This is article #1 in the DSLR Video Weekly series.  If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

Whether you stumbled across the video options in your DSLR camera or specifically selected your camera with video shooting in mind, I welcome you to the world of DSLR video.  Telling stories with video is enjoyable and challenging.  Your camera is a great tool, but by its very nature, video is a complex medium. Throughout this book I’ll focus on teaching you the most important techniques.  It doesn’t matter which camera you’re shooting on, my goal is to help you master the skills you need to become a motion storyteller.

Carrying a single camera body is very convenient. Photo by Robert Vanelli

Why Is DSLR Video So Popular?

If you pick up just about any new “stills” camera, you’ll find that it probably also shoots video. DSLR video, or hybrid, cameras are booming in popularity. The camera you have is probably quite capable of recording great-looking video. Whether shooting is a hobby or your job, your DSLR camera is up to the task.

Here are a few reasons that have led to the rapid adoption of DSLR video:

  • Wonderful value. Your DSLR camera can achieve incredible image quality at a fraction of the price of a traditional video camera.  DSLR video cameras have found their way into the hands of everyone from doting parents to Hollywood cinematographers.  Everyone agrees that these cameras can give you a great picture at a great price.
  • Convenience. Whether you’re shooting photos or stills, one camera can now do both.  You no longer have to carry two cameras with you on vacation, and you can create photos and video using the same lens
  • New challenges. Many experienced photographers I know are attracted to video because its new and challenging.  If you are the type of person who finds learning fun, becoming a better videographer will also improve your photography. If photography isn’t as much fun as it used to be, give it a creative jolt by mixing in some video.
  • New opportunities. Creating video with your DSLR camera opens many doors.  You have new ways to tell stories using motion.  You can reach out to more people through the use of video sharing sites like YouTube or Vimeo, as well as social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. If you make a living from your photography, your clients may be looking for (and willing to buy) video services from you.

What’s Great About DSLR Video?

For almost 30 years now, I’ve been shooting, directing, and editing video. I create video professionally, so the last thing I want to do is shoot video as my hobby. For me, photography was always my escape. It gave me the ability to step away from big group projects and focus on capturing life’s intimate moments.

Well, thanks to what I can do with my DSLR camera, I now shoot video more than ever.  Whether its shots of my kids in action, capturing memories from a vacation, or producing short stories for the Web, I have a new passion for creating video.

For me, there are two major reasons I love shooting video on a DSLR.  The first is aesthetics—the resulting look and feel of the footage I can acquire.  The second involves the technical aspects that make a video-enabled DSLR camera so much better than other affordable (and even many not so affordable) HD video cameras.

Aesthetic Benefits

For me, one of the most appealing elements of both photography and video has been the ability to tell stories using images.  I really like to capture memories and share those with an audience.  Sometimes they are personal stories just meant for family; other times they are television commercials viewed by a huge audience.  In either case, I want the footage to look great.  With a DSLR camera, getting great-looking footage is a lot easier than using other camera technology. Here’s are two reasons why:

Great control over depth of field

If you’ve ever shot on a traditional video camera, you know that once you’ve set focus, the whole image tends to stay in focus. With a DSLR camera, you have a much bigger image sensor, which allows you more options when capturing your image.  The ability to set a shallow focus lets you keep your subject as the star and blur any unwanted background details.

Opening up the aperture made the background go soft.  Instead of a busy bowling alley behind my daughter competing for attention, the focus is set on her. ISO 800 | 1/50 sec. |f/3.2 | 35mm lens

Filmic image

For years, people have applied filters or effects to their video to make it look less like video.  Whether it was TV news or home movies, the footage tended to look flat and boring.  With a DSLR, you have great lens quality and a more photographic-like image.  Also, several more controls are in the camera that you can adjust to modify the look of your footage. 

Technical Benefits

Although I love the look of video my DSLR camera can create, I have to admit that I also love the power it gives me to shoot in challenging situations. On a traditional video production shoot, a lot of effort is placed on lighting the scene.  Many tricks are used, and lots of equipment is put in place to make a better-looking image.  And a professional video crew tends to range in size from 2 to 15 people. All of these expensive components have traditionally kept the cost of professional video high, and at the bare minimum has meant dragging a lot of equipment out on every shoot.  DSLR cameras are changing this situation in a few ways:

Lens selection

One of the best features of a DSLR camera is that you can change its lens.  You can match the lens to the shooting scenario.  If you need to shoot from far away, you can attach a powerful zoom lens.  If you need to shoot in low light, you can attach an affordable prime lens to the camera.  Over time, you’ll build up your lens collection; in fact, investing in good lenses is a smart idea.  Currently, I have lenses that are 25 or more years old, and the good ones still produce great images.  I’ll explore different options for lenses throughout this book.   

This lens is more than a decade old but still performs great for shooting video.

Low-light performance

Compared to a video camera, a DSLR camera is much better at shooting in low-light conditions. You can now get better-looking images with less light.  Although it’s still best to maximize the light you have, a DSLR camera can shoot in many places that a  regular video camera would fail.

Smaller and lighter camera

If a camera is too heavy or bulky, you’ll likely end up leaving it behind.  A DSLR camera is pretty light, and if you toss a lens or two in your bag, it’s still easy to carry on your shoulder.  Plus, you can place the camera in lots of interesting places. I’ve seen DSLR cameras mounted to handlebars on bikes, used in underwater housings for scuba diving, and more.

Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.