DSLRs – a creative response to the constraints imposed by technology

You may, or may not know, that I have a Canon 5D Mk2 camera which I’m learning to use for video. It’s a wonderful invention but tricky to get to grips with re the video.  

There are many challenges using a DSLR for filming like focusing on the fly, seeing what you’re doing in the viewfinder and holding the damn thing steady.  


Regular video cameras are designed to overcome these problems through years of reference to camera operators in war zones, making music promos or generally hurling them around.  Stills photographers work differently, looking for individual moments with their best eye clamped to a little hole.

Perhaps we should think differently about how we use DSLRs for shooting video rather than bemoaning the fact that they aren’t like film cameras. Instead of looking at their weaknesses, think about what new opportunities they present.

Could it be that DSLRs open the way for photographers with an excellent eye for colour and composition to bring a fresh approach to shooting moving images?  Many videographers, in my view, have got into a bad habit of whizzing and crashing the camera around to bring life to a subject.   A stills photographer may be more inclined to look for the possibilities within a specific set-up – considering the precise lighting conditions for that framing and taking care over the details. 

What we see is an attempt to make mobile phones and stills cameras do what is best done by much more specialised equipment.  Instead we should be thinking about what these tools can give us that we can’t get from conventional cameras. Can the constraints lead us in a different direction altogether?

This video shot on DSLR is about custom motorcycle engineer Shinya Kimurs by Henrik Hansen. The film reveals movements  within the frame – often subtle – by keeping the camera still; Most of the shots are locked off and could have been taken from a stills tripod. Not bad for a film which is all about motion. 

The careful construction of the film mirrors Shinya Kimurs care and love of constructing his machines. The editing is brilliant and the mastery of audio exceptional.

I think this demonstrates an intelligent and creative response to the constraints imposed by the technology. 



I’m getting used to shooting video on a digital SLR.

The big part of video camera design is about the way the operators move them around. The design should enable you to hold the camera at a variety angles while walking/running around – and simultaneously being able to see through the viewfinder. Usually they have a handle and you can press the record button or operate the zoom control effortlessly. The audio should be designed for high quality microphones with robust connectors that are not disturbed by the movement.

And so I’m now getting used to a camera designed to take a single shot from a single place. It does not have the design attributes I’ve mentioned above, or at least they are very limited. This is the essential conflict with this kind of camera. Film techniques are as much about how the camera moves as about how the subject moves; being quickly able to reposition, re-frame or follow while continuing to shoot.

In the early days of cinema the camera was often fixed and all the action was choreographed to happen in front of this fixed point, with the camera often locked to a heavy tripod. We may see a re-visiting of that style.

The quality of photography possible using high quality lenses on a movie digital SLR is their strongest selling point, but I’ll be interested to see what kinds of filming is done on these cameras and whether any fresh innovations will emerge because of the limitations.

I’ve been very interested in the anxiety caused to some flickr photographers with the introduction of video to the site. They diplomatically refer to the videos as moving stills and limit the duration to 90 seconds. But the whole blurring of the boundary between stills photographers and videographers is interesting.

I think the movie DSLRs will be great for making short crafted video loops or possibly shooting interviews. Shooting an interview with a film crew often involves lighting and some very intimidating equipment. I think it may be possible to frame up some very impressive moving portraits of interviewees and achieve an intimacy not possible with heavy film gear. That’s next on my list of things to try.