Entries in DSLR (1)


Shooting news video with DSLRs

I've been interested for quite a while in how news shooters view the new generation of DSLR cameras with regards to their ability to capture video.

My interest was piqued again when I edited a recent feature for the PBS NewsHour which was predominantly shot with a new Canon DSLR camera. I have several observations based on that experience:

1) Ingestion time: The files from the camera took a long time to ingest into Final Cut Pro from a Firewire 800 drive using the Log and Transfer plug-in. I tried both unwrapping the raw MXF files, and getting the plug-in to convert to a more editing-friendly Apple ProRes format. Both methods took hours, and there was probably only two hours of footage.

2) Shallow DOF: The enormous size of DSLR sensors - along with the ability to use lenses of varying focal length - can create very narrow depth, and a cinematic look that many movie producers who shoot on video are fond of. But in a news environment where speed is often of the essence, and do-overs are usually not an option, movement often seems to result in objects coming in and out of focus. I find this distracting.

3) Picture texture: While I love the rich texture of the DSLR image, I'm not entirely sold on its appropriateness for news. This is especially the case when a story - such as the one I edited - involves footage from both a DSLR and a traditional pro camcorder - a Sony XDCAM EX3. Trying to match the images is impossible. And the difference when cutting from one format to the other just seemed too jarring to me.

4) White balance: I haven't shot video in a serious way on a DSLR myself, but in viewing the rushes it seemed to me that the colors often didn't appear accurate. They often seemed too red or too green. I'm not sure if this was user error, auto white balance, or just an inherent issue with DSLR cameras.

5) Audio: The sound on all the interviews using an external lavaliere microphone were over-modulated. I have heard from various shooters that audio remains a problem on DSLR cameras. Obviously, audio is of critical importance in television.

Having said all that, I am very interested in future developments in DSLR video cameras, particularly when manufacturers start to incorporate more functions of use in news gathering. There are a couple of really good blogs that are worth checking out if you are interested in the subject and want to keep up with DSLR video technology:

DSLR Video Shooter and Learning DSLR Video are great resources. While not tailored to news shooting, they are very authoritative on the issues and developments in DSLR video. For example, in the video below from Learning DSLR, author Dave Dugdale comprehensively compares two brands of DSLR.

As ever, I'm interested in what my readers think. Have you had success shooting news video with a DSLR. If so, let me know. And I'm keen to hear about the drawbacks too.