Video: The Photographer’s Dilemma


Video, some photographers love it, some hate it. Many will argue that video is not a feature that should be added to our cameras. Others will produce feature films with that feature. The problem is that like the perfect stills camera, the perfect video camera does not exist. I know this because I shoot both stills and video stock. Video stock now makes up a much higher proportion of my revenue than stills. This raises several dilemmas.

Do I carry dedicated stills and video cameras? If I go for stills what compromises do I have to make? If I go for video, what are the compromises there? Today we are going to take a look at some of those dilemmas and hopefully allow you to come to your own conclusions as to what is best for your video needs.

Dedicated Cameras or Hybrids

This is the first big dilemma. A dedicated video camera with a dedicated stills camera is going to take a lot of space in your kit bag. There are certain advantages to both. A video camera will be much more ergonomically suited to the job. It will have a decent zoom, built in ND filters, clickless aperture control, much finer focusing controls and much more. The problem is it will be bulky, expensive and for most budget levels the lens will be fixed. The sensors will be much smaller, typically 2/3rd inch or 1-inch maximum meaning low light and shallow depth of field are much more restricted.

If you do decide on a dedicated camcorder, this opens the field in terms of stills camera choice. For most photographers wanting to do video these days, 4K is a must. However, there are still very few DSLR cameras that shoot 4K and some of those are severely restricted. With a dedicated camcorder in the bag, you can choose a stills camera that suits you rather than having to compromise. Let’s assume you go the hybrid route.

A dedicated camcorder is better ergonomically but has other limitations. Photo by AV Hire London

Choosing a Stills Camera for Video

You have decided to go for a camera that is capable of stills and great video. But dilemmas still exist. Assuming 4K is a given, this rules out most Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The Canon 5D iv shoots 4K but is severely hamstrung by a large crop factor. Nikon has a less than sterling reputation for video usability. That leaves us mirrorless cameras, nearly all of which do 4K very well. But they have other issues. Panasonic and Olympus are micro 4/3rd sensors. On most of their cameras, the crop increases from 2x by varying degrees when shooting 4K. You may well have to buy wider lenses for video. Low light and depth of field also present issues.

Panasonic, excellent video but on a smaller sensor. Photo by Becky Stern

Stepping up to the APS-C category, you have the Sony 6000 series and Fuji X. Fuji is new to the game. Their 4K footage has gained a lot of admirers but there are still issues to sort out. One of them being a ten minute limit on video clips unless you buy the handgrip. Sony 6300/6500 also have great footage quality and superb autofocus but suffer from a poor user interface and battery life.

In the full frame category, we only have the Sony A7 rII and A7 sII. Both capable of superb video quality but with similar issues to their APS-C counterparts. Combine either with a decent lens and we are already in professional camcorder territory price wise.

Sony Alpha 7 R and S II are excellent for low light video but expensive. Photo by eggry

And of course, lenses are another issue when deciding on a stills/video hybrid. Do you go for a superzoom type lens to reduce the need to keep changing lenses? Or a series or shorter zoom or primes both of which will have faster apertures. The big advantage of stills cameras for video is the low light and shallow depth of field capabilities. If you put slower lenses on, then you are negating the benefits. If you use faster optics, you will need to change lenses more often and they will cost you more.

I am writing this article because I am currently going through the dilemmas listed. I need a second 4K capable camera. Currently, for stills I am using Fuji and for 4K I am using Panasonic. Do I consolidate into one system? If so which? Fuji will give me better stills quality but be less capable as a video camera. Panasonic is perhaps the cream of the crop when it comes to 4K but their still image quality lags behind Fuji.

To give a perspective on my current dilemma I have narrowed my choice down to Panasonic HC X1 or X1000 camcorders. Panasonic GH4, GH5 or G85, Fuji XT-2 or XT20, Sony A6500 or Sony A7 rII. Nine different cameras, each one a compromise. I have the budget for any of these but deciding which one is occupying far much more of my personal time than it really should. If you were shooting stock travel video and wanted great stills, what would you choose?

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

Sony FS5 or FS7 should also be looked at. I like the electronic variable ND built into the FS5. Walk from indoors to out and keep your same shutter speed and f stop. Also the recently announced Panasonic AU-AVA1 is very impresssive. Of course with these camcorders you are adding more weight but interchangeable lenses seems worth it. Here is article on Panasonic if you have not read up on it.

Are you about to drown in comments about the new Nikon D850, Jason?

If it’s any help, I’m on your side – if I wanted to be a cinematographer, I’d buy a cine camera. IMO (humble or otherwise, as I said when I made this comment in another group only a few hours ago), a hybrid ends up being “neither fish nor fowl”.

I suppose there’s scope for a “bit of a giggle”, capturing a video clip sequence on a still camera that “can do it”, but for video work, it’s scarcely likely to end up as the same experience you’d get if you really were using a video camera.

But then I’m one of those luddites who think a telephone is a thing you make telephone calls with, and hanging a lens out the back or the front of it doesn’t turn it into a camera. SIgh – yes I KNOW they can take photos – cameras can too – and they do a much better job of it. Of course, the afficionados of the smart phone will have you believe that “one day, it will all happen” and the smartphones will take over, and cameras will become extinct. Hmm – I wonder how long it will take them to develop a miniaturised shift-tilt fisheye lens, for architectural work? A tripod to put it on, that converts to a selfie stick and – for wet weather protection – an umbrella? A range of interchangeable lenses, out to [equivalent 600mm] for bird photography? A 50 MP sensor?

Sorry everyone – I’m sticking with purpose built gear. This stuff is starting to get a bit like one of those cars that can fly you to work, to avoid traffic jams, and on weekends you can launch it into the ocean and use it to go fishing. Interesting – novel – great example of multi-tasking – innovative – thought provoking. But no thanks, I’d rather buy something else.

Shortly after I wrote the article I eventually went for the Fuji X-T2. Having already bought into the Fuji series already it made sense for me. The image quality is superb both from stills and video and whilst the video functionality is lower than say a GH5 it is still very very easy to shoot with. I have no regrets other than the weeks of agonising over which camera to get.

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