DSLR Video Conversion: One Year Later

A little over a year ago, I finally decided to convert from traditional video cameras to DSLR video. It was a scary move. I researched and tested for months before converting.

I knew that I couldn’t plug in mics directly to a DSLR for usable audio. I also knew that a lot of features I liked about video cameras weren’t there, including zebras and peaking. The form factor made hand held shots very difficult. But, the benefits outweighed the costs and solutions were out there.

One of the features that attracted me to DSLR video was depth of field. This was probably the number one consideration for converting. DSLR video, on my Canon 5D MkII, gave me the ability to easily isolate subjects from their environments. With a traditional video camera, that was difficult, even impossible in some situations.

Accurately focusing became another issue. With video cameras, built in peaking allowed me to see where the actual focus was. This was not so with DSLRs. I found Magic Lantern, a memory card based piece of software that works with the camera’s firmware. It doesn’t replace the camera’s firmware and has never given me any problems.

There are many features in Magic Lantern, but the one that I like to use all the time is peaking, which looks at contrast in a picture and outlines the sharpest areas. That tells me what is in focus. But, that wasn’t good enough. I wanted to double check the peaking.

DSLR LCDs are not the best for checking those details. So, I got a Zacuto Z-Finder PRO 3X. It magnifies what is on the LCD screen so that I could see fine details.

Hand held shooting is pretty dicey with a DSLR. There is no usable IS. So, I have a small shoulder mounted rig by DLC. It conforms to my body well and I can even let go of the camera to make adjustments. It steadies my shooting quite a bit.

With the picture taken care of, I then moved onto audio. DSLR audio is horrid. With very few exceptions, I only use it to sync with external audio. I had a Zoom H2 and Juiced Link set up already. I used it to record voice only before. But now, I use it all the time for video.

I record the finished audio to the Zoom and monitor directly there. Syncing is easy with Dual Eyes and Plural Eyes. Both work incredibly fast. So, there is no real need for a clapper board to sync sound. It is so easy, that it has become a part of my regular workflow. I don’t even think about it twice.

Sure, there are issues with DSLRs. There is no built-in ND filters. Then, there is the rolling shutter issue, which exists with most CMOS video cameras, anyway. There are a few affordable global shutter cameras coming out. But, using a DSLR fulfills another goal for me. I can have one set up for video and stills.

My setup has become considerably smaller and figuring out which gear to bring has become easier. For stills, I have base setup. For video, I add some things, like the Zacuto and audio gear, if I am recording live audio. I also bring a couple of lights, heavy tripod and slider. But, the base setup is still the same, it is the DSLRs with their lenses. When I am out on a job, I can shoot a few still frames during a video shoot if I want to, and vice versa. I don’t have to reach for additional gear to accomplish that.

Would I ever consider go back to a video camera? Possibly, but I wouldn’t buy a smaller chip traditional camera. It would be to Super 35 sized and larger sensors, for the type of image I could acquire. That’s a way off though, with more of an investment. I could rent these for specific jobs. For now, I am pleased with the results and wouldn’t change a thing, except to add additional accessories. But, that seems to be the case, no matter what the gear is. It seems impossible to stop adding things to my rig.

For a sample on the differences between a small chip video camera and a DSLR, here are two samples:

Video camera:

DSLR:

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