You'll notice above I referred to this as a little camera. That's because it is.
It's a still camera with exceptional HD capabilities, leading it to be adopted quickly by independent filmmakers of all stripes. It allows independent filmmakers to use interchangeable lenses, much like would be used on larger, much more expensive film cameras, or even the famous RED camera. It's small size makes it ideal for shooting inconspicuously. If you're out doing some guerilla shooting most people will assume you're shooting stills (and maybe you're doing that as well) and leave you to it.
So why are we shooting a feature-length horror film on a still camera? Because it's low (relative) cost will save us a lot of money. By shooting digitally we'll save money by not having to buy film and then have it developed. It will save time on set because we won't have to stop and change film magazines as frequently -- we'll just swap out Compact Flash cards. And then interchangeable lenses will allow us (the director of photography specifically) to have the artistic freedom we'd like to have as we set up our shots. Different lenses create different looks and by being able to change out lenses we'll be able to create different looks for the various kinds of scenes and shots that will make up the finished film. By using different lenses and by setting our own f-stop we will also be able to utilize shallow depth of field. Depth of field refers to how deep the focus field is in a shot. An example of a very deep depth of field would be the look you get from your standard point-and-shoot camera: everything is in focus. A shallow depth of field allows us to choose the specific thing in the frame we'd like to focus on (for instance, a subject's face) while throwing the background out of focus. This is a quick way to draw a viewer's attention to what we, the filmmakers, want them to focus on in a given shot. It used to be that to achieve a shallow depth of field you'd have to spend a lot of money on high end video cameras (or shoot on film). The introduction of HDSLRs like the Canon EOS 7D, the Canon 5D Mark II, and others, has allowed a much lower cost of entry into this kind of independent filmmaking.
Because I own a Canon 7D, and have access to another one, it is even easier for us. We'll need to rent lenses and other gear (lights, dollies, etc), but we're already set with the cameras.
There are, however, things to consider before buying one of these cameras for yourself. They are not made with the filmmaker in mind. What does that mean for you, as a prospective buyer, or renter, of an HDSLR? It means you'll need a few things in order to fully outfit your camera for filmmaking purposes. The onboard sound on these cameras is notoriously bad. One small microphone is it on the Canon 7D and there's no way to monitor the quality of the sound you are getting. So, you'll need a microphone. And some kind of external sound recorder.
In the picture above you see the microphone I use on my camera -- a Rode Videomic. It can be found on Amazon(Rode VideoMic Directional Video Condenser Microphone w/Mount) for $150.
In this next picture you can see my external sound recorder, a Zoom H4N. It allows up to four track recording and accepts multiple inputs, including 3/4" phone jacks (like I'm using in this picture) and industry standard XLR inputs. In this picture the Zoom is the little silver box hanging off the back right side of my cage. Find a Zoom at Amazon (Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder).
One negative to recording sound this way, if you've never dealt with non-sync sound before, is that the camera is recording the picture while the Zoom is recording the sound. So how do you get the two back together? I'd recommend the same software I use. It's called Pluraleyes and it can be found here: http://www.singularsoftware.com/pluraleyes.html. To use Pluraleyes, make sure you are recording sound on the Zoom AND that the Canon 7D is also recording sound via its built-in mic. Then, once you've imported your footage (with the built-in audio still attached) and the audio from the Zoom into Final Cut Pro, you can use Pluraleyes to sync the Zoom's audio to the audio you recorded in the camera. It's a nifty, timesaving trick. If you need help figuring out how to use the software, the Pluraleyes website has a short video demonstrating how it all works.
You'll also notice in the above photos the cage the Canon 7D is sitting in. Here's one more:
So what's the cage for? It's a way of attaching all of the extra gear needed to maximize the 7D's filmmaking potential -- the mic, the Zoom, and, eventually an external monitor. It also allows the top handle you see here, allowing for much more flexibility carrying the camera around. I bought this cage from CPM Filmtools. They have a huge variety in what rigs they offer and all of their rigs include a lifetime warranty. Nice!
That's it for me, but here's a few links you should absolutely check out if you're considering jumping into HDSLR filmmaking:
Philip Bloom's Blog -- He's the HDSLR guru online and his site is a great resource, full of great work he's done with these cameras (including his trip to Skywalker Ranch to teach the Lucasfilm crew how to use these babies) and also includes some great tutorials. A must.
Cinema 5D -- A forum for all things HDSLR. Is you have a question, someone here can answer it. If you have a question about gear -- someone here has probably already tried it and given their review. Great, great resource.
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