Friday Blog #6: DSLR Filmmaking

No, we don't have a Canon 1D Mark IV yet,
unfortunately. Though, some of the other
cameras in Canon's new DSLR lineup are
absolutely amazing as well.

If you're new to the DSLR Filmmaking world
(as many people are, including Quentin
), I recommend as a start you
check out Philip Bloom's blog. George Lucas
and his team recently flew him to Skywalker
Ranch, where Philip spent 5 days explaining how to get amazing results from the 7D
and 5D Mark II.

     So what makes these cameras so special?

Bigger is better. But in this case, bigger actually comes in a
smaller package. What it all comes down to is the size of the
sensor. Just like how larger film equals better quality,
a larger digital sensor means the same.

DSLR cameras have been using larger sensors for
years, but only recently has the technology allowed
for continuous images to be recorded.

 Why is this such a big deal?

Well, for starters, current video cameras with
large sensors cost quite a lot of money.
Whereas DSLRs are relatively cheap.

Now, there are shortcomings to these cameras.
You're not going to be able to do the same things
as a $50,000 camera. But! And this is a big but. If
you really learn how to use the tool, it's possible to
create video that comes very close.

It isn't just about the cameras

The big BIG deal here is that this is the start of a much larger movement. It pertains to ALL filmmakers, and this is just the beginning. Here's a look into our workflow:

Record audio separately!

When we switched to shooting with a DSLR, we didn't want to deal with the hassle of figuring out a way to connect our XLR-powered mic into a tiny 1/8" port on our camera. So we purchased a Zoom H4n and suddenly realized the advantage of recording audio separately.

You might think it would be annoying to have to sync up your audio in post for every shot, but that's what a clapper slate is for. There's also a plugin called Pluraleyes that syncs audio for you, which is available for Final Cut and Sony Vegas Pro, and soon to
be released for Adobe Premiere!


Let me know what you guys thought of this post. I actually shot a vlog where I recorded myself editing the vlog that I shot (whoa). But unfortunately, for some reason Premiere kept crashing. I think it had something to do with the fact I was using Camtasia. Or maybe it was because I was in an infinite loop. Maybe next time.


18 Comments on “Friday Blog #6: DSLR Filmmaking”

  • Great insight into DSLR filmmaking. I really like the design of the post (with the flow of the text and images). This looks like it would’ve been an awesome vlog, but was still a pretty cool post. :)

    • groogs says:

      The design is nice from the site, but fails horribly in RSS. You should be using style sheets that allow it to be viewable from RSS.. subscribe to your own site via Google Reader, and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Adam Stype says:

    I’ve been looking at the 7d and the 5d mark 2 since you posted this. I have no idea what one is the better camera for film making. I’ve been using a Sony FX7 and HC1 so I’m use to not having 24fps. So that and the price aside is that the only difference? Or does the full frame/higher mega pixels in the 5d result in a better image? Any insight would be a huge help. Thanks.

    • Sean says:

      Hey Adam. I was actually going to talk about that in the post, but I figured I’d keep it more general to start with.

      The 5D Mark II is actually a better camera. The sensor is nearly double the size of the 7D, so when shooting in low light at high ISO you get very little noise. The 7D isn’t bad at all, but compared to the Mark II, it’s not quite there.

      Currently, the Mark II only shoots in 30p. But Canon actually announced that sometime next year they’ll be releasing a firmware update that will allow 24p.

      To make things even more complicated, Canon just released the 1D Mark IV. The sensor is slightly smaller than the Mark II, but the image processor is updated to allow for better rolling shutter. And according to Philip Bloom, it seems that the 1D Mark IV has even less noise. Check out our store for a little more info :)

  • Adam Stype says:

    Thanks for answering Sean. When first looking at the cameras I didn’t understand what full frame meant, but after reading and understanding it better I have one or two more questions. The first being with the Mark II sensor being bigger than the REDs do you know what one looks better in 1080p? The second is if I was to use the Mark II right now to shoot a film and bumped the 30p frame rate down to 24 with the help of magic bullet or some other program would the loss of quality be that great?

    I’d love to get the 1D Mark IV but I don’t have the money right now, Christmas sucks.. But I have a small shoot next month in which I was going to use my Sony FX7 and my little HC1. but after reading your post and seeing the video Philip Bloom did at Skywaker Ranch made me fall in love with video DSLRs.. I just want the cheapest way to get the highest production values (Who doesn’t?)

    I watched the scene that Peter posted yesterday and it looked fantastic. Anything close to that is what I’m looking for.. Not to take any credit away from you guys, I know it’s who’s behind the camera and not the camera itself.

    • Sean says:

      I wrote a blog entry on my personal site a while back. It’s already outdated, but has some more info on sensor sizes and such.

      The RED has a smaller sensor, but it also shoots in 4K resolution. So essentially, it’s squeezing more information in a smaller area. When viewed at 1080, I’m pretty sure the RED will win, but a complete RED One package is also about $50K. The Mark II will look pretty amazingly close, though.

      There are a lot of ways to convert 30 to 24. You don’t lose anything in terms of resolution or image quality, it’s strictly a frame rate issue.

      We had a Mark II but switched to a 7D for the framerates before they announced the firmware update. A little disappointing, but the 7D is still an amazing camera. Stu Maschwitz always recommends you get the camera you needed yesterday. Good advice.

  • Adam Stype says:

    Thanks for all the information. You’ve been a great help Sean. I’ll see what I can make selling my current cameras. But I’m leaning towards the Mark II not only for video but for the photography aspects. Thanks again.

  • I love these Canon DSLRs myself. As for the reason why the RED is superior despite a smaller sensor, the issue is that the Canons use a fairly lossy MPEG-4 compression scheme to create the QuickTime files. The RED provides essentially a RAW file. If you’re a regular photographer, then, imagine any high end camera if they said – “we know we have a 21Meg sensor, but we’re only going to give you a file for each picture that is JPEG, no bigger than…1K file size!”

    The bigger sensor makes pretty images that have beautiful depth of field, but in video, the images that are being recorded are tremendously compressed. Canon could help with this by sending the full visual output of the camera out of the HDMI output and allow it to be recorded. THen you could at least record an uncompressed image to an external recording device.

    Also, even though many expensive HD cameras have smaller sensors, they have THREE sensors instead of one. Each sensor records a different color channel. The Canon’s and RED have to de-bayer the image, essentially the one large sensor has many pixels – but only a third of the sensors on the array record one color channel, whereas ALL of the pixels on smaller HD arrays record for one color channel. The thing with those three smaller sensors is that they don’t give the nice depth of field AND they’re not as sensitive to low-light.

    SOmeone else’s question about taking 30fps to 24 fps won’t really degrade the image, since you’re starting out with MORE frames than you need, but you may experience some motion artifacts, like slight stuttering in certain motion, but some of that would be motion artifacts that you’d see anyway if you actually shot 24.

    • Sean says:

      Some very good points.

      I’ve been reading about an adapter some people are making that can record the raw video footage from Canon DSLRs. The CF card is the bottleneck, so you’d have to record onto a hard drive or something faster. If it’s true and it actually works, Canon may be able to keep up with RED when they release their Scarlet, at least in terms of compression and image quality. I doubt Canon would support it natively, though.

  • Jessie says:

    Thanks for the article. I am a videographer that has been making tv commercials for the past 15 years, and I love seeing new technologies. If you’d like to see an excellent example of how the DSLR Canon 5D Mark II works, watch these videos shot on the Nine Inch Nails tour. These videos are outstanding. I would have sworn this was film had I not read the information about the videos.

  • Steveo says:

    Hey after reading this, it really makes me want to go out and buy a DSLR camera to shoot video with. What are some advantages/disadvantages for using this as a primary video camera for shooting movies?

    • Sean says:

      Hey Stevo. There are some disadvantages, but I think the advantages outweigh them. Good: these cameras have huge sensors so the quality is pretty much better than any other video camera out there under $10k. Bad: these sensors were designed for video. You get a little bit of rolling shutter and moire. These cameras also shoot in large, processor-intensive H.264 files. You’ll need at least 2GB of RAM to handle it. You’ll want 8GB and a fast processor. I really recommend these cameras, though. The form factor is much different than what you might be used to, but once you get used to it, it’s hard to go back.

  • Steveo says:

    Great, Thanks Sean! But bottom line is it worth to use as a primary video camera, despite the rolling shutter and moire? The new Canon Eos T2i has really caught my eye.

    • Sean says:

      I suppose a more thorough response would be to figure out what you plan to use it for. They’re using these cameras for commercials, TV shows, music videos. They definitely aren’t at the quality of something like a RED, but they’re great for smaller projects. I’ve been hearing lots and lots of good things about the T2i :)

  • Steveo says:

    Well i’m looking to use it on a short movie(45mins) this summer as well as a comedic web series in the fall. Then see where it goes from there.

    But in all honesty, i’m really just looking for something with the perks that I want to shoot quality videos with for under $1000. Something that will give it that cinema feel.

    Thanks for all the help!

  • Not Spam – DSLR Video Boot Camp – Lee Stranahan

    We wanted to let you know about the upcoming, full day comprehensive seminar – The DSLR Video Boot Camp, being held July 3rd in Los Angeles taught by working pros like Bruce D. Johnson and Matt Notaro.

    Early registration price is $250

    Here’s the website address –

    This course is much more than “lecture and demo” – it’s a hand’s on workshop where you’ll see the shots created before your eyes. Over the course of the day, we will set up, light, shoot, transfer, adjust, color correct and edit DSLR footage…all realistic production situations and real world budgets. We will be covering interiors, exteriors, follow focus, tabletop and beauty shots with actors – the full gamut of what’s possible with DSLR technology today for indie film, corporate, commercial and TV work,

    Bruce Johnson
    Bruce has a deep background in digital imaging, with credits in both TV and feature films as both a Director of Photography and digital visual effects supervisor. He was the D.P. on shows like Everwood and Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle.

    Matt Notaro
    Matt Notaro presently resides in San Francisco, and will be covering the post production side of the ever changing DSLR workflow. In addition to teaching classes at the San Francisco Film Society, Matt has edited and developed rich media for agencies including McCann-Erickson, Venables Bell & Partners and Ogilvy One. His clients include Sony, HP, Target, T-Mobile, Intel and Visa. Matt edits for Kontent Films in San Francisco, and is the original hyphenate/slash with a range of skills that span editing, graphic design, music composition and motion graphics.

    Lee Stranahan
    Lee has been working in broadcast TV and film for 30 years. Lee was recently featured in Variety and has worked as a visual effects supervisor and artist for projects for HBO and Fox. He worked for five years as a motion graphics artist at NBC. Lee has taught visual effects and filmmaking to thousands of people around the world.