No Film School’s Guide To DSLR Shooting
At Filmmaker we’ve been on top of the DSLR story — the use of small digital SLR still cameras by filmmakers — in a series of articles beginning last year. (See “Shutterbugs” in Spring, 2009, and “Pimp your DSLR” in Summer.) That said, Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo has just posted an astonishingly detailed and useful article on his No Film School site called “The DSLR Cinematography Guide.” It’s got a huge amount of information in it with tons of hyperlinks to other articles, posts on user forums, and the blogs of various d.p.’s working with the format. I highly recommend it if you are considering buying a DSLR. Bilsborrow-Koo gives buying advice, compares brands, and obsesses about things like stuck pixels so you don’t have to.
Digital cinematography is changing so rapidly these days that a printed book on the subject will likely be outdated by the time it reaches store shelves; this is especially true when it comes to the rapid release cycle of DSLRs. Up-to-date information can be found on online forums, but forums lack the organizing principles of a book, and as a result it can take a ludicrously long time to piece together reliable information (I spent months forum-surfing to assemble my own camera package). Thus, this guide: I hope it saves readers money they would’ve otherwise spent on an out-of-date book, and I hope it saves forums from so many newbie — sorry, “n00b” — questions.
DSLRs are a great enabler on the “no film school” front, as they are priced to own and allow aspiring filmmakers to follow the “buy a camera and learn” lesson plan. But as with any creative tool, a DSLR is only as good as the person using it. While these cameras offer a world of advantages, they also come with considerable drawbacks. However, these drawbacks that are worth dealing with in order to get the kind of amazing images possible with an imaging sensor that has twenty to thirty times more surface area than that of a similarly priced, dedicated video camera. To emphasize: these cameras are not designed to shoot movies. Their primary function remains to shoot still photos, but it just so happens that they shoot amazing video very inexpensively, and for that they are worth tinkering with, hacking, and jumping through a lot of hoops to use. And make no mistake: to modify these still cameras to behave like “real” movie cameras, there are a lot of hoops to jump through (thus the length of this guide), but you will be rewarded by using a camera that many of us could only dream of a few years ago, for cheaper than any of us imagined.
Among the many links is this one to his own blog post highlighting ten films shot on DSLRs. Here’s one I hadn’t seen before: “Hecq Vs Exillion – Spheres Of Fury,” by Tim.Chris.Film. Shot on the Canon 7D with, as Bilsborrow-Koo writes, “a wonderfully low-contrast, bleached seventies aesthetic, along with great editing and titling.” Check it out and block out an hour in your calendar to read and absorb the article.