The Hard Part About Working With DSLR’s

After two solid months of intensive shooting a documentary – shooting both stills and video with two DSLR cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D, I can honestly say working with these hybrids is not easy. And it certainly isn’t fast, especially if you are working in a small crew as we are.

Yes, the visual is stunning but I can’t help but think how many moments I may have missed that I probably would have gotten if I had been shooting with a video camera. When shooting motion, I have a constant mantra running through my head and that is “shoot and move”. That’s because you need a lot of footage at the end of the day and you need to edit your film. I’m not talking about working with a neatly storyboarded script and a Hollywood crew. I’m talking about working lean and mean and in a somewhat discreet way that is in order when shooting a documentary.

That really hit me last night while shooting on the streets of Sydney, Australia. My subject that I’m focusing on here is Paul Moulds from Oasis, which is a youth support network dealing with homeless street kids. I needed to hit the streets at night and knew that I not only had to be sensitive to the situations that I’d be shooting but also alert to the dangers. I’m positioning myself with a lot of expensive gear in tough neighborhoods where drugs and violence rule.

If ever before I needed to shoot and move and act quickly and keep a third eye out for any lurking danger. No time to stress on the importance of the perfection of the visual. I needed to get in close to the action – make sure my audio was being captured sufficiently and get the story. So even though I can tell you that my visual will be beautiful and lacking “noise” in the blacks – I probably would have gotten better and more meaningful coverage with a video camera.

I’m sure there will be plenty of you who will argue that there are journalists embedded in war zones with these cameras. And of course there’s Vincent LaFloret’s brilliant cinematic night films. But for me, I think there are times when I could have reacted faster with a video camera. And so I think – what’s more important – the resolution or the story?

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11 Replies to “The Hard Part About Working With DSLR’s”

  1. Fully agree with you, I am not convinced by the notion of a DSLR that can shoot video. A camera is for taking photos, a video camera is for taking video – in my view, if the 2 are combined both potentially lose out.

  2. Gail – I’ve been of the belief that although there’s video footage that can be shot with the DSLR, I truly think that it’s still a kludge – it requires way too much to try and make it work the way we shoot with a standard form factor vidcam.

    The SONY NEX-VG10 (and it’s eventual Prosumer sibling) is the game changer for shooters like us IMO.

    Safe Travels…

  3. Hi Gail

    First off, I think its amazing what you are doing! I really wish I could see the world the way you are and meet such amazing people.

    I’ve been shooting 7D for everything since February, starting with a baptism of fire filming for 10 days in the slums of Mombasa Kenya where my camera was overheating every 5 minutes and needed cooling with a hand fan.

    I roughed it with my redrock eyespy deluxe and we got some amazing footage, far better than any video camera would be capable of, with my Sigma 30mm F1.4 I’m able to film in much lower light situations than a video camera, and get far less hassle than I would with a video camera. Filming with almost no light in a families mud hut, was incredibly intimate and personal, and they weren’t daunted by the camera at all, and for me that’s the huge difference its a liberating camera.

    The zoom H4n is not the greatest tool in the arsenal, but we as a company film literally everything on the Canons now, from sensitive observational pieces to corporate video, so hour long lectures.

    Perserve with it and you’ll be rewarded with the greatest footage in the edit, that way outweighs in my opinion the awkwardness and occasional inflexibility.

    Thanks and good luck with the rest of your trip!

  4. No question this is correct. I also carry a Canon VIXIA HF S21 in my camera bag that I use for quick grab shots when I can’t set up. When I’m shooting a fashion/beauty project my assistant grabs it to shoot behind the scenes “Everything is in focus” footage.

  5. I heartily agree! “Lean, mean and somewhat discrete” is my style for sponsored docs; the trade-off when it comes to missing shots due to cumbersome ergonomics is not worth it. Its nice to sit in the edit room and marvel over the beautiful imagery, but what good is it when you don’t have enough shots to tell the story?

    Even with an elaborate rig that cost more than the camera, I can’t pull off handheld shots like I’m used to … alas, I used to be known as “steady Eddie” when it came to handheld aerials … now I have to run my DSLR video aerial shots through a stabilizer process.

    1. I think at the end of the day – we all need to pick the tool that suits us and the job we are trying to do. And that probably means that we need an arsenal of tools to choose from. If my journey wasn’t so lengthy and I didn’t have “luggage” limitations for size and weight – I would have opted for two systems – traditional video camera and my still gear – at least for the story I’m trying to tell.

    1. Almost every situation where I had something happening in front of the camera that I did not have control of. When shooting video – you need to shoot a variety of angles and focal lengths in order to have enough material to edit. With a video camera I can move more quickly or change the focal length of my lens more quickly and then move to another angle. With the DSLR – its great to change lenses but it take time and in that time your “scene” can drastically change. Like I said – the DSLR’s are great if you are shooting something storyboarded with predictability.

  6. Yesterday was the 1st time for me using DSLR for a wedding. Got 2 videographers in my team using video camera, so i dont hv to worry about missing moments.. but as i experienced it, i found it not easy.. maybe because at now, i still dont have gears that a DSLR filmaker should have (follow focus, great lens, shoulder rig n slider, etc).. but i will keep learning more and get use to it..

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