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Should You Join the DSLR Camera Revolution?

One of the hottest trends in digital video right now involves shooting with cameras designed for still photography. Professionals are getting outstanding results from cameras that cost a fraction of those that Hollywood uses. Should your next camera be a digital SLR?

To learn more about the trend, we spoke to Steve Crow, executive producer and founder of Crow Digital Media [1], an online video production company based in Palo Alto, California. Crow has been experimenting with these lower cost cameras and is amazed at the results.

About a year ago, Crow says, he began hearing stories about “amazing quality” video shot with digital cameras. While still cameras have been able to take video for years, professionals were caught off guard when they saw the results of one particular model.

Canon Leads the Charge
The camera that started the trend is the Canon 5D, which sells for about $3,000. Canon then introduced the 7D, which sells for half the price, and the Rebel T2i, called the 550D in Europe, for $900 ($800 for the body and $100 for a lens).  All three models take cinema-quality video, says Crow.

[2]The secret is in the sensor. The 5D has a 36mm full-size sensor, the same that you’d find in a $100,000 professional camera. The 7D and the T2i have 22mm sensors. That means they shoot video equal to Super 35 motion picture film.

Large sensors mean these cameras shoot great footage in extreme low light. Videographers have used them to get video lit by a single candle or match, Crow says. They can also shoot 1080p high-definition video at 24 frames per second, just as Hollywood cameras do.

“That right there is why the video profession is going gaga over these cameras,” says Crow. “These are, in essence, mini movie cameras.”

These Canons also deliver the shallow depth-of-field created by professional film cameras. That means you can shoot close-ups where the background is out of focus, directing attention to the face. It’s something video professionals have been trying to achieve for years, says Crow, and have only been able to match with a lot of extra work and equipment.

Since these are DSLR cameras, the videographer can change the lens, something not usually possible with video cameras. Their small size also means you can shoot without drawing attention, and you can also pack an entire production kit in a carry-on bag.

Due to their high-quality and low-cost, Crow had heard of professional crews using them as crash cams, strapping them into cars that are going to be destroyed in a stunt.

On the Other Hand…
Before you rush out to go shopping, there are a few disadvantages to these cameras. For one, they’re harder to use than dedicated video cameras, and focusing them can be a chore. Their LCDs can be difficult to see in bright daylight, and they’ve been known to overheat and stop working on hot days.

While these cameras have microphones, they’re not high quality. You’ll need to record sound on a separate device. You also can’t use them to monitor sound while recording.

You’ll need to keep your scenes short when using them, because they can only record 12 minutes of video at a time. While that’s fine for many projects, it won’t work when recording a long speech or other live event.

Crow has jumped into the trend, and now uses a T2i for much of his work. He’s thrilled to produce footage that has the look of film, not of a brightly-lit sit-com. Give it a try yourself, and discover the sub-$1,000 camera that does the work of  a $100,000 model.