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.
THE THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU…
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.
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.
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.
TAKING THE BULL BY THE HORNS