Deciding on a DSLR Camera for Your Drone - dummies

Deciding on a DSLR Camera for Your Drone

By Mark LaFay

DSLR cameras can be a great accessory for your drone. DSLR stands for digital single light reflex, and the term is used to categorize high-end consumer and professional quality digital cameras. DSLR cameras come with a huge range of features and technical capabilities, which is why their uses span from hobby to professional. DSLR cameras have larger sensors than their point-and-shoot little brothers.

Bigger is definitely more expensive when it comes to DSLRs. Bigger sensors come at a high price point, but they also provide much better imaging capabilities.

DSLR cameras can be for the beginning and aspiring photographer. Smaller cameras still come with several manual image control features and the option to swap out images. This gives the user the ability to try different combinations of settings and lenses. DSLR cameras are much larger and heavier than point-and-shoot cameras. They are also a little more complex, which may slow you down when you are setting up your drone.

A DSLR for every occasion. [Credit: Source: Scott.Symonds/Creative Commons]
Credit: Source: Scott.Symonds/Creative Commons
A DSLR for every occasion.

While DSLR cameras were original developed purely for photography, in recent years, DSLR manufacturers started adding in video modes. This was intended to give users the option to capture some footage, but it was never intended to be the sole purpose of the camera. DSLR video footage can look so incredible, however, that video geeks everywhere have started using DSLR cameras specifically for video.

Here are just a few reasons why DSLR cameras are an appealing choice for recording video footage:

  • Price point: The price point for a DSLR is much lower than video cameras of comparable quality

  • Lenses: Seemingly infinite options are available for lenses

  • File storage: The DSLR cameras store video footage in file format on SD cards instead of tape or the more expensive P2 cards seen in high-end pro cameras

    DSLR video rig. [Credit: Source: Sebastiaan ter Burg/Creative Commons]
    Credit: Source: Sebastiaan ter Burg/Creative Commons
    DSLR video rig.

One major problem with filming on DSLR is that big image sensors get extremely hot when used in video mode. DSLR cameras did not come with any sort of cooling built into the cameras, which means that overheating is a major issue. To work around this, you can capture video short chunks before having to shut down the camera and restart it.

DSLR cameras are a great camera for people who are serious about photo­graphy and video. The major drawback is that DSLRs are heavier than the point-and-shoot cameras, and depending on the lens, weight and balance can become a major issue. Remember, the heavier it is, the more it is going to cost you! You are going to need a big drone to lug your high-end camera around and you are going to need a big wallet to pay for the repairs if you crash your DSLR-toting drone.

If you decide to go the route of a DSLR, there are several major manufacturers of DSLR cameras to consider like Pentax, Sony, Olympia, Nikon, and Canon. However, photo and video aficionados gravitate toward either Nikon or Canon, and you will hardly get an objective opinion from either on the merits of their camera of choice. So when it comes to picking your DSLR, focus on:

  • Sensor size: The bigger the lens, the better the image. Full-frame sensors will capture images and video with greater detail and in a broader scale of light.

  • Available lens options: One of the benefits of a DSLR is being able to swap out lenses. Canon and Nikon have a myriad of lens options to choose from and the quality of their lenses is in lock-step with the quality of their cameras

  • Image size (megapixels): Lots of megapixels means lots of image information. Go big or go home!

  • Total weight: One key indicator of the quality of your DSLR is the number of metal parts vs. plastic parts. The material won’t impact the quality of the images rather it will impact the durability of the camera. When you’re shopping for weight, plastic parts win out. Keep the weight down by using plastic lenses and use DSLRs that have more plastic parts.

    Comparison of popular DSLR cameras. [Credit: Source: Andreas Kambanis/Creative Commons]
    Credit: Source: Andreas Kambanis/Creative Commons
    Comparison of popular DSLR cameras.