Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Taking the DSLR for Video Plunge (Part 1: General Questions and Choosing the Camera)

Taking the DSLR for Video Plunge
Part I: General Questions and Choosing the Camera
Part II: Choosing the Right Lenses for Canon DSLR Video
Part III: Choosing the Right Accessories

As a filmmaker, I would love to have the luxury of owning every gadget, camera, and lens I might ever want to use.

As an indie filmmaker, I know I am limited by the amount of cash at my disposal.  So while I love shooting on RED, I can’t afford a camera and all the required peripherals, and I know not every little project can budget for renting a RED camera package and lenses.

dslr_mondayThus, I am looking more and more at actually purchasing a DSLR for “film” work (I still hate calling it video, even though that’s what it is –it just conjures thoughts of bad sit-com looking footage).

In addition to doing online research, I also put quite a few questions to two of my friends who shoot regularly using DSLR and other high-end digital cameras.  I thought it could benefit others if I posted the information here.

Jeff McCutcheon is an indie writer, director, and cinematographer living in Columbus, OH and working in Los Angeles.  He was the cinematographer for Jeffie Was Here (2010), and also co-directed, shot, and edited the award-winning 2011 short, Change.  Jeff owns a Canon 5D mark II.

Luke Boyce is the technical and creative mind behind Shatterglass  Studios in Champaign, IL.  He is responsible for various aspects of tech and production on the 2010 film Leading Ladies, the 2008 short, Sugar, as well as many other film/video projects in both the corporate and entertainment fields.  Luke’s company owns a RED One and a RED Scarlet, as well as Canon 5D, 7D, and 60D.

So here’s the first e-mail I sent out:

Howdy, fellas.

We're going to shoot some dance for the camera stuff, a short, and a television pilot this Spring, and I'm seriously considering the Canon platform to make it happen (vs. renting out higher end stuff).

I don't really care about any of the still photo features, so I'm thinking about going T3i instead of the more expensive 7D, and apparently 5D/1D is way overkill.  Also, what about the 60D?  It seems to be a similar price point (a few hundred dollars less) with similar features, but doesn't come up in these discussions as often.

Ten specific questions...

  1. Slow Motion:  I see people saying they shoot slow motion with their T2i, but it must suck (choppy and video-like)?  Correct me if I'm wrong but at full 1080p, 30fps is as fast as you can shoot, so slo-mo is not a real option

  2. h264: is ALL footage compressed in the camera?  Isn't this a major detriment?
  3. 12 minute limit --I assume this will not affect me at all... even the RED is limited to around 12 minutes, right?

  4. cards: I remember we had to get "special" RED cards for the RED, but that seems like it was a myth.  As long as you're using good, hi-speed cards, all's good, right?

  5. video out for monitor: do all these cameras have video out for utilizing a decent sized monitor?

  6. zoom during shooting:  I've heard you have to get a special lens, but even that stops down during zooming?

  7. Jeff says the on-camera screen on the 5D is fantastic and can be used with a simple magnifier for good focus?  Seems hard to believe you can pull sharp focus with a 2.5" or 3" screen.

  8. the rolling shutter issues and the jelly frame: what does this mean, and how big of an issue is it?

  9. Have you had luck with peripherals like follow focus, steady-cam type stuff, etc.  What would you suggest, and what can't you live without?

  10. Can you plug the camera into the wall, or must you use batteries (just curious)?
converting 30fps to 24p

Thanks so much in advance for letting me know your thoughts!!!


From Jeff:

Slow Mo - I forgot the 60P on the T3i/t2i is 720P.... But the reason I
forgot is because we routinely shot 720 60P and uprezzed it to 1080
and no one could tell the difference (truthfully I couldn't even tell
the difference (although you saw how we shot [the last project] it was sorta
"dirty" to begin with. )

It is compressed, so it's not even close to as clean as the red (and
has less latitude in post) but I watched "Change" on a giant screen at
a festival and it looked good - sorta like 16mm (think leaving las

yeah, 12 minutes limit is no problem, what is a problem is overheating
sensors. We had 2 5d's and one 7d on set during Change, and really hot
days, the other two cameras would often overheat after a few hours,
requiring at least a half hour's rest.

(Mine never did overheat , i guess I just got lucky off the production line)
Yeah a good class 10 card will work. I get mine pretty cheap at microcenter.

I think they all have HDMI out which goes to hdtv easily
On the zoom, you need a manual zoom lens (I use an old Nikon)
otherwise you'll introduce a stutter -- whether or not the zoom stops
down during zoom is entirely dependent on the lens (look for a
straight f4 as opposed to F4-5.6)

Not sure about the other cameras -- you can add this to your resources though:
It is true, it's no picnic focusing off the lcd - you do need a good
magnifier (the hoodman is crap) I made mine out of a nice achromatic
lens. it's no picnic focusing off of a 7 inch lcd either though, so
for me (if I'm not going to be hooked up to large monitor) I prefer to
handhold it without any 7-inch screen.


From Luke:

You came to the right place cause we use Canon alongside our RED's on a weekly basis. Let me just say right off the bat that the 60D is the way to go. We had a 5D that we did love, but the full frame gave us almost TOO much depth of field to where it didn't look as filmic. The 60D and the 7D (as well as the T2i and T3i) all use the APS-C Cropped sensor which is basically the same sensor size as the RED and S35mm film. That's the way to go. But I would avoid the Rebels (T2i and T3i) if you can because they limit your ISO's and things like that. They're basically entry-level versions of the cameras. But from a video perspective the 60D and the 7D are essentially the exact same. If you were going to be doing heavy photography as well, I would say go with the 7D, but if you are focusing on video the 60D is the way to go. We not only use it regularly, but we started using it based on suggestions from professional cinematographers we talk to in Chicago. Here's a couple commercials we even shot recently with the 60D which both include slow-motion: Again, the main benefit you get with the 60D over the T2i is way more manual controls (ISO choices, manual Color Temp, etc.) plus the viewfinder is adjustable unlike the 7D and the T2i.


1. Slow-motion can be achieved at 60fps in 720p on the T2i, T3i, 60D and the 7D. If you're final output is 1080p (which it obviously would be if you're shooting with a 1080p camera) than you shouldn't be able to discern a difference. As this does seem like a compromise, almost all cameras other than RED and Phantom force you to downrez to do slow-motion. Even Canon's new C300, a $20,000 camera, forces you to do 720p to do 60fps.

2. Yes. All footage is compressed, but that is the way it is for all current cameras like this on the market. All cameras are using either AVCHD, H.264 and the newer iFrame which is just another H.264 codec. The only thing this does is limit how much latitude you have in post to color-correct, but by using Technicolor's free color profile for Canon's you can eliminate any issues with that. It flattens the image and gives you as much information as the sensor can achieve. The only camera to really get if you don't want the compression issue is RED, which is the only camera that shoots RAW and gives you all available information. But trust me when I say that as long as you shoot with Technicolor's profile, you can still achieve some badass coloring with the H.264 files.

3. Shouldn't affect you at all. We use Canon's to even shoot long live events. 12 minutes is quite a lot of time for narrative work. We've even managed full interviews in the 12-minute time on numerous occasions. It's never been an issue.

4. All CF and SD cards work, but lower class cards will buffer a lot. Your best bet is to get a few 16gb cards (SDXC for 60D and T2i/T3i's). They work like a charm.

5. All the camera's feature mini-HDMI output and will give you full camera information on external monitors.

6. This is all depending on the quality of the lens you're using. If you're using, say, a 50-300mm f4-5.6 you'll get some stop down as you zoom, but if you use the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 you won't. Much more expensive lens, but the quality of your image is almost totally reliant on the quality of your lenses.

7. The quality of the lcd's on all of the Canon cameras are top-notch. Really great. The issue with the 5D and the 7D are that the lcd's are fixed and so it's hard to see them in weird positions. The 60D and the T3i both of pop-out LCD's that can be adjusted anywhere. It's MUCH better. The cameras all also have a zoom feature that lets you get a 1:1 image for focusing. It's great, but the caveat is that it can't be utilized when recording. Also, be aware that photo lenses are not really intended for motion stuff. They're great to get that great image and depth-of-field, but cinema lenses include much higher quality optics and gears that allow for continual focus. When pulling focus on photo lenses you have to account for "breathing" issues. I've seen a million professional videos shot with these lenses though, where they manage to still work it out just fine. You just should account for not doing many rack-focuses.

8. This is all depending on your personal taste. Rolling shutter and jelly basically refer to the fact that CMOS sensors record the image from top to bottom so when you're moving the camera around the processor inside the camera is not always fast enough to get the image from top to bottom so you get skew and when handheld you get the "jelly effect". Because of the saturation of the market with HDSLR's now this effect is almost accepted, but for many, myself included, it can be a tell-tale sign of "amateur hour". The main way to avoid this is to keep the camera on a tripod as much as possible. Avoid going handheld, and in cases where you have to, use a shoulder mount. Those two things will pretty much eliminate the jelly effect/rolling shutter. Keeping in mind that these tools are extremely cheap, but with care can produce incredible imagery. I've seen Canon stuff that I had a hard time believing it was shot on the Canon, just because it was shot with care and expertise.

9. Steady-cam works great for Canon stuff, but it's not easy. We rarely use it. We have never used focus gears or follow-focuses on our stuff either. This has been a good and bad thing. Focusing by hand is hard, but can be done.

10. You can find cheap AC-Adapters for Canon's to keep it plugged in no problem. We have a pair of these in fact, that work great:

Stillmotion Films is a canadian production company that is one of the best in North America. They shoot mainly using both Canon's and RED Epics. They do a spectacular series on shooting HDSLR with gear reviews and tutorials and how to get the most out of your stuff. I desperately want to get one of the monopods they recently reviewed here:

You can check out all of their videos and tutorials at this page:

Like I said, with care and technical detail there is no reason whatsoever that you couldn't shoot incredible stuff on a Canon. It's the best out there at that range. If you want to go higher, the Sony FS100 is an absolutely incredible camera but it uses proprietary Sony lenses and is $6,000. I say, go with the Canon's and learn what you can for sure.

Hope this helps!


9-27-09dan7drigConclusion: I’m getting a Canon 7D.  The 5D is overkill (and thus, for my needs, not worth the extra money). I had been concerned about the full sensor of the 5D vs. the RED-sized sensor of the 7D/T2i/60D, but everybody seems to agree the smaller sensor is the way to go.  Most people have said that the 5D actually has "too much" depth of field.

After using a couple of friends’ T2i/T3i’s for a couple weeks, they are definitely no longer in the running.  The T3i’s aren’t able to shoot multiples of 160 ISO/ASA, they only have one processor (as does the 60D), and they just feel cheap.  The dual processors in the 7D (vs. only one in the 60D) has proven to provide better images in low-light, so that’s another reason to choose the 7D over the 60D.

My final response to the two fellas above:

So, for a couple hundred dollars more, the 7D seems like a superior tool.  It lacks only in the audio recording department, but it seems like I'll almost always be recording dedicated/external sound anyway (for serious shoots).  And there seem to be rumors of a firmware update that will put the 7D on par with the 60D soon?

Better body (magnesium over plastic), dual processors (vs. 60D single), 19 points for autofocus vs. only 9 on 60D (which, admittedly, would be more for stills), and, a big one for me, 100% image coverage in the viewfinder, vs. only 96% with the 60D.  I'm not sure that I would ever like or even use the articulating viewfinder... am I wrong?  Maybe when the camera's up on a crane or down low on a dolly I guess.  Hopefully I'll have an off-camera monitor in those instances anyway though.

Seems like that dual processor vs. just one is a pretty big humdinger... especially for low light shooting.


Both Luke and Jeff responded that it’s GREAT having the articulating viewfinder on the 60D and it gets used more than one would think, but that wouldn’t be a sufficient reason to go 60D over 7D.

Here is one final link to an article by Dan Carr on choosing between the 60D and 7D.


And just so it doesn’t look like I wasn’t thorough in my research…

A couple other filmmaker friends suggested things like the Sony FS100, the Panasonic GH2, and the soon to be released Nikon D800 (with uncompressed HDMI out).

The Sony FS100 is great, but it’s cost prohibitive with a $5/6k (body only) price point.

A lot of people like the Panasonic GH2 for it’s in-camera software hacks (Canons have almost none). Reports also state that this camera blows the moire and aliasing issues of the 7D out of the water, but comes in second just about everywhere else.  And I firmly believe that the average viewer doesn’t care one iota about moire.

The Nikon is intriguing, but to utilize the uncompressed HDMI out you need an external recorder, it’s not available yet (there will always be “the next big thing” around the corner), and it costs twice as much (body only) as the 7D.  Not to mention every time I’ve tried to switch from Canon to Nikon, I’ve regretted it about 10 seconds later.  I’m sticking with Canon.

Taking the DSLR for Video Plunge
Part I: General Questions and Choosing the Camera
Part II: Choosing the Right Lenses for Canon DSLR Video
Part III: Choosing the Right Accessories

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