The Sleeping Giant's Sea Lion

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I have made a few short films and plan to get more serious about it, but professional digital video cameras are generally expensive and the recent line of beginner DSLRs which can take HD video like Canon 550D gets cheaper. I wonder what pros and cons of video DSLRs over traditional video cameras are and if I should buy a new DSLR for film-making if I have already had a DSLR (Nikon D50).

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I tried to list the pros and cons in a vacuum (ie ignoring external factors). For example, handycams have much better mics than than dSLR's, however you have the option of using either a dedicated recording system, or a solid quality mic. So the mic is still a con, but it's easily mitigated.

Pros

  • Access to awesome lens lineup
  • Amazing low-light performance
  • Use existing equipment, instead of separate video hardware
  • Lighter travel
  • Great performance for low cost compared to dedicated video cameras.
  • AWESOME photo image quality
  • Lens based image stabilization
  • build format (this can be a con as well)
  • Familiarity with camera body
  • In the right hands, with the right accessories, produces professional results.
  • Depth of Field
  • Huge image sensor

Cons

  • Dedicated video cameras are designed for video
  • Auto focus
  • Video Format Support
  • Video File Size
  • Only flash media
  • Sensor overuse causing heating issues
  • built-in audio sucks
  • very few bells and whistles for video. Since camera bodies are first and foremost for photography, most features are geared towards still photos (bracketing, AEB, etc). Features that you expect from a dedicated video camera (stereo mic, video outputs galore, jog-scrolling, enhanced playback features, dub over, etc) may not be present
  • "Jello/Jelly" Motion Effect caused by the CMOS Sensor when panned quickly. Not all dSLR bodies exhibit this.
  • build format (this can be a pro as well)
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Thank you for your answer, but can you explain more about "bells and whistles" and "jello motion"? Also didn't you mean low price/performance ratio, as it's listed in pros? –  puri Jul 27 '10 at 6:01
    
No, I meant low price to high performance, which is a high ratio. –  Alan Jul 27 '10 at 6:22
    
Isn't the depth of field shallower on a DSLR? I thought that was part of the appeal to pros - larger senser size requiring longer focal lengths -> shallowed DoF. –  Nick Miners Jul 27 '10 at 9:18
    
@Nick: Sorry, that's what I meant. By greater, I meant greater options, not wider. –  Alan Jul 27 '10 at 16:42
1  
The "jello motion effect" is called rolling shutter. –  Nayuki Minase Aug 18 '11 at 4:41

I shoot video with two cameras, a Panasonic DVX100 (video camera) and a Canon T2i. I'll say that DSLR video looks great if you spend the time and effort but for ease of use a traditional video camera is leaps and bounds better.

The big differences are:

  • No autofocus with the DSLR. You can autofocus but you'll be waiting 4-5 seconds for it to hunt focus. Every decent video camera can autofocus in real-time. With a DSLR you'll be shelling out some change for a good follow focus (which can cost more than the camera in some cases!). You'll also have to convince a friend to pull focus if you're shooting with a fast lens.

  • XLR audio with the video camera. Nobody really uses any built-in mics on DSLR or video cameras for anything serious, so connecting a good mic is key. Every prosumer+ video camera gives you native XLR audio ports. DSLR's usually just have a stereo/mono 3.5mm jack and few options to balance/monitor audio. I know the Canon T2i even has auto-gain control which actually reduces audio quality!.

  • Jello with the DSLR. As much as this is talked about you have to try hard to get significant jelloing. It's something to think about but you'll quickly find the limits of your camera and it's easy to avoid.

  • Video cameras seem to have better image stabilization. Perhaps it's just me but even the midrange consumer camcorders have better IS than the lens-based IS from any of the Canon DSLR lenses.

Ergonomics and the other issues mentioned by the other answers are an issue but these are the biggest things I've noticed in the time I've been shooting.

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DSLR video setups are more similar to traditional film camera, in the sense that you need to expose everything manually. It's very difficult to capture any action unless you have a dedicated focusing rig and someone to operate it. If you build all this stuff around a DSLR, you can get professional results, but if you just want to have one cameraman which can come with you and capture something that moves then video camera is still your best bet.

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Doesn't autofocus work in video mode? I haven't put my hands on a video DSLR, so I am not sure. –  puri Jul 27 '10 at 15:11
    
It does work on a dslr, but imo it's not like what you get with the handycams. –  Alan Jul 27 '10 at 16:43
    
On Canon 5D Mk II it does work, but when I tried it it spent most of the time hunting with a speed of drugged snail. The only usable component of what I was trying to film was audio. –  che Jul 27 '10 at 19:57
    
What DSLR not has autofocus? the Nikon D5100 has autofocus –  user7098 Oct 31 '11 at 3:19
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@Daniel, DSLRs have autofocus, but the autofocus sensors are separate from the image sensor. The AF sensors get their light from the partially transparent mirror, and when it's flipped up to take video, the AF sensors can't operate. Some cameras can also look at the image in the video and adjust the focus to maximize contrast, but this is nowhere near as quick as the dedicated AF sensors. –  Theran Nov 2 '11 at 6:29

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