29 September 2019

Filming with a DSLR camera: An experiment

Filming with a DSLR camera: An Experiment

I'm a passionate film maker and enjoy making videos of vacations, family celebrations and outdoor adventures using my camcorder, a Panasonic HDC-SDT750 EG. Inspired by the fact that DSLRs have been used to film entire series, I decided to conduct an experiment: I borrowed a Lumix DMC-GH2 to create a cinematic video of a murder mystery game with friends. Here's how it went.

Shooting video with a DSLR – an experiment

My aim was to create a short film of a fun evening with friends as they solve a murder. Not a real one, obviously – we were playing a murder mystery game. Making this in a cinematic style allowed me to make full use of the possibilities offered by the DSLR's large image sensor. The hardware I used was a DSLR with a 14-42mm kit lens and an external microphone. According to the friend who lent me the equipment, I would be able to achieve smooth panning shots without chopping. He was right – a bit of practice was all that was needed. However, I think a monopod would provide even better results.

Operation: Camcorder versus DSLR

In comparison to my own camcorder, operating the DSLR took some getting used to, but I didn't miss using a shoulder rig. The DSLR camera itself is a little heavier, but that also doesn't take long to get used to. I was particularly looking forward to finding out how the auto focus worked. To my surprise, it was pretty reliable. We only had to retake two scenes of the murder mystery game because of a distracting pulsing effect as the camera hunted for focus. I then discovered that I could manually set focus on the electronic viewfinder or the high-resolution panning display at the touch of a finger, which was really convenient.
Adjusting the aperture during recording was also possible. This required a little practice, but was pretty straightforward. There are many other parameters which are best set before filming.

Image and sound quality

Recording cinema-quality video was extremely easy and this offered a real advantage over a camcorder. The DSLR might not always be practical for travel, outdoor and event videos, but it offered really impressive results, and made me want to film even more. Image quality was excellent, virtually free of artefacts and razor-sharp the entire time. The only thing that was at times off the mark was the automatic white balance, so I'd recommend manually setting this beforehand.
During test recordings the evening before filming, I tried out the built-in microphone, which offered clear stereo sound without noise. But ultimately, I decided to use an external microphone, because I prefer to set levels manually.

In conclusion: Camcorder versus DSLR

The short movie of the murder mystery game was a big hit with everyone who took part. Since my DSLR experiment, I've been known as Spielberg Junior. That's a bit of an exaggeration. But conducting this experiment was a pleasant surprise – I really did not expect to achieve this level of quality without a lot of practice beforehand. The image quality was very high even at low light levels, I was able to create a cinematic look for my video, and the additional equipment was easy to use. While operating a DSLR was more complicated than a camcorder, it's just a matter of becoming familiar with it. For more professional work, investing in a shoulder rig and a follow focus system would be worthwhile. But for small-scale projects, these are not necessary. Shooting with a DSLR was fun, but I still can't do without my camcorder.
To sum things up, DSLRs are great for shooting cinematic videos. But for all other recordings, I'm going to stay with my camcorder. Operating a camcorder is easier, it's lighter in weight, and it offers undeniable advantages in terms of exposure, focus and stabilizer systems.