vDSLRs are not smaller & lighter, nor cheaper.
When I started in the video biz, I had a 3-chip Sony M7 cabled to a separate VO8800 3/4 SP deck with 20-minute tapes and two batteries. It produced very pretty images. Today I carry a phone that shoots HD. My phone is smaller and lighter than the camcorders I started with.
But I am so very tired of vDSLR (HDSLR, EVIL, whatever) fanatics touting that one of the greatest features of the format is that they are so “run & gun” so “small & light” and yet offer so much capability. You mean like full HD output on a big screen, built in stereo audio, XLR inputs, audio metering, waveform, headphone outputs, multiple HD video outputs, on-shoulder balance, easy to toggle and adjust manual settings for focus, zoom, iris, shutter, gain and white balance while shooting? Able to shoot for hours at a time for live events? You know, those features, aside from “it looks pretty” that professionals need all the time?
Well, it turns out that the smaller & lighter vDSLRs can indeed offer many of those features, by throwing away the notion of smaller & lighter. So I wish people would stop touting it as a “you get smaller & lighter AND you get real pro camcorder features.” Here’s a list of for-instances that I’ll gather and add to over time because this notion that vDSLRs are smaller & lighter, and even CHEAPER in any way compared to a prosumer or professional video camcorder.
Here’s an article from December 2010 DV Magazine about videographer Mike Slee and his Red Rock Micro rig that he developed for shooting videos among troops.
Specifically he touts:
The mid-range DSLR hurdles a number of obstacles presented to Slee in past missions, particularly issues with space and maneuverability, as well as issues with visibility…. Because DLSRs aren’t designed to be operated like a video camera, Slee needed a handheld rig that would make DSLR shooting easier.
In the end it looks like this:
Slee uses custom thermal-molded RAT Grips instead of the rubber Redrock handles, and generally uses shorter rails than what a given configuration will call for.) “It has to be functional to the environment I’m in,” he explains. Slee is comfortable with the lightweight Running Man configuration but prefers his personal version of the Field Cinema Deluxe Bundle, where the camera is offset to the left of the shoulder mount, with the monitor positioned above the follow focus on the left side of the camera body, and a full-size V-mount battery mount is attached to the shoulder pad.
Now, add the cost of the monitor, hood, velcroed power supply, Sony battery, Zoom audio, shotgun mic, shock mount, black cabling, tactical Red Rock Micro setup, Sennheiser wireless, Sony headphones, special handles, extra rods, and you’re well beyond the cost of an EX1 which is probably half the weight, and a a third the size. Plus, this rig doesn’t look very rugged– a trip to the ground will have all the various little 1/4-20 threaded accessories flying off their mounts.
Here’s another excellent example. In an article published by Philip Bloom on his blog about Robert Rodriguez using vDSLRs, Bloom paraphrases Rodriguez:
Robert really enjoyed shooting with the 7ds, he said it took him back to his El Mariachi roots and was really happy with the end results. He loved the ability to just jump out and grab the shots in a short period of time, switching between the big sniper rig and the simple Zacuto Z-Finder rig.
Was this is the “jump out and grab” rig he was talking about:
Jimmy Lindsey, Robert’s DoP on the ‘Bob Schneider’ music video wrote to Bloom:
…those are my 7D rigs at work. After seeing all the questions, I thought I might shed a little light on the subject. The rig Robert is using was set up to allow him to see an HDSDI image on a 7″ Panasonic onboard monitor while his AC (the insanely talented Sebastian Vega) pulls focus with a Preston FIZ from a 17″ Panasonic monitor. Very necessary as you know when shooting on a 200mm at a 2.8. The signal was split from HDMI to 2 HDSDIs using the Aja Black Magic powered by a Nebtek adapter and Sony M batteries. Both the Preston and the onboard were powered with a D tap cable and a Sony onboard battery.
A key takaway here is that, despite hearkening for his “El Mariachi” roots, he’s got full HD split out, someone else is doing DIT and pulling focus remotely, and the whole setup is as far from a single, wind up 16mm Bolex as you can get.
Let’s compare: vDSLRs:
I’ve shot with vDSLRs. I love the look. But getting a good look takes careful preparation and execution.
You have to be mindful of moire and aliasing that may in some instances appear in your images. But most of the time the look of vDSLRs warrant their use. I have no problem using them when appropriate. Just as I have no problem using the truly smaller & lighter GoPro Hero, when appropriate.
But I will never tout the Hero as a replacement for professional camcorders because it doesn’t do everything a pro camcorder does, as easily as a pro camcorder does. Neither do vDSLRs, and I wish proponents of their use let the cameras rest on their merits- a unique and stunningly beautiful look at a fraction of the cost of shooting 35mm film- and stop touting features that simply don’t exist.
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Saw this vDSLR frankenrig promoted on Vimeo.
And by promoted, I mean the builder is proud of his work.
But wait, there’s more- video of the rig in action!!!
How about this simplified instruction on how to shoot video on the recently introduced Nikon P7000.
Let’s cut to the chase. Shooting Video. Set your menu to 1080P: MENU-SHOOTING MENU-MOVIE SETTINGS-MOVIE QUALITY: 1920X1080; 24 fps; high quality. Be sure to choose MANUAL MOVIE SETTINGS: ON.
Set your lens to manual focus. Although the D7000 handles auto-focus while shooting video, manual focus gives you more control. Same with exposure. Set your ISO first: push the ISO button on the back, and rotate the MAIN CONTROL DIAL with your thumb. Next, set your shutter speed to 1/50 by rotating the MAIN CONTROL DIAL. Set the aperture with your index finger on the SUB COMMAND DIAL located below the MAIN ON-OFF SWITCH. Tweak other settings like Color Temperature, Audio (Microphone), and Destination (Card Slot).
Turn the LIVE VIEW (LV) lever in the direction of the arrow. The image is displayed on the 3″ LCD viewing screen. To begin shooting video, simply press the RED BUTTON inside the LIVE VIEW lever. To stop shooting, press the RED BUTTON again. Still pictures are taken with the regular shutter release button while in LIVE VIEW. Rotate the LIVE VIEW LEVER in the direction of the arrow to exit. It’s all very intuitive. You can shoot about 20 minutes per clip; there’s a count-down timer in the upper right of the LCD screen.
THERE, that is so much better than taking a Canon XF300 out of the bag, turning it on, and hitting record.
January 22, 2011
Just saw this review of the ReWo GH2 cage on EOSHD.com. Not that the rig is that big, and the concept of making an “outline” cage that offers a lot more mounting points has serious merit, but I had to laugh out loud at this section:
What I like most about this cage is that it so tightly adheres to the GH2’s small form factor and shape… Handheld with a shoulder mount, follow focus and handles, footage gets a huge boost. All the usual handheld jitter is gone, the unnatural floating feeling of OIS is gone, and yet the rig is still incredibly compact and light compared to a ENG shoulder cam for broadcast.
Shoulder mount and follow focus. Okay, you’ve added mass for stability and follow focus so you’re more easily able to roll focus, but you still can’t zoom. Put it down, the adjustment for the shoulder makes it wobble. There are no microphones except the cruddy internal mono mic right now, no mixer, no XLR, not audio solution here at all.
Let’s be honest; “Incredibly compact and light compared to an ENG shoulder cam for broadcast” True, but all you have is image. Nothing else. By the time you rig it out to do everything an ENG camera can, you got the same thing- actually, compared to velcroing two receivers on an ENG camera, I think frankenrig looks and operates much worse. Try feathering a smooth zoom onto your subject while racking focus and opening up the iris- the viewfinder showing you critical peaking for accurate focus and internal waveforms showing your light levels… and the built in speaker next to your ear confirming not only good audio, but that the zoom is motivated by what the actress- some 20 feet away, is saying. Frankenrig? Impossible. ENG? Every single day.
Can you even pick it up & carry it? With what? The author sees no need for top handles on camcorders:
The rectangular shape of the F3 and AF100 is simply a relic of the past and what people expect a ‘pro’ camera to look like. There was some good thinking in the AF100 design with the removable handle though. …they will become an option rather than de rigueur, and there is absolutely no need to have the core chassis of a video camera bigger than it needs to be.
You just have to ask what the point is of making the core of the camera smaller if you then have to buy rigs to attach everything you removed so the camera is actually able to do everything you need it to do. Why not just have a bigger camera with XLR audio, on-shoulder, and a handle on top to begin with rather than taking it off and then being forced to buy it again from a 3rd party provider?
But wait, it gets better.
In a Red Rock Micro forum, a user showcases the evolution of his on-shoulder system, including wireless receiver, audio recording, on-camera mic, monitor and camera. It’s a nice setup. And it conveniently fits into FOUR Pelican cases.
Compare this to the ENG setup that’s so “last century”
You can pick this up, put on the tripod, and in 20 seconds, get your shot.
Do vDSLR’s enable the solo shooter? Check out the above rig’s setup instructions here.
Do you spend more time making sure the shot is right, or the rig is put together right?
How quick a transition between tripod & handheld?
When you are done, how long is your tear down?
Is a shallow depth of field, at the expense of everything else, really worth all this?
A comment here and a twitter response, independently, both proffered an article about “covert” shooting in Burma.
When I read the article, looked at the photos, and watched the video, I took away something completely different than the people who proffered it in defense of smaller vDSLR configurations. I saw video where there were other prosumer camcorders in almost every location where Aung Sang Su Kyi was. The vDSLR didn’t offer any advantages that I could see in those locations. Then the article goes on to talk about “Dodging the authorities was not our only problem. We were also filming rebel militias in the jungle, capturing gun battles” but was this done covertly? No. Because the article shows the crews displaying their technical gear (several cases & bags of it) to the impressed rebel militias.
I kept searching for the reasons why the vDSLR was chosen over a prosumer camcorder that has XLR inputs and could fit in the pocket, shoot covertly with nightvision in the dark, etc. Let me excerpt some of the author’s comments in the article. Again, we each see what we want to, but this is what I took away:
I bought a Canon 5D Mkii and spent many hours fine-tuning my newsgathering set up. Not easy with so much misleading nonsense on the internet. The more control you have over your shoot, the greater your chance of DSLR video success. For random videos set to music the end product using a 5DmkII is often a wow. Failed and missed shots can be glossed over. But with newsgathering there is often little or no control of your subject. DSLRs are a compromise for video, but for Burma they were the key to getting the only HD pictures.
Later he explains that all the other news organizations were using palmcorders. The video shows lots of other recorders, still cameras and even phones- all of which, today, can shoot HD video. So I don’t understand how the vDSLR was the only way to get HD video.
My advice for news is to avoid ridiculous oversized DSLR rigs. The Christmas tree look isn’t practical and you want to be able to turn round in corridors.
I found for me there is little point in having lenses faster than F4. Image stabilizing is the essential factor… Having to change lenses is a tremendous pain, not just in dusty conditions … I did miss the longer range of my broadcast Canon HD lens. My least favourite thing was using the essential Canon 5DmkII focus assist and realising that the zoomed in shot I could see on the screen was the one that I wanted, but that I didn’t have the lens to shoot it!
Shooting at F4 with longer lenses still gives an extremely narrow depth of field. Unless your subject is sitting in a Victorian photographer’s neck brace the chances of nailing a shot at F1.4 are slim. The 5DmkII’s LCD screen is good, but the Zacuto Z-finder I found disappointing. Compared to using a proper ENG camera’s viewfinder, following focus and setting exposure are absurdly tricky.
I also don’t understand why pro-photographers accept cameras that can only give a low level shot if you lie in the dirt or that require a step-ladder for an angled down top shot. The Zacuto finder doesn’t help here. I think it is over hyped and I’m looking for a better solution.
A Canon D60 would help – or any consumer, prosumer, or pro camcorder has a rotatable screen / eyepiece.
I confess we used a regular DV camcorder to do our videophone lives; including in night vision mode after dark. The Streambox live software in our MacBook Pros requires the use of a firewire connector, which the Canon 5DmkII does not have.
I did a few excursions to record the gun battles … the Juicedlink DTD454‘s output mini jack got knocked. … the output socket had broken and gave only intermittent sound to the 5DmkII. … I could do nothing but weep when I later realised the entire sequence of thousands of refugees streaming away from the fighting was mute. Audio is the issue with the 5D and it’s no joke when things go wrong Manual sound was now seriously handicapped with no way to monitor sound at all.
In Rangoon all the international media were there illegally. All the other broadcasters were using mini-sized palmcorders and our 5DmkII’s were definitely going to give us better pictures if we could pull it off.
As a news shooter, your priority should be that you can get the shot, not that you got prettier pictures.
Duncan and I posed as tourists with our cameras and dodged the military intelligence and plain clothes police who were on the streets in large numbers.
Militia and their leaders are not idiots. They know video can be recorded with phones, cameras, etc.
I had run with my gear three kilometres … I was very glad I was holding a lightweight 5DmkII. … the crowd surged. I ramped up the ISO, switched on my Z96 LED … how amazing it was such a moment was lit by a small and inexpensive LED light!
So a camera light was needed anyway. Not an available light shot where only vDSLRs like the Nikon D3s need apply. And the 5D + rig + light is not as light as a small prosumer camcorder.
The image quality was outstanding, although I personally can’t ignore the flash banding, …
half way through the presser my mini jack cable was torn in half by the force of the scrum. I removed the minijack from the 5D and we recorded the remainder of the presser on top mic alone. Fortunately we’d done a piece to camera earlier among the crowds of supporters outside.
Because the built-in audio is unusable?
Saying shooting video on a stills camera is a compromise is a bit of an understatement. Duncan was using a Tascam DR-100 audio unit to record sound separately for voiceover and without it we would have been in trouble. I still want to record audio direct to the CF card so I can be better placed to do quick edits without the need to find and sync separately recorded SD audio files.
Try using a video camcorder.
My Kit includes: 5DmkII with 24-105mm F4L IS and fitted battery grip, 70-200mm F4L IS. Old Zeiss/Contax 25mm F2.8 and 50mm F1.4. Delkin dual battery charger, six Canon batteries, Juiced Link DT454 mixer and 9v batteries, headphones, Zacuto Z-finder, SmallHD DP6 Monitor and ball and socket connector, custom Redrockmicro gunstock rig, six CF cards, Genus Fader ND, Sonnet dual CF card reader, Schoeps shotgun mic and hot shoe bracket. Tram TR-50 lavalier mic, various XLR cables, small F&V light Z96 LED light and ball connector, reflector, 15inch MacBook pro and hard drives.
How is this more covert than any of today’s prosumer camcorders? How long did it take to “gear up” from packed gear to cover live events?
Canon offers an almost identical model to the JVC on the right that also shoots in complete darkness with IR lights.
Panasonic also offers a detachable handle model for the “consumer look” when needed.
There are also high end consumer models (much less expensive than a vDSLR) that have a mic input. Best of all, there’s headphone jacks, reliable, rugged XLR jacks, audio meters, video scopes, flash media, a handle to mount the wireless receiver, a rotatable high resolution screen for high and low shots, an eyepiece for use in very bright situations, and the entire camera kit can fit in a big jacket pocket, not a big backpack and several pelican cases (as shown above).
Again, this article was published on a site that touts the advantages of vDSLRs over camcorders. Yet this article espoused- in my mind- how much better a prosumer camcorder would have solved all of this news organizations problems. Want to make a movie- get a vDSLR. But for so many other uses, a vDSLR is the absolute wrong choice.
if you want to read where a vDSLR is the absolute right choice, another article on the same site is a prime example:
Here is an opportunity to shoot video at the videographer’s pace. In a dim interior. Where you can retake shots, or reframe if there’s aliasing or moire. No flash strobing to worry about. No gear going to get broken or dropped in battle. Plenty of time to check audio on an interview. This usage is a vDSLR user’s best gig. Funny, then that Tony Umrany closes this article with: “it clearly has limitations in a fast paced news world. I’m looking forward to another outing to see what I can improve upon but I will certainly choose my stories wisely.” Or better yet, choose your gear depending on the story you need to cover.
To a hammer, everything is a nail.
Don’t let it be the same with the new vDSLR you have (or want to get.)
Another thing to consider is whether the purchase is for personal creative reasons (a hobby) or professional (ROI) reasons. I think this is a great question to ask because every site that talks about vDSLRs has a host of ads from companies that sell vDSLR accessories. I think back to how Fairbanks Alaska (where my father lives) went from a tiny dot to a major city in Alaska. It was because of several gold rushes in the area. Thousands of people flocked to the area (and by area I mean hundreds of square miles) but very few got rich finding gold (ROI). Those who did get rich are the storekeepers who supplied those “rushers” who rushed after every latest and greatest rumor of gold.
For some professionals with established businesses, the vDSLRs are tools that will pay for themselves. For everyone else, the only people getting rich are those selling you all the accessories you need to try and make your vDSLR do what you want it to do. They LOVE this craze. They’ll fan the flames as much as possible (maybe even make some web video series all about vDSLRs and how good they are!) Because if they all say it often enough, you will believe that a vDSLR is indeed the camera you need. It becomes your “precious” (to quote Lord of the Rings) and you’ll do whatever you think it needs.
I have nothing against the accessory makers. They make incredibly useful tools. But I caution those who lust after a camera thinking it’s a smaller, lighter & cheaper way to make professional video— I caution you that buying the camera is just the tip of the iceberg of what you may spend.
Oh it just keeps getting richer.
What happens when a proponent of vDSLRs and rigs says the following:
And still more. It just doesn’t end.
February 18th, 2011’s post on James Boyd’s site talked about his Frankenrig, which he actually designed specifically to enable to do everything a regular camcorder would do.
Really, by the time you are done here, the setup is not smaller than a handheld prosumer camcorder. It’s not lighter than a prosumer camcorder. It’s certainly not cheaper than a prosumer camcorder. The only thing it offers is a unique shallow depth of field. But that is a lot of gear to jury-rig for one camera feature.
Moreover, you can now have that large sensor on various prosumer camcorders from Sony & Panasonic. With built-in XLR jacks, professional audio control & metering, quality monitoring with scopes and peaking, focus assist, built in high quality stereo microphones and a clip to still add the light of your choice.
So, yea, you’d still add the light.
But everything else you could throw in the trash, if it didn’t cost so much.