When the Canon 5D Mark II was first used to shoot video, there was a huge reaction from everyone in the community of filmmaking—be it excitement, disdain, or intentional ambivalence. Almost a year and a half after the DSLR wave started, it might be seen as having crested and washed over the low-budget filmmaker, running its way out by the time it muddies up the boots of the major motion picture industry. Although many cinematographers are adding DSLR's to their toolkits, there hasn't been a huge push for Hollywood feature films to be shot on these cameras and these alone, so the DSLR as a single camera has settled comfortably on the shoulder rigs of indie filmmakers.
Because these cameras are so much different than video or film cameras, it has taken a collaboration of professional minds to make sure that there is at least some kind of standard or reference for use. The American Society of Cinematographers has embraced this technology, even with its flaws, and strove to put together an idea of how to get the most out of the "HDSLR" by changing picture settings and having general ideas about how to squeeze more latitude out of chips that aren't designed with moving pictures in mind. Kurt Lancaster, author of DSLR Cinema, has consulted several working ASC members, as well as other professionals who have been using these cameras since their debut, to assemble that reference, and has packaged it with a general overview of using the HDSLR for independent filmmaking.
The author states this book is about "how to get the cinematic look using the video mode of DSLR cameras", but there is certainly more than just that in this book. There is basic cinematography, basic directing, basic lighting, and several more advanced chapters on using the tools built into the camera for reference, as well as an overview of post-production work. Also included are case studies of current DSLR filmmakers and their strongest works, using an individual production to exemplify certain techniques and points. Finally, there is a chapter on gear and accessories, but the prices and availability, and even the design, of such gear vary so much that it's better to troll the DSLR forums to find what you want, or read the blogs of some of the filmmakers that Mr. Lancaster has interviewed for this book. The field is always changing.
As an engineer, I come at things with a pretty technical understanding already in place, but I found that this book explains things well in footnotes and sidebars, albeit very large ones. The subject matter was presented in a very matter-of-fact way, but the layout of the material might make comprehension hard for many who are new to video DSLR—it seems downright scatterbrained sometimes.
DSLR filmmaking is an exciting topic, and I know when I start talking about it, I get excited and try to throw in everything under the sun—pros and cons of the H.264 codec, color space, the availability of interchangeable lenses, sensor size, et cetera. This becomes pretty hard to keep track of in a conversation, so logically, a book would be a better place to present this mass of information. However, just like in a conversation, there are asides and non sequiturs, so DSLR Cinema uses sidebars and text boxes to convey these extra bursts of idea. Unfortunately, it does it in a way that will interfere with someone trying to read the main body of the text. Some text boxes and sidebars break pages, and sometimes hide the main body text (which may not be on that page at all, as I found a couple of times.)
This book is aimed at amateurs and first-timers, I think, but it is definitely actually geared towards someone who has been around this stuff before and who is trying to advance their art. Because of the layout problems and the disparity between aim and actual writing, I can't guarantee that someone who's just bought one of these cameras will understand everything in this book, certainly not on the first read through. (The best solution would be to read and discuss with someone more experienced, that's not always available.)
There is a lot of information here, in both the body and the asides. Definitely requires a focused reading, probably going through and reading the body first, then going back and reading the secondary material.
DSLR Cinema is an interesting read, but definitely requires a patience and determination to finish it. There were several instances where I had to put the book down and watch some TV while I assimilated the amount of information I'd just read, and there were several times where I had to just stop reading for that time and come back, because the book was trying to throw so much into one chapter. It kept my interest, but my interest definitely needed a rest period.
There are several appendices that have some valuable references in this book, and buried in the middle of most chapters are a wealth of tidbits and facts that would be handy to refer to. After reading through it once or twice, it would be wise to keep this book on hand, and maybe even use some Post-It notes to mark your reference tables. Also included in each chapter are "checklists" that summarize the previous chapter in ways that make it relatable (e.g., composition and lighting checklists) which would probably be pretty hard to memorize. Constantly referring to them would help cement them in your mind, if you think they're the best way to go.
Everything in film is an investment. If you want to use this camera to make moving images and compelling stories, this book is definitely worth the money you'd pay for it. Everything to advance your art is worth the initial cost, and the reference materials in this volume make it a handy thing to have on hand in the future.
As someone who's used the 5D Mark II and 7D pretty extensively, on a variety of projects, I will say I learned a lot in this book—or at least, learned what I didn't know about what I'd been doing. I do think that these cameras (5D Mark II in particular) are special, because for a fraction of the cost of a Panavision Genesis or even RED, you're getting an amazing and unique image right out of the camera, without having to do anything. My biggest issue with this text is the reliance on using post-processing, for several reasons. First, I've never been a "post-" guy, as I prefer to get everything as best I can in-camera. But I also think that most people who've been able to scrape their money together and buy a Rebel T2i or a Canon 7D might not have the money to buy Adobe Creative Suite or Final Cut Suite. The book tends to suggest that you should capture as much information in camera and then adjust it in post (using After Effects, FCP plugins, or Apple's Color) but I think that the best part of these cameras has always been the ability to get strong images right out of the gate, without having to do a lot of grading or anything post wise (save some grain reduction).
DSLR Cinema is an information-heavy guide to using these cameras not only to achieve a certain "look", but having the flexibility to operate on your own or with a very small crew, and how to get the most out of your camera for the money. I would recommend it to anyone who's ready to take the next step in their art of filmmaking, and who wants to invest in a video-capable DSLR.