And a DSLR’s small size makes a huge difference. “We shot a massive amount handheld because of the beauty of the image stabilization built into lenses such as the 70–200mm. You can get a rock-solid shot,” says Tattersall. “And you can squeeze three cameras into the space that would normally be taken up with one 35mm video camera on a dolly.”
In shooting the House finale, he and his team used three light Sachtler fluid heads designed for camcorders. Redrock Micro supplied them all the support equipment to mount the 5D as a movie camera: rods, matte boxes, and a mount for an external monitor. This allowed the director and script supervisor to see the video as it was being shot, Tattersall explains— this would’ve been impossible using only the camera’s LCD or a viewfinder eyepiece.
“There are problems that are good to avoid,” says Tattersall. “If you do very fast whip pans, you get image distortion. They call it the rolling-shutter effect or the jello effect.”
One thing you can’t avoid, only mitigate: compression artifacts. “H.264 is highly compressed, so you can see aliasing and banding in gradated tones,” Tattersall says. “But if you apply a little bit of film grain [in postprocessing], which I tend to do on any digitally shot picture to get a cinematic feeling, it usually goes away.”
Not all cinematographers prefer the full-frame 5D Mark II. Price is Right camera operator Quin de Varona, for example, is using the Canon EOS 7D for his next indie film project. “It’s more Zacuto rigs for handheld shooting (after all, he works for the company). He also mounts his DSLR on a heavy-duty Sachtler Video 18 tripod or a lighter Manfrotto 501 head with a Sirui M2204 carbon-fiber tripod.
“I generally pull my own focus,” says Lynch. “If I’m shooting with a crew or doing narrative work, I use a Zacuto Z-Focus and Z-Finder. But if I’m trying to be stealthy, or if weight and space are issues, I just use my hand on the lens.”