Is the “nouvelle vague” of DSLR good enough for the professional film market?

According to editor Paul Jones, the answer is a resounding: “not really….”

jonzeyWEBSIZE AS EITHER of our loyal fans will tell you, that tog blog isn’t down with discord. And so, fed up with the ongoing 5D/7D bitchfest – now into its fourth year – we put our best man on it. Nouveau vague or nouveau not so vague, we wanted answers and we knew exactly who to ask. By Ian O’Brien

BASED in Manchester and with almost two decades experience under his belt, editor Paul Jones knows his DNXHD from his AVCHD,  With more awards than his nanna can fit on her mantle, Jonzey – as he is known to his mates – has worked with some of the worlds best known brands and baddest bands, from Ladbrokes to Kid British, and with deadlines that would strike terror into the hearts of lesser men!  He also knows a thing or two about Canons leading pro and ‘prosumer’ DSLR’s.

I MET Jonzey while shooting stills for one of that tog blogs favourite charity’s, The Stroke Association.  During a series of workshops in which acclaimed poet, Mike Garry, introduced stroke survivors to the wonderful wordsmithery of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and John Cooper Clarke, Paul and his team were on hand to film the proceedings.  A few weeks later I asked him which of these two would win in a fight. He very kindly told me…………Sort of.

“Let’s start with

the codec…..it’s horrible”

Did you spill my pint?

Did you spill my pint?

AS AN editor I often find myself working with footage from a 5D MKII or 7D. It looks really good (at a glance) and personally I’m not adverse to working with either; so long as the audio hasn’t been recorded on-board.

So, why the “not really”?

TO BE honest, and putting aside the fact that every bloody student with zero experience is running around and calling themselves a “filmmaker”, it comes down to the simple fact that as a professional tool  it’s just not good enough.

But the video prowess of the 7D is one of its key selling points…..isn’t it?

WELL, let’s start with the codec – it’s H264 and it is…..for want of a better word…….horrible.  Ask any professional cameraman to really critique the 7D, and most of them will hate it with a passion. Sure they use it and it has its place but the codec is lossy, it has real saturation issues, minimal image control and little scope for proper on-board audio.

But, apart from all that…..

IT HAS a limited record time and a tendency to overheat. As an editor I’ve got other gripes too – for example the bitrate is pants; it’s massively over saturated (on the red) and when you get to the grading, unless you have the right firmware and a skilled cameraman, there’s zero wiggle room without blowing your legal levels out the water. AS FOR the 5D MKII; no post house is going to be ecstatic if you bring them 5D footage. Organisations like the BBC are likely to throw it back in your face because doesn’t run at their required 100mbps (though to be fair, there are ways around this). DSLR is horrible to edit raw. It has rolling shutter issues, it’s clunky, noisy and temperamental.

Which means?

THE SECOND it’s in my AVID system, it’s transcoding. The DNXHD (Digital Nonlinear Extensible High Definition) codec is much more manageable. That said, as a format it’s still preferable to AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) but that’s another rant for another time.

IN OVER seventeen years as a professional editor I have worked with footage from pretty much every camera there is. As a tool the DSLR has its place, but given the budget (ish) camera options available today I would take the Canon C300 every day of the week.

 

THE CAMERA control and Log C format allow you to film with flat levels (akin to old cine film technique.) This alone puts it head and shoulders over the competition when it comes to grading the project. In essence it’s the poor man’s RED or ARRI ALEXA. Gotcha. BY NOW you’re thinking I’m a camera snob. Am I right? Well, In the interest of being transparent, let me say that I’m one of the very many people who owns a DSLR with filming capabilities; I’ve used and do plan on using it in the future on various projects.

“It used to be that people ran

around with film scripts….”

RIGHT NOW, for example, I’m in the planning stage of a documentary. Due to budgetary constraints it will no doubt be shot using both the 5D MKII and my 7D. With the range of lenses and the film like approach that DSLR offers nothing else comes close. If there is no budget then it’s a no brainer.  And you have stills too, remember; In fact the very reason  DSLR filming exists at all was so that journalists could film on the hoof without needing extra gear.

IT ALSO opens the world up to the hither-to untapped market of the unknown penniless creative who, prior to the dogma movement of the 90s, simply had to dream about getting their films made. It used to be that people ran around with film scripts and hung out in coffee houses talking about the film they would make if only “The Man” would give them a chance. Now they sit around discussing cheap jibs, lenses, rigs and how their next crowd funded film will be better than the last.

SO TO all intents and purposes it’s a good thing, right? I mean, everyone has to start form somewhere, don’t they. Well, yes and no. ASIDE from the technological limitations, the flooding of the market with “easy to use” cheap hardware can lead to a dilution of skill, followed by lowered of expectations on the part of clients. The idea that the neighbor’s kid can do the same work with the entry level DSLR he got for Christmas has never more relevant than in the current professional market.

“You just can’t get a

 professional look from a DSLR”

WHICH brings us back to that “Not Really”. If you take the whole argument and look at it objectively, then maybe the DSLR has a some kind of place in the professional world. I know I’d choose it over a lot of cameras currently out there; the tapeless system, DOF and range of possible lenses  make for good resources however you turn it. Also, if the story is strong enough then the argument of “format” is moot. However, I can’t help feel that its potential ceiling has been hit by the small corporate and low-budget market. In my honest opinion you just can’t get a professional look from a DSLR (unless you grade the shit out of it in something like Davinci) and nobody in their right mind with budget to spend would actively chose it over more accomplished equipment. As a format though, It looks like it’s here to stay. For now at least.And that’s my two cents.

Cheers

To discuss any upcoming projects with Paul, please visit his website in the first instance at http://jonzey.com/

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10 responses to “Is the “nouvelle vague” of DSLR good enough for the professional film market?

  1. Complete fucking knob head Jonezy. I am a student who makes films and what is wrong with me calling myself a film maker? I ‘m sure when you started you regarded yourself as a film maker and the biggest problem I have come across so far in this industry is wankers like you who have made a nice career for themselves and look down on the rest of us.
    This is a review of DSLR’s not students and I have a 600D which I’m very happy with as I could no way afford a professional camera and I will make it in this industry through shear determination and practice while knob heads like you eat there words.
    And if I do make it in this industry I will hold all student film makers in high regard because I know how much work and disappointments is involved with making it in this industry instead of being a pompous cunt like you!

    • and no I never called myself a filmmaker (it’s a wanky term) I called myself what I was; a student. Only when I moved to doing it professionally did I call myself by a different name – an “editor” – it’s what I do

  2. Whaaao! dude calm the fuck down using the C word and everything!!! – the whole thing is tongue in cheek – and if you notice it’s a tiny piece of my gripe – and a valid one I might add. FIRSTLY Professional are constantly getting undercut by people who don’t have the experience to do the job they’re claiming to do for costs that are dragging the accepted rates of this country into the gutter. people are posoting jobs that literally have no budget because someone with a 5D or FCPx will do it for free, it’s not their fault but it is hampering those of us who rely on this industry to make a living.

    SECONDLY I have nothing but respect for student. As I said everyone starts somewhere. I’m actually working right now (for free) with a student helping him grade and mix his documentary for his Masters screening and and then going on to make another doc with him after. I’ve just met enough idiots who proclaim to be something they’re not and having shot a couple of shorts with your mates does not making you a Director, DOP or a film maker sorry – if you are paid, day in day out, to do it as a career then yes you can claim your monica as a “film maker” Even then most people I know in the industry won’t use that term.
    If you notice on a positive note I point to the fact that it opens the doors to new talents and leads to new discoveries in filming techniques but in reality it’s still a toy in terms of a professional world and this was the main point of the piece – a fact which you totally missed by getting a chip on your shoulder about being a student.
    I wish you the best of luck in the industry and please try not to be so angry it won’t do you any favours in the long run

    • Well said Jonzey, and a well written sensitive article which I’m sure parts of will be taken badly by amateurs looking to make it in the industry but doing so in a way that lowers the standards, expectations & budgets of our clients. We’ve all been students working our way up. No need for people to take such offence.

    • Great article. Plus knowing Jonzey I can confirm he is neither pompous, nor a C###, and remarkably restrained in his response too 🙂

  3. Nice one Paul although i must say DSLR does have its place, recent doc about Syria using 5d’s was harrowing, and they’re the only kind of camera you would get away with shooting it on.

    Although to be fair my annoyance with shooting on the 5d led me to buy a c300

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