Can DSLRs Outperform Conventional Video Cameras?

A few years ago, Adorama TV enumerated the gears and tools that that can be used to maximize the DLSR for shooting videos. Nowadays, with even more hi-tech features that are built into DSLRs, people are getting resourceful and using it as a substitute for their conventional video cameras. In fact, some amateur and independent filmmakers have used their DSLRs to shoot their film festival entries.

That said, one can’t help asking: can DSLRs trump conventional camcorders when it comes to videography? We’ve analyzed the pros and cons of DSLRs when shooting videos.

Pros

1. Ideal for beginners and those on a budget
Given all their features, conventional video cameras usually come with a hefty price tag. DSLRs, on the other hand, can give you the basic features that you need to shoot your videos minus the expensive cost. According to photography resource LightStalking.com, a stand-alone camcorder usually costs $15,000, whereas a good video-capable DSLR with kit lens costs about $1,000. That’s a whopping $14,000 difference.

The controls of the DSLR are also usually much simpler, so they are easier to figure out and navigate. No-nonsense controls make DSLRs ideal for beginners who want a versatile, no-fuss camera for shooting both photographs and videos.

2. Compact and easy to carry
Compared to a regular dedicated video camera, the DSLR is significantly smaller and lighter, making it more convenient to take along to any location, easier to handle while traveling with baggage, and better to use when shooting in tight spaces or when you’re constantly on the go.

3. Larger sensor
The image sensor on a DSLR camera is much larger than the standard used on a normal camcorder. As any photography enthusiast knows, a bigger sensor helps the camera produce footage with very shallow depth of field, as well as make it possible to shoot in low-light situations. Larger sensors also generate videos with a cinematic quality that is beyond the reach of most low-range to mid-range video cameras.

4. Interchangeable lenses
If you’re looking for more flexibility in terms of cinematic scope, then this feature of the DSLR will work to your advantage. Just like with photos, interchangeable lenses improve your videos with just a quick switch to a variety of specialized lenses for every shooting need.

First, there are prime lenses (also known as fixed lenses) that range from wide angle to telephoto. They are helpful for blurring the background when you have unwanted elements in the frame or if you simply want your viewer to focus on a certain subject in your video.

Then there are zoom lenses, which give you complete control over the distance that you want to present your subject.

Lastly, if you want an extremely close-up view of a very small subject, there are macro lenses that can help you achieve that effect.

Cons

1. Lack of a proper viewfinder
When using your DSLR to shoot videos, relying on the viewfinder to preview your scene is virtually impossible due to the viewfinder image being blocked by the camera’s mirror. In this case, you can only preview your shot using the camera’s LCD monitor, which can be tricky especially in bright light.

2. Ergonomic and stability issues
Since the DLSR is smaller and lighter than video cameras, it can be hard to get it to focus. If you don’t have steady hands or if gripping it tightly won’t work, you might need to use a tripod or other gears for stability to get smooth footage. And even if you do use certain accessories for added stability, you may still find it difficult to get it to level while mounted.

3. Short clip limit
If you want to shoot video continuously for more than an hour or so, a DSLR’s average video capture capability of only up to 29 minutes (before overheating or running out of power) may be a deal-breaker.

4. So-so audio quality
Since DSLRs obviously prioritize video specs over audio, it’s not surprising that most of them feature substandard built-in microphones, and therefore, are unable to capture sound as clear and crisp as in conventional video cameras. So if you’re particular about the quality of sound in your videos, you might want to check if the sound quality of the videos you take in your DSLR meets your standard or else be ready to invest in a shotgun microphone.

The pros and cons of using DSLRs for shooting videos are quite even. Now the question remains, can DSLRs trump conventional video cameras? It depends on your purpose. If it’s for shooting lengthy movies, the DSLR still poses certain limitations that may prevent you from achieving the overall scope and narrative effect that you want. And even for regular use, it may even bring about certain ergonomic inconveniences that you may have to work around.

On the other hand, if you’re simply interested in shooting short-form videos for posterity or YouTube, you might find that you can do without the high-end features and benefits of stand-alone camcorders and that the DSLR’s flexibility is enough for what you want.

Though the video capabilities of the DSLR on its own barely match the specs of conventional video cameras, investing in external gadgets like tripods, camera monitors, and shotgun microphones can even up the score significantly. Meanwhile, tapping into certain DSLR features (such as shallow depth of field, according to Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape), apps, and hacks open up DSLR videography to a myriad of innovative filming techniques that you may not get out of your standard camcorder. This exciting prospect makes DSLRs the new wave choice for indie/experimental filmmakers and photographers alike.

Shane Haumpton is a contributing writer for several websites and blogs. She has written on a variety of topics, ranging from lifestyle, photography, travel, and arts and crafts to gadgets, social media, and internet safety. This self-confessed coffee addict and shutterbug manages to do all these while enjoying life as a nomad.

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