For starters, the DSLRs have big sensors. The sensor of the Canon 5D Mark II, the first DSLR, is nearly 1½ times the size of a Super 35mm film sensor and is bigger by half than the new RED EPIC-X. Only the Vision Research Phantom 65’s is bigger (2X). Curiously, the sensors for the RED ONE and Canon 7D are virtually the same size, both slightly smaller than the Super 35 frame (at 89 and 90 percent, respectively). However, price-wise the RED ONE is miles apart from the 7D (which body costs barely 10 percent of a RED ONE). The DSLRs’ amazing bang for the buck has catapulted the popularity of the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II versus the RED ONE, still the most popular large digital cine cameras today. “We sell several DSLRs for every big camera, like an ARRI ALEXA, Sony F35 [or Panasonic] VariCam … which cost much more,” reports Abel Cine’s Andy Shipsides. “Many DPs need to have a 5D or 7D in their toolkit. Many have bought one for a particular job, for the film look, for commercials [and] music videos.”
The sea change towards DSLRs may be happening at the expense of traditional video cameras. “We used to sell lots of smaller chip [1/4-inch to ½-inch] cameras, but most of those customers have shifted to DSLRs,” says Shipsides. “Even those who spent $60K+ on 2/3-inch camera packages are buying DSLRs now for clients who want that film look. It started with the [Panasonic] DVX 100, which did true 24p. DSLRs are the next step.”
A large part of the desired film look is due to the character of 35mm prime lenses. Until recently, primes were too expensive for most shooters to own and had to be rented. Initially, RED primes and zooms offered a cheaper alternative, but Zeiss compact primes seem to have tapped a sweet spot between high quality and cost, which has spiked the sales and usage of PL mount lenses. “Compact primes [CP.2 with an interchangeable mount] are one of the hottest lenses going right now,” says Seth Emmons at Band Pro. “The interchangeable aspect of the mount is very popular and the price is right for the group for whom the DSLR camera is their A camera.”
DSLRs have also spurred a surge in the design and sales of the unique support gear, such as viewfinders, that make DSLRs more user-friendly for video shoots. “We’re selling lots of [Zacuto] Z-Finders and support rigs of various kinds,” says Emmons. “A lot of small [5-inch and 7-inch] HDMI monitors are selling due to the HDMI output on these cameras. Manufacturers like Marshall and TVLogic are among the most popular.”
Camera-wise, Canon has been the prime purveyor of small cameras with large sensors for HD, but it will soon have more competition. Panasonic’s new compact AG-AF100 camera with a 4/3-inch MOS-type sensor, wide field of view and shallow depth of field is coming to market at double the cost of the Canon 5D Mark II, but with cine features like variable frame rates. “With [the AG-AF100’s] camcorder features, it should be easier for us to sell to videographers, who some need educating about DSLRs,” Shipsides notes.
Sony’s response to the AG-AF100 is the PMW-F3, which will come at a higher price point at double or more. “There are some interesting new pro cameras around the corner right now and many folks are anxiously awaiting them,” says Emmons. “The new Sony PMW-F3, especially, has generated a ton of interest.”
Will these new large-sensor video camcorders with cine features like true 24p, variable frame rates and color viewfinders ultimately kill the DSLR boom? “I don’t think they’re DSLR killers, because they’re bigger, cost more and don’t take [hi-res] stills,” Shipsides notes. “Many customers need a B camera and can afford a DSLR. Many also love being able shoot in public without causing a commotion. DSLRs fill many needs and should be around for a while.”