To Video or to DSLR, That is the Question

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What a can of worms.

What will be your next video camera? You certainly ramp up the confusion level at the moment, when you start to think about this problem that is common to all of us.

No matter what the level of your experience, the decision about which camera you should spend your hard-earned cash on next, is a biggie.

Where do we start, Sony, Canon, JVC, Panasonic, GoPro, Red, Etc., Etc.?

Tape, Hard drive, Disc, Memory Cards, Etc.,Etc.

Should we have a video camera that can take stills?

$500, $1000, $2000, $5000, $8000, $10000, $20000, $50000, where does it all end?

It is really hard.

Yes, and then along comes the Digital SLR stills camera and some bright spark decides to add a feature to make it able to shoot Hi Def Video. Thanks very much.

Let’s all join hands and run around in circles singing “What the hell do I buy now?” “What the hell do I buy now?” “What the hell do I buy now?” La La La La La La

If you are reading this blog you will no doubt have seen some of the absolutely beautiful videos being posted on the web showing the best of what these little wonders are capable. It is very inspiring and you will no doubt have thought, that is how you want your videos to look. However, your question about which camera to buy next has suddenly gotten even harder.

Your questions on every blog I have read concerning these cameras has shown how much you want to know about them, and whether they are a viable option for you to buy instead of a video camera.

Is a Video Camera better?

Now there’s a question for you. Here are some thoughts that may help you to make that decision for yourself.

-What is your biggest interest, video or stills?

If you are mainly shooting video and are not very experienced, you will find a DSLR quite difficult to use. There is no flip out screen like most video cameras so you will need to have your head behind the camera to see the screen to see what you are shooting. In sunlight, this is even more difficult. Most of the great looking videos you see taken with them are shot with a monitor attached so that the operator can see what he is shooting with the aid of the monitor.

-Are you still shooting everything with your video camera set on auto?

The main thing that people love with the DSLR cameras is the beautiful filmic look that they achieve. This is mainly because with the right lenses ie prime lenses you can achieve a very shallow Depth of Field [DOF]. They do this because you can open up their iris or aperture to an f-stop around f1.4 to f1.8 depending on the lens, the wider open it is the shallower the Depth of Field. This means that the part of your image in focus is only a matter of an inch or two deep. The eyes may be in focus but the ears will be falling out of focus. It will draw your attention to the part of the shot that is in focus and it is part of what makes films have the look that they have. To do this though you have to shoot manual exposure and manual focus and your aperture will generally need to be wide open or close to it.

However, on a film you will have a Focus Puller to keep you in focus and a Grip to move the camera on a dolly so that you can move with the action and keep your actors in focus and in frame. Good luck with shooting your videos like that.

Also, remember that a prime lens is a fixed focal length lens and not a zoom lens so to get a closer or wider shot you will have to walk closer or further away. You will also have to try to keep focusing while you are doing that.   Are you having fun yet, unless you are very experienced, probably not. The other way for you to get a wider or closer shot is to have a range of lenses ie wide, standard and telephoto. Although now you will have to change lenses every time you want to change the shot. This is one reason they designed zoom lenses and why zoom lenses became so popular.

If you are using a zoom lens on a DSLR it will not quite have the same look as a Prime lens, they cannot open up to f1.4 or 1.8. The best is about 2.8, although that is better than the cheaper 4.5- 5.6 lenses. The zoom lenses also have more elements or pieces of glass in them and that has an effect on the image that falls on the sensor.

Are DSLR’s any Good for Video?

Absolutely! But every really good video I have seen shot with them has been shot by an experienced or talented operator. People who can shoot great video or great stills no matter which camera they are using. If you are a good stills photographer and need a new camera and want to start shooting HD video this could be a great choice for you. Be aware though that you would probably have more fun shooting your home movies on your iPhone than on a DSLR. These DSLR cameras are a great tool if you want to shoot lovely, thoughtful, creative pieces and you have the time to do it [and you shoot within the limitations of the camera]. Keep in mind that video is very different to stills, at f1.4 as soon as your subject moves they will be out of focus and in most videos, people move. Another difference for stills photographers is that they are used to telling their whole story in one shot, that is part of their skill. For us video or film people, the story has to be told in a sensible, logical, enjoyable, interesting, involving, and entertaining sequence of shots that can be edited together. This is why I have many stills people who do The Video Camera Course, to learn how to shoot sequences.


Personally I think you still need two cameras. Maybe as you have read this article, it has made it clear for you, and your answer is obvious. Lucky you.

But for the rest of us I think,

1 - A relatively good video camera if video is what you want to shoot and you are still learning how to do it well.

2 - A DSLR if you are experienced or willing to work really hard at your craft and you can deal with the negatives. If you have been researching this for a while you will also be aware of the sound issues and the moving verticals when panning issues. So much of the video you shoot will need to be static shots to keep that beautiful look and to avoid the leaning or wobbly verticals when panning.

On the other hand, apart from beautiful images, some DSLR’s have features that most video camera don’t have such as slow motion. As a great man once said, “oh what you can do”. In a few months time there will be a new model of something else out that will blitz them all and we will all be crying in our milk, because we bought the old model. Yes, it happens with $50000 cameras as well. Damn those manufacturers, how dare they.

Even more reasons why you should work on your skills. You will then get better and better no matter what camera you have. Enjoy your journey, it is part of the reason we do what we do.

To get a head start on learning those skills quickly and easily check out The Video Camera Course.

This is how you will learn how to shoot great video.

Remember Learn it, Shoot it, Love it.

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