Video with your DSLR Week: Why use a Digital SLR to shoot video, The Good

August 5, 2010


[Editors Note: This week is “Shooting Video with your DSLR” here on DPE with Rob Sheppard, Art Howard and Juan Pons. We will be bringing you a new article every day this week, make to sure to check them all out!]

I am amazed that there is a debate still going on about why anyone would want to use a DSLR for shooting serious video. The arguments remind me of the early days of digital photography, where many out there would argue that images NOT taken on film were not real photos. Today we know different.

To this end I want to share with you why I shoot video with a DSLR, what I find the be the advantages and disadvantages of using what many are now referring to HDDSLRs (I personally prefer the term Video DSLR).

In this first installment I will talk about what is great about shooting video with DSLRs. Later in the week I will follow-up with what I consider to be the shortcomings of such systems.

Multiple lenses

This is by far the most important reason for me to use a DSLR to shoot videos. I can use my entire arsenal of still lenses. I can use my macro lenses, my wide angle 10mm, my Super-telephoto 500mm, even tilt-shift lenses. This flexibility is completely unprecedented, that is, unless you had a large personal fortune you did not mind spending it on lenses and cameras. I grew increasingly frustrated with my previous video camera because I could not capture the macro images I wanted to film due to the lens limitations of my camera. The Yellowstone video above I would not have been to capture if I had not been able to shoot with my 500mm lens. Yes there are video camera systems with even greater reach and incredible zooms, but some of these can cost more than $100,000, and at those prices these are out of reach for most people; including myself.

Low Light Capabilities

Because of the large sensors DSLRs have, these cameras have what could be considered nothing short of spectacular low light capabilities. Art Howard who is another contributor here on DPE on a recent assignment was able to shoot video of sleeping bats inside a cave using nothing more than the headlamps they were wearing. Last year I was able to capture some great footage of Pine Barrens Tree Frogs using nothing more than a small battery powered lamp, as you can see the in the video below. Neither of these shoots would be been possible under the circumstances with traditional video equipment; As these would have required significant lights which would have been impossible to use in either of these two situations.

If you want to see what is probably the best comparison of cameras and film on the subject of low light sensitivity, you can’t do any better than watch episode 2 of “The Great Camera Shootout by Zacuto

Film Like DOF

In photography we control the depth of field in our images by adjusting the aperture on our cameras. The wider the aperture the shallower the depth of field. But did you know that your cameras sensor size also affects the depth of field? True! All other things being equal, lens, aperture, etc. two cameras with different sensor sizes will produce different depth-of-field, for example a Canon 5D MarkII will produce a shallower depth of field than a Canon 7D. That is because the 5D2 has a larger sensor than the 7D.

You may now be asking, why does that matter? Well it matters a lot, because most video cameras have TINY sensors, these are typically 1/3″ or 1/4″ or 1/5″, compared to a full frame still camera sensor which is about 1.4″. What this means is that these cameras have a very deep depth of field. Think about this for a minute, as a still photographer, if I took away from you the following apertures (2.8, 5.6, 8) how would you feel? I know I would feel severely limited creatively. This is how I felt when using my video camera. True, I’ll take as much DOF as I can get when shooting macro, but everywhere else, I rather have my entire DOF range.

BTW, this is one of the primary reasons why most movies are still shot using film, because of the DOF. Film is a LOT more expensive to shoot with, you can’t see the results immediately, and it’s a hassle to deal with. Independent filmmakers have been embracing the DSLR for movie making in droves because the DOF control these systems offers which in turn, allows them the tell stories better without the expense of using film.

If you want to see a great comparison on sensor sizes check out this wikipedia article.

One System

This is my last point, but by no means the least important. ONE SYSTEM. What I mean by this is that I have one type of battery, one type of charger, one type of memory cards, one type of lenses, one type of tripods and camera plates, etc. I don’t have to carry multiple formats of the same thing, my photo equipment serves multiple purposes. But MOST important, I only need to learn and know how to operate ONE type of camera. No need to learn multiple switches, dials, controls, menus, capabilities, limitations, etc. These are the same properties of my still camera, because IT IS my still camera. I know the controls of my camera to the point I don’t need to think about them or look at the camera to make any changes, I just “know” how to make these changes without even thinking about it. This is hugely important, because when you need to make a quick adjustment, you just make it, no thinking about it, no need to try and remember where the controls are on this camera, it just happens, and consequently I get the shots I am looking for, more often than not.

The landscape is not all rosy, there are certain limitations and issues. And I will cover those later in the week, and what I do to overcome them.

However, in my opinion, the positives FAR outweigh the negatives, but you need to decide that for yourself. Hopefully these articles will help you make your own decision.


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This post was written by:

- who has written 347 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Juan is a wildlife photographer who currently lives in Maine. Juan lives and breathes photography and travels around the country making images, teaching and leading photo workshops. Juan’s favorite destination is Yellowstone in winter.

You can follow Juan on twitter at

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8 Responses to “Video with your DSLR Week: Why use a Digital SLR to shoot video, The Good”

  1. Harlan Yee Says:

    Hi Juan,

    The frog video is awesome! I’ve done a few low light tests with my Canon 7D but nothing fun like that. To get shots like your frogs, is it a combination of a fast lens and high ISO? Also, did you have to adjust your color temperature to get the colors looking right?

    I come from a broadcast video background but still learning the photography skills to shoot video with DSLRs. Things like aperture, ISO, etc on SLR cameras are things I should’ve learned a long time ago so I’m finding myself playing catch-up at this time.


    • Juan Pons Says:


      I was shooting at f5.6 and 1600 ISO and using two very small (about 2 inch x 2 inch) led lights. I did have to adjust my white balance to compensate for the cool led lights but that was simple to do.

      There are a lot of things in common between still and video but just as many things that are completely different.

      Take care,



  2. Anthony - Motojournalism Says:

    I’m very excited about the ability to add motion and sound to composition skills we already know as photographers. It really expands the range of projects we’re able to do.

    I’ve been able to borrow an HD video camera over the last few weeks to learn videography. It’s easy to transfer the knowledge from the still camera to the video camera. Many of the same concepts, just different terminology. Smooth handling of the video camera is a challenge, but a heck of a lot of fun.

    It seems that the hurdles to come for the video DSLRs will be smooth, gradual adjustments of focus, aperture, ISO and zoom. I’ve noticed that photo tripods are a bit wobbly when panning and tilting with a video head!

    Looking forward to your thoughts next week!


    • Juan Pons Says:


      Glad to hear you are enjoying shooting video with your DSLR. It certainly is a lot of fun and exercises your creative muscle.

      Take care,



  3. Bob Thompson Says:

    Juan, that is a lovely video and demonstates beautifully the power of DSLR video. I totally agree with your comments about just using one kit for both stills and video.

    What setting for saturation and sharpness are you using for the video work.




    • Juan Pons Says:


      I use the standard settings, mostly because I shoot RAW exclusively when taking stills so the settings don’t apply when shooting RAW. I just have not really bothered changing the setting for video since I will do color correction and any other adjustment in Final Cut Pro during post production.



  4. Bob Thompson Says:

    Thanks for the quick reply, yes RAW still any setting can do as you adjust in post but some people advise turning the sharpness down for video but I have tried and I am not sure if I like it.

    Great site and I follow on Twitter




  1. […] part of two part article titled "Why use a Digital SLR to shoot video", you can read the first part "The good" here. […]

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