DSLR Revolution

On September 1st 2009 the Canon 7D DSLR was released, and in February 2010 I bought one. I had seen the “Skywalker ranch” video by Philip Bloom posted in December of 2009 and while quite impressed I couldn’t help but realize (and admit) what next digital revolution was upon us. That is, 24P, High Definition 1080P video, and 35mm DOF all for well under $2000.

For those who are new to the digital filmmaking scene it might be hard to appreciate what some of us filmmakers have been working with over the past five years. Where do I begin?

In 2002 I bought a PS Technik mini35 35mm adapter for $9000 dollars. The adapter used a rotating ground glass that a 35mm lens would project its image onto. The image would then be picked up by the video camera’s CCD sensor preserving the exact depth of field and angle of view of a 35mm lens. Since 24p in a prosumer camcorder had not been out yet, I was one of those lucky guys using a PAL version of the Canon XL1s (Canon XL1se) in North America to shoot 50i, create a progressive 25p frame in post, then stretch the footage by 4% on a timeline to yield a 24fps video image. Voila – 24fps!

Later in 2002 Panasonic released the DVX100 which offered 24p and 30p frame rate recording on miniDV stored at 60i by incorporating a pulldown method while recording. Due to the light loss already inherent to the PS Technik mini35 I felt my Canon was still a much better option for my 35mm adapter setup since when used with a XL1s the stock lens is completely removed and not in use. This also allowed the EVF to be moved onto the PS Technik adapter resulting in an overall more ergonomic configuration.

In 2005 the XL2 was released which was Canon’s first prosumer camcorder to include 24p an 30p frame rate settings and so I quickly upgraded my PAL Canon to the NTSC version. I was making progress but I was still only shooting in SD resolution and HD at the time was primarily available only in high end cameras. The HD version of the XL camcorder series did come out shortly afterwards and was called the XLH1.

The excitement of 2006 was a new company called RED taking deposits towards a $17,000 35mm camera capable of shooting 4k RAW. This camera literally shattered the industry overnight and would prove to be very successful and widely adapted cinema camera for commercial  motion picture use.

By 2007 there were several variations of the 35mm adapter by SGPro, RedRockMicro, Letus, Aldu, Cinevate….. when news is released that Jim Jannard plans to make a new camera called RED capable of shooting 35mm DOF, variable frame rates (including 24p), all in 4k resolution for $17,500. Despite serious skepticism, criticism and severe doubts, people lined up and sent in their deposits for a chance to get on the waiting list for units that would ship the following year – and it did. It was the impression the makers or RED were hoping for, and likely many did feel this was the final end of the longed-for 35mm digital film revolution – but after only one and a half years later yet another revolution came our way. The DSLR.

It’s 2011 at the time of this writing and no, DSLR is not capable of RAW. It is not 4k, and it is not without its own specific set of nuances for professional digital film production. However, DSLR is already being used in professional environments from broadcast television to music videos, short films, feature films, and clients who were paying for images coming out of RED who never needed 4k or RAW to begin with.

Until the next revolution DSLR is here to stay.

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