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I've been asked, on a very short time schedule, to shoot video at a party on behalf of someone too ill to attend.

In my custody are my Nikon D5100 and a Sony Handycam DCR-SR68. I am not experienced at using the former for video (I'm a still photographer by avocation) or the later at all (it is borrowed.)

Conditions are likely to involve mediocre light levels. I have a tripod. Understandable sound would be good. I don't need continuous recording for long periods of time; it can be clips in the 5-15 minute range.

Are either of these devices likely to satisfy, or should I go rent something fancier?

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There is custom patch for the D5100 that allow 54mpbs recording also on the D5100 that might help if you plan to post-process the video footage. Checkout NikonHacker.com –  Simeon Pilgrim Apr 2 at 1:21

4 Answers 4

I use my Nikon DSLR to record videos, so I'll share some pointers with you.

DSLR are capable of producing very good video images. This is thanks to their sensor size and optics, compared to many handycams.

However, since their primary use is not video, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • I don't recommend using autofocus. It is slow (Nikon in Live View uses contrast detection, which is slower and AF will search back and forth for sharpest point) and noisy (rattling of lens motor is audible).
    Set focus (with AF) before you start recording, then lock it (swith to MF) and continue with filming.
    DSLR will be great with static scene, when you can put it on tripod, but if you need to use it hand-held...

  • Low light - Nikon does well in low light. Maybe use fast lens and set a bit higher ISO.

  • Sound quality - built-in microphone has limited range. It is omnidirectional. In noisy surrounding it will pick up everything, but the person you want to record.

  • Pay attention to menu settings. You can select manual mode in menu, where you will set aperture, shutter speed and ISO, or you can leave that to camera.

  • Maximum framerate for Full-HD is only 25 fps.

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It's 30(30/1.001) in NTSC and 25 PAL. –  Simeon Pilgrim Apr 2 at 1:20

You're a photographer, so you think that this is all about the pictures. But, although almost everyone looks the same at all parties (Halloween excepted), sometimes someone says something new and clever. So sometimes good sound is better than great pictures, if you can't afford both.

If good sound is important at your event rent a decent external microphone and, at least, a pistol grip for it (a boom would be better) and someone to 'man' the mic. Test, in advance. Your camera should, in any event, take an external audio input. The Sony that you mention does NOT take external inputs.

Also, 5-15 minute takes are quite long for DSLRs, which tend to overheat in long takes and then just shut down when they do. A better, higher-end, consumer camcorder might be your best tool for this. .

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Older DSLRs might have had overheat issues, but most shut downs I've seen recently are related to memory cards being too slow and running out of buffer or hitting the 29 minute 59 second limit set by the EU on "non-video cameras". –  AJ Henderson Mar 28 at 18:32

bmargulies, There are few questions here:

  • Are you looking for a multicam setup? If so the two cameras are unlikely going to match unless you are willing to put in time to post production work. (fix it in post! http://d3j5vwomefv46c.cloudfront.net/photos/large/639498971.jpg?1345259967)

  • What is the purpose of this video If its a 'creative' project (as in you are making a video about the event and not 'of' the event) then you should go for a camera that gives you some aesthetic flexibility which normally starts with a good eye and a good lens.

  • What is the budget for the shoot? If you have a budget then you should get the setup for the purpose. If its a documentation then consider hiring a couple of cameras of the same model for a muticam setup. If its creative then I would check how flexible your Nikon is to get the story/feeling/looks that you want to achieve - then see if you need to hire something better.

I'll also touch on what you mentioned about light levels. If you are working with low light then here you would have two options:

  • Use the budget camera: DCR-SR68 and other off the shelf budget cameras will work well but at the cost of image quality (ie. the footage will look just like its budget)
  • Add flexibility to lighting - 1) get a LED Ring light, if you have a decent budget then you can hire out a Gekko George light. 2) You can also hire a lens that have a really low f-stop, just one stop can actually make enough of a difference. 3) Get a camera that can shoot RAW - RAW footage gives you more flexibility in post to push up the levels to brighten the footage and merry this with a decent noise reduction plugin and you will be looking at decent footage.

Hope this helps!

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It depends on the quality desired. The best bet is to test them both out before hand and see what you are comfortable with. Most DSLRs do not have autofocus while recording, so you would need to manually focus the lens, however the quality is usually very high. The handicam on the other hand will provide Autofocus however you would want to test how it handles low light before hand.

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