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Are DSLRs Here To Stay?

Posted August 28th, 2010 by Ben

The backlash has started! For everyone grinding their teeth over the over exuberance surrounding DSLRs (for the ungeeks these are digital stills cameras that shoot HD video which have in many quarters been hailed as the future of low budget filmmaking) here’s something that should bring a smile…

In today’s Filmmaker’s bulletin the expertly knowledgable Andrew Doughty describes the DSLR as “…an abomination. They are a mistake…” and he was arguing with the equally sage Karel Bata who’d just called them “…most certainly NOT the future…”

To be fair it’s quite an odd argument because Andrew also calls DSLRs “bloody marvellous” and Karel says “they are fantastic” so both men appear to be actually agreeing with each other both about how bad and how good the new cameras are… which doesn’t seem to leave much room for anyone else in the discussion but I’m going to try and stick my oar in anyway…

The main area of agreement seems to be that no matter how amazing these new devices are they will be superseded. Vitally they will be bettered by something more recognisably a “video” camera, ending the affront to nature that is the “stills” camera shooting movies. Like a duck singing bird song it seems that no matter how beautiful the result, for many it’s just too weird to enjoy.

To add to the oddly consensual nature of this debate I must point out that I don’t doubt the central assertion that the “video” camera style device will surely soon trump the offering of the DSLR. I wouldn’t though see this as cause for dismay amongst fans of the DSLR, nor even proof that it was an evolutionary dead end. If the pro-sumer video camera market is reclaimed by machines less intended for stills then it will only be because these machines have taken on all the advantages offered by the current crop of DSLRs. Female politicians don’t wear crinolines but I wouldn’t say that the Pankhursts were not the victors of history, similarly whatever form it takes the future in low budget filmmaking is most definitely going to be more like the 5D than the Z1.

I would go further though because there are some physical things about using a DSLR that I prefer. For starters it’s much easier to use in tiny spaces; not that everything my brother and I do takes place in cars and bathrooms but a surprising amount does… more importantly people still respond differently to a stills camera than they do to a video camera. I don’t know why and I’m sure one day we’ll all grow out of it but I’ve found that nervous interview subjects and untrained actors find it far easier to forget that they are being watched when the device is less like a gun.

This is not an argument to say that the traditional video camera is dead, nor that we shall see real cameras like the Red or the Electra take on DSLR shape. Rather though I’m saying that the choice of camera for a project is dependent upon a myriad of factors, not just budget, not just resolution and certainly not just depth of field. The DSLR as a class is a fantastic addition to the tools we have at our disposal and it offers a diversity of benefits beyond being comparatively cheap and new. Sure once the rest of the market picks up its game they will be used less but for the right project, the right shot even, they are irreplaceable. The DSLR is here to stay.

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