As a filmmaker, I’ve played around with all kinds of cameras over the years — from super8 and Bolex 16mm film cameras to Sony Hi8 video, Flip Cams and the ARRI Alexa — but I decided it was time to see what all the DSLR fuss was about. After researching the high end 5D Mark II, Mark III, and cropped-sensor 7D, and realizing what I could spend just for a basic body and lens kit (up to $4,000) I ended up purchasing the Canon 60D, the ‘little brother’ of the 7D, for just under $1400 at Samy’s Camera during their Labor Day no-tax weekend. The grand total included an extended 3-year warranty, a UV filter, 32GB SD Card and camera bag. A few reasons why I went with the 60D: the video quality on the 60D and 7D is identical with the sensor size being the same, the 60D has a vari-angled LCD screen that fully tilts for when you are either doing self-portrait video stuff (think web videos, etc.) or you’re shooting at a weird angle, and the 60D also has adjustable levels on the sound input (I’ve been told to not even consider using the on-board audio when shooting projects, but in a pinch, this is good to have). I also decided on the 60D because of the fact that when I’m ready to upgrade to a full-sensored 5D Mark III, I’ll have to ditch my cropped sensor lenses since they won’t work with the new camera. So I thought I’d buy the cheaper 60D that is giving me the same quality and basic functionality of the 7D to use as my learning tool, since I’ll have to start all over with lenses when I jump up to the big league 5D.
Another reason why I like the cropped-sensor 60D or 7D is the shallow depth of field they offer that’s similar to shooting 16mm film and good for portrait or documentary filmmaking. I opted for the 18-135mm lens, which allows me the widest angle I can get in a “kit lens” and has nice zoom range. Ideally, I’d like a wider angle lens, but they are available for rent at Samy’s whenever necessary.
So what have I learned in the last two weeks with this camera? Well, first of all, I’m glad I decided to go with the more economical choice camera because no one explained to me before my purchase that I would have to invest more money in a stabilization set up (think customized rig to hand-hold your camera so that you can reduce the shakiness of the image) and a focusing aid because the auto-focus is ineffective when shooting and because you need to keep one of your hand’s free so that you can actually focus the lens. These two specific accessories can cost up to the price of the camera. Oh, and then there’s extra SD cards, camera batteries, a nice tripod or monopod, the AC Adaptor that would be smart to get if you are shooting in a studio-type situation, and a digital sound recorder and mic’s for better quality audio. I quickly remembered just how expensive this whole filmmaking thing is.
Having said that, it actually isn’t that expensive if you consider the quality of images you’re making. These DSLR’s have revolutionized indie filmmaking and completely democratized the art form by putting the tools directly in the hands of the storyteller. The key now is to learn how to exploit the advantages and disadvantages of the DSLR camera, learn the workflow, and then just go out and shoot.