Some conclusions about (non) DSLR video.


There's no doubt that the Sony A55 has caused me to become more enthusiastic for video. While my efforts still fall some way short of what I would like, I feel that I'm making some headway, and most importantly I am not so reluctant to use more camera movement than I have in the past.

Its been nearly two years now since the ground breaking Canon 5DMkII was released, and in that time a whole industry has grown up around video enabled DSLR's and other large sensor cameras. Indeed a new term has sprung up  -  "convergence".

Some interesting reading on this:-

To some photographers video is the work of the devil and something to be avoided at all costs, to others its a new career opportunity. Indeed as a company we have added the video option to what we can offer. While my colleague B is more involved in this, and indeed shoots more video than stills, I am very much a photographer first. However there are signs that I might be becoming less reluctant to embrace the moving image.

The first thing to say is that the GH1 and A55 are both much easier to use than DSLR's. While there is no doubt that cameras such as the 5DMkII and 7D produce great looking footage, they are far from the easiest cameras to use for shooting video. They are not particularly well designed for it and the amount of kit that some people add to them is astonishing.

Photographers like myself, who are attempting to lighten the load of what we carry around are not going to have any enthusiasm for this.

There seems to be a real split in discussions about the use of video in stills cameras. At one end there is the "pro" market, who go on endlessly about frame rates, HDMI output, RAW footage and the like and those who take wobbly shots of their pets and offspring. As I've said often enough I want to be able to produce a decent quality video with the minimum of fuss. Both in my personal and commercial use of video, a decent tripod and microphone are all I really want to add to the camera itself. Like anything else, movie making and TV production is influenced by fashions and trends and currently short edits and a moving camera are in vogue. Its impossible to copy that using the basic gear that many of us own and in many cases not necessary. To me the virtue of these video enabled cameras is the simplicity of them, and I'm more concerned about ease of use than anything else.

This recent burst of video activity has led me to these conclusions.

The Panasonic GH1 is a great camera for the quality of the moving image. I've "hacked" mine for a higher bit rate and there is a (small) improvement in the look of the footage. Everything I've seen from the GH2 looks really good and I'm looking forward to using it, particularly with the improved low light performance.

The Sony A55 can't quite match the GH1 for video image quality but it has several advantages in terms of usability. Its possible, with care to get decent hand held footage, plus its easier to use than the GH1 for pulling focus, panning and zooming. 

Both have their strengths including the fact that they produce high quality still images. I can see a combination of the A55 & GH2 fulfilling the majority of my stills and video requirements in the future. Somewhat surprisingly these small light cameras are crammed with "pro" spec features and if used carefully can produce incredible results. 

Obviously this is written from a personal perspective and others, who have different requirements, may not come to the same conclusions that I have. However for me the fact that I want to to go out and shoot more video means that for me at least, the A55 in particular is a very useful addition.