DSLR Video


Do We Have Convergence Yet?

My interest in video is casual at best. For a professional commentary on this topic, visit bythom.com and search for "What About Video?" in the 2011 archive. My personal experiences may still be of some value.

Most recent digtal cameras now offer some sort of video capability. The possibilities are tantalizing: high quality interchangeable lenses *DSLR's) available on behalf of high definition video using camera bodies delivering top stills performance - no need to carry a dedicated video unit. Right?

(Comments following based on Nikon D7000 experience.)

The Up-side

  • Stunning image quality. After all, your DSLR lenses are designed to exploit the 16 mpx (or more) resolution of the sensor so delivering a quality image at HD's 2 mpx is a no-brainer. The experts will quibble over interpolation and other details but really, these images are very satisfying and look great on HDTV.
  • It is easy and quick to switch between stills and video mode.
  • Todays flash cards provide more than enough storage for capturing video clips long enough to bore your friends to death.


The Down-side (in diminishing order of importance)

  • The mirror has to be flipped up - in DSLR's - to capture video. This costs you one of the principle benefits of getting a DSLR in the first place - optical through the lens (TTL) viewing. You are now stuck using the LCD for composition and framing - just like users of most pocket snapshooters. In almost any sort of daylight situation the LCD washes out and you are in the dreaded "point and pray" situation, arms stretched out in front like a zombie. If you need eye-glasses you also lose your diopter correction so better remember your reading specs. Consider tossing a towel over your head and the camera if you want to see the LCD at all. There is a partial solution - clip on lupes are available but they add a lot of bulk.
  • Optimum placement of controls for still photography is seldom optimum for video. All of a sudden nothing seems to be in the right place. The manual zoom so prized for stills becomes a jerk inducing nuisance and the start/stop button is probably in the wrong place. When you move your hand to operate the zoom, you lose some support for the camera body. Unless you are very careful, the horizon will tilt. Auto-focus and auto-exposure, so fast and accurate with the mirror down, begn to drag their heels as the scene changes. There may be brief periods of exposure "pumping" and/or blurry focus as the system struggles to keep abreast of conditions.
  • The internal micophone picks up every little bit of mechanical noise. You will hear grunts and groans from the lens stabilizer, insect-like chattering from auto-focus and clicks from exposure control. None of this matters with stills but for video ... unacceptable. It's a very busy, noisy world in there. Consider an external microphone on some sort of boom and/or use of manual controls. But now you have lost much of that anticipated convenience and compactness.


The Bottom Line

With much attention to the pitfalls and with careful planning you can produce impressive video . The image quality is there but if you are serious about video you will want to invest in a dedicated video camera for now. Of course, there will be pros out there who will prove "it can be done" with a DSLR but is it worth all the effort and frustration?

DSLR video is certainly more than a gimmick and very nice to have for those occasions when you need a short, high quality clip to accompany your stills but for more than that, the frustrations dominate.

Convergence is coming but probably not in a camera with a mirror or with only an LCD for viewing.  

Don't forget about video editing/authoring software. I have tried several packages and ended up with Corel Video Studio . Along with the usual razzle-dazzle special effects it incorporates some serious photographic tools for managing exposure accuracy, contrast and color saturation (among other image parameters you might want to edit). It is very easy to learn and the workflow is straightforward. There are other excellent products. Cyberlink "Powerdirector" has many fans as does Sony "Vegas".  "Powerdirector" is easier to learn than "Vegas" but not nearly so intuitive as "Video Studio". All ran reliably and fast during my tests. Avail yourself of the demos and check the reviews. As with most things photographic and computer-ish one man's meat is another's poison.