal of using a DSLR for filming is the size and weight of the machine. My friends 20D body only weighing in at a skinny 685g on the bathroom scales! In terms of lugging around your filming equipment inconspicuously and without breaking your back in the long run this is an obvious win.

So whats the catch? There’s quite a few actually. DSLR’s might not weigh as much as a typical film camera but this means it is more difficult to stabilise handheld. Whilst a tripod can fix this it is not always possible to use one. For example on a recent shoot in Birmingham town centre we were asked to not use my tripod for copyright reasons. Big bummer. Unless you have completely still hands then they aren’t the easiest things to shoot steadily on alone straight away. This is worth thinking about if shooting in a busy venue such as a gig that says no to tripods and you are quite likely to get bumped into. But then again at least with a smaller camera you are less likely to cause disruption or block the stage.

Maybe this is a bad example.
Maybe this is a bad example.

And DSLR’s  aren’t so much cheaper when you think about the lenses. Whilst the body of the camera may be more affordable than a camera built specifically for filming the upkeep of lenses can really bump this up. In extreme cases such as the  Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG Telephoto Zoom Lens – Canon Fit lenses can cost up to £20,000 anyway.

Another pricey thing to think about with using these cameras for films is also the shocking inbuilt mic that comes with it. The audio that is recorded automatically of DSLR’s is no more than a gimmick. Unless you are shooting purely silent films or films about what the inside of your camera sounds like than you’re going to need to fork out for an external mic or sound mixer to cut it.

Now for the technical stuff. Canon and Nikon only allow you to shoot continuously for 29 minutes and 59 seconds at a time to avoid being taxed as a camcorder; stopping and starting is easy enough but if you are hoping to film an uninterrupted long time-lapse or longer exposure in a documentary for example then this is something to consider when weighing up between the two.  On a fully charged DSLR battery, temperature depending (preferably using the viewfinder rather than live view) you can film for about 1 hour 40 minutes on average. This isn’t bad considering the price but if again if stopping to change the battery and the cost of potentially a few batteries to get you through one days work isn’t convenient then this can be a real down fall in favour of a more costly Cinematic camera.

Ultimately the pros and cons of using a DSLR over a camera specifically for filming depends on the purpose of which you intend to use it. In scenarios such as documentary filmmaking,  a DSLR can be a cheaper alternative as you do not need to worry about switching battery packs and recording time between typically shorter clips to achieve techniques such as an equally competitive quality short depth of field and a huge sensor of about 1.6x crop abilities for a fifth of the price of earlier alternatives .

Despite all its short comings having an alternative compensation such as using an external mic to make up for the terrible internal one DSLR camera’s are still essentially designed for photographers and cinematic techniques are thus harder to achieve and normally require add ons to overcome this e.g multiple lenses, filters, stabilising rigs to shoot hand-held effectively. For this reason it is understandable why people still choose to hand out way above the price out for shooting more technical cinema. They may be considered more difficult to operate by some but in turns of technical specification the difference in comparison to the difference in price is relatively slim.




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