Is it time to leave your DSLR behind?

Canon 5D Mk III DSLRDSLRs like Canon’s 5D gained massive popularity because of their low price, efficient codec and wide range of lens options, which allowed users to be far more creative than any camcorder at a similar price point.

But even if you’ve built your business on DSLR, there comes a time when you have to accept that you’re trying to shoehorn a stills camera into a video production, and think seriously about whether its time to save up that extra £1620 and get yourself a jobbing production camera like the C100 instead of a 5D MkIII.  And it’s not just a practical argument: budget large sensor camcorders like the C100 now far exceed the creative capabilities of DSLRs too. Here’s why…

Image quality

We’ve got no problem with the image quality of DSLRs, and you can get some beautiful footage with a 5D. But if you’re working in low light environments, you need to think carefully before choosing to use a DSLR. Canon’s Cinema range have far better sensors and give sharper images than their DSLR counterparts, even in low light, and their 12 stops of dynamic range (complete with Canon Cinema Log Gamma support) will give you improved highlight and shadow detail.The C100 will also have far fewer rolling shutter issues, although it’s not completely immune to things like flash photography.


Oddly, the 5D MkIII does have better internal image compression thanks to its I-frame only codec. However, if you add the Atomos Ninja to your C100 and shoot Log to 220Mbps, your image quality will leapfrog the 5D MkIII. As far as I’m concerned, this is the C100’s current killer feature. As we saw at NAB, pairing a C100 and an Atomos Ninja-2 allows you to record to the C100’s memory card and the Ninja-2’s SSD or HDD at the same time using the Ninja’s new record triggering over HDMI, which is compatible with Canon cameras, so you get an instant backup copy. You can then use the footage recorded by the camera as a proxy if you wish, and keep the 10-bit ProRes 4:2:2 version on the Ninja-2 as an online master to grade.

Canon C100 camcorderAudio quality

Even the best preamps you can find for your DSLR aren’t a patch on the C100’s built-in XLRs, because you’re still sending your audio signal through the DSLR’s shonky minijack and audio processing. Moving up to a jobbing camera with professional quality audio is not only going to give you a massive jump in sound quality, it’ll also save you a few hundred quid on preamps, helping to close the price gap between your DSLR setup and your C100 one.

Recording times

Unless you were willing to shoot in the freezing cold or jump through hoops to work around the sensor issues, the Canon 5D MkII used to overheat and shut itself down after about fifteen minutes of shooting. The 5D MkIII gets all the way up to the legal still camera cap of just below 30 minutes, but compared to the C100’s max recording time of just under six hours onto a 64GB SD card, neither really cuts the mustard. If you’re shooting long form or just don’t think you’ll be able to swap out media regularly during your shoot, opt for the C100.

So, is it time to change?

The extra outlay required for the C100 does get you a better quality image and a more flexible camera, but ultimately if you’re not looking for a jobbing camera and are only going to be shooting in short bursts, need stills and video or aren’t planning to perform any post, stick with your DSLR. If you’re thinking of buying a new DSLR now, go for one that offers a clean feed out over HDMI.

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