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The Craft of the HDSLR

Sep 17, 2010 12:00 PM, By Barry Braverman

How to make the most of the newest tool in the shooter's bag of tricks.


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For the professional shooter, the HDSLR now plays a serious role in our expanding HD toolbox. Pictured: the Canon EOS 5D Mark II

For the professional shooter, the HDSLR now plays a serious role in our expanding HD toolbox. Pictured: the Canon EOS 5D Mark II

It came as a huge surprise to everyone: the adoption of the HDSLR for serious video applications on network shows, high-end commercials, and music videos. Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way. The intent of Canon, Panasonic, Nikon, and the others was to provide still photographers a reasonable solution for producing modest HD videos for the Web.

Now pro shooters of every stripe must necessarily look at these hybrid machines in a new and much lower-level light. For as much as we may not like the HDSLR's disruption in our coveted professional space, we must nevertheless understand its capabilities for our own survival. Any way you look at it, through it, or around it, the HDSLR has become another valuable tool in our burgeoning bag of tricks.

This graphic drawn to scale illustrates the relative imaging size of Canon 5D vs. Cine 35mm. Note that HDSLRs achieve the HD video frame size by physical cropping, reducing the significance of the total pixel count of a camera's sensor.

This graphic drawn to scale illustrates the relative imaging size of Canon 5D vs. Cine 35mm. Note that HDSLRs achieve the HD video frame size by physical cropping, reducing the significance of the total pixel count of a camera's sensor.

More than just low-light capable

The relatively large sensor pixels in the HDSLR are sensitive in low light in the same way high-speed film emulsion requires less light to trigger the relatively large-grain bromide crystals. Indeed, the double-frame-size sensor in the 5D is twice the size of a 4-perf 35mm cine frame; and this greater size has its benefits.

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In the first place, the CMOS imager draws only about 20 percent of the power of a comparable density CCD. For shooters this may obviate entirely the need to carry additional batteries to a location or the requirement for daily recharging. The low power draw also helps reduce heat at the imager surface, thus mitigating a major contributor of noise.

The CMOS imager is practical and economical, allowing simple cropping to HD video frame sizes 1920x1080 or 1280x720. While CCDs continue to offer markedly better performance for professional applications the CCD (analog) sensor must be clocked as a single unit and thus does not offer the flexibility or economy of design.

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