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What can DSLRs actually be used for?


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#1 David R Friedli

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 06:54 PM

Hello,

Some time ago all I could read was how important a development DSLRs were, how great an image you could get with them, etc. So naturally I got interested and have been considering buying a GH2 which I can't seem to find anywhere. But now I'm hearing quite a lot of people say, well in fact they're unusable for video, they're not full-HD, their sharpness is only apparent but not real as it's caused by aliasing, image control is poor, and so on. So my question is, what can you actually do with them? From a movie maker's perspective, that is.
I've read an article where someone compared the 7D to Panasonic's HMC40 stating that the latter by far outperforms the Canon, so I wonder why isn't everyone using that HMC40. What's the truth regarding DSLRs? Can you use them for a feature film or can you not? And more importantly, is there a future in DSLRs? Are they going to get better and better or should the idea be dropped altogether?
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#2 John Sprung

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 07:11 PM

Feature, yes. Future, no.




-- J.S.
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#3 Tom Jensen

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 07:58 PM

I heard you can actually use it as a still camera.
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#4 David R Friedli

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 08:31 PM

Yes, Mr. Jensen, but I said from a filmmaker's perspective. I don't intend to go on a photo safari when I'm shooting a story.
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 08:45 PM

Can be quite useful on a film for reference stills as well to give nervous directors and idea of how the light will expose a shot (if it's on the DSLR, it's on the NEG). Can also be used to shoot incognito in areas where video is verbotten. Also can be used for special shots, and riggings where a heaver camera wouldn't make sense (cars, and that episode of house). Can also be used for shooting @ night due to higher ISO than other video systems. Not the best system in any way shape, or form, but, like anything, it has a use. I'd not want to do a full feature on them. I see them more as an "Ok, we have no budget at all, let's try to get something to hide our poor production design." I personally dislike DSLRs a lot, but they still have purposes.
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#6 David R Friedli

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 09:06 PM

I personally dislike DSLRs a lot, but they still have purposes.

Why is it so? Could you tell me, has there been any serious work shot on DSLRs? By serious work I mean movies that's been released commercially.
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 09:12 PM

Yeah, I'm old fashioned, I guess, and having dealt with the "using," side of the 5D..... well needless to say it was a bit of a hassle (and the lenses.. don't get me started!) They just aren't designed to be used in a film environment doen to monitoring, powering, ergonomics, rolling shutter stills lens designs (unless you're shelling out for Compact Primes)-- color reproduction and dynamic range and "hd" is all far secondary to being able to see the image well enough to judge focus from. That's just my opinion, of course.
Now, on to two-- as far as I know, there hasn't been anything theatrically released shot on a DSLR side from stop motion (that recent MR Fox movie, I think was a Canon stills camera). Most professional stuff shot is for TV Shows, inserts and such. House did a whole episode on it, and I believe Fringe has used it on occasion for driving shots, but that's all that I know of off of the top of my head.
Don't worry too much about overall "resolution," in terms of actual numbers. I'm of the opinion sometimes HD is far too too sharp, and there's a reason why there are so many diffusion filters cherished by DoPs.
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#8 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 01:31 AM

I heard you can actually use it as a still camera.


True, but can you make a phonecall with it too?
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#9 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 01:37 AM

With actual usable cameras like the AF100 and on the higher end, the Sony F3, the DSLR craze for video has little momentum these days.
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#10 Jean Dodge

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 01:58 PM

HDSLRs are a tool in the toolbox. For SOME low light shooting, they can currently perform in a zone where you couldn't get a usable image any other way. Last year at Venice there was a feature film lensed on canon 5dmk2 that was beautiful. It screened digitally, by the way. But I know the DoP and it wasn't easy. The window that was opened up by the 5Dmk2 is about to close, I predict with some more cinematographer-friendly tools.

We all saw SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and while that wasn't a DSLR, the effect was similar - using it as a stealth camera in a crowded foreign market is a good trick... this is the zone these cameras occupy - a novelty and specialty niche for the professional.

For amateurs they are tough - no auto focus and the files are large, etc. What's left is the semi-pro and the pro-sumer, by which I mean those with money to throw away on shiny objects. But your mileage may vary. I love them, and think there are creative ways to do near impossible things if you are willing to be creative and work HARD to get around all the flaws. But the moment there is something better, and that moment is coming soon - I will RUN away from them. THey are difficult to operate and easy to break, and have many many flaws.
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#11 Brett Underberg Davis

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 08:47 AM

THey are difficult to operate and easy to break, and have many many flaws.


I'm curious if you could expand on what you mean by "easy to break"? Is that literal (mechanical) or are you being figurative here? I'm aware of some of the defects, but for context, at this point I'm one of those who, due to family obligations, decided to "invest" in an XL H1 as a sort of poor substitute for film school. I'd been considering getting a 5D MkII body in large part because I already have a collection of both bad and good EF lenses, but I've been concerned about how much the workflow, at least as far as I've figured it out without hands-on experience, seems to resemble that used before sync sound entered moviemaking in (from bad memory) the 30s or 40s.

What sort of breakage are we talking about here?
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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 09:43 AM

the files are large




As opposed to what!? They're tiny.


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#13 Brett Underberg Davis

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 11:19 AM

As opposed to what!? They're tiny.


I probably shouldn't try to read Jean's mind here, but I was thinking Jean might have been referring to the difference between a typical (or at least relatively cheap) CF card's capacity, and the likely size of files. Again, I haven't done all my research so I might be mistaken here, but for stills I tend to stick to a CF card no larger than 4GB (and I shoot RAW 100% of the time) -- that works out to 100-150 stills per card on my vanilla 5D, I imagine the 5D MkII RAW files are considerably larger, depending on lighting and exposure. (Also, double-checking my facts, I see that the CF card relies on a somewhat antique format that limits individual video captures to no more than 4GB anyway, limiting the usefulness of relying on cards larger than 4GB capacity).

I'm sure you're right that compared to many of the truly pro-level digital cameras out there shooting in 4K, the 5D MkII files are comparatively tiny. But those cameras are also used in connection with much more massive storage media, or at least that's been my impression as an observer.

I find it hard to imagine that a much more than 15 or 20 minutes of 1080p video would fit a 4GB file, unless the native bit rate is pathetic, and while there are larger cards, and other alternatives for storage (if you can tether the camera to the necessary hardware) it does strike me as a workflow fraught with interruptions, delays and potential for catastrophic failure.

Granted, many of these limitations are similar to those that people used to live with routinely, and still do in some cases, when shooting to film.
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#14 K Borowski

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 11:30 AM

True, but can you make a phonecall with it too?


No, but I hear you can upload photos straight to FB on newer models. A giant leap foward for "film"making? ;-) Sure there's plenty of silly bells and whistles, but this can be just as true with 16- and 35mm film cameras.


In all seriousness, DSLRs can be highly useful on student films, low-budget films, but why not rent a dedicated (larger I know, but what are you going to do with the space you save, or ten-twenty pounds, unless you have little kids from gradeschool operating?



A lot of their perceived benefits are hype and marketing though. Take the commercial on TV where they show one used to shoot a spoof movie scene. I'm pretty sure '70s analog tape would have been just as impressive: They had pyrotechnics and a crane shot, stunts, crew, all of which would far outweigh in cost even shooting on IMAX.

Low light abilities? I would NOT recommend shooting past 1600 on a DSLR in stills. For movies? Take your chances cranking the ISO all the way up. . . At the same time, pushed film is almost certainly more objectioniable in terms of clean imagery than high ISO, available light, NIGHTIME shooting. . .


As to large file sizes, sure, but certainly smaller in form factor than a 1,000-foot roll of 35mm film. Shooting time? Come on, again. . . I think it's silly talking about how memory cards are expensive in relation to just about any other cost in this industry.



I've seen them look good, I've seen them look horrible; once again everyone needs to look BEHIND the camera for the quality factor. . . the DP.
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 11:32 AM

If we are talking about data amounts, the DSLR video file sizes are generally no bigger than traditional consumer standard-def DV, which is 25 Mbits/sec.
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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 01 July 2011 - 12:21 PM

They're usually a bit more than that - I have 5D takes on this very computer which work out to - let's see - well over 40Mbps, give or take the audio. Still, it's really very insignificant.

(Also, double-checking my facts, I see that the CF card relies on a somewhat antique format that limits individual video captures to no more than 4GB anyway, limiting the usefulness of relying on cards larger than 4GB capacity).




That's not quite the case: you can format a CF card (or really any flash device) using any filesystem you like, although they are invariably formatted in the way you mention and cameras commonly require it.


For the record: the filesystem is the organisational scheme which turns a huge field of storage cells into individual files, folders, and so forth. Think of the disk as the library's shelves; think of the filesystem as the Dewey decimal system. Portable flash storage devices including CF and SD cards, memory sticks, and USB keys, are invariably formatted using a system called FAT32 that limits file size to 4GB, because it was designed at a time when a 32-bit field to store the file size was considered adequate. Therefore, FAT32 can't conceive of a file greater than a bit less than 2^32=4294967296 bytes in length.


This is done because it's very widely supported. Essentially all even vaguely modern computers can understand FAT32, and it is easy to write code into a microcontroller (such as that running a camera) to support it. Alternatives, such as NTFS (for windows), HFS+ (for Macs) and ext3 (for many Unix-like systems) use very large fields for file size, but can't be read and/or written on different systems without taking special measures.


This is a complex problem that's being looked at for future systems such as CFast; there probably aren't any really easy answers.




I'm sure you're right that compared to many of the truly pro-level digital cameras out there shooting in 4K, the 5D MkII files are comparatively tiny. But those cameras are also used in connection with much more massive storage media, or at least that's been my impression as an observer.




I don't know; a 4GB CF card will hold a bit more than ten, perhaps 13 to 14 minutes of 5D footage. People regularly shoot 8 or 16GB cards which have similar time capacity to (say) a Codex mag in some circumstances. Of course the amount of data is larger but the backup procedure would normally be beefed up considerably to match.


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#17 Hal Smith

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 08:11 PM

This is done because it's very widely supported. Essentially all even vaguely modern computers can understand FAT32, and it is easy to write code into a microcontroller (such as that running a camera) to support it. Alternatives, such as NTFS (for windows), HFS+ (for Macs) and ext3 (for many Unix-like systems) use very large fields for file size, but can't be read and/or written on different systems without taking special measures.

Phil,

Could it be that there's a licensing issue underneath the ubiquitous use of FAT32 for cameras? FAT32 might be free and conversely NTFS, HFS+, one of HP's file systems, etc. have to be licensed.
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#18 K Borowski

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 09:23 PM

Oh, to answer the thread title, I meant to say they make great control stripe in-line densitometers on modern 21st Century Cine processors :-D

Shameless plug for the ACVL thread, now in living color, with PHOTOS, in the general discussion section!
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#19 Matt Stevens

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 12:54 PM

I think 99% of the short films I have sen in NYC the last three months (and I have sat through dozens) have been shot on Canon DSLR's. A few on Nikons. They all look the same too. Soooo boooooring. DSLR's a terrific tools, but absolutely no care in post is taken to craft an interesting image, it seems (by most). They all look like clones of each other.

I know. I've shot two shorts on Canon DSLR's this year. :blink: Meanwhile, my Super8 shorts make me woody. ;)
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#20 K Borowski

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 01:38 PM

I argue that a 35mm SLR with a 100-foot back is almost just as much of a "movie camera."

There are huge limitations as a tradeoff for the small form factor and the chips are very noisy (even with stills).



Then again the incredibly low cost (basically free) is a huge advantage compared to 16- 35- or even 8mm film.
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