Am I crazy to try shooting a motion picture on a still camera?
October 5, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Am I crazy to try shooting a motion picture on a still camera?

So i was reading this thread and what people said about the Nikon D90, and it started me to ponderin'...

Why couldn't I make a near-professional quality film on this thing? It's got all the things I want: HD, 24fps, ability to control depth of field, and changeable lenses.

The major drawbacks people mentioned were:

1) it can only shoot 6 minutes at a time before needing to cool off. As far as I'm concerned, that's no big deal. i would never want to shoot more than 6 minutes continuously anyway. Does anyone know how long it needs to cool off though? I assume 6 minutes also takes up a healthy chunk of memory card, but it wouldn't be a problem to have a laptop on-set and unload after each take.

2) Possibly only has mono sound. This isn't a big deal because any on-board sound from any camera isn't going to come close to professional standards. I'm assuming you CANT plug in an external mic, can anyone confirm or deny that? that's kind of a bummer, but not a dealbreaker- it just means having to record sound separately and sync up later.

I realize it's no Red One, but then i can buy a D90 and probably a decent lens for what I'd pay to rent a red one for a weekend.

Am I missing anything here, camera people? Thanks!
posted by drjimmy11 to Technology (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really interested in this too...I was planning on selling my D40 and getting a D90 to shoot a short film. From what I've heard, some people have trouble with focusing - I guess it doesn't auto focus when shooting video.
But basically I had the same idea as you. If you're going to edit everything later you don't really need more than 6 minutes of continuous shooting, and if the video takes up a lot of space you can always just dump things to a laptop. Once everything is shot, you can run the footage through some filters and do some color work and probably end up with a really professional looking film.

I can't really think of any downsides other than having to manually focus everything.
posted by god particle at 4:50 PM on October 5, 2008

The jelly movement alone would be enough for a "no" in my book. It's not there yet. It would be more of a novelty to use this camera, and if it's your first film you'd spend more time monkeying with the camera than setting up the scene, lighting, and working with actors. The impressive quality (when it's still on a tripod or moving slowly) is good, but high resolution isn't everything... not even close.
posted by starman at 4:53 PM on October 5, 2008

Wow, starman, thanks for the link. I don't think I'm ready for that jelly.

I am aware that resolution isn't everything, but I find stuff shot on even cheaper HD more pleasing to my eye than mini Dv from say, an XL2, simply because the saturation makes is so much more film-like. And lack of depth-of-field control is the real dealbreaker for me on most cheaper cameras.

I still might get a D90 for personal use. But I will probably break down and rent the Red One for my upcoming project.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:59 PM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming you CANT plug in an external mic, can anyone confirm or deny that?
I can confirm that.

you might also want to check out my FPP on this very topic which just so happened to have links to sample footage. my personal impression is that the canon 5D mkII's resolution beats the nikons.

you're probably going to be doing okay with the manual focus pulling and wide array of lenses you otherwise couldn't use (at least not in this price league) and the resulting footage just from a technical aspect. that however leaves out the other big unknown and that's you.

you will have a learning curve. these cameras will behave and perform differently from what you may be used to. the equipment will act differently. it's just like picking up a steadycam - you could get a setup and strap yourself in but the first few days of footage are going to look like crap when you edit them down. I highly recommend going for a system you are basically familiar with. if you have shot with a red before (or a mid-range dvcam, it's not like there aren't any decent ones around), the footage you will get with those will at least at first be far superior. if you are familiar with canons or nikons the same principle applies. I have never shot with the 5D MKII but I've worked with the 10D, 20D, 1DS MKII and 1D and I am pretty sure I'd find my way through the settings and be able to adequately gauge how the camera would perform with lens xyz in a matter of hours. I cannot say the same of the nikon because I have no past experience with them to build upon. I'd have to read the manual to figure out how to set the white balance.
posted by krautland at 5:02 PM on October 5, 2008

thanks, krautland.

the 5D MkII looks really cool, until I get to the part where it shoots the video at 30fps. That choice simply baffles me. You can have all the pixels and depth of field you want, 30fps still ends up looking like "Cops" to me.

Maybe there's some down-converting process I don't know about, but that's a huge turn-off for me.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:17 PM on October 5, 2008

There's also the strange but very real X factor of "how does it look to the cast and crew." I really think I (or anyone not yet proven) would get some very strange looks trying to actually do this. Fair or not, you kinda need a big camera body to be taken seriously.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:21 PM on October 5, 2008

My guess is that anyone making this a) either wouldn't have a crew and a small friends and family cast AND b) part of the selling point would be that it was the FIRST movie shot on an slr. Would I do it or recommend it? No, because I think "professional quality" is a nebulous term that goes beyond the camera hardware, but a lot of junkie movies are made on better cameras, if you made something goofy good on an slr, it depends on how much your time is worth.
posted by history is a weapon at 5:43 PM on October 5, 2008

history is a weapon, I see your point. I was more kind of thinking aloud about my own personal circumstances. I'm in L.A., so I'm lucky enough to have access to some fairly professional crew and SAG actors, even on low-to-no budget projects. The next thing I'm doing is a music video, for which I will probably end up renting the Red one and trying to pack it all into one weekend.

Of course if I bought one of these I would probably screw around with it a lot on my own time, just for the experience.

I am in complete agreement that there is far far more to being "professional" than the right equipment. However, there are certain things, like no depth-of-field control and 30fps, that just scream out "amateur" and "ugly" to me when I see them, no matter how good the lighting and the DP and everything else are.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:10 PM on October 5, 2008

I was just having this conversation with a stills photographer at the school where I teach (cinematography, lighting, etc.). Aside from Krautland's excellent observations above, I'd expect that the control surfaces for the stills cameras aren't ever going to be optimal for shooting video. If you were shooting a story that required no major camera movement, in-shot focus pulling to speak of (there's something steadying about pulling focus against a longer-axis camera), no long hand-held shots and so on, this camera might do well. Audio isn't a huge obstacle -- just slate for later syncing, and record dual-system or external-record only.

Also, 720p woud be less than 2 megapixels in terms of pixels per frame. Does the sensor condense the full frame of the stills sensor, or take center cut, or what? Condensed full-frame is implied in the Nikon write-up I've seen, but not explicitly stated. This would have major impacts on depth of field, steadiness during moves and other factors. I also wonder whether you can use Live View during video capture, and if not, you're contorting your head and hands to keep the viewfinder up to your eye. Is there real-time support for an external monitor so you can check lighting?

As others have commented, it would be an interesting gimmick to shoot a feature on one of these, or even a short film, but it's just not the right tool for videography just yet as far as I can tell.
posted by Shotgun Shakespeare at 6:59 PM on October 5, 2008

This guy made a short on a prerelease 5D-mkII. Unfortunately, Canon wasn't up to hosting it, so it's offline for now.
posted by Good Brain at 7:29 PM on October 5, 2008

The making of video is available though, and it includes some of the 5D footage. It doesn't look like 'Cops' to me.
posted by Good Brain at 7:33 PM on October 5, 2008

I saw the short that Good Brain mentions and it was quite stunning. The point krautland makes above about being familiar with the equipment was obviously key for him - he's very familiar with Canon SLRs and was able to film and produce the short in a very short period of time (I think filming was done over a weekend). It looked very smooth and not jerky at all, and I plan to experiment with short films when I get my 5D MKII.

So, really, it can be done, but if you really want to look professional, it's probably best to use a pro video/film setup. For making artsy shorts on a low budget with actors/crew who are friends and understand, it's absolutely feasible.
posted by bedhead at 7:37 PM on October 5, 2008

Oedipus with vegetables was done with digital stills:
We captured each frame directly to a computer's hard drive as a full-resolution, 35mm quality, 2k image from a Canon EOS D30 that we bought off eBay. By shooting digitally, we were able to review footage immediately at an even higher quality than the current 24P HD standard of digital filmmaking.
This was back in 2003/4.
posted by carsonb at 12:58 AM on October 6, 2008

The DV site DVXUser has a forum just for the D90.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:29 AM on October 6, 2008

one more thing: I keep noticing that you seem rather concerned with being taken seriously while on set. get that out of your system quickly, it only restricts you. terry fucking richardson has a career shooting on very little more than throwaway cameras. you're not a dp who needs to demonstrate proficiency with any specific equipment like one of the huge panas. getting the image is nothing more than work. it's not a red carpet beauty contest and the audience won't give a damn what you shot it on. all they care about (at least in camera terms) is how the result looks.
posted by krautland at 5:28 AM on October 6, 2008

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