I've been hearing about the "digital revolution," the idea that digital technology makes it cheaper and easier to create good-looking movies, for years. And for years, I've been a skeptic. Some high-def video cameras that produce a very film-like image have made it to market, but they ain't cheap. According to my calculations, I was getting more bang for the buck shooting my "serious" projects on 16mm film, so I stayed that course.
Late last year, I started reading about the Canon 7D, a digital SLR camera with video capability. Then I watched some footage shot with the 7D. It looked pretty damn good. Good enough that I threw my skepticism to the wind and bought a 7D for myself.
I've been impressed so far. I don't love the 7D like I love my Aaton LTR-54 16mm camera. But I do love the fact that I can shoot for hours with the 7D without spending a dime. It records video to reusable compact flash cards. When you fill up a card, you just copy the footage to your computer, wipe the card, and get back to shooting. With 16mm film, I'm probably dropping 400 or 500 bucks for every ten minutes of footage I shoot.
The 7D is far from a perfect camera. The ergonomics suck. It eats through batteries. Its images suffer from aliasing and rolling shutter issues. But there are workarounds for these problems.
And I can live with workarounds for a camera that set me back less than $2,000.
The low cost-of-use is encouraging me to do less planning and more shooting. Since buying the camera, I've shot a short snow documentary, a web ad for a local restaurant, three commercials for an upcoming television show, and that Monster Hunt thing I keep mentioning but never quite explaining. And I'm hoping to shoot a more ambitious short film with the camera later this month. And I'm really looking forward to shooting an inexpensive (but good-looking) feature with the 7D, possibly as soon as this summer. Exciting (and busy) times.
As happy as I am with the 7D, Canon's new Rebel T2i might be even cooler. From what I've seen, it creates 7D-quality video at half the price. You can read more about the Rebel and see a sample video at Stu Maschwitz's excellent ProLost blog.