When approaching a new project, there are many factors that go into determining the proper feel for the video production. Choosing the right type of camera can make a world of difference, but don’t worry, your cinematographer or director of photography (sometimes shortened to DP or DOP) will take the lead on this important decision.
Let’s take a look at the three main camera types, Video, DSLR and Cinema, to see which one would work best for your project. This is a high-level comparison and largely subjective. Usually the final decision comes down to budget and what your DOP is comfortable using.
Video cameras are great for documentary style productions, news and athletic events. They offer strong optical zoom (unlike DSLR and Cinema cameras that use interchangeable lenses) to easily follow a moving subject without stopping to change lenses. The zoom reflex is button operated, making for a more smooth, controlled zoom when compared to other cameras. Video cameras also come with manual audio level control to easily monitor audio internally and can record for hours without stopping.
Unfortunately, if you’re going for more of a “film look” the video camera is not for you. It typically offers less aperture flexibility to achieve that shallow depth of field than cameras that use fixed focal length lenses.
Digital Single Lense Reflex (DSLR) cameras can give you that “film look” you want at a fraction of the price. They are relatively cheap when compared to full fledged cinema cameras and use interchangeable, fixed focal length lenses with a wide aperture range to achieve the desired depth of field. DSLRs also have bigger sensors than many video cameras, making them significantly better under low light conditions. They do have the ability to zoom when using a specific zoom lense, however these lenses have a limited range and are manually controlled, making it more difficult to create that slow, smooth zoom without external accessories.
Also, many DSLR’s have limited recording time of approximately 30 minutes and bad internal audio with little to no manual control. External audio is usually used with the DSLR in professional productions.
Cinema cameras are another beast when it comes to shooting a professional production. Like their name suggests, cinema cameras are the absolute best for film and television. They offer extended recording times, greater dynamic range (are more forgiving with exposure), and a sharper image quality than DSLRs.
There are two categories of cinema camera to choose from based on your needs and budget. The first is a pro-grade, interchangeable lense camera for the independent filmmaker or small business. Canon C100 and C300 cameras are good examples used by Clearview Media. They offer comparable high resolution and high definition (HD) capture in an ultra-compact body similar to a DSLR. With built in ND filters and a cinema color grade, these cameras were created specifically for professional productions with modest budgets.
The second category of cinema camera is built for professional productions of the highest caliber, including studio cinematic films and TV. Cameras like the RED series fall into this category. Even better than their little brothers, these cameras shoot in the highest 4-8K resolution. Many can maintain this resolution shooting up to 120 frames per second and are still compact enough to configure your rig for every production type, including gimbal, run-and-gun or studio environment.
Keep in mind, these cameras are very expensive and usually only necessary for the highest level productions and cinematic distribution. Most TVs on the market today only project in HD 1080p, the resolution produced by a DSLR.
This is a basic rundown of the differences between Video, DSLR and Cinema Cameras. Each offer their own unique attributes for different project types. Take some time to research exact camera models to find out which is best for your specific project.