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Canon EOS 7D with EF 28mm f/2.
Image via Wikipedia

Canon EOS  7D, Canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D90 – if these models sound like a foreign language it means you weren’t paying attention. These are models of hybrid video and DSLR cameras called HD-DSLR. And they are changing the industry as we know it. Canon 5D Mark II, full frame high end Canon DSLR Camera, had one small feature, that looked like an after thought – the ability to shoot full HD videos. Like many other ground breaking products, this feature was severly crippled. In the first version of these cameras, the video mode was fully automated – which means that the photographer couldn’t control ISO and frame rate among other paramters – making it very limited for serious video shooters. But Canon released a new firmware with the ability to fully control all video parameters besides frame rate. And this is nothing less then revolutionary.

Why?

In order to understand that, let’s look at the wet dream of a videographer:

  1. The ability to change lenses – each lens has its own capabilities, that affect composition, depth of field, and eventually storytelling abilities.
  2. Manual control on all image parameters
  3. High quality sensor
  4. Good low light performance
  5. versatility in frame rate
  6. Pro audio interfaces
  7. Post production friendly recording format.

Canon 5D Mark II covered amazingly well the first 4 items in this list. And I am talking about amazing. High image quality, based on the best glass and sensors out there, with unbelievble low light performance, made this camera a game changer.

But this is not the whole picture. The price point was unbelievable- all that for $3500. A pro video camera with these capablities would cost more then twice the price.

Not everything was so grand in the 5DMII field. First of all, it shot only at 30 frame per seconds. And exactly at this frame rate. Not the video industry standard of 29.97 frame per second. Second, it had non professional video interface, and automatic gain control (which means that the camera adjusts the volume automatically, an audio mixer nightmare). And third, it recorded videos in H264 format – a highly compressed video format that is definitely not editing/color correction friendly.

Still, this camera changed the world of video in a fundamental way. Relatively low price point, coupled with unbelievable image quality, endless lenses possibilities, and manageable workflow – all together signaling a fundamental shift in the video market.

Sofia’s People: Canon 5dmk2 24p from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

And then Canon released the Canon EOS 7D, and again changed the market. Canon fixed many of the flows in 5D Mark II for videographers. It changed the strange 30 frame per second format to industry standard 29.97 fps. It added additional frame rates – 25fps, 50fps and 60 fps, as well as the most coveted 24fps format, wet dream of indie filmmakers.

And all that for $1,700. Personally I found it mind-blowing – and bought one…

It didn’t however improve the audio control, nor add a detachable monitor, two important features of video cameras.

Hecq Vs Exillion – Spheres Of Fury from Tim.Chris.Film on Vimeo.

HD-DSLR cameras pose a challnege to videographers, with its unique audio, focus, and handheld shooting issues. Also, no camera can make you a good cinematogrpher or filmmaker.

But these affordable cameras definitely get you as close as you can get for the money to unleash your creativity, and create visuals that were impossible to achieve in the past.

In the next posts in this series we will discuss some of the methods to overcome the flaws of these cameras, get some advice from pros using these cameras, and look how they are changing the market.