On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 3

Photo by v8media
In part 2 I talked about some of the advantages to using digital still camera for film. In this post I’ll be talking about the disadvantages to using this kind of camera.


Since this technology is so new there are going to be a lot of challenges. Most of the challenges that come from using a digital still camera involve its very sensitive focus.


Most of the cameras we are looking at do not have an autofocus that is usable for filming. A still camera’s autofocus is very different from a camcorders auto focus. A still camera is made to focus on a specific point, while a camcorder  is made to focus on a specific subject. Digital still cameras also have a very short focal length. This is the distance from the lens in which the subject is in focus. If a person is in focus two feet away from the camera and they move a foot in either direction they will be blurry. A camera operator must be very good at adjusting the focus as the subject moves around.

Moving Subjects

We have also heard that these cameras have a hard time dealing with a lot of movement. Part of the problem is the focus issue I just mentioned. The other problem is image stabilization. Holding a camera steady is very hard. Many camcorders have software that make this easier. Most digital still cameras do not.

Extra Equipment

Due to the problems mentioned here it is nearly impossible to create high quality video without extra equipment. This equipment is attached to the camera like the image above. It helps the operator maintain focus, improve audio and reduce movement. There is also a need to have a different lens. The main drawback here is that the extra equipment adds more to the price tag.

More to Come

I just want to point out that these issues are based on research and not hands on experience. We do not know how big these problems will be for our project. When we get more time with the cameras we will have a better idea.

On the Cutting Edge: Digital Still Cameras for Film, Part 2

In part 1 I talked about why we are looking at using digital still cameras for this documentary. In this post I’ll be talking about the advantages of using these cameras.

In order to make a proper assessment of this equipment we researched what the capabilities of these cameras were and why someone would want to use them.

Image Sensor

One of the big advantages of a still camera is the image sensors. They are designed to mimic film, and the imagery they produce is exceptional. They work very well in daylight and low light. There are some limitations in low lighting. If you need to film in very low light, then you may lose some image quality. However, for our project which consists of a lot of well lit interviews, we felt this was not a problem.

It’s a lot easier to show you what these cameras can do. Here are a couple of short videos that really highlight image quality of these digital still cameras.

This first video is from CrunchGear’s review of the T2i.

Canon T2i demo reel from CrunchGear on Vimeo.

The second video is by Philip Bloom who is a director of Photography and knows how to make these cameras shine. Shot with a Canon 7D and Canon 5D.

Skywalker Ranch from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.


Another big advantage to the digital still camera is their price. For example, a Canon T2i is about $900. On the higher end, a Canon 5D is about $2,500. These prices are for the camera body and a basic lens. In order to film this project we will need to buy lenses and rigging that will help get the best shot. The extras will bring the cost of equipment up but these cameras are still a lot less expensive than high definition camcorders that can be as much as $30,000.

One of the goals of this project is to produce something that could be shown on TV. Part of the challenge of this goal is making something of this quality can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can include equipment as well as salaries. So using this camera to do most of the filming is one strategy we are using to keep costs down.

Do They Stack Up?

It’s great that digital still cameras have high quality sensors and are reasonably priced, but how do they stack up against real film cameras? Well we are no experts in this field but we found some people who are.

If you are interested in a very geeky breakdown of how digital still camera stack up to film cameras I highly recommend Zacuto’s Great camera Showdown of 2010. It’s about an hour and half long and they put these cameras through a number of very scientific tests. Then they get feedback from various professional filmmakers. It’s interesting to see what these camera’s can do and the promise they hold.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I’ll talk about the disadvantages we found to using digital still cameras in a film.

On the Cutting Edge: The Equipment We Are Using, Part 1

With this project, John and I are trying out a number of innovative ideas. Besides open sourcing our thought process, we are looking at filming the documentary with some cutting edge technology. Traditionally, films are made with camcorders specifically designed for video. We are looking at cameras that where designed for still photography.
Photo by v8media

In the past, digital cameras have not been as good as film cameras because of the sensors they use. The sensors in digital cameras are usually smaller than 35mm film and are not as sensitive to light. As the technology has improved, so has the image quality. Now sensors are very close to reproducing film quality and one day could be better.

One feature that journalists and professionals had been asking for was the ability to record video. To satify their best customers, camera manufacturers added the ability to record high definition video. This had an unexpected effect.

Since the cameras had high quality lenses and sensors it was possible to produce professional looking video for a drastically lower price. The combination of lower cost and impressive looking video caught the eye of Hollywood. These cameras are just starting to be used in feature length films.

There are still some drawbacks to using these cameras because the technology is so new. However, there is also a lot of potential. John and I are excited about the possibilities. Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll be talking about which cameras we are looking at and why.

Start of Something New: Making a Documentary

Sharing Our Story

In 2007 I started this blog with my sister as a way to record our thoughts and help my mother with her book. Over the past three years we’ve posted almost 100 times and talked about everything from adoption to identity. As well as being therapeutic, it’s been a lot of fun.

One of the best parts about sharing our story has been meeting and reconnecting with people who were touched by our words. I’ve heard from people I’ve never met, thanking us for writing about our experiences. I’ve also been reconnected with people from my past.


One of those people who reached out to reconnect was John Younger. John was my counselor at summer camp in 1990. He still remembers when my little brother Derek came to visit. He says it was striking to see how close Derek and I were despite being so different on the outside. That image has stayed with him for all these years.

John was so moved from reading the blog that he offered to help us tell the story. I have been working with him to improve my writing. He also helped with the lighting and testing the setup for the interview I did with my parents. Over the past few weeks we have been talking seriously about creating a documentary related to some aspect of the story.

Making a Documentary

While I’ve done photography for years, I’ve never made a documentary. John has been explaining the ins and outs of the business. We have been talking about everything from a story line, to equipment, to how we are going to finance it. It has been very interesting and I am learning a lot.

There is still a lot of work to do. We need to figure out what exactly it is going to be about, how we are going to shoot it, and how to finance it. As we work out all the details we will be bring you along for the ride.

Doing Something Different

One of the things we really want to do with this project is include all of you. As this project develops I will be updating this blog about its progress. I’ll be sharing just about all of our ideas and decisions as we make them. This will create a type of production journal that people will be able to follow. Maybe one day it will even become a blueprint that other people can use.

Part of the documentary is going to be a series of interviews with different family members. Just like the interview with my parents, we will be broadcasting over the web so all of you can participate. The idea is not only to share everything, but to allow others to be a part of it. If you have any ideas or suggestions for the project we would love to hear them. This is a new journey and we are very excited to see where it takes us!