Friday, August 13, 2010

The complexities of shooting DSLR video

I got my Canon 7D a while back hoping that it would replace the need for me to carry around both a DSLR and a dedicated video camera everywhere I go.  The 7D has indeed done that for most of the casual video that I shoot.  However, DSLR video is still in its infancy and the supporting structure for it (software, plug-ins, etc) has a long way to go before shooting and managing DSLR video is "easy" (or maybe I should say "easier") for the average photographer.

Here are some of the complexities that I've faced in my adventures so far with DSLR video on the 7D.  I'm sure this applies to other DSLR's that shoot video as well.

First, you need a powerful computer and video card to play back, edit, and manage DSLR high definition video.  This is something that I didn't have a true understanding of when I bought my 7D, so I learned the hard way.  Digital video is all about computer power and speed.  If you don't have it then you're going to be stuck with a bunch of video clips on your PC that you can't do anything with.  I can't even watch the clips from my 7D on my older Dell computer because it doesn't have enough CPU power to play them back without skips.  Bummer!   A computer upgrade is needed! 

Second, get ready for some lens issues.  As I questioned in this thread on the photography web site, using variable aperture zoom lenses when shooting DSLR video introduces some visible artifacts in your video as you zoom the lens and it moves past the points where it stops down.  There seems to be no way around it.  I even tried shooting in manual with a set aperture, and I (and others) have confirmed that it doesn't work.  This means that you'll have to put up with flicker in your videos if you zoom while shooting with variable aperture zooms, or, you need to buy expensive constant aperture zoom lenses to eliminate the problem.  Bummer! 

Third, you need special software to edit the video segments together.  And, depending on what you're trying to do with your video, you might need to first convert the video files coming out of the 7D into another video format.  Yikes!  Fortunately for me, any simple editing that I need to do can be done in the native file format that Canon uses, but others doing sophisticated editing are not so lucky and they first need to convert the files to a format more suitable for editing.  Software that I've been investigating to meet my simple needs of stitching together a bunch of clips to make a single video to burn to DVD include:  Pinnacle Studio Ultimate, Cineform Neoscene, and Adobe Premier Elements.  I haven't picked one yet but will post about it when I do.

Fourth, not being able to auto focus easily and quietly while shooting video is a pain in the butt.  You can work around it, but I would rather not and instead I hope that this "issue" is solved in future iterations of these cameras.  People are used to auto focusing with their video cameras so DSLR's are going to need to evolve more in this area.

Fifth, you're going to need a better source of information than the standard Canon user manual for the 7D.  I would imagine Nikon users are in the same boat.  Fortunately, Canon has posted many informative videos on their Canon Digital Learning Center web site and other web sites like have been created to fill the gap.  I've also mentioned some other links in this post from this blog.  There is a ton of good information out there and once you gather a few key tips for shooting DSLR video you'll always remember them and you'll be on your way to successful videos.  It's not hard to shoot the videos......the issues come afterward but fortunately they can all be resolved.

Some other issues that you might face if you're shooting on a more professional level can be found in this article on the Popular Photography web site

This might sound like a lot of complaining about an otherwise great technology, but it's really not.  I'm just trying to say that it's not as easy as it first seems when you consider the end-to-end process and I imagine that most other people shooting casual DSLR video on any Nikon, Canon, etc, camera are going through these same issues.  These are simply growing pains for this technology.

Clearly, from looking at the sample videos on Canon's DSLR video web sites and the fact that major TV shows and commercials have been filmed with the Canon 5D and 7D, spectacular results are possible with the current technology.  It just takes some doing... 

I still firmly believe that the benefits of shooting video and stills with the same camera outweigh all of the negative stuff that I mentioned above, especially when both the stills and video look so great.  It's very convenient to fulfill both needs with one camera and that will keep me at it until I figure out the best way to manage this stuff.  I just need to get a proper post-shooting setup in place.

As DSLR video and post-processing evolve, eventually it will be more sophisticated and easier to use.  For now it's a somewhat thorny topic that requires some effort on the part of the shooter to make it all work out right.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Apple goes rotten!

I like Apple's products.  I only own an iPod, but I've used their laptops, desktops, iPad, etc, and they're all extremely well designed and powerful.  Good stuff.

I won't get into the debate here on whether or not Apple's products are worth the premium in price that everyone pays for them over other comparable products.  That's for each individual to decide on their own, and since Apple's products sell very well, obviously many people believe they are worth the extra cost...

The point of this article actually has nothing to do with Apple's hardware.  It has to do with their iTunes digital music service and what's going on there. 

I was in iTunes shopping for an album the other day, and I noticed something astonishing.  Apple has raised the price of many of their popular digital albums to $16.99!  This is a dramatic jump in price from their previous level, and is now far higher than their online competitors like's MP3 service and the cost of comparable physical CD's!

Apple has gone rotten.  Not only is this an awful move from the perspective of their customers, but it's also completely unrealistic.  Here's my viewpoint on this...

Physical CD's still sound better than digital music files.  This is something that's feverishly debated on the Internet, but the truth is simple:  CD's sound better than digital files.  If you want to see for yourself, take a CD and a well ripped MP3 file of the same CD, get yourself on a good stereo, match the volumes of both recordings, and play them back switching between the two sources at high listening volume.  You will clearly hear that CD's sound better than digital files because digital music formats drop too much data during the compression process.  You'll hear it in the clarity of the low and high end of the recording.  Enough said here...

So back to the pricing thing...Apple has now raised the price of some of their digital albums higher than the physical CD of the same recording!  Yes, you are paying more for an inferior music format!  I have to ask myself why people would pay more for something that's less, but I'm sure they will's Apple!

There's a few problems with this...

First, CD's still sound better, so why pay more for less?

Second, Apple's AAC file format can't be modified in any way to optimize their music files.  I have found many times that the volume setting contained in the header information of Apple's digital files are set far too high.  When they play back with any EQ on them, they distort even on Apple's own devices!  Bad!  You're much better off buying MP3 files so you can use a simple tool like MP3Gain to reset the volume setting on your digital files to the right level with one click of a button.

I could go on about why iTunes is slipping, but I don't want this to become a technical article...

Bottom line:  If you're buying digital music files, get them from's MP3 service instead.  The data rate on the files is higher (meaning, they sound better than Apple's AAC files), they are MP3 format which can be modified to suit your needs, and the big one.........Amazon is half the price of Apple!  Yes, half the price!

Apple.....Wake up!  The iTunes service and the digital files within it, although very popular, are far behind the times when considered from the viewpoint of a serious music fan.  Even though I like Apple, I can only hope that users of iTunes see this price increase as a huge slap in the face and stop purchasing from Apple in droves.  That will hopefully drive Apple's digital music prices right back down to realistic levels.