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When Still and Motion Imaging Collide: DSLR as a filmmaking camera

In the age of digital SLRs, there is a steady expansion of filmmaking tools becoming more readily available and relatively affordable for filmmakers. For DSLRs with high-definition (HD) recording capability, these cameras shoot HD footage, while also allowing the use of prime lenses and other film-related accessories on them.

As a digital cinema camera, the DSLR is gaining worldwide acceptance because of four important attributes it scores high on: frame rate; high resolution; sensor size; and ability to use lenses geared towards film production.

Since Canon released its Mark II series, there has been a growing demand for such camera, making DSLRs contenders as digital cinema cameras meant for films intended for broadcast, home video distribution, and even theatrical releases.

Canon first released the Canon 5D Mark II featuring a full frame 35mm sensor and 1080p video. However, its primary downside was that it could only record in 30 frames per second (fps), making the footage shown in a theatrical screen looking a notch down from what 24fps cameras would typically offer. Next to the 5D was the 7D, which made a much bigger impact. Although its sensor was made smaller than the 5D’s, it is still roughly the size of a Super 35 film and similar in size to the RED camera’s sensor. More importantly, it has the ability to shoot at 24p, which is crucial to giving that “film motion look” for the footage.

The good thing about the early development of DSLRs, particularly those from Canon, is that they are generally firmware upgradeable. For the main issue of the 5D, it can have its firmware upgrade for it to have that needed 24p recording capability.

The resolution is another primary concern when choosing a cinema camera. Gone were the days when a video would have to fit the old model TVs in 4:3 aspect ratio. Today, cameras cater to widescreen videos (typically in 16:9 or 2:35 aspect ratio) in HD or even 2K resolution. With current DSLRs, they offer HD resolutions in 720p and 1080p. 720p is considered the starting point. The additional resolution coming from 1080p becomes ultimately helpful for theatrical releases, since projecting to a larger screen benefits from having a higher resolution.

The sensor is crucial to giving that cinematic look the way 35mm film provides it. Although the DSLR technology marketed as a digital cinema camera is still a young technology, most models already provide large enough sensors that can compete with other high-end digital cinema cameras. Smaller sensor cameras can only emulate what a larger sensor can offer by using lens adapters. This projects the image onto a surface and records that image there. However, the recorded image suffers from becoming clunky; thus losing quality during the process. During the production of the recorded image, it tends to lose light and resolution due to the fact that it goes through the extra optics required to achieve that needed “film look.”

One of the best benefits a DSLR camera can offer to filmmakers is that it is a more cost-efficient option compared to other cameras aimed towards professional use. A filmmaker can invest on a DSLR camera complete with essential accessories at about $2,000 to $4,000. While the DSLR still has much room for improvement, its video recording quality has been proven fine with a number of filmmakers doing independent films and TV commercials already utilizing it for their projects. Another advantage it has over the larger broadcast cameras is that its small frame is not too conspicuous, especially when filming in public. A number of grips, rigs, and adapters are also readily available in the market to make the use of DSLRs in film projects a much convenient, efficient, and practical option.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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