I have been working intensively with the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D, filming a documentary Opening Our Eyes. I have discovered the good and the bad with the video functions of these cameras.
The visual is stunning and there is no argument there but there is a lot more to video than the image and therein lies the difference between the HDSLR’s and a traditional video camera.
First and foremost the audio is a bit clunky. I’m shooting both interviews and b-roll. For my interviews, I opted to capture my audio separately and I will sync it later in postproduction. I am using the Samson H4N digital recorder. It is a phenomenal tool but I did discover one big issue that I should make everyone aware of – especially those of you that don’t like to read manuals. You can use this device with “AA” batteries or with an AC adaptor. Because of some of the remote locations I’m working in, I am mostly using it in battery mode. It devours batteries. It says the battery life is about 6 hours – but I think perhaps it’s more like 4 hours realistically. It seems like we barely get through an interview session and we need to change batteries.
Here is where I need to issue a WARNING – when changing batteries – always turn the unit off or you can corrupt the audio files. I found that out the hard way and I had numerous files corrupted. The information was there but it could not be accessed. Had I fully read the manual – I would have known this problem, but I didn’t and in my haste so as not to keep my subject waiting, I didn’t turn the unit off because it takes some time to boot up again. Luckily in my case I have the camera audio, which I always use as a reference, and even though the audio is not ideal, I will only be using the audio as a low-level background audio with an interpreter’s voiceover as the primary audio.
Another problem I have with these cameras is the short durations that you can film – less than 12 minutes for the Canons. A couple of times my subjects have been deep in conversation with very emotional moments – and the camera stops. I know this will happen, but what am I to do – stop them in mid sentence as they tell their stories with tears in their eyes? So for me working in documentary style as opposed to storyboarded films – these short durations is a major issue.
Lastly, the fact that you can change lenses has its pluses and minuses. The pluses are obvious but when shooting video I am shooting lots of variations – wide, medium and tight shots from different angles and moving quickly as I do. It slows me down to change lenses and since I’m shooting journalistically, I’m apt to miss some good moments when I do.
Like anything else, these cameras have their pros and cons. But what I’d really like to see is a video camera with a big chip. I’m hoping the manufacturers are listening and that will be the next generation of cameras.