I recently bit the bullet and jumped into the DSLR video world. Right off the bat the form factor of the camera freaked me out. My main camera for a while has been a Canon XH-A1 – a proper video camera, with proper buttons/switches as well as proper XLR phantom powered audio jacks with knobs for audio control. The XH-A1 has a built in mic mount. You hold it in your right hand and it has a proper viewfinder. Jumping in a DSLR has hardly any of the above!
I chose a Canon 60D. I chose this camera for several reasons:
- Swivel Screen
- Manual Audio Controls
- White Balance
- Basically the same video quality as the more expensive Canon 7D
The 60D has a swivel LCD screen that has a nicer resolution than the Canon 7D and the 550D/T2i. Being able to flip out the screen and place it a different angles is invaluable, at least to me. If you are shooting with the camera low to the ground it comes in pretty handy. Even if you are shooting with it lower than your eye level (e.g. chest height), being able to tilt the LCD facing up makes pulling focus manually much easier. One of the unexpected benefits I found out quickly of the swivel screen was when you have it mounted on a steadicam. I have a Steadicam Merlin and being able to swing the screen around to different angles lets you walk with the Merlin in a position that is comfortable for you. For example, if you are shooting/tracking someone walking while you are to the right of them, you can just flip out the screen 90 degrees which allows you to be able to walk comfortably parallel with them, looking forward (towards where you are both walking). This allows you to operate the Merlin a little more steady because you are not having to hold your head at some awkward angle to see the screen.
It is said that people will tolerate mediocre video quality as long as the audio is good. Most DLSR’s have AGC (automatic gain conrol). This takes the microphone gain and increases it when there is quiet and drops it down when it is loud. Although this is great for some point-and-shoot video cameras it really is unfavorable when you want to capture rich audio using professional mics. To use external mics, whether shotgun, lav or condenser mics, there are two current schools of practice with the video dslr’s. Option 1: Run you mics into the camera or into a “box” that mounts under your camera that has pro audio jacks and from there into the camera and hope the AGC doesn’t go haywire (there is a hack to disable the AGC – see here). Option 2: Record the audio separately and sync it to the video in your editor.
The 60D has manual audio controls which gets rid of the AGC issue. This gives you the option to use both of the options from above and achieve rich audio either way. If you just want to run a shotgun mic straight into the camera you can set the levels and “see” if you are peaking with the built in meters (although you have no access to the meters while recording). This is good for simple run-and-gun shooting. This works to if you just want to run a wireless lav mic system. Simply plug the receiver into the camera and set the levels in the camera.
One of the most popular separate recording units out there is the Zoom H4n. This unit gives you tons of options with the 60D. You can plug two mics into the H4n and come out of the unit’s headphone jack and into the 60D and achieve nice audio. With the new H4n firmware upgrade, you can use two different mics if you want as you can now set the levels independently for each channel. If you get a 1/8″ earphone jack splitter, this allows you to monitor your your audio that is going into the camera.
For the best, most redundant recording setup do this: Set the H4n up to do 4 track recording. Plug two mics into the H4n XLR jacks. These can be shotgun mics, wireless lav receivers or even phantom powered condenser mics, or any combination of two mics/wireless receivers. Plus you will be using the Zoom’s two onboard stereo mics for the other two tracks. Run a splitter out of the H4n’s headphone jack. Plug your headphones into one side of the splitter and run a 1/8″ cable from the other side of the splitter into the 1/8″ stereo mic jack on the 60D. When you go to record, hit record on the H4n and the 60D and you will have quite the audio captured. If all went well, you should have really good audio in the camera. If you are unhappy with the mix the camera captured, you have 4 audio tracks you can mix to your satisfaction and sync it to your camera’s audio in post (check out Plural Eyes from Singular Software to assist in making synchronizing a snap).
I really didn’t want the Canon 7D. If I were purchasing this camera for still photography I might have gone for the 7D but I wanted this camera primarily for video purposes. The 60D feels almost like the 7D but not as light as the 500D/T2i. Noticeable differences: the 60D has 2 control dials like the 7D, one on top and one on the back. This makes manually changing aperture/shutter super easy. I don’t like digging in the menus any more than I have to. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m coming from a XH-A1 where there’s an external button/knob/switch for everything. I also really like having the information in the LCD on the top of the camera as well to see shutter/aperture/iso/drive/etc and the T2i doesn’t have that. The T2i also makes it a little difficult to change some settings forcing you to dig through the menus. Setting custom k-values for white balance in the T2i is not even an option.
If you are on the fence about which DSLR to purchase for video, I think Canon is ahead of the game. Nikon and Panasonic have some nice new things too but Canon just seems to be far ahead of the curve.