Blog/20131102 Making a video with a DSLR

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1 Making a video for the Shuttleworth Fellowship Application

Yesterday, I applied for a Shuttleworth fellowship. Part of the process was making a video, so let's start with that. The medium is the message, and I thought it would be interesting to try out some ways of making the video which I would be able to use in case I got the fellowship.

1.1 Options in the sub-DSLR range

My proposal is partially about access, and using low-cost technology. So there was the temptation to use my pocket camera (a Canon SX260HS with CHDK) and record audio externally, but I thought I'd settle for something slightly better in this case, to make sure the video looked good. Another similar idea was to short and edit it all on my phone. However, one of the strength of our OER4Schools project is that we have some great video, and to edit this in, a reasonably good setup was needed. However, those two options is something that I would like to explore more, because it's relevant for making more video with future project partners. So perhaps the subject of future blog posts.

The SX260HS is about £150, and you'd need external sound with that, but overall you might be looking at a solution that's less than £500. For the film project (and making film that can be use for professional development) one might be looking at a bit more, especially when you need to get audio gear as well. So really, let's say we're in the price range of say £500 to £1,500 (ideally including audio gear).

1.2 DSLR and EX3

I settled for a DSLR. However, there were some problems getting a beach box, so in the end I decided to use what was available, rather than take risks and not get it done in time. So I shot with a friend's Nikon D7000 and a Sony EX3, currently costing about £700-800 (D7k body + lens) and nearly a factor of 10 more for the EX3 (£5,000-£6,000). (Neither model is the latest model in that product line though, but they are still available.)

I would never travel with an EX3 unless my main business was to make movies, but I thought it would be nice to compare the footage. (Even if my main business was to make movie, I might not use an EX3, see below!) The EX3 is of course a lovely camera, with full manual controls and all sorts of nice stuff. The D7k excels at stills, but in terms of video was one of the first now serious offerings from Nikon that do video, and (like all DSLRs) offers little by way of support for audio. (E.g. at 1080p it only does 23.98 frames per sec.)

However, in the end, it turned out that the footage from the Nikon was just lovely. Admittedly I had been worried about grain, so had fully opened the lens, leading to a shallow depth of field. Admittedly, I could have put in an ND filter on the EX3 maybe gotten similar results. So a fair comparison still needs to be done, also with regard to light sensitivity. However, the Nikon footage just looked better, so in the end I went with that, and the EX3 acted as a very expensive audio recorder.

Now, of course the EX3 is much more versatile, has professional onboard sound, and is just going to be ready, sturdy, and controllable in a wide range of situations. However, in my case I probably will not really be doing proper documentary or news, but will work in a more controlled environment, i.e. where things can be repeated. Besides something like the EX3 would be unaffordable anyway. So looks like a DSLR will be good, and there are various offerings. Currently reviews mention (DSLR and micro 4/3) cameras like the Nikon (e.g. D5200), Canon (e.g. 5D Mark III, 6D, 70D, etc.) as well as the Panasonic (G6, GH3) and others.

1.3 Other options

So what's the competition to the DSLR range? Well, the Black Magic Pocket Camera does look interesting, and from a film perspective may be quite good.

However, on paper, it's really easy to throw about specs (e.g. whether a camera does 1080p60 or only 1080p30), and read reviews which sometimes are based on specs alone. In actual practise, the D7k (which, to compare, only does 1080p24) just produced lovely images in my settings (and Nikon have that reputation).

So I should really do a comparison, and I would love to do compare the cameras that I have access to (say Canon SX260HS, Nikon D7k, EX3, and throw in a phone as well). However, I probably won't be able to get all of these into a place together. But I might be able to do one-to-one comparisons. So perhaps also the subject of future blog posts.

Speaking of cameras: Not as a main camera, but as an add-on for rough-and-ready action shooting, there's also the Go Pro cameras which you now see more and more in broadcast, in situations where you need to attach a cheapish camera (£200-300) to somebody's head, to a bike, etc. I could see how you could use that with aerial video as well, because of it's small size. So it might be able to give you some interesting experimental and/or action shots.

1.4 Sound

Finally a quick thought about sound. If shooting with DSLR or Black Magic, you'll need to record sound externally. The Tascam DR-60D seems like a good solultion for this. Incidentally some of the sound was recorded with an EW100 series mic, and some with the MKE600. The MKE600 gave really lovely sound, that I was really impressed by.

It's been a little while since I've actually done some script writing, directing, editing all by myself, so this was a great experience. Fingers crossed for the fellowship and the opportunity to explore all of this more!

Oh, and the video is here:

2013-11-02 | Leave a comment | Back to blog