Managing the expectations of others when shooting with DSLRs

On jobs that matter, rarely do I choose to use a DSLR as my 1st choice of camera. Often times budget or other circumstances dictate what you have to use. It would be foolish to decline a job because its not your first choice of gear. On a recent project I had to use a 5D Mark III and I was immediately reminded why I try and stay away from these cameras. I won’t get into all the technical limitations of using DSLRs for video because it is well documented already.

When circumstances demand you use these cameras what’s most important is knowing how to deal with and manage the expectations of others ( those paying you for instance! )

Usually, “the powers at be” won’t necessarily understand the technical limitations that come with DSLRs or any other lower cost cameras, because it is not their job to know, yet their level of expectation will usually be equal to that of using a much more costly and capable system! For instance, on a recent project the director was becoming frustrated because my 1st AC couldn’t nail a rack focus 6 times in a row with canon EF lenses! Fortunately, I reminded him of an early conversation we had in prep about expecting those challenges if he decided on doing critical rack focuses on a DSLR. After I reminded him, he settled down, just a bit. Other limitations like not understanding the limited dynamic range of these systems makes some wonder why it can take longer to light, say compared to an Alexa or Red Epic. Or why I spend more time getting my fill level right to minimize any noise artifacts in the blacks.

The point is if you don’t prepare your clients ahead of time, you run the risk of looking like you’re blaming your equipment ( which you are! ) but it can be seen as you not knowing what you are doing. No camera person needs this hanging over their head. With everything else that needs to be considered on a set I simply try and eliminate the possibility all together and use a more capable camera system. But if I must use these cameras, I make sure the people paying me understand the limitations I may encounter on their shoot before I get on set.

I talk it through and try and predict problems I might encounter along the way and then I offer possible solutions for them to maintain their confidence that everything will be okay. This way, when I encounter a DSLR pitfall, ( like rack focusing on EF lenses ) your client is prepared and will understand and give you the time needed to get what they want. Going in with everyone on the same page and managing the expectations of others makes for a far less stressful shoot.


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