How Well Do Digital Still Cameras Capture Video?

I don’t know many camcorder users who don’t own a digital still camera. Many people making standard-def video bring a digital still camera (DSC) with them when shooting so they can capture higher-resolution still images. Now most camcorders capture high-res still images. This eliminates the need to bring two cameras.

Another solution to help avoid using two cameras, is to use a DSC that also captures video. In this case, the quality of the video suffers, because the device was designed primarily for still image use. The first DSCs to feature video capture were compact cameras, as opposed to single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras. Compact cameras have two optical light paths: one path through the lens to the image sensor and another path positioned slightly off to the side for the viewfinder. SLR cameras have a single light path, allowing photographers to see the exact image to be captured, via a small mirror that sends the image to either the viewfinder or to the image sensor.

In 2008, SLR DSCs with live view (which keeps the camera’s mirror in the up position, for previewing via the camera’s LCD display) came to market. SLR DSCs capture HD video in addition to SD. The lens on an SLR is much larger and of higher quality than a compact DSC. These lenses give the user control over the image’s depth of field, or how much of the image is in focus. Most video cameras don’t allow the operator to adjust the aperture to the same degree that is possible with an SLR DSC. The drawbacks: few audio controls and a lack of autofocus while capturing video (though most advanced video people won’t miss this.)

DSC SLRs with HD video are bringing skilled photographers into the world of video production. If you are one of these newcomers, I am sure that you have already discovered the aspects of video that overlap with photography. Composition and lighting are two good examples. However, photographers have little or no experience with camera movement or audio recording. Each of these skills accounts for hundreds of individual job descriptions in Hollywood, so there are many things to learn. We should welcome these accomplished photographer newcomers. We can learn a lot from them.

In professional terminology, the person in charge of the camcorder and lighting is the director of photography (DP) or the cinematographer. These newcomers typically arrive in the video production field with superior skills in these areas. Photographers have had the luxury of concentrating their attention upon artistic and technical decisions related to the image. DSC SLRs with HD video are not only a welcome technical development for video producers, but we also welcome a new breed of people into our world of video.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

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