On My Radar: How To Shoot Your Epic Feature Film With A Still DSLR Camera
That’s right, I said make a full-length film with that digital doohickey you are using to feed your flicker stream.
No, I’m not insane. If you can frame a still photo you can frame your whole movie with the same camera, and Filmmaker Magazine explains how in their recent issue.
The Nikon D90 can shoot in five-minute bursts, holding about 50 minutes per 8GB card, with a 16mm by 24mm sensor.
On the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the sensor is the same size as a standard film camera frame: 24mm by 36mm. It’s sensor creates larger pixels, with sharper images and the ability to shoot in lower light.
– Nikon D90 image via Robert Kenney‘s flickr
It is totally possible to get a 21 mega-pixel 1080p high-def image from Canon in the palm of your hand for under $2,000, and a growing group of filmmakers are being drawn to the price and flexibility of DSLRs as their primary mode of shooting.
Contributing writer Roberto Quezada-Dardon spoke to Andrew Disney, a filmmaker shooting a feature called Searching for Sonny in Fort Worth, Tex. with a Canon 5D.
Disney told Filmmaker that aside from the cost benefit, the size of the camera reduced crew size:
“We had nothing too big to lug around. The cameraâ€™s battery pack lasted all day. It felt easier and we werenâ€™t as tired. Moving the camera and using the dolly was just so easy.”
The 5D’s light sensitivity and image sensor size also appealed to Disney, but of course there are downsides to shooting with a camera not originally designed for feature film making.
4 Challenges of Shooting with DSLR Technology + The Workarounds
1. Camera body will usually overheat after approx. 40 minutes of continuous shooting
Take intermittent 10 minute breaks to keep it cool.
2. No Decent Sync Audio
The internal sound recording with DSLRs is pretty terrible. It’s better to use the internal mono track as just a scratch reference in post. Your best option is to sync up a double-system recording; for ambience use something like a Zoom H2, which provides a four-channel surround recording for building a 5.1 mix.
Record your dialogue with a stick mic and/or wireless kit to a compact flash recorder like Sound Devices 702. To compensate for no audio timecode, use a slate or other way to note a sync mark to find in post.
3. No automated way to make image quality meet broadcast specifications
After importing your files, transcode to Apple ProRes and retime the frame rate from 24 fps to 23.98 fps. Create a droplet in a transcoding program like Compressor.
The last (and probably scariest) issue:
4. Lack of any image stabilization feature
Avoid doing hand held shots – Stick to tripods and dollies. Try a mix of monopods and tripods. If you must have that veritÃ© look, be sure to rehearse your scenes as much as possible and be prepared for multiple takes.
Producer and director Zak Forsman gave Filmmaker this tip for keeping a D90 steady:
â€œThe D90 is very comfortable for handheld shooting given its DSLR form factor,â€ he says. â€œI hold it securely with my right hand while cradling it and pulling focus with my left. The cameraâ€™s sensor does have a slow read/reset, which results in skewing of the image when panning left and right. This effect is minimized in much the same way you soften hand held camerawork â€” with wide lenses and stabilization. I wonâ€™t shoot with anything longer than my 28mm without a tripod. Even so, it takes a good amount of familiarity with the D90 to work within its technical limitations.â€
Check out Forsmanâ€™s techniques on sabipictures.com and look up his D90 feature Eloquent Graffiti. You can watch the prelude, Model/Photographer, here:
Filmmakers using DSLR cameras reminds me of the cult filmmaking subculture of Pixelvision PXL 2000 users. Originally a video camera designed for children by Fisher-Price, lo-fi lovers have been using it to make short and feature films for years, drawn to the grainy, low-definition images.