Filming with an HD DSLR…”The things they don’t tell you”

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RED Digital Cinema are in the process of producing the worlds first Digital Stills Motion Camera dedicated to firstly filming and secondly stills. So how does this differ from the HD DSLRs like the Canon 7D…simple…as yet no one at Canon or any other stills camera manufacturer has grasped some simple but important design concepts when producing a hybrid camera that records video.

Everything that has come out of the HD DSLR stable has two major faults…

1. Not one manufacturer has payed any attention to sound. (No sound metering or manual volume control).

2. The ergonomics of the DSLR don’t lend themselves to filming especially the static LCD.

Some people argue it’s “early days”…..SORRY…….What a load of tosh, those who think it’s early days must be stuck in the last century, we have had professional video camcorders for over 20 years with all but none having important design features like hi-rez re-positionable viewfinders, sound inputs, audio metering and control…..need I say more.

That’s why I don’t take this technology seriously because neither have the people who design them !  It’s budget video making at it’s worst…why because every Tom, Dick and Harry can afford this craze but sadly less than 5% are making serious video productions and most of them are ZERO budget pretty pictures anyone could produce.


Glass is important

Don’t kid yourself it’s not film…it’s film like !  The good old depth of field (DoF)… something photographers have been playing with for years in fact contrary to some leading HD DSLR pioneer teachings only the best glass like the Canon “L” series can give you sharp pictures at f2.8 or wider apertures, that’s why they all have a Canon 50mm f1.2 “L” lens and not the far cheaper 50mm f1.4 Canon lens !  I have yet to see any lens review that outstrips a Canon “L” or Nikon “ED” lens.

I have just spent my last week in December with a 30 man crew on a BBC Drama using ARRI prime lenses on a Sony 750 with a 35mm adapter to get the film like DoF. All films are made with very expensive prime lenses, a prime lens has one focal length eg. f=50mm…why…because zoom lenses are not as sharp as prime lenses. Movement in film usually involves a dolly or a jib…not a zoom lens.

The Problems with Shallow Depth of Field (SDoF)

OK so now you have the ability to produce that coveted SDoF at f.2.8…”what do you focus on”…strange question till you look at a subject with a SDoF, your focusing becomes hyper critical, way beyond the abilities of most people even with the coveted “Zacuto” LCD loupe. The reason most of you have not seen this major problem is that you are not viewing a true 1920 x 1080 full resolution screen. Most of you have only seen ‘pretty pictures’ produced on a 640 x 380 72dpi on a computer screen. By the law of physics as you reduce the size of a picture you also reduce the magnification by which you are viewing it…so for example you could film an interview in HD with a wall 4 feet away in focus and the interviewee out of focus…in HD it looks bad in fact unusable but if you squeeze the same HD picture down for the web you can get away with it as so much detail is removed the picture looks fine !

Back to my original question “what do you focus on” if you are filming someones face with a SDoF of f2.8 you have one choice…the eyes, always focus on the eyes but remember you will need to drop down to f5.6 if you want to include the nose.

Getting that all beloved SDoF brings more problems than it solves and remember people being interviewed tend not to stay still making that critical focusing a nightmare. Photographers have always used SDoF but at a cost…for every sharp picture of a moving animal or runner 10 frames either side are out of focus but thats now an easy sacrifice in the digital age of large memory cards.

Removing the lens

During my time with the BBC at the end of last year I was amazed at the number of times the prime lens was changed, we had about 7-9 scenes a day so that would be a minimum of 14 lens changes mainly from wide to tight, strangely enough it made me appreciate my zoom lens as these lens changes were eating into valuable production time.

If you have any knowledge of DSLRs you will know that the more times you remove the lens the more likely you are to introduce dust onto the mirror or worse the filter that covers the sensor itself, this will indeed happen if you are frequently removing the lens to change a shot, try getting a speck of dirt off your sensors filter in the middle of a shoot outdoors !  If you don’t spot the dirt which is highly unlikely if all you are using is the colour LCD you will continue to shoot with dark specks spoiling your unusable footage.

Recording Time

Now let’s see page 123 of my Canon 5D2 manual “After you start shooting a movie, the movie shooting will stop automatically if the file size reaches 4GB”. If you film events like weddings and the ceremony is 25 minutes that good old 4GB limit or 12 minutes could compromise a very important part of your video.

Audio nightmares

Ever wondered why their is so much pretty pictures with no lip sync interviews on 98% of HD DSLR footage…sound…sound is the DSLRs Achilles heal. What you get in the camera is a micky mouse mic or a 3.5mm jack input allowing you to record with a better quality mic plugged in but no control of the gain and no metering leading to very poor amateur sound.

To overcome this you need to record lip sync sound externally with a decent digital audio recorder like a Marantz PMD661. This introduces many more problems as you are not in control of your sound as you would be using a professional video camcorder. I will assume a one man crew as many of you will be…

1. You have a directional mic on top of your HD DSLR…is it switched on, are the batteries fine because you have NO indication that you are recording sound on the DSLR, you need this sound all be it crap to sync your PCM sound being recorded on your Marantz.

2. Is the Marantz set up correctly, are you recording external sound or with the in-built mics, have you chosen Mic or line inputs…have you pressed the record button correctly.

3. You need to make sure the audio CF or SD card is correctly labeled and stays with the CF card out of the DSLR all adding to a logistical nightmare.


Because your HD DSLR does not record the same usable codec as your Sony EX-3 you have to transfer then encode the footage to a usable editing format and that takes time, then for every interview re-sync the sound with the PCM sound further adding time to your edit…possibly time you don’t have.

All for what

A shallow DoF and better low light filming, remember you only get the shallow DoF at the wider apertures and wider apertures means expensive glass…don’t let anyone kid you otherwise.

Yes put in a nutshell all that effort and who is going to notice …a few people on You Tube…you are not making a Hollywood blockbuster…99.9% of you never will or even want to !

Filming with what effectively is a photographic camera does nothing for me, it’s cumbersome, finicky and more bother than it’s worth. These cameras are not built with video as their primary use, as soon as we get a film like camcorder with a SDoF you can bet there will be a glutt of HD DSLRs on ebay.

There is no doubt about it 35mm adapters are on their way out thanks to the HD DSLR and they give bloggers like me something to write about but for now I will stick to my video camcorder and as for my Canon 5D2…that only appears for stills photography as it was primarily designed for.

UPDATE I do wish people would read this article for what it is… I am not anti-VSLR as some people think… I own a Canon 5D2 and will re-assess it’s usefulness when we get the new firmware update in February. Lastly, I do not pretend to make movies for the film industry so as yet have little use for a shallow depth of field, I do take photographs and find the SDoF very useful in the right place.


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A Happy New 2010 to all our readers

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For all your video production needs in Scotland, get in touch with Small Video Company Ltd

Apple Tablet due for January 2010 release

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Photograph courtesy of

Citing a source who has been “amazingly accurate”, Boy Genius Report issued a brief note today claiming that Apple’s much-rumored tablet will be announced in January and will carry a 7-inch screen. Most rumors have pointed to a 10-inch screen for the tablet, and while the source does not rule out the possibility of such a model, they can only confirm the existence of the 7-inch model.

It has been widely reported recently that the size of the tablet is 10″, but there was also talk about a 7″ model. Our connect said there is 100% a 7″ Apple tablet, to be announced in January, and whether this is in addition to a 10″ model, they don’t know.

Claims of the smaller screen size, which were sporadic over the past year, appear to be picking up steam in recent weeks, led by speculation that a severe shortage of the screens could only be the result of Apple snapping up supplies.

Excerpt from Mac Rumours

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New ARRI sensor captures Masterpieces

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For all your video production needs in Scotland, get in touch with Small Video Company Ltd

Review of 2009

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After almost a year thinking about a blog I decided to take the plunge…why HD Warrior ? In a past life I wrote for a magazine called IOV Focus and I became the DV Warrior, writing reviews on video equipment etc. When I was thinking about a name for my blog it seemed an obvious progression to write about HD rather than the now dated DV video equipment. On March the 21st I posted my first entry about “Blu ray what are your options” as Apple were and are even today not fully committed to Blu ray.


The 1st of April gave me my best readership to date as I had invented the Sony XDCAM EX-7 but as the 1st of April is traditionally a day for joking in the UK it seemed a good day to launch an imaginary camcorder.This picture flew round the globe and it was helped by it’s inclusion in Philip Bloom’s blog…thanks again Phil. April also saw the dawning of a new phase with the appearance of the HD DSLR. The Panasonic Lumix GH1 although not the first as Canon had the 5D2 (30fps), the GH1 was the first to give us 24fps and a swivel viewfinder.

I am not a fan of HD DSLRs as I prefer to use my 5D2 as a photographic tool, as it was originally intended but I am also old school and see myself as a video cameraman and have no aspirations to “make a movie”.

The end of April saw the Panasonic HPX-301 P2 camcorder with lens for under £10K, this was to be a double edge sword for Panasonic and should have been one of their best ever selling camcorders but for one vital design flaw…noise !

It was the noisiest 3 chip camcorder I had seen in many a year and I was one of the first people to spot the now infamous “Dancing black dots”.  I gave Panasonic two weeks grace to give me an answer to what we now know was a design flaw, exacerbated by using 1/3″ chips.


May brought us the first sightings of the NanoFlash a fantastic piece of kit that allows you to record 50mbs and above via your HD SDI socket out of your camera giving you 4:2:2 broadcast acceptable pictures straight onto compact flash. The end of May also saw Version 1 of PluralEyes a cracking bit of software that syncs various audio tracks all recorded separately at the same time. This software came just at the right time when Phil Bloom was experimenting with a GH1 and a zoom digital audio recorder. Phil soon found out that the internal sound from all HD DSLRs to date have very basic sound recording facilities which is not usable in serious video work so an external audio recorder is needed to record interviews etc. This gave the editor a real headache matching all the external sound tracks till PluralEyes came along.


The sadist event in June was the death of Michael Jackson a great entertainer who will be sadly missed by a lot of video producers in the USA. I reviewed the JVC HM 700 during June and I was very impressed with it. The video quality in normal lighting was stunning and has a lot of innovative features.


July brought an updated firmware for the HPX-301… hoping to ease the noise issue Panasonic designed new software but as I never got to see an updated 301 with the new firmware update I can’t comment. July was pretty bare on the news front Philip Bloom was trying out a Canon 5D2 with the newly designed Zacuto optical viewfinder. AJA i/o HD users were asked to use FCS-2 meantime as they were designing new software which took fifteen weeks to deliver.


August was the quietest month due to my son’s wedding in Italy, I had intended to update my blog while on holiday but my 3G dongle to date never got a signal in my hotel room. The Sony PDW-U1 finally got the new firmware update 24 month’s too late in my opinion but it is one of the few devices on the market that will deliver reliable archive for various HD formats.


September saw the Canon 7D a downmarket/upmarket DSLR depending which camp you are in…Photographers were not amused at the inclusion of an APS-C sensor in this camera as the 1.6x conversion mucks up the 35mm lens ratio. (50mm x1.6 = 80mm). The movie boys were a lot happier though as Canon had included a 1080 25i and 720 50p frame rates…The NEXT TO DI 500 GB video injester was shown for the first time…this was a unit that took SxS, P2, SDHC and compact flash cards to transfer your recorded material onto it’s internal HD freeing your memory card for more filming.

I also moaned on about the Japanese Yen v the Pound sterling and how we had seen some video equipment go up by £1100, this works in your favour if you bought a camcorder just before the price hike and you are now about to trade it in as you should not loose as much as you would have if bought after the price increase.

Tiffen were sporting the new T1 IR filter for Sony camcorders from the EX-1 or 3 to the F35 all suffering from RED RED infra red leakage turning some blacks a nice brown colour. The prototype filter was shown to eradicate the black/brown problem and is now readily available for around £60 plus vat and post.


Ikegami brought us the GF CAM a camcorder that no one doubts the quality but at a price of £25K and a complete new £900 memory card in the GF PAK who in the world is going to buy into such a specialised system at these prices when Sony are producing camcorders like the PMW-350 at £10K less.

Possibly the white elephant of 2009…no one even broadcasters would contemplate a camera at this price let alone the ancillary kit needed to playback GF CAM material.

October also saw the introduction of the new Sony range of SxS camcorders…the Sony EX-1R and the PMW-350. The EX-1R was a surprise to me as the R stands for Revise. This is an updated EX-1 with everything that was bad…design wise taken out and re-designed, apart from the battery compartment which I still maintain will eventually becomes the EX-1’s Achilles heal especially if you use the bigger BP-U60 batteries. I was never happy with that amount of weight sitting underneath the camcorder the EX-3 on the other hand re-positioned the battery compartment to a better position…can’t think why Sony did not use the same design in the EX-1R !

The PMW-350 is the EX camcorder a lot of professional cameramen and women have been waiting for, gone is the strange L shape of the EX-3… in is the traditional shoulder mount and a camcorder with 2/3″ chips that are even better in low light than the EX-3 and lower noise. Even at the price of around £14K this camcorder will fly off the shelves and may have been my camcorder of 2009 had I seen one in the flesh.

October was full of surprises and just at the last tick of the clock on the 31st we saw the specs for the RED DSMC Epic X a new Digital Stills Motion Camera. A lot of webbers are cynical when it comes to RED as they are good at producing hype on paper but no so good at delivering the goods. I think Jim and his team are just making sure their products are A1 before they are launched into the marketplace which is no bad thing.


Once again no major announcements bar one during November but we did get a copy of Larry Jordan’s Power Skills book “Working faster and smarter with Final Cut 7″ a review will be on it’s way during January 2010. Sony had their second on-line Expo which was nothing to write home about and as I told Sony in my blog…cameramen and women prefer to see and feel a camcorder before buying them so please don’t think a virtual show is the answer to turning up to a live event !

Sony decided to finally announce the NXCAM, Sony’s jump into AVCHD technology, this camcorder records onto memory stick pro cards and also records full HD and SD. Once these camcorders are shipping I will get a full video review for you online during 2010.


December is a poor month for news except good old RED announced their specs for Scarlet, a long awaited film like camera that will take on the likes of Canon but only if we see them in the flesh and at a competitive price.

We also saw the late, due to working on a BBC drama (more in Feb 2010) but momentous Best of 2009 Awards from HD Warrior, the first awards for video kit with a few surprises in my choices…many people were expecting a Canon to win the HD DSLR and even more expected the Sony PMW-350 to romp home with the best camcorder…lets see what 2010 will bring.

2010 Predictions…

I still maintain Canon Pro Video will come up with a film like HD solid state camcorder that will affect both RED and Canon Pro Photographic. We will finally see RED’s Scarlet in the flesh. I think as soon as a film like camcorder appears at the right price we will see the demise of HD video as a feature on DSLR’s.  We are going to see a 24 core Apple MacPro, an Apple tablet that you will control Final Cut Pro with and a new 5mp iPhone.

For all your video production needs in Scotland, get in touch with Small Video Company Ltd

Merry Christmas to all our readers

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For all your video production needs in Scotland, get in touch with Small Video Company Ltd

Compressor HD to SD banding issue solved

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It took two days of pulling my hair out but I finally discovered why some of my interlaced PAL HD to SD footage looked crap while others looked fine.

As Sherlock would say “It’s in the detail my dear Watson” and detail it turned out to be…I like many of you strive for the best quality at all times so given the choice between 422 HQ or 422 which would you choose…422 HQ.

That’s fine till you Compress the footage to SD then you get a serious artefact called banding where your moving pictures have a stripey horrible look to them as can be seen below…


This striping or banding has been the bain of many an HD to SD conversion till now…the problem lies with the Pro Res 422 HQ codec…it’s too high in quality therefore does not scale well when compressing down to SD.

The answer is to stick with Pro Res 422 which does not have the same scaling problems as it’s higher quality sister 422 HQ.

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Best HD Camcorder of 2009…”JVC GY HM700″

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HD-Camcorder-webOf all the camcorders I reviewed this year this one sticks in my mind as being the overall best looking, great shape, practical camcorder I reviewed. I was very impressed with the picture quality in normal lighting conditions, loved the use of SDHC cards, the most affordable media available to date and the SxS clip on recorder.

JVC decided to use 1/3″ CCDs in this camcorder instead of CMOS and apart from low light shooting the CCD gives a great account of itself. The huge flip out LCD is not only sharp but very usable and as usual we get two headphone sockets…fantastic.

hm700a The use of the three colours to indicate what mode you are in is the best I have seen to date, this is a truly groundbreaking camcorder from many angles and JVC should be proud to be given the title of “Best HD Camcorder of 2009″

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Best HD DSLR 2009…”Panasonic Lumix GH1″

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HD-DSLR-09This was a hard one but for frame rates and practical usage the GH1 in my opinion beat the competition. The main reason I choose this HSLR is it was the first and only swivel viewfinder camera to appear during 2009.

I was further convinced by Joe Shaw’s “Salsa Kingdom” shot entirely with the GH1 although not with the stock lens, though thats OK as interchangeable means not having to stick to stock lenses.

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Video modeWith the swivel viewfinder this DSLR is the only model to come close to a video camera in usage and the AVCHD is a standard video codec which saves conversion time. Personally I think this is the cinderella of HD DSLR’s, the Canon’s are all getting huge hype while this camera hits far more sweet spots than a 7D.

Well done Panasonic for their well deserved title of “Best HD HSLR of 2009″.

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Best Pro Archive solution 2009…”Sony PDW-U1″

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Pro-Archive-solution-09This is a cracking piece of kit from Sony though it took 16 months to develop the firmware to allow EX users to transfer their files back to the U1, technically it belongs to 2008 but the new 2009 firmware  made it a good al-rounder. It’s the only solution for a number of HD formats and can also store Panasonic P2 files as well !

Well done Sony.


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