I’m calling it as I see it. DSLR video is a fad – at least in solo video journalism it is. Plain and simple. There are many who have become enamoured with the so called uber cool extreme shallow depth of field flavor of the moment, equating it to creative license and thus making it their top priority, and in the process, losing sight of the first rule of solo video journalism: It’s the story, not the gear.
I have a real issue with this whole mind set of DSLR’s/Shallow DOF perspective that has been flooding this profession for the past several months.
Time and time again, I read forum posting after forum posting from so called pro’s wondering if they are going to get more work by switching to a DSLR that shoots video.
In a word – No.
From my professional experience, I believe it only makes a mediocre shooter look desperate (and I’ve seen plenty of that lately) if you have to use technical gimmicks to make up for your lack of compelling story telling shooting skills.
As someone who has seen alot of still and video content in my career as a visual content creator, I’d rather view a compelling piece shot on a single chip SONY A1U or HC7 that has clean audio, proper exposure, proper compositional framing, utilizing compelling story telling technique, etc than a boring story shot with the latest fad video DSLR with shallow DOF as the gimmick to save a mediocre story. That’s not to say a solid story can’t be shot on a DSLR that shoots video – but it’s my belief that it’s 98% operator and 2% equipment and the vast majority of shooters have lost sight of that.
My mentor from afar, David Dunkley-Gyimah, has posted his experiences and insights around the notion of tradionally laid out video cameras versus what it takes to shoot with one of the Hybrid DSLR’s . Having read about, seen and even handled these flavors of the moment has provided some insights on my end that I’m going to take liberties with.
Here’s some things most don’t seem to be addressing. The purchase of additional gear just to get the DSLR to work the way a traditional video camera works out of the box. Now tell me why a self contained backpack journalist who is having to carry all their gear why would you want to have to carry viewfinder magnifiers, matte boxes, rails, shoulder stocks, etc to get your story shot? More gear to carry, more to assemble, and in the end, will probably get in the way of producing the story.
Yet that’s exactly what all the spin doctoring proponents would have you believe is needed to create compelling content. They couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the form factor of video cameras remains virtually the same for a good reason. It’s already known. There’s no relearning where/how to focus, where to place mics, how to manage audio in post due to poor audio quality of Hybrid DSLR’s thus having to manage a separate audio recorder that has to be synch’d in post, etc…
The next generation of video cameras recently announced at NAB prove an important point. SONY, Panasonic, JVC, and Canon stay the course with the tranditional form factor of video cameras for those who make their livings shooting a variety of content. Sure, Canon’s DSLR’s were the darling s of 2010 NAB, but many don’t seem to have taken much notice that the mainstay video cameras for those who shoot video content for a living still hold to traditional form factor and their known acquisition codecs as they are time tested and proven in both acquisition and in post production.
Yes the cameras are bigger, but you retain all the features needed to produce professional content – without having to Rube Goldberg your gear together. And there’s no hoop jumping in post – another bane of the DSLR Video equation.
The funny thing is, I came from a stills background – having shot stills for over 25 years, and yet I find the idea of shooting video with a DSLR as not being quite right. I personally would rather produce video content on a camera that was designed from the ground up to do so, not as an add on to a tool that requires firmware updates, limitations of recording time a heavy investment in accessories to get it to shoot video.
Too many mediocre shooters have become worked up (and plain lazy) over the shallow DOF film look. For all practical purposes, they lose all the features that standard video cameras provide – ie, they are stuck in manual focus, audio control is still a kludge, they have to buy more accessories just to compensate for the lack of proper features needed to shoot properly – but hey, it looks really cool when they shoot with it.
If you’re more concerned about the equipment instead of the story – it’s time to get back to basics and learn to produce compelling content with the gear you currently have before moving to the latest.
If given the choice between the hybrid DSLR and a traditional form factor video camera – I’d still go for the latter. I know what I’m getting through the whole production process. Time is money – why waste it on inefficient processes to be “cool”?
In closing, Hybrid DSLR video is a kludge – having to duct tape together all the parts necessary just to get the tool to do what it mostly should. Mainstream video cameras present a known quantity – they do what they do because they were designed to.
Why trust your livlihood on anything else?