Using a Digital SLR Camera for Video

Over the last few years, the once distinct line between videography and photography has blurred more than ever. This is not a surprise as they share similar digital technologies. Previously, we covered off on what to look for in a camcorder. This installment will look at the option of using an SLR camera to capture video footage.

There are many reasons to choose a camera over a consumer camcorder for shooting video, such as larger sensors, which deliver better tonal range, enhanced depth-of-field flexibility, and better photo quality. Cameras also tend to be a mixed bag on autofocus. If you just want the video equivalent of a point-and-shoot, you should go with a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.

Key Features and Their Obstacles

According to, some key features to consider while deciding on a model include manual controls — the ability to adjust shutter speed, aperture, and gain (ISO sensitivity) — support for an external microphone or headphones, and a tilting or articulated LCD. While many cameras have manual controls, watch out for the caveats. For example:

  • the Sony Alpha SLT-A77V has nice autofocus, but you can use it only in automatic mode.
  • Also, some cameras only let you adjust aperture, not shutter speed; if you can’t control the shutter speed, you can frequently end up with a jittery, unpleasant look to video shot in bright light.
  • Or the Nikon D7100, which lets you control shutter speed and ISO sensitivity, but not aperture.
  • While focus peaking, which uses edge highlighting to show the scene moving in and out of focus, is a huge advantage for manual focus, at this point only a few cameras seem to have incorporated it.

High Definition is Here!

The growth in video sharing on sites like You Tube and the explosion of High Definition flat screen TV’s has seen a new breed of HD-capable stills cameras available. A new generation of SLR cameras has arrived that’s capable of capturing high definition video almost as well as it can capture high resolution stills.

Limitations on Clip Times

One of the main disadvantages with using a stills camera to shoot movies is the short recording times available for HD video; Nikons limit a single take to 5 minutes while Canons and European Panasonics stop after 29 minutes, 59 seconds.  If there is a stop in the action, switch over to a new memory card. The individual segments can later be edited together.  In the case of shooting a continuous event or an entire wedding, a camcorder may be a better option.

Storage Capacity

Stills cameras use high speed memory cards to capture video. High speed cards are essential as video requires cards that are capable of keeping up with fast data transfer, this can be any rate between 15 to 38 megabits per second. Higher data rates produce better quality video. SDHC cards are available in various capacity sizes from 4GB through to 32GB. These cards also have class speed ratings; 2, 4 & 6, for video capture – Class 6 cards are the best video option.

Focus and Exposure

The best way to ensure sharp video is setting the focus on your subject before switching to Live View. A few SLRs allow you to autofocus in live view mode, and shooting movies, it’s always slow and you’re better off leaving it in manual focus mode, which may be your only option anyway.

Auto exposure continues operating while recording. Initially, this may be seen as a good thing, but any changes in exposure during a clip will be noticeable. The best practice is to lock off the exposure before beginning to record the video.


The first generation of HDSLR cameras are pretty disappointing when it comes to audio quality. Video usually uses audio sampling at 48 KHz, but Canon and Olympus opted for 44.1kHz, Nikon 11kHz. Panasonic, goes all the way to 48 kHz for many of its cameras. For some reason manufacturers seemed to regard audio as a minor feature with little importance, failing to offer audio controls or monitoring abilities.

This is a bit short sighted as audio is an important element in any production. Some use a small mono microphone on the camera body itself, which annoyingly also picks up any handling noises. A few cameras are now including a stereo socket so you can use an external microphone with which to capture audio.


So there you have it. You now can compare camcorders and digital SLR cameras for your videography goals. We hope this guide has helped you to distinguish which is right for your needs. Our next installment in the “Starting a Video Studio” series discusses Editing Software.

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    Gerry Nason Written by:

    Gerry Nason is a Senior Content Copywriter for HiP B2B. He also has extensive experience with generating high quality executive leads. Gerry worked for six years as the Producer & Director of a weekly music show, appearing on cable access TV in New England. During those six years, In Tune won 18 awards for video excellence.

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