Why DSLR Cameras Are DA BOMB

Posted by Anthony - December 7, 2011 - Cameras, Film Books - No Comments

(Pictured above: Panasonic Lumix GH2)

The following post is excerpted from the Image Control chapter of my brand-new book, The Shut Up and Shoot Freelance Video Guide which is now shipping.  (Please feel free to order a signed 400-page, 700-illustration, full-color copy directly from me here to help support the free info on this website.)


So yesterday, I just told you how  whack and impractical DSLR cameras are in my post entitled Why DSLR Camera’s Are LAME, but now I’m gonna share all the genuine reasons I also think DSLR cameras are the bombdiggity….

1. You Can’t Beat the Image Quality for the Price

As of the moment I’m writing this, you simply cannot beat the superior image quality of DSLR cameras for the entry-level price of less than $3,000. For a fraction of the cost, you can shoot images on a chip that is more than 10 times the size of dedicated video cameras that cost triple the price.

2. Super-Duper Stealth Mode

When you’re “borrowing” sensitive locations (i.e., NYC subway train, Beverly Hills Mall, etc.), shooting in a hostile environment (i.e., Middle East protest, inner-city ‘hood, etc.), or are in any other situation that requires you to shoot covertly, DSLR cameras are a good choice because they draw considerably less attention and look just like still cameras. The lower- profile innocent appearance of a video-capable DSLR camera versus a full-fledged video camera could ultimately help you avoid being kicked out (the subway), captured (Syria), or punched in the mouth (inner-city ‘hood). So if you regularly shoot in risky places, a DSLR is an ideal choice. (In the book I give info on this in “Borrowing Locations” on page 240.)

3. You Can Build the Rig as You Go

Yes, sooner or later, you will want to buy some accessories to make your camera fully video-friendly— such as an audio recorder or adapter, a monitor, a support system, and perhaps a follow-focus and all the little bells and whistles you’ll need to make the camera actually do what it do. But the beauty of DSLR shooting for broke filmmakers is that you don’t have to get everything all at once. You can save up for the initial camera purchase and then buy some “bells” one paycheck and maybe get some “whistles” for Christmas and slowly build your rig as your finances allow. The most important thing is that you just get into the game, and the low entry-level price of DSLR cameras offers easier access to filmmaking and the ability to slowly and steadily build a formidable “Franken Camera” with full video functionality and superior image quality.

4. More Practical Options for Multicamera Shoots

Again, the math is real simple here. It’s a lot easier to buy or hustle up three affordable $2,000 cameras than it is to pull together three $6,000 cameras. The rental rates for DSLR cameras are considerably cheaper than their prosumer and professional video counterparts. Also, because these cameras have become so popular so fast, chances are if you are tied into any filmmaking community or group at all, there are probably at least two other people who have DSLR cameras, particularly Canon 7D’s, 5D’s, or T2i’s, which are the most popular models as I write this. So not only is it easier to gather three DSLR cameras, but you can also probably get three cameras of the exact same brand, so you won’t have to worry as much about matching up the images. This popularity also means it’s easier to find experienced operators if you rent or borrow the cameras from friends.

5. You Can More Easily Borrow the Lenses

Borrowing lenses is even easier than borrowing cameras. Because these are still camera lenses and not dedicated video lenses, they are much more affordable and in greater supply around you. For every one person you know who’s a videographer, you probably know two who shoot still photos and have a few decent lenses that you can borrow. Some of my friends have even formed informal DSLR and lens co-ops. Each has invested in a different set of lenses, and they simply borrow and trade them back and forth whenever they shoot, as well as loaning and borrowing each other’s cameras for multicamera shooting. (The stakes aren’t as high with the costs of DSLR cameras, so in general I’ve noticed that people are a little more generous with a Canon 7D than, say, their $25,000 RED camera package.) And again, even if you don’t have any friends with compatible still camera lenses you can borrow, these lenses are also much cheaper to rent and save up for as you go. So DSLRs offer you an affordable option to swap out and shoot with superior prime and zoom lens versus many popular prosumer video cameras which have fixed lenses that you can never change.

6. Great Low-Light Sensitivity

Another major advantage of having a big, beautiful imaging chip is that the big chip doesn’t need nearly as much light as smaller prosumer video chips. This means it performs much better in low lighting conditions—a huge advantage for indie, low-budget, documentary, and international filmmakers who often have to rely more on natural lighting conditions and stealth shooting to pull off their projects. Fewer lights means less time, hassle, and money spent lighting and more time spent shooting your project.

7. Super-Duper Shallow Depth of Field

Apart from price, video-capable DSLR cameras offer extremely shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field is the cinematic look that shows your subject in sharp, clear focus while the background behind them is completely soft-focused (or the opposite if you prefer). While you can achieve decent shallow depth of field from any prosumer camera under the right conditions (primarily long lens and open aperture), you can achieve an even greater shallow depth of field under almost any circumstances with a DSLR camera just by virtue of the larger chip size. This look is associated with the cinematic look of 35mm film, which also naturally has a much more shallow depth of field because it uses a big negative. DSLR cameras can achieve such an extreme depth of field that you could easily show someone’s eyes in focus while their nose and ears are out focus…if you’re into that sort of thing.


…So this post and the previous represent all of my basic pros and cons of DSLR shooting. The extra hoops you have to jump through to make DSLR cameras truly video-friendly may not work for everyone, but make no mistake about it, DSLR cameras are a revolutionary game-changer in the world of indie film. They are the very definition of a “disruptive” technology. Suddenly, the entry bar was lowered, and the video quality bar was raised simultaneously, opening the flood gates for a new generation of Down and Dirty filmmakers to do what we do with better image quality than ever.

The DSLR movement may be just an intermediary step to more affordable large- format prosumer video cameras. (Right now there is a rapidly growing crop of large format video cameras, such as the hot new Canon EOS C300 (photo at right), but they are much much pricier than the average DSLR.) Time will tell, but for now, I think the long-term future of these powerful and awkward new filmmaking tools is still to be determined.


*BTW- If you’re shopping for a video camera, make sure you check out the Down and Dirty DV 2012 Camera Buyer’s Guide.

Lastly on The Double Down Film Show tonight we’re gonna take this DSLR Debate to the streets in our periodic man-on-the street segment entitled,  Start Some Sh*t.  Listen in to hear what the filmmakers on the streets had to say about the issue.

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