Recording video interviews with a digital stills camera

Tips on oral history recording using a digital stills camera's video capability

Image of Recording an interview with a D-SLR camera
Recording an interview with a D-SLR camera

We’ve seen the rise and rise of the D-SLR – but is it good enough for oral history interviews?

As the cost of digital stills cameras (generally known as Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras, or D-SLRs for short) has plummeted and the quality of their images has improved so dramatically, video makers have embraced their use in order to shoot very high quality video.

It wasn’t that long ago that a discussion about recording HD (and even 4K) video with a stills cameras would be met with some distain from the video purists, but these days the digital stills cameras offer not only an ability to record fabulous pictures but can offer much more control over the optical qualities of a moving image but also higher resolution video thanks to dramatic improvements in the electronic sensors that take the incoming light after it has passed through the lens and convert it to digital image sequences. Processing power and the speed at which data can now be written to high-capacity flash media storage – such as Compact Flash and SDXC memory cards – have made it possible to reliably record and save very high quality video for later editing and archiving. This offers obvious benefits for the family historian wishing to record oral history interview.

Technical limitations

However, as the following video explains, recording an interview with a D-SLR isn’t like shooting an interview with a regular camcorder. D-SLRs can only film for a certain duration, around 12-15 minutes at a time, which needs to be accounted for when planning. Here is Europe, there’s a limitation of 29 minutes and 59 secs on the duration of the recording, due to import tariffs imposed by the EU, which might also impact on your plans.

This video is being posted basically to introduce you to the use of what is effectively a digital stills camera that can shoot video rather than shooting with a purpose-designed and conventional camcorder. There are fundamental differences between the two – mostly in terms of operating ergonomics and handling – and these will undoubtedly impact on the ease with which a recording session can be managed.

Benefits over traditional camcorders

The big advantage of the D-SLR is that, like a professional photographer, the cameras offer the ability to swap lenses; it’s possible to use prime photographic lenses and achieve optical effects that a traditional low-cost camcorder can’t. If you’re at the equipment selection stage, don’t be swayed by the person who strongly recommends the D-SLR approach to you; choose the video camera best suited to your needs.

In this tutorial excerpt (part of a longer, more in-depth video study at Lynda.com), you’re offered some valuable tips for gaining practical interview tips when shooting with a D-SLR as a means of engaging with an interviewee. That’s something that’s of prime importance when recording oral history interviews, of course.

About Colin 6 Articles
Creator of video-based content since 1970s - shooting and editing video, writing books and articles about it, training others to do it and all that. Experienced in the use of video in social and community settings.