Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

Excerpts from Alister Chapmans update on his Canon 550

“OK, so it’s defiantly not just me doing something wrong. When in focus the T2i/550D aliases (as do all the current Canon DSLR’s). This is a grab from Philip Blooms latest Canon short. For once this is a daylight piece and as I expected it exhibits a lot of aliasing. The grab is actually taken from the thumbnail on his exposure room page. I’m really pleased to see this as it shows that aliasing is a problem for the experts too. You start to appreciate why so many of the Canon shorts are shot at night, with millimeter deep DoF… it’s to stay clear of having stuff in focus that will alias. there are filters from Caprock that are supposed to help, but you need a different filter for each focal length and aperture that you use, they also soften the picture somewhat.

If you want my opinion, then it has to be that the Canon’s are close, but still a mile away. The aliasing issue is a biggie. Sort it out and the skew, jello and overheating can be worked around, but if you have to worry about simply having a piece of wood in focus and whether it’s going to exhibit rainbows of colour or whether cobble stones will twitter and change colour (At 00.35 and this is from Canon) then it will limit what you can do. There is quite a lot of aliasing in Phil’s new daytime clip, basically anytime anything is steady, has texture and is in focus, it aliases. I’ve been shot down in flames on other forums for saying that this is a problem, but if even the experts can’t deal with it then what hope does everyone else have? I would love to have the option of shooting with the shallow DoF that the Canon’s offer, but not at the expense of having to avoid any kind of texture. Perhaps Red and Scarlet will be better, perhaps Canon will sort it out, or perhaps not, as the cameras are clearly selling like hot cakes, even with the issues. If they do fix it then the camera will almost certainly be for video only.”

HDW : Alister Chapman is an authority when it comes to technical issues involving video, it’s a shame he never came to the HDSLR table sooner. I am no way near as technical as Alister but have enough professional expertise to realise HDSLRs are not yet built for purpose. They are a compromise but as Alister has found out they are seriously compromised when using them for filming.

We never get to see true HD on the web once again it’s a compromise which is why a lot of these “pretty pictures to music” are passing by with glaring technical faults because we just don’t notice such faults on a 640 x 320 screen. Saying that a lot of HDSLR filmakers are either oblivious to the problem or are willing to put up with warts and all to get the SDoF.

Can I suggest the watching punter would not be aware of such issues but then do we need to see a further drop in standards as television today in the UK is swamped with poorly produced DV footage.

Are HDSLRs suitable for professional use…not YET in my opinion, the BBC, SKY, National Geographic channel etc will not accept footage from them…that’s got to ring alarm bells if you are hoping to use them professionally. I was reminded by Sean that the BBC have indeed used a Canon 5D2 to film a 30sec title sequence during Snooker last year but that was a trial period and have since been banned…or so they say !

Many of you will disagree with this statement telling me that you have taken the plunge well good luck to you, personally I would not compromise my professionalism let alone my client for a simple film effect such as a shallow depth of field. First generation HDSLRs are a fudge…video take’s second priority so you can’t expect “professional results” with equipment that is mainly built for taking digital photographs. Alister has confirmed this with his investigations though to be fair to him he is also looking into a solution to the problem.

Can I just add that Alister Chapman nor myself are NOT anti HDSLR, Alister is coming from a bedrock of technical expertise and is only pointing out why some of these HD pictures are unacceptable for broadcast and I come from a more practical hands on professional point of view.  My father has a good expression “Cheap s dear” you can’t expect a full broadcast HD experience from a camera that costs £2000 or less, you get what you pay for which is why broadcasters are still using 35mm adapters clamped onto £15K upwards camcorders with Arri prime lenses.


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

11 thoughts on “The HDSLR debate for professional use

  1. well it seems the BBC will alow HDSLR footage from the Panasonic GH-1 here is a trailer from a BBC show in which a GH1 was use for some of the production

    A lot of the closeups (for instance of the musket and cannon) are GH1. It is called “The Battle for North America”, BBC 2, and it aired on March 16th

  2. Snooker titles on BBC…as featured on your site if i remember correctly?

    Shown in SD and HD on BBC in 2009. One of several 5D pieces they have used…

  3. Correct but that was during a trail period and lets not forget a 30 sec opening title sequence is less obtrusive than a whole programme.

  4. Interesting…hey I’m not a BBC man I only report what I have read myself. It’s like most programming today you have various formats interspersed with each other.

  5. This debate rattles on. I’m enjoying it immensely!

    As a ‘pro’ working in the mostly corporate production industry for nearly 30 years now, I’ve seen the move from low band U-matic to where we are now. It’s clear to me that in my world DSLRs have their place, particularly as a lot of corporate work never goes further than the web – not even to DVD. However only a fool would choose a DSLR to make an entire, complicated factual programme comprising interviews, interiors, procedural shots, exteriors, etc. Most of the time the shallow DoF and form factor are going to hamper you severely and you’ll be praying for a full size camcorder with 2/3″ chips.

    Having said that for certain shots and possibly even certain productions the low-light capability and DoF are going to give you a look you can’t get without a serious budget for 35mm. As long as they’re used appropriately I welcome the additional choices they give us – surely there is no other way to look at it?

    About 15 years ago I discovered my father-in-laws super8 in his loft, unused for decades. I’ve used it several times for that unique super 8 look which certainly was not broadcast quality but worked well when used appropriately.

  6. Now that’s the watchwords of this debate…”not broadcast quality but worked well when used appropriately”.
    Exactly for some of you looking for a look or an opening sequence the HDSLR will come up trumps…you just have to be aware of it’s limitations.

  7. All the snooker edits, although made in HD were never broadcast in HD.

    Also there was no ‘trial period’ and no body has said to us that they are banned.


  8. HD as you know Peter is very unforgiving but less so once you squeeze it down to SD. The so called ban came after your opening snooker titles but as usual the BBC is so vast that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. The Sony EX-3 being a prime example, I have been on BBC productions using EX-3s for HD content and no nanoflash in sight.

  9. Despite the obvious failings of the DSLRs they continue to be used on quite high profile productions.
    Personally I totally agree with the technical points you have mentioned, I often ask clients not to wear check shirts ! The codec is pretty weak it reminds me of shooting jpegs, you pretty much have to have it right in the camera or it will fall apart in post. And fall apart badly !
    A lot of thought has to go into avoiding situations that will expose the cameras numerous flaws.
    But if I never under expose, keep the least amount of information possible in focus, never whip pan, get my white balance right so I am not trying to shift it in post, have a good custom setting for the job at hand which is flat enough to retain some detail. Oh and look at and know every lens and its limitations or quirks. It sometimes works. 🙂

  10. Jack…You seem to do a lot of avoidance tactics to make sure you get a slightly better production…that does not sit well in my head…the only criteria I give my clients is if I am filming Blue/Green screen. I can’t see for the life of me why you bother…you are blinkering yourself to HDSLR problems instead of being creative with video.

  11. We have made some tests too and would like to share & discuss the results as well:



    As you can see the ISO resolution chart shows terrible results in vertical resolution due to incomplete scaling. The real life pictures are not as bad as expected but still show strong aliasing effects on fine details.

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