Digital cinema new wave: HD capable DSLRs - part 1

14/09/2009 00:28

The year 2008 marked the beginning of a new age in low cost digital video technology: HD capable DSLR still cameras. The Nikon D90 was the first to step on the scene with 720p resolution. But being the first there were some compromises: the sensor was not designed for video which led to one major compromise: the jello effect.

So, the story continued on with the release of Canon's 5D Mark II, a full HD 1080p capable pro DSLR that blew the D90 out of the water. It has a full 4/3 sensor the size of a 35mm negative, a microphone input, incredible low light sensitivity and approximately a 40 megabit datarate.

This was the real start of the DSLR revolution, not just because the camera was better, but because it inspired filmmakers and appealed to what was thought to be an unachievable dream in indie video cinema: the look and feel of a 35mm negative. Sure, the market was filled with 35mm adaptors for video cameras; but when you added the cost of those adapters, the lenses, the video camera and the complexity/compromises in using them, a $2800 5D MK2 all-in-one package suddenly looked mighty tempting.

But the real spark that got us all excited was the pre-release footage that began to pop up on Vimeo and Youtube, punctuated by Vincent Laforet's "Reverie."


Reverie from Ed Moore on Vimeo.


But alas, even the mighty Canon 5D Mark II was not without fault. It lacked manual control over exposure during video mode, uses high compression and worst of all: the golden frame-rate of 24 fps. Sure, there were workarounds, and Canon eventually released a free firmware update that resolved the exposure issue, but as of this writing the frame-rate issue remains.

So, pretty much every other camera manufacturer stepped in and in a few short months Pentax, Panasonic, Olympus (along with Sony rumors) announced HD capable DSLRs to compete for our grant, er... hard earned money. Now, we filmmakers enter into the familiar territory of picking our champion in the upcoming DSLR battle. And as it was with the VX1000, the PD150, the XL1, and the DVX100, there can be only one.

For my part, over the next few weeks, I will put together a few guiding articles that compare and contrast our options in the wild west of DSLR HD.

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