So far, we’ve been talking about still photography, and that’s a huge and varied subject in itself. But digital single-lens reflex video photography also exists and many of the principles are the same. The camera uses the single lens reflex function so that you are looking right through the lens as you shoot, just as with an ordinary DSLR still camera. Many of the settings are the same as well. The difference is that some DSLR cameras, known as high definition single lens reflex cameras (HDSLR), or digital single lens reflex video shooters, are capable of recording high-definition video. HDSLR is quickly becoming the standard for independent filmmakers, as the quality of image is far higher than with a conventional camcorder. Digital SLR video cameras are a cheaper, smaller, more convenient substitute for professional-grade video cameras such as are used by television crews for commercial stations, and are ushering in a revolution in video making. The image quality is much higher, but HDSLRs are also much more difficult to use than older, non-SLR camcorders. There is no simple point and shoot functionality with a digital SLR video shooter, as there can be with a conventional camcorder. Some acquired skill in using the device and some advance planning are necessary in order to achieve the camera’s potential. That said, if you are serious about filmmaking and can’t afford a professional camera, or don’t want to lug the bulky thing about with you, a DSLR video shooter can be a great choice. In fact, the lines are becoming sufficiently blurred that “professional video camera” is a moot term.

The film The Avengers was shot, in part, using several Canon digital SLR video cameras, due to the small size and convenience for shooting scenes from multiple angles. It’s very likely that over the coming years, digital SLR video cameras will replace a lot of full-size camera functions by television producers and big movie studios, as well as being the staple for indie film makers. The main distinction, other than simply being DSLR, between an HDSLR and a traditional camcorder, concerns sensor size. The sensor is the light-sensing area of the camera, the part that replaces the film in analog photography. That is, it takes the light focused on it by the lens and turns it into a digital image. The sensor size of HDSLR cameras is very large compared to that of a traditional camcorder. This has important impacts on several different aspects of video photography. Moreover, the sensor size in a digital SLR video camera varies quite a bit. Some cameras have larger sensor sizes than others. A larger sensor means that more will appear in the picture (all else being equal). Without any magnification or wide-angle effect created by the lens, the sensor size determines how wide your picture is and how much appears in it on the edges. At first glance, this would mean that “bigger is better,” and in fact a maximum size sensor does allow for the highest quality videos. But there are some tradeoffs. First of all there’s the price. The larger the sensor size in a digital SLR video camera, generally speaking, the more expensive it will be. Secondly, a larger sensor area means you will have fewer lenses available to choose from. There are fewer lenses made to fit the larger sensor area, and using a smaller lens can create several distorting effects such as “lens vignetting,” which is an effect where the lens cuts off part of the image. Lenses made for full-size sensor cameras are more expensive than those made for the smaller variety, as well as the cameras themselves being more expensive. The same goes for other accessories designed to work with the larger cameras, and of course the entire arrangement is bulkier and less convenient to use, although still petite and compact compared to “professional” television cameras. On the plus side, a full-size sensor area allows you to use shallow depth of field more easily. That’s because there’s no need to use a light-distorting lens in order to achieve a wide view, and that gives you more options in terms of aperture and potentially soft-focus effects in the background. In fact, the quality of video that can be taken using a full-size sensor HDSLR is generally better than for the smaller versions. The question really comes down to what you intend to do in terms of movie-making. For most purposes, the smaller cameras are just fine and represent a better choice for most shooters, but if you want the highest professional quality, then expect to spend more money and have a longer learning curve. Sensor size is the most important variable, but there are a lot of other features that vary from camera to camera as well, that aren’t of concern when buying a DSLR still camera. These include ISO range, camera image stabilization, available memory or recording length, focus assistance, camera image stabilization, and a lot of other features both mechanical and electronic. Suffice to say that digital video making is a topic worthy of a book all on its own. What we’ll say here is simply that the capability exists, and it’s becoming more and more available all the time in higher and higher quality.