Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Film and photography: the converging lines... part I

I think it is fair to say that filmmaking was born from photography but, like the proverbial prodigal son, it beat its own path, merging attributes of photography, theatre, music and paintings to create a commercialised mass spectacle (although purists may argue that movies are made up of 24 stills projected, one after another, every second).

A Canon 5D Mark II DSLR mounted on a rig by Redrock Micro

With the advent of digital technology and DSLR cameras that also offer high quality video, we are seeing the two separate paths converging again. It looks like the prodigal son is coming home. I think this will be a happy re-union for creatives. It will offer more flexibility, more freedom and democratise the art forms for those that do not have access to large funds.

Not only are DSLRs starting to offer HD video capabilities, but the high quality glass available, with interchangeable lenses, is making the process more and more ‘film-like’. This leap in technology is much more impressive and profound than consumer camcorders that are capable of producing limited quality JPEG images captured through fixed lenses.

At the moment, there are issues, like possible moiré patterns and aliasing problems, but this technology is just starting out and teething problems are always to be expected. Things are moving fast and at Expos this year, Canon unveiled a hybrid camera capable of 4k resolution to match the high end RED digital camcorders used by many respected filmmakers like Peter Jackson.

The Canon 4k hybrid concept camera

It looks like the start of the DSLR filmmaking revolution has begun, with Lucasfilm apparently using a DSLR for pick-up shots on a new film called RED TAILS. TV drama, documentaries, commercials and music promos have also been shot on DSLRs.

This leap forward in technology, and the convergence of photography and filmmaking, is interesting to me as I have my feet in both waters, so to speak. However, my interest is not without certain reservations. Namely:

  1. I cannot imagine shooting long film productions on a DSLR shaped body. I really think a heavier camera that can be shoulder mounted if need be is far more suitable. The weight of such cameras is manifested somehow on screen and I can imagine hand held shots filmed with a DSLR showing the operators every heartbeat (especially on a big screen). Yes, there are shoulder mounts rigs available now, so perhaps they work.
  2.  There is still a bit of the purist in me that thinks that a still camera should be a still camera, a ‘movie camera’ should remain just that, and the makers of these cameras should put every effort in focusing on these tasks and continue perfecting their quality, innovation and performance. I guess an analogy would be... is it better for an athlete to only practice one discipline, or will he still excel in a primary discipline whilst also looking to excel in another?’
  3. If I have a camera capable of excellent stills and video alike, and I have an opportunity to capture an image... what do I opt for before I miss the opportunity or make the wrong decision? This may seem like a stupid or trivial point, but I kind of like the fact that, if I have a ‘conventional’ photos only DSLR with me... that dilemma is not an option. My decision is made I can focus on capturing the moment.

No matter what... the future looks exciting and full of creative options.

Blog Pinger


  1. Buying a DSLR to take video and photos is akin to buying a washing machine that can cook. One will end up with a a jack of all trades and master of none. A DSLR is for Photos and a movie camera for movies. For me its worrying to see that the current trend is that even for the `professional` DSLR` it has got to have video.

  2. @Aaron: I have the same reservations Mark has, so I might be tempted to agree with you as well. But since a video camera and a photo camera work on the same concept (not like a cooker & washing machine) I beleive that it may be possible to have the best of both worlds. After all a video camera is a photo camera that is capable to shoot 24, 25, 30, 60, 100 or more pictures per second for an "unlimited" period of time. Strictly speaking nowadays it's only the body shape that decides what is a DSLR or a Video Camera. In fact I am seriously considering selling my Panasonic HVX200 to switch to a DSLR with a decent HD video. But since I already have a Nikon kit with some lenses as well I still have to wait until nikon unveils a good HDSLR because I think that Canon are a step ahead in the DSLR/HDvideo market.
    Mario Scicluna

  3. Thanks for the contributions. This is one of those debates that can just keep going. A better analogy would be a washing machine that can also tumble dry. I'll call this a washer/dryer. Okay, I know I haven't really invented something that could prove really useful.

    But does this hybrid washer/dryer offer the best of both worlds, or does it offer a compromise of the two individual machines?

    One could argue either way. For some people, a washer/dryer is a Godsend. For others, it certainly is a compromise and if one goes wrong... you've lost the capabilities of both.

    Same with video DSLRs. No matter what each person's take... the possibilities are certainly interesting and, even though you'd need to kit up something like the 5D, the bang for the buck will still be quite impressive indeed.