When DSLR video may not be the answer

While my beard gets longer and grayer in the wait for the delivery of the Nikon D7000, there are a couple of things I’m learning about DSLR video; resolution, beautiful bokeh, and high ISO performance notwithstanding, that give me pause when I think of it in terms being a one-man travel-shooting band.

Not only me, but a number of journalist-type video shooters have noted that when you approach a subject with a rig that looks like this:

you can, um, intimidate your subjects.

In the case of the above video, which is a little travel piece I extracted out of a larger shoot I did recently in Senegal documenting the work of some doctors over there, my subjects at the fishmarket, all armed with sharp knives and no real patience for photographers, would not have been intimidated at all.

No, they would have had my guts for garters!

This was a classic situation where you had to shoot and move, and shoot and move quickly before anyone took umbrage with your presence.

 And if you don’t think that’s hard to do while you’re on a tripod, think again.

But at least I had a tiny tripod and a small non-professional looking camera…a little Sanyo Xacti HD 2000. It weighs six ounces and it looks like this:



Don’t be fooled. It shoots 1080P30 (and 60) FPS video (although I shot it at 720p30FPS). It has a lot of manual control and does a wonderful job for what it is. But it won’t give you the sweet, sweet bokeh of a fast prime on a DSLR with a nice big APS-C sensor.

On the other hand, it doesn’t need a Rube Goldberg-esque rig to frame, focus, and shoot either!

And it won’t get you a filet knife in the kidneys. 

And, at least in my book, there are times when that’s even more important than good bokeh!


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ah Bob,

    You always find all the cool toys.

    1. Jack: True enough. And in this case, at least, “He who doesn’t die with the most toys, wins.!”

  2. Spot on Bob. When I was in Thailand for the madness in May an Australian TV crew was shooting their video on dSLRs and had them tricked it a bit like your photo. I joked some with them that at the point they were at, they might as well stay with traditional video cameras at they said that their rig was still cheaper, lighter and had better quality video ‘mate. (imagine that with an Australian accent) They also said the bodies were so cheap that if one went down they could just drop a new one into the rig. I guess they mean cheap in a corporate sense, I surely can’t afford to just buy a new body on a whim.

    I’m thinking about getting a small video camera like your Sony to throw into my bag. We’re increasingly expected to shoot “B” roll on our still assignments for our sister TV station and it’s just easier and faster to use the small vid cams.


  3. Bob, the simple answer is just not to wander around with a rig like that. All you really need to shoot unobtrusive DSLR video is a mic you can use for better sound than the camera’s built-in, a finder you can attach or detach easily to the lcd on your camera and a small tripod. Stick a hand-held audio recorder in your bag to gather ambient sound and you’re off. The Sanyo isn’t bad for what it is but it’s just not necessary. The rig you show in the picture has its uses but it’s overkill for, well, almost everything. Stick with the DSLRs and use only the accessories that you need and you’ll be just fine.


    1. Mike: I still find the focusing etc. on the DSLR to be a bit slower and clumsier. Plus the flip out screen on the camcorder let me set up the tripod, frame up real fast, and then kind of turn away from the setup so it didn’t look like I was filming the whole time.

      But in a friendlier environment, the DSLR works fine. I still think that there are documentary situations, though, where the camcorder is a faster alternative.

      If that Sony NEX VG10 had a slightly more user friendly design, it’d be the best of both worlds. Bob

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