More Convergence – DSLR’s + Video = VSLR

It seems like this has been the year of the video capable DSLR or VSLR. Not only are manufacturers continuing to roll out new models but third party companies have made a big business out of selling attachments or add-ons for these cameras.

Dabblers as well as professional still photographers have gotten into video because the entry level has become easier and more affordable with the advent of these cameras. While traditional news crews haven’t embraced the new hybrid cameras yet, filmmakers have created a cult around them. I must confess that although technically I have had my hands on these cameras, I have not done any test runs using them in the field.  But it is on my list of things to do.

What’s Out There Now

The Nikon D90 shooting 720p was the first DSLR camera to shoot video in HD.  Canon followed with its impressive 5D Mark II which raised the bar by shooting full frame 1080p with external mic input and recently rolled theyout the Canon 7D with variable frame rates for under $2000!

The most attractive features of these hybrid cameras besides the price, is the ability to change lenses, have controllable depth of field and large sensors that work phenomenally in low light situations. However there are limitations that traditional video cameras that come at a higher price don’t have.  Camera stability is one problem due to how the shooter needs to hold the camera because they are designed to shoot in video mode with the mirror up. Since the camera operator must see and focus using the LCD monitor instead of steadying their eye up against the viewfinder, it’s harder to stabilize the camera when hand holding it. Audio capture is very basic as well and must be supplemented in some way.

Third Party Options

Because of these limitations, third party manufacturers have gotten in the game by designing add-ons. Zacuto


has come up with a few interesting items.  One item is the Z-Finder DSLR Viewfinder, which is a device that fits over a 3” LCD and provides magnification for better focusing. It runs around $400.  Hoodman lpp3.0(front)provides a lower cost version called the Hoodloupe without the same optics but at a quarter of the cost.

An added benefit to using these viewfinders is that it provides another contact point with the shooter’s body and therefore provides more stability.  There are also camera support systems available that help remedy the need for better stability in “run and gun”

Rapid Fire

situations where the shooter can’t use a tripod.  Zacuto makes two stabilization devices, the DSLR Rapid Fire and the Quick Draw each designed with a different type of shooting situation in mind. In addition a Cavision has come up with a shoulder mount device the  RS5DM2SET-S.

Package for 5DII-8
Cavision shoulder mount

As far as audio is concerned, if you want to move beyond a supplemental external mic that’s plugged into the camera and use a more professional audio solution you’ll need balanced XLR inputs which will also enable you to use multiple external mics off the camera. Beachtek makes the DXA-5D for around $375 and juiceLink has come up with the juicedLink CX231 for about $300.

Samson H4n

Or you can capture your audio with a stand-alone recorder like the Samson Zoom H4n, also around $300 and sync it later in post.

Regardless of how you ultimately “trick out” your VSLR (video single lens reflex)  you can be sure that there will continually be newer models and solutions as technology keeps moving forward.   Pro Video Coalition puts out a great newsletter online keeping us abreast of the latest tools.  Check out their DSLR Shootout where they test these hybrids and adaptors. Take Dirck Halstead’s Platypus Workshop now incorporating the new DSLR’s in the program. And become a Facebook fan of From Still to Motion for ongoing information and updates.  It’s an exciting time with loads of possibilities.

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