DSLR – Your Video’s Best Friend (Part 1)

12/19/2012 9:30:54 AM

We reveal the accessories you’ll need to take you to the next level of filmmaking using your DSLR’s video functionality

DSLRs are changing the world of filmmaking. There has always been a wide gap in terms of image quality between what people with a big budget can produce, compared with what people with a low to no budget can make. If you can afford to shoot a movie on a 35mm digital or film camera, why would you want to settle for something less? But in recent years independent filmmakers and big studios alike have been turning to DSLRs for their cinematic needs. Star Wars supremo Geogre Lucas recently used Canon DSLRs or rather he enlisted the help of DSLR video guru Philip Bloom to use them while filming his latest blockbuster, Red Tails. And it’s not just Hollywood that’s developed a craving for DSLRs the final episode of the sixth season of House was shot entirely using a Canon 5D Mark 2.

How is something that’s traditionally perceived as a stills camera conquering the video world? Why are filmmakers using them? Well, image quality for starters, most notably their ability to get a shallow depth of field. There’s also the fact that many of them can shoot in high-definition and that they have good, accessible ranges of lenses. Then there’s the portability and affordability. DSLRs offer a relatively inexpensive way of shooting high quality video independent filmmakers can look at a kit budget of a few thousand, rather than tens of thousands.

Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5D Mark III

It’s still relatively early days in the world of DSLR video it only really took off in 2008 with the release of the Canon 5D Mark 2 and things are evolving quickly. The big guns have heard the call though and are catering to photographers and videographers alike. Canon has announced the release of the 5D Mark III (which includes a headphone jack, meaning you’ll actually be able to monitor audio when you’re filming) and Nikon have released their full frame sensor HD camera, the D800.

So perhaps it’s time to start thinking about utilizing the video function on your DSLR more. If you’re ever had a hankering to shoot a film be it a family party, a wedding, a documentary or an indie flick then your DSLR will be your most important asset. Secondary to that are the accessories that will give you film a more professional look. There’s plenty of affordable kit out there for budding filmmakers to get their hands on, and we’re going to give you the low-down on what’s there and what it can do,

Tripods and Monopods

Without doubt, one of the most crucial pieces of equipment for a DSLR filmmaker is a tripod or a monopod. Photographers can get away without these at time, but filmmakers need them, as camera shake is more of a risk while shooting for sustained periods. The wobbles and shudders are easy to detect and will haunt you dreams for extended periods of time if you don’t take measures to deal with them. But it’s not just stability tripods and monopods offer. They’re the starting point for locked off shots where the camera is pointed in one place for a period of time and panning shots.

Manfrotto ( are renowned for their affordable but quality tripods and the snappily titled Manfrotto 701HDV 547BK ($338 from is a good option. The Davis and Sanford Provista 7518 with FM18 head ($189.95 from .com) is also an excellent tripod and head combo, while Pearstone’s VT-2100 ($69.95 from is a cheap and functional alternative for anyone not wanting to lash our loads of cash.

The Manfrotto 561 BHDV-1

The Manfrotto 561 BHDV-1

A good tripod will always give you a solid base, but many DSLR filmmakers are turning to monopods due to the amount of options they give you while you’re on a shoot. They’re much more mobile than tripods and give you the chance to get instant stable shots plus you can set them up in places where tripods are afraid to roam standing on chair for instance, or in a tight corner. A monopod’s versatility is its calling card; you can use it in any number of ways, including by simulating a slider by doing pull-out or push-in shots simply. If you’re looking to invest in a monopod then the Manfrotto 561 BHDV-1 ($240 from is one of the better pieces of kit out there. It has a fluid head and a fluid cartridge in the base, has three feet for added stability and extends up to 200cm.


A good viewfinder will be your best friend when shooting video on a DSLR. Shooting video on a DSLR means having to use the LCD screen, something that isn’t great when you’re trying to manually focus and work with shallow depth of field. The screen is susceptible to glare from the sun and, if you’re holding the camera away from your body in order to see the screen, you can get some serious shake in your footage. Adding a viewfinder will relieve you of these problems. First and foremost you’ll be able to see what you’re filming clearly. It also works as a point of contact, adding more stability to your shots.

Z-Finder Pro 1

Z-Finder Pro 1

A good viewfinder is a worthwhile investment and Zacuto ( are top of the pack when it comes to quality. Their Z-Finder Pro ($395) is widely regarded as the daddy of all viewfinders and it’s easy to understand why. There are 2.5x and 3x versions, both with anti-fog protection so no fogging up when you’re changing from cold to hot locations. It’s easy to fir to your camera and it’s considerate of you too – you can comfortably wear glasses while using the Z-Finder Pro, but it also utilizes a diopter, so you can match the focus to your eyes. Although it seems quite pricey, it is simply one of the best viewfinders out there and once you use it you’ll wonder why you didn’t bring it into your life sooner – it will literally open your eyes to the joys of DSLR video. Plus, there’s a warm feeling of reassurance that comes with buying any product that boasts a lifetime guarantee.

There are alternatives to the Z-Finder Pro though. Zacuto also have the Z-Finder Jr ($265), while the Letus Hawk ($349 from is also a solid viewfinder.

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