Not DSLR Killers, But Killer DSLRs: How DSLRs Killed the Prosumer Video Camera
It seems the blogosphere is filled with talk about “DSLR killers.” Here are a few predictions ranging from the end of 2008 to March 2011: “Red unwraps ‘DSLR Killer’” by John Mello; “Sony joins the fray with (another) DSLR-killer“; DVXUser thread: “Panasonic AF-100 being called the ‘DSLR killer’. Any thoughts?“; “The Real ‘DSLR Killer’ For Filmmaking (No, It’s Not A Hasselblad)” by Neil Matsumoto.
Indeed, I would argue that the DSLR was the prosumer video camera killer and the video camera had to evolve in order to stay in the game.
The two strongest prosumer video cameras that utilize the DSLR-sized large format sensors are Panasonic’s micro 4/3 AG-AF100 with a street price of $4800 at B&H and Sony’s Super 35mm NEX FS100U with a street price of under $6000. (These prices do not include any lenses.) The dimensions of the the Super 35mm sensor: 23.6mm x 13.3mm and the Four Thirds sensor: 17.3 x 13mm (imaging area). (Images courtesy of Sony and Panasonic, respectively.)
Rather than “killing” the HDSLR, it seems the large sensor HDSLR market has been killing the prosumer video camera market. They’ve stepped up and noticed. They’re taking on the best of the DSLR features and are crafting cheaper video cameras with DSLR sensors in order to be competitive in the low budget cinematic market.
Comparison of sensor sizes. Prosumer video cameras are the little rectangles in the bottom left of the screen, while DSLRs fall within the Four Thirds, APS-C, and 35mm full frame, allowing for more cinematic control over the image. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Going back to the pre-Hi Def days of 2000, when George Lucas decided to shoot Star Wars II on a 1920×1080 24P Sony CineAlta HDW-F900 (modified the Panavision HD-900F), they used a f/1.5 lens on three 2/3″ sensors. But with a current street price of around $80,000, only professional shoots are within reach of this camera (rentals). Thus we can begin to see the significance of the DSLR APS-C sized sensors in the Rebel T2i/T3i at one percent ($800-900) of what the CineAlta costs!
The DSLR revolution has struck the prosumer video market — they were the ones dying off and some have adapted. The low price point of the DSLR will ensure its survival.
Indy filmmakers may use the Sony FS 100 more than the Panasonic AF100, due to Sony’s S35mm chip size and the smaller body and design work on it (aesthetics). The main thing you’re getting with these cameras that makes them a step above DSLRs is XLR-inputs — which is great for news and doc shooters, but filmmakers serious about capturing high quality audio will only use this as a back-up. They record audio on a separate recorder — typically with a field mixer and mic preamp — in order to get the best possible sound.
At the same time, DSLRs are taking on the best of the prosumer video market, such as the flip out screens for the Panasonic GH-1 and GH-2, Canon’s 60D and Rebel T3i/600D.
If the DSLR makers are smart, they will eventually create models with XLR inputs and a headphone jack, for those who do not want to record to external devices. Yes, Beachtek and JuicedLink offer XLR adapters, but you cannot monitor the sound going into the camera.
In either case, DSLRs are not going away, because the price of the Sony is still over $3000 more than a Canon 5D Mark II and over $5500 more than the Rebel T3i. You can kit out a Canon T3i for $3000 with a shoulder rig, a couple of decent lenses, a Zoom H4n, a decent shotgun mic.
If you want everything in one package, and you can afford it, then the Sony FS100 may be the camera you should use. If you’re on a budget or prefer the smaller form factor of a DSLR, us it. Nearly twenty percent of the films at 2011 Sundance were shot on DSLRs. They’re not going away. Not even close.