09 October 2011

A few DSLR practicalities

After four months of using a Canon 600D purely for video, I've come to appreciate the following:

  • Interchangeable lenses are full of complete awesome.
  • Old, cheap manual prime lenses are fine to build up a collection of big-aperture glass for gloomy indoor shots, but at some point you get tired of the white bloom and chroma aberrations, and you start saving for better quality stuff.
  • You quickly get over the sound drawbacks and 12 minute recording limit*, unless you're mainly shooting documentaries, in which case you might be better off with something different. Treat it as an image sensor and get used to using dual-system sound on productions that need it.
  • H264 compression is a pig. There is always noise in the blacks, even at 100 ISO.
  • Never set the manual audio gain above halfway, it just introduces a hiss.
  • A Rode Videomic is a great piece of kit, but only when you remember to switch it on. It has a bright LED right in my eye-line but I still have facepalm moments after I realise why my latest clip is silent. My advice: to hell with the battery life, just leave it on all day and make sure to carry a few spare 9Vs.
  • After making do with a consumer MiniDV camera for the past seven years, I've found the 600D's on-screen histogram and the 10x zoom preview are indispensable features for keeping an eye on exposure and manual focus. Make sure you use them.
  • When setting sound levels manually, all sorts of fun can be had with varying degrees of background hiss. I will investigate this further another time, but it looks like another motivation to use dual-system sound.
*The Canon SLR limits on video clips are actually 30 minutes, but the file format used on the memory cards have a file size limit of 4 Gb, which equates to about 12 minutes when shooting either 25fps 1080 or 50fps 720. You could, of course, try the Magic Lantern firmware to get around these limitations.

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