Making the Real World Look as Good as Cinema
October 7, 2009 5:34 PM   Subscribe

DSLR News Shooter is a new photo site featuring the use of the latest HD-dSLRs like the Canon Eos5DmkII, 7D and Nikon D300s for news, documentary and factual shooting. By Guardian news photographer Dan Chung, it's a place for professionals, educators, students and industry figures to discuss the practice and the art of cinematic photography in documenting the real world. For example, the time-lapse and slow-motion film of the recent 60th anniversary parade of the PRC. Other places to look for information and discussion of DSLR video are the Planet5D blog, and filmmakers such as Vincent Laforet and Phillip Bloom. (previous 1, 2)
posted by netbros (32 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I hadn't seen any comparison images showing the difference between the Betamax and dSLR rigs. It must be incredibly liberating to realize that, despite the weird rolling shutter issues and whatnot, you are no longer packing around a circus to get the job done.
posted by tmt at 5:51 PM on October 7, 2009

this is wonderful. thank you much for the link!
posted by localhuman at 5:51 PM on October 7, 2009

Dai Sugano's work is worth checking out as well. He's just starting to use the 5D mk II.
posted by photoslob at 6:29 PM on October 7, 2009

This is weird- because live news events are the thing DSLRs are least suited for.

1) Only shoot five minutes at once, typically.
2) Can't autofocus, typically.
3) Rolling shutter on fast-moving things, with Nikon at least.
4) Inability to attach a real mic, except with the D300.

On the other hand, I think the potential for narrative film, where none of the above are dealbreakers, is HUGE. It's like having a mini movie camera, where you can change lenses, add filters, and do real movie things without breaking the bank. It's a chance to move away from the "just press the red button" camcorder style of fixed lens DV cameras.

The Red is nice but it costs $40k and you need a crew and if you don't have a permit it's rather obvious what you're doing. I plan to make a short on a D300 early next year.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:48 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm excited to see what kind of stuff comes out of this new shooting technology. The piece that really sold me on DSLR video was this music video for a Pill song, shot with what looks like a 5D. Amazing images out of a tiny handheld rig. Good stuff.
posted by flod at 6:49 PM on October 7, 2009

Oh brilliant! Dan Chung's awesome, and one of the first high-profile photojournalists to really embrace the technology. This is an amazing resource. Thanks for posting!
posted by Magnakai at 6:55 PM on October 7, 2009

All the professional photogs I know are shooting on the Canon 5D MarkII, it is an amazing machine. Food, fashion, everyone has one. Its so versatile and inexpensive. One job can pay for the whole thing, then you just cash in on the rest of the shoots you bill.

Stephen Alvarez shoots for National Geographic and has been doing a lot of photo/video assignments, documenting the setups. He just got the 7D and has been playing around with the video.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:09 PM on October 7, 2009

One observation I made the other day when I bought 2 TB of spinning disks to store the video coming out of my camera is that every second it records more data than I created in my first five years of computing (50 mbps!), and a good day's film shoot will generate a few hundred GB. That's more than my first twenty years! To top it all off, two 1 TB drives cost less than my first 5 MB drive.

drjimmy11's concerns about DSLR bodies in news gathering are very relevant. Narrative film making can deal with all of the hurdles, but live news is another game. The rolling shutter is not a huge problem when on a tripod or steadicam, but most "action news" is going to be handheld. Wider angle lenses help reduce the effects, too, but don't show much detail unless the reporter is in the heat of the action.

The recording length limits vary between cameras -- only the D90 has a 5 minute HD limit. The 5D Mark II and 7D can both do up to 29:59 in SD mode. This limit is not a hardware limit, but due to EU import taxes on "video cameras" versus a still camera with a video mode. In HD mode they are both limited to a file size of 4 GB, which is about 12-15 minutes depending on the amount of motion in the frame.

There are other significant drawbacks to the DSLR format, such as a lack of proper audio inputs, control and monitoring. But I'm working on fixing them through the Magic Lantern enhancements to the 5D (and soon the 7D) firmware. The audio system is pretty well fixed now: with a good pre-amp it is possible to connect balanced mics with very low noise, my code draws onscreen audio meters and allows a set of headphones to be used to monitor the input to the camera.

Dan Chung has been truly testing his equipment in the field. He filmed reports from the Xinjiang riots
with his 5D and Magic Lantern.
posted by autopilot at 8:05 PM on October 7, 2009 [9 favorites]

Perhaps this is a good time to thank 85 year-old Canadian physicist Willard Sterling Boyle and his American co-worker, 79 year-old George Elwood Smith, who were just awarded shares in the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing (forty years ago) the CCD, without which none of this would be possible.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:27 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

There are people who feel very strongly about the issue of video in SLRs, on both sides of the issue. With the momentum it seems to have, I think that having video in DSLRs is pretty much inevitable, the same way autofocus ended up.

A lot of the pro-video side are doing some absolutely stunning work, despite the limitations. Also, it is far from a mature feature/technology so far, with the first video capable DSLR only being a year or so old. I suspect that in a few years things will be very much improved.

As far as the video not being very well suited for news and reporting, what crosses my mind is the Associated Press/Kodak NC2000 and D2000e. A lot of newsrooms started using it and switched over to pure digital around 1994/1995 due to the huge advantage digital offered compared to film in that environment. Except those cameras? They SUCKED, at least in comparison to any modern digital, and certainly in comparison to the film cameras of the time. Bad problems with magenta color shifts, bulky, finicky, low resolution. They still got used though, news photography started to totally change. I suspect that if any useful benefit of size/portability/ease of use emerges in DSLR video, people will start using it for reporting, time limitations and rolling shutter be damned.
posted by Stunt at 9:43 PM on October 7, 2009

Not to toot our own horn, but we have quite a bit of good stuff on shooting HD with dSLRs at, including a forum on the Canon 7D and the Canon 5D Mark 2. Dan and Philip are both members.

There are definitely some exciting developments in the space. I'd imagine that in a year we'll have a camera with a sensor the size of the 7D in a video camera form factor with good ergonomics and audio for less than $5k. Possibly more than one. Canon merged their video and photo divisions less than a year ago and the writing's on the wall for everyone. It's all heading towards convergence.
posted by jeffkramer at 9:51 PM on October 7, 2009

And on review, autopilot is a member as well. He's doing great things with Magic Lantern.
posted by jeffkramer at 10:05 PM on October 7, 2009

I'm pining for a Nikon equivalent now.
posted by flippant at 11:56 PM on October 7, 2009

I'm pining for a Nikon equivalent now.

This is the familiar Nikonian refrain.

The People - PLEASE release a full frame-sensor so we can use our huge assortment of lenses!
Nikon - We will NEVER release a full-frame sensor. NEVER NEVER NEVER!. Get used to the cropped sensor. Full-frame is arbitrary, anyway. Plus, DX lenses are so much cheaper to manufacture. Suck it up.
Canon - Here's a 5D. Full-frame. Cheap.
Nikon - DAMMIT! Fine.

The People - We like video. Video is fun. Video is the future. There's no real difference between shooting in machine gun-mode and video, anyway.
Nikon - DREAM ON, BUDDY! Go get yourself a camcorder!
Canon - How's full-frame, 1080p HD video do it for ya?
Nikon - DAMMIT! Fine.

The People - Tilt/Shift is cool. We like tilt/shift.
Nikon - HAHA! You've gotta be kidding! No one buys that shit!
Canon - Had them for ages.
Nikon - DAMMIT! Fine.

I want to wrap my hands around the fucking necks of the marketing motherfuckers over at Nikon and slowly squeeze the life out while they are forced to watch as their families are violated by all manner of sea creature. Best goddamned lens mount in the world, best goddamned interfaces in the world, but a product department with their heads so far up their asses they thought this was more important than fucking full-frame. IDIOTS. I hate you!

/Nikon owner
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:38 AM on October 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

I just got a Canon 5D a couple of weeks ago. So far, I've been shooting mostly stills. I plan on using this with a combination of Final Cut Pro, After Effects and Photoshop. I'm very excited about being able to create virtually any look I can imagine in HD quality.
posted by DaddyNewt at 12:44 AM on October 8, 2009

Man, Civil_Disobedient, I fucking hear you. It seemed like I was living in a dream when Nikon actually updated their tilt/shifts. I'm STILL waiting for a few primes to be updated, and I constantly worry that they'll discontinue the 105mm DC (they've already discontinued the 135mm DC). Although, to be fair, the video thing is pretty new and Nikon DID do it first. Also, that 200 f/2 is one of the finest goddamn lens Nikon has ever made. I mean, have you USED that thing? Holy shit. Shame I don't commercially shoot the kinds of things that would let me justify buying one.

Nikon and Canon definitely go back and forth with certain things, and there are just an many Canon pros who wish that Canon would do some things the way Nikon does. The competition is great for us. I certainly won't ever switch over (you're most certainly right about the mount, and some of my most used lenses precede the Canon EF mount's introduction), but I'll definitely be bitching about some things right alongside you. Yay rollercoasters!
posted by Stunt at 1:19 AM on October 8, 2009

autopilot - You're the guy behind magic lantern? That's awesome. I wish I could help get ML running on my 500D, but I don't know jack about assembly/embedded programming, so I think I'll just keep my fingers crossed

On a more meta level, I love the rapidly advancing trend towards open source/hackable digital devices like cameras that just years ago were completely black-box. Why should Canon control what I do with my camera?
posted by crayz at 3:13 AM on October 8, 2009

autopilot: I'd never heard of any weird camera design compromises made by manufacturers (29:59 minutes?) to evade european taxes, only that it's a FAT32 problem... The cameras can't record single files larger than 4GB because FAt32 doesn't allow single files larger than 4GB, and the cameras don't understand any file system other than fat32. Seems like this is where exfat, the fat32 replacement from microsoft, should come in... Or in a perfect world we'd have cameras that understand file systems like HFS+.
posted by thewalrus at 3:51 AM on October 8, 2009

No, the 30 minute limit is an EU import tax issue.
posted by cillit bang at 4:29 AM on October 8, 2009

Also, that 200 f/2 is one of the finest goddamn lens Nikon has ever made.

Oh, absolutely! It's up there with the 105 UV in my "Top 10 lenses I would love to whip out at a Nikon event just to see the eyes of other shooters". But, like the 105 UV, it's so ludicrously specialized and outrageously expensive that you can only lust after it. Now, I like me some lusting, don't get me wrong, but I'd much rather have a product that I can actually use.

I mean, fuck… the the D3 (Nikon's first full-frame body) wasn't announced until 8/07. Canon has had full-frame since 9/02. Five years! Five years where the cropped image circle effectively meant that 35% of their vast existing line-up of lenses weren't functional. Sure, they fit on the mount just fine. But they were castrated. And Nikon felt it was more important to put out flagship lenses like the 200/2 that no one would ever buy except sports photographers working at agencies with astronomical budgets. That's asinine.

You can't preen about how your lens mount works on lenses that date back to the 60s, and oh yeah, a good portion of that lens will be worthless to the sensor. But don't worry, you can go out and buy this new lens, that's crappier, slower, less compatible with existing bodies and made with more plastic to replace your collection.

That would be like Microsoft releasing a new version of Windows that's "100% backwards compatible!" with old versions, except they run a third slower. But hey, you can go out and buy this new, inferior software to replace it, and isn't that nice? NO! That's not fucking nice! That's fucking outrageous! Please send me your home address so I can burn your damned house down, you asshole.

Yes, I get too emotional about these things.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:20 AM on October 8, 2009

crayz -- if and when Canon releases a firmware update for the 500D / T1i (what's up with those names?), Magic Lantern should be ported to it. I've been spending some quality time with the 7D to try to get a firmware dump, but without a well-formed firmware file I have not yet been successful.

There was a great list of devices with hackable firmware on Maximum PC a few months ago. It seems that the first question is no longer "Does it run Linux?", but now "Can I hack it?".
posted by autopilot at 5:31 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best goddamned lens mount in the world, best goddamned interfaces in the world, but a product department with their heads so far up their asses they thought this was more important than fucking full-frame.

AMEN! SAY IT LOUD! I'm going to repost your comment on my blog because it's so damn accurate.

I am still bitter that the full frame Nikon I purchased did not come with 1080p HD video with a stereo mic input.

I own enough Nikkor lenses that I couldn't switch to Canon lightly but once I saw that the D300s was only 720p (and still mono?) I gave up on HD video in my DSLR. My freaking LX3 has 720p HD.

Thom Hogan has been slamming Nikon for a while now- even though he's all-in on Nikon, afaict.
posted by gen at 9:08 AM on October 8, 2009

"Top 10 lenses I would love to whip out at a Nikon event just to see the eyes of other shooters".

Could you post (or MeFiMail me) your list? Would love to see that.
posted by gen at 9:10 AM on October 8, 2009

The best thing about using a DSLR for video is the selective depth of field you get with interchangeable lenses and your choice of aperture. The used prime lens market for classic SLR glass is heating up for this reason alone.

One drool-able camera not yet mentioned is the 14.6MP Pentax K7. People deservedly LOVE IT.It offers IN BODY image stabilization, so you get IS on any lens you put on it (and you can put on K-mount lenses back to the mid-70s and M42 lenses with an adapter. The weather/dust sealing is a big deal, too.

Video specs: Movie/Video with Mono-Audio Recording (with Built-in Microphone), Supported Video Modes: 1280 x 720 Pixels (16:9 Standard High Definition), 640 x 416 (3:1.95), 1536 x 1024 (3:2), All Modes at 30 Frames Per Seconds.

One blogger notes that the ($1100) Pentax K7 body offers "HD video at a higher 1536×1024 at 30fps too, whereas the Nikon D5000 tops out at 720p and the Canon EOS 500D only stumbles through 1080p at half the frame rate."

Pentax DSLRs offer tremendous bang for the buck, yet most people don't even know they exist. Others do. (Disclaimer: I've got a K200D which offers tremendous bang-for-the-buck in a $500 DSLR. I'm drooling for the K7, and could definitely sell a LOT of them for Pentax if they gave me one, but I'm paying for three daughters weddings ATTM. This is one reason I really like the ability to use Legacy Glass. I've got a great lineup of prime lenses (two AF Pentax-Fs, a 100mm f2.8 Pentax-M, and a set of 3 Super Takumars for a total cash outlay of $475 - more than most guys spend on one *inferior* zoom).
posted by spock at 9:10 AM on October 8, 2009

they've already discontinued the 135mm DC

AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D is still listed on the Nikon website...
posted by gen at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2009

Alongside that 200/2.0 should be the amazing 14-24mm f/2.8.
posted by gen at 9:22 AM on October 8, 2009

gen -- I own enough Nikkor lenses that I couldn't switch to Canon lightly

There are very simple and inexpensive adapter rings that will allow you to mount the Nikkor lenses to the Canon EOS bodies. Since Nikon's F mount uses a 46mm flange focal distance, compared to Canon's EF 44mm, there is space to fit a thin adapter. If your lenses have manual aperture rings then you're good to go with stop-down-metering on the Canon.

Before the 1.1.0 firmware update to the 5D Mark II, just about everyone was shooting with Nikon lenses on their cameras since the wide aperture, shallow depth-of-field was the most coveted aspect of the new camera and when using Canon's own EF lenses the auto-exposure code in the camera would invariably select f/16 for outdoor scenes. It is widely suspected that the reason Canon released the update to avoid having all of their high-profile film making customers sporting Nikkors.[citation needed]
posted by autopilot at 9:44 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh man do I want a 5DmkII bad. At first I just wanted to be able to shoot wide-angle more easily, but holy hell do I love the video aspect.

Just yesterday I was running through different conversations I could have with my wife about the purchase:

"I didn't really need new tires or brakes this year, honest..."

"It'll pay for itself just as soon as I make a successful cult-classic independent film using it"

"Look, the kidney was just holding me back, and the black market actually pays really well for stuff like this..."


I'll probably just wait a couple of year till they are on the 5DmkIII or mkIV and pick up a II for cheap.
posted by quin at 10:44 AM on October 8, 2009

gen: Huh, you're right, the 135mm IS still listed. Curious. It had been out of stock for a long damned time everywhere, so it's possible they're just making small batches. Glad to be wrong about that, hope they don't actually phase it out. I'm still surprised there are finally new tilt/shift lenses, so I guess anything is possible.

Civil_Disobedient: Yeah, okay, I can see the frustration there. The crop thing never got to me as much, I think. Partially because I don't really shoot all that wide, and partially because I just shifted my expectations of some of the lenses to meet their new effective focal length. For a lot of people I can see Nikon's "a crop sensor is the future" argument being absolutely maddening. I DID have to invest in a couple of lenses to fix a couple of holes in the lineup (a Sigma 30mm f/1.4, and 10-22mm), actually, and that's probably money that could have better been spent elsewhere.

I suppose as long as both camps keep pushing actual innovation in some direction or another I'll stay happy. There are certainly things I keep waiting for though (or dreaming about -make an FM3D! I'll buy it!), thankfully none of them have made me too bitter, yet. Although now that they've embraced full-frame, the lack of updated fast primes is starting to get to me more every time I see a Nikon announcement.
posted by Stunt at 1:18 PM on October 8, 2009

Could you post (or MeFiMail me) your list? Would love to see that.

For posterity's sake, and in no particular order:
  1. UV-Nikkor 105mm f/4.5s Primarily used by forensics teams and scientists. I call it God's lens.
  2. Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8.0P ED-IF Also known as The Beast. Popular with paparazzi and spy agencies.
  3. Nikkor AF 85mm f1.4 D A total bokeh babe. The perfect portrait lens.
  4. Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 (fisheye) With a 220° field of view, this lens can actually see behind the shooter.
  5. Ultra-Micro-Nikkor 29.5mm f/1.2 One of the highest-resolution lenses in history (1,260 lines/mm resolution). Used in integrated circuit design/reproduction. Developed before the advent of artificial fluoride (for glass purification)—supposedly natural fluoride was gathered and used.
  6. TV-Nikkor 35mm f/0.9 Nikon's fastest lens, ever.
  7. Repro Nikkor 85mm f/1.0 Nikon's fastest macro lens.
  8. Reflex-Nikkor 2000mm f/11 The longest focal length lens available for 35mm photography. 40x optical magnification—you can see things through this lens that aren't even resolvable with the naked eye.
  9. AF-S VR Nikkor 200mm f/2G IF-ED The longest-fastest lens (taking both into consideration) in Nikon's arsenal. Pretty-much the best sports lens you could ever own.
  10. AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED The widest-fastest lens (taking both into consideration) in Nikon's aresenal. Pretty-much the best landscape lens you could ever own.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:04 AM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

Autopilot, I just want to say thank you for all your hard work in Magic Lantern. I was playing with the focus pulls today using a 50mm f/1.2 and it just looks glorious.

Killing the AGC makes shooting a thousand times better. It's just fantastic all round. Thanks again.
posted by Magnakai at 9:04 AM on October 9, 2009

This past year I helped start a full HD visitor information channel, and the production team purchased some new Sony EX-3's for the job. Fantastic cameras, relatively lightweight and great image out of the camera, even all decked out under $25,000 (compared to the $80,000 ones they used just 3 years ago).

To compliment the EX3's and to give us the ability to shoot at a moment's notice, I purchased a 5D and a considerable amount of gear (shoulder mount system, fairly nice fluid head tripod, a couple of lenses, etc), for a total still under $7,000.

There are certainly limitations to the 5D, and I wouldn't want to have it as our only camera... but that being said, it is ridiculous. The shots match up very well with the EX3, and to the untrained eye there is no difference. Plus the advantage of portability, low light shooting, and depth of field far beyond the already nice EX3. We do mostly controlled shoots, but I've been able to get away with quite a bit of run and gun once you know the issues. Audio is always recorded externally, no whip pans, and keep it steady. I shot handheld out of an open helicopter last week and the footage is pretty damn good after some Smoothcam. Rivals the EX3 mounted to a full gyro system (next time my 5D is going on the gyro).

Thanks so much for the work on Magic Lantern! I loaded it this last week, and zebras will save my ass.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2009

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