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.


  1. holy crap. you hit the nail on the head with this even though it's a little short. i think you probably could have gone into more detail about how you're solving some of your issues, but i went away from reading this thinking "yeah. it has to get easier!". post more in the future about how you are managing with these monster files. i'll check back.

  2. I had a Nikon d5000 and the video was always so hard to focus. And you couldn't zoom in while you started shooting a video. I just upgraded to the Nikon D90 and it is so much better. It stays focused and you can zoom in and out. I don't tend to take long video, just little clips of the kids here and there, so it works good for that.

  3. Hi Kelly...Thanks for your comments. The Canon 7D is actually very powerful in the video area. Many options for the shooter to get great results. I have no complaints there. Zooming, auto-focusing, exposure options, shutter speeds, frame rates, etc. It's all there and I really like it. In fact, my only real complaint from the perspective of the camera itself is that auto focus works, but it isn't really practical in real use because of the way it works. I have no doubt that the future Canon 8D, 9D, etc, will improve this situation. The Canon 7D is on the bleeding edge. It's an adventure! :-)

    Hi Anonymous...Thanks for your feedback. I try to keep the posts a little on the short side because I haven't really gotten into writing long articles on this blog yet. I'm not sure this is the best place to do that and I might create a web site for it. Who knows what the future will bring...

  4. I'm a film student and I shoot a great deal of stuff on the 5D 7D and 550D. The restrictions are very frustrating but if you work around them you can get some great results.

    As far as post production goes, Mpeg streamclip is free peice of software and is an excellent way to convert your footage into a format more editing friendly. Otherwise I know the new Adobe CS5 Premier Pro supports the files natively out of the camera so Elements might work too.

    Hope this doesn't sound to spammy but I do a blog about shooting video with DSLRs, it's fairly new and I've still got a lot to cover but there might be a few helpful pieces of knowledge in there!

  5. Thanks Ciaran...

    They are indeed frustrating, but the current crop of video-shooting DSLR's will pave the way for many improvements and refinements one or two models down the road. Canon and Nikon will catch on to all of this feedback quickly and improve their designs. No doubt...

    I will definitely check out MPEG Streamclip, and I'll also check out your blog. Thanks for posting it.