Advantages of DSLRs over video cameras

Above: ReWo’s GH2 cage, review coming soon.

Thom Hogan thinks video on DSLRs is a waste of time

Last week he had a big moan about DSLR manufacturers spending time accommodating video at the expense of stills and how we don’t need video on DSLRs because now we have interchangeable lens large sensor video cameras which ‘are better’.

Well Thom you are completely wrong.

So to help our friends catch up with new technology I have put together a list of DSLR advantages over video cameras and just for those not up to date with 2012, a guide to Twitter!

Larger sensors

The video standard of Super 35mm will always be beat by photographic 35mm. Full frame sensors like those seen in the 5D Mark 3 and D3S are almost twice as large as the largest Super 35mm sensor in cameras like the Sony F3 or even the incredibly expensive Alexa and F65. The low light capabilities of the sensor in the D3S was magical too, only let down by a poor 720p codec which will be fixed in future models. Thanks to gapless micro lenses and other CMOS manufacturing advances the megapixel race is filling the gaps on the sensor which used to be empty so it is not effecting low light performance, which is how the GH2 beats the GH1 despite having 4 million extra pixels crammed into the same space. Although larger pixels are desirable, lower pixel counts actually produce more visible noise at the same pixel sizes as higher resolution sensors, because scaling a high resolution image down to 1080p reduces the size of the noise grain and makes noise less noticeable. I personally think that 12MP is enough for high quality stills, but if high sensitivities do start to go backwards in performance on DSLRs manufacturers will end the megapixel race, much like they did with high end compacts last year which saw the Canon Gxx series retreat from 14MP to just 10 to improve image quality. Even Sony’s enthusiast compacts clock in at 10MP – for a company pushing APS-C to 24MP with the upcoming A7xx series and NEX 7.

Product refresh cycles are faster on consumer gear

The Panasonic AF100 video offering is already bettered by the GH2 in terms of image quality because the GH2 has a newer sensor. The AF100 has an 8MP version of the GH1’s sensor, optimised for video, which is already out of date. Professional video cameras are always on a 3 year + refresh cycle. When the GH3 comes out later this year, the AF100 will be soundly beat. Also the shorter development lead time on consumer electronics allows new technology to reach the consumer faster than it does the professional. Another trend has changed with DSLR video – it used to be the case that high end technology trickled down to the consumer, but recently the trend has been completely reversed, as the GH1 proved – consumer technology went up into the AF100 professional model. I expect the upcoming Canon 5D Mark 3 will beat the F3 on pure image quality terms as well, or at least get very close but with the advantages of a much bigger sensor.

Convergence – video cameras can’t do stills

Can you see a war photographer with an bulky Sony F3? Not when they can have a small and light photographic tools which happen to do cinematic 35mm 1080p. Photo journalists like Dan Chung have been bringing a cinematic aesthetic to news reportage for a while now and DSLRs are the tool of choice for these press folk. In fact it gives them a defining edge on rivals who don’t offer video & stills in one. 1080p is easily good enough for the web and even projects well at cinemas. Right now 4K simply isn’t needed for online distribution of video, which is only just starting out on the road to being the future of video distribution full stop. 4K will be a meagre improvement for the home, and only available on very large high end screens since on normal sized TVs you won’t notice a difference. 4K therefore is a niche, whilst 1080p is the new gold standard of internet video and home theatre clouds – two online distribution channels which really matters and the one that will be seen by the masses for years to come.

Why pay two guys when you can pay one?

For basic content delivery jobs – such as local journalism and small budget commercial projects for the web, one freelancer can offer high quality stills and video and get it all done in one day for less money. DSLRs are cheap, small and convenient.

Small size and stealth

For certain shots even centimetres can make a difference to the positioning of the camera. Recently Gale Tattersall told EOSHD in an interview that he was able to slash production times on HOUSE thanks to the 5D Mark II being discrete enough so that several angles could be covered inside a car in one take. When you have a confined space such as that, multiple Alexas get tiresome and impractical very quickly. Though cameras like the EPIC and FS100 have got smaller compared to their predecessors like the RED ONE and EX1 I can’t ever see a professional video camera being as small as a mirrorless DSLR like the GH2 + REWO cage.

Sometimes ‘good enough’ is a major consideration over ultimate image quality

For the typical commercial web and advertising projects a client is more interested in a portfolio if you are a freelancer, not your camera gear. If you are a crew they want to see your experience, past clients, reputation and whether you have the requisite talent and manpower to complete the job. Unless you are working by committee most clients don’t care what tool is used to do the job, that is your decision and you are being paid for your knowledge about such tools, and for your ability to pick the right one for the task. If the video is only ever going to be shown inside a postage stamp sized box the web as a viral ad campaign the difference in the end result between DSLR footage and Alexa footage would be barely noticeable. The equipment needs to scale to the budget, and since web video is now commonplace and the skills market becoming saturated, justifying a large budget and several expensive rental cameras is going to get harder. If DSLRs are ‘good enough’ why spend more than you have to to get the job done? Professionals might worry themselves over usability and practicality but they’d be lying to themselves if they thought a DSLR would slow them down for the task of simply pointing a tripod mounted picture making box at an interviewee.

Price, accessibility put DSLRs in the majority

For low budget filmmakers the price point of DSLRs is the definicing factor and it is why when I walk out on the street in London or Berlin I see small crews and friends using 1 or 2 DSLRs, no longer multiple rental offerings like the F3 or EX1. DSLRs are in the majority and the internet is supercharging indie filmmaking, an area where DSLRs will remain the tool of choice over rental or expensive gear. Rental houses can kiss goodbye to almost all indie filmmakers in the next 5 years.

Guerilla style art-house cinema / Dogma 95

There is a new genre of cinema a bit like Guerilla Filmmaking with the early Super 8 cameras or even the old DV cameras of the early 00’s. It is a philosophy of filmmaking where gear is stripped back to the bare minimum. What is the bare minimum? A DSLR of course. The difference is now you can shoot gorilla style with MUCH higher production standards than before, the aesthetics of which lend themselves to a greater variety of cinematic styles and productions. A bare bones advent-garde film no longer has to look like shit and the intimacy of hardly any gear or rigging between the crew and actors is very attractive to all kinds of directors.

Talented individuals with no money punching above their weight

When you see a film, it could usually have been shot on a variety of different cameras. What really matters is the execution, the overall visual style and aesthetic, the language of cinema, the acting, story and writing. When a talented individual or small team gets their act together and produces something Cannes worthy, it could well be a breakout hit. A dark horse of a film that goes viral, and becomes wildly successful. You don’t need a Sony F3 to make one and the end result of a DSLR would all but look the same unless the audience demands to view it on an IMAX style screen in 4K – and it still wouldn’t make as much difference to the viewing experience as a good script would.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a stream of consciousness in small bites of 140 character text messages which reduce complex opinions to fluff or web URLs. Like DSLR video Twitter is a ‘disruptive technology’ because it wastes hours and hours of your time. Twitter is an instant feedback tool so you get immediate responses to your opinions, films and work. This means one can often be spending more time worrying and looking at what people are saying about you than thinking about what to say next. For the narcissistic egomaniac it is heaven, for the filmmaker it is like being wired up to the inner thoughts of a worldwide audience, their opinions constantly invading your mind like voices psychiatric patients hear at night whilst trying to sleep. Twitter is now available on mobile phones so even if you are sunbathing in the park or sitting on the toilet you are compulsively feeling the need to tap the screen and unveil new information and feedback. It can cause various disorders such as information addiction, narcissism and divided attention disorder. Twitter is also a hotbed of cyber bullying and hostile impersonation which allows a group of 6 people out of a worldwide population of 4 billion to define your mood, despite the people being completely meaningless anonymous strangers hiding behind badly designed abstract logos, living somewhere on the other side of the planet. Most Tweets on Twitter comes either in the form of politically correct social niceties and statements like ‘twitter hugs’ or ‘I miss you’ or ‘you are great’, and some comes in the form of web links someone has cut and paste. In terms of traffic it can drive up to a massive 5% of your overall website visitors, so it is well worth the 6 hours a day spent checking what people think of you. All in all it is a fascinating social networking tool and highly recommended. 🙂