Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Has the DSLR come of age?

Posted in Journalism, Online Video, studio .fu by Adam Westbrook on November 3, 2010

*Apologies to email subscribers who may have received an unfinished draft version of this article when I published it by mistake!

DSLR cameras with HD video capabilities have been on the market for a couple of years and have been making a significant impression for pretty much as long.

I spent part of last week nerding out big time at the annual Canon Expo in London (my write up of last years event is right here).

It’s mostly targeting stills photographers, with the majority of demos, products and talks aimed at the traditional DSLR user. But this year, there was a significantly higher number of videographers attending, and more and more products designed for their needs.

For example, the Steadicam Merlin (a lightweight stabiliser that gives you steadicam smoothness on moving shots) was one of the most popular items. There was more paraphernalia including handheld rigs, LCD monitors, matte boxes and ring lights – all designed for the filmmaker. You can now even rig up DSLR cameras to shoot in 3D!

So, has the DSLR come of age?

That’s what Dan Chung, one of the real pioneers in the cinematic aesthetic of video journalism, told attendees on Tuesday.

He says DSLR cameras offer a flexibility and portability that a camcorder alternative just can’t. For him, the most important thing is being able to fit all of his gear into a backpack, and the size of DSLRs means he can bring as many as four cameras with him, plus lenses, filters and the like, on any assignment.

That’s a huge amount more video power than one, more expensive camcorder.

Why you should think about the Canon 550D

Currently the cheapest popular version of the video DSLR is the Canon 550D. I have been shooting with it since the spring, and have made films for editorial and commercial clients.

At £600 it is a sliver of the cost of its daddy, the 5D Mark II, and because of that, you would imagine – less good.

But here’s what I really took away from the Canon Expo: the 550D was getting applause from many quarters – as a better alternative to the more expensive 5D Mark II.

For example, James Tonkin, head of the multimedia production company Hangman said he would choose the 550D over a 5D, and Dan said if he could buy 1 5D Mark II, or 3 550D cameras, he would choose the 550D. Their affordability means he’s prepared to take risks with them to get more unique and dramatic shots.

The only other cameras in this price range are realistically, the Canon Legria camcorder, which has no aperture or focus control, the Lumix FZ100 or a much older camera. Either side you could pay £100 for a flip cam, or £2,000 for a broadcast camera.

I’m sure we’ll start to see more remarkable stuff being shot on the 550D entering the mainstream soon.


9 Responses

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  1. Deborah Bonello said, on November 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Thanks for that Adam. My worry with DSLR shooting is how to include audio in your shooting – do you have to record it separately? And what does the rig look like that you’re actually shooting with? Pics i have seen of it look kind of cumbersome……is that true?


    • Adam Westbrook said, on November 3, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      Hi Deborah,
      Yes you need to record your audio separately (I’m writing a blog for VJM on that this week) but it’s pretty simple to line up in post.
      The rigs can be quite cumbersome especially if you add a proper viewfinder etc onto them, but still the cameras are small enough that it all fits into a backpack.

  2. […] admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptHe says DSLR cameras offer a flexibility and portability that a camcorder alternative just can’t. For him, the most important thing is being able to fit all of his gear into a backpack, and the size of DSLRs means he can bring as many … […]

  3. JoLynne Lyon said, on November 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    What a timely post! I’ve been assigned to look at video cameras so our website can incorporate more video. My question is this: With the D550 I’ll have to record audio separately and synch it if I shoot anything over 12 minutes. So can I get similar image and video quality from a cheaper camera, since I’ll be synching audio anyway?

  4. Adam Westbrook said, on November 3, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hi JoLynne
    It really depends on your needs. If you just need HD interviews in good light without much visual flair then a cheaper Kodak Zi8 will do the job just fine.
    However, if you want control over things like aperture, shutter speed and focus, and need to shoot in low light, the SLR is still the best option (in my opinion)
    Thanks for reading!

  5. Freelance Unbound said, on November 3, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Interestingly, your draft had a really compelling line ion it – “He can stick a small Canon 550D on the side of a racetrack knowing it’s not £5000 down the can if it gets smashed up.” I wonder why you edited it out – it really caught my attention…

    • Adam Westbrook said, on November 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      Oh yeah, I had to delete and rewrite the whole thing and just forgot to put it back in there. Essentially, Dan Chung was saying his primary camera is the 5D MKII, (£2500) but he has a couple of 550D (£600) which he feels he can take physical risks with. In his film about Mongolian racers, he puts one right down by the edge of the race track, and it almost gets trampled…but actually creates some stunning footage!

  6. Tim Johns said, on November 4, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I recently bought a DSLR for shooting video and I LOVE IT.

    I wrote this about it:

  7. Martyn Bull said, on November 8, 2010 at 9:18 am

    The 60d offers more usability and flexibility than the 550d at around the same price. Also panasonic gh2, soon to be released, is a superb camera for on-the-run videojournalism with a discrete form factor.

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