While the DSLR craze is in full swing, and for great reason, there are certain aspects of video production that are best suited to a video camera drawn from ENG video experience. It's not that I don't appreciate large sensors and film-like depth of field, it's just that a video camera was designed around run and gun news gathering ala the 6 o'clock news. DSLR cameras bring a lot to the table, but certain aspects of their design can be cumbersome such as: lack of XLR audio inputs, awkward zoom & focus, inability to stably handhold the thing, awkward and poor viewfinder, lack of ND filters for on the fly exposure compensation, etc, etc, etc.
Don't get me wrong. While it may sound like I'm ranting — I'm not. The DSLR is an amazing advancement in video production, and is extremely well suited to promotional videos, short format documentaries, and other productions with a film-like workflow (read: you have at least a 3 person crew), but for certain aspects of run and gun video production it is simply not the best tool.
On two recent corporate boardroom shoots I tested both the Canon 7D and the Nikon D7000, the latter of which I own. Both are excellent cameras, but neither filled the role that my Sony PMW-EX1 would have filled with ease. Videography in this type of situation requires quick adapatability and mobility, neither of which the SLR really offered as an advantage over my video camera. In the shoot with the 7D I had kitted it out with an external monitor for proper focusing ability, and a follow focus mechanism to make on the fly adjustments easier. By the time I had built the rig there was no size advantage over my video camera. Similar was true for the D7000.
Another beef I had with the DSLR was lens choice. While there are tons of lenses available for DSLR shooting, none of them had the smooth zoom of a video lens, nor the focal range that I had come to expect from a video lens. Not to mention that the lens on a video camera doesn't barrel in and out all over the place.
To top it all off, using a DSLR with sound recorded in an H4N adds more steps to post production. In an ideal situation this isn't really a problem with the audio sync plugins offered in Final Cut X or through Plural Eyes, but it is another step. When working on corporate productions where they need their video asap, this can add needless time to a scenario where the audio was recorded with proper SMPTE timecode sync.
Anyway, I thought I'd share some of my experience using DSLRs for video work. While I feel the DSLR is an amazing tool, there are certain situations where it's best to deviate from the popular norm and use a good old fashioned video camera.
Chris Stenberg is a creative director, photographer, filmmaker, and traveller. In his spare time you can find him biking and boarding in the mountains of British Columbia.