Introducing The DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)
DSLR cameras are a great tool for capturing high quality video with cinematic capabilities. This is because the sensor inside the camera captures full 1080i HD video, and the choice of lens can give a cinematic look. There are limitations and it’s best to know what your camera can and cannot achieve before using it for a project. Especially if that project is set to a strict schedule with no extra time.
Changing The Battery And Lenses
Have more than one battery. Currently my DSLR battery will last half a day with the camera kept switched on. With lenses, a basic kit zoom lens size of 18-55mm is good for when shooting fast, giving you the ability to shoot from wide angle to close up in a second. But it will not look cinematic, for this you need a prime lens size. In my kit I have a 11mm for wide shots, a 28mm for medium sized shots and a 50mm for close ups. These lenses have a very low f.stop of 1.4. (An f.stop is the size of the aperture.) This means it has the ability to shoot shallow depths of field, thus giving a cinematic look. Never ever touch the sensor inside the camera or the inside of a lens.
The Ideal DSLR Camera Settings For Video
You want to have as much control over what you film and it’s dynamic range. For this that means changing some of the camera’s settings. Automatic focus is a nightmare, change this to manual. When shooting with automatic focus the camera is in charge and guesses the focal point of your shot. It’s always wrong so best you stay in charge of the focus. Mounting a follow focus on the side of your camera helps very well with focusing your subject. You can use it to adjust focus more easily, and also mark multiple subjects at different lengths so you can pull focus between them perfectly. For great tips on getting the best settings out of your DSLR, follow Philip Bloom.
Balancing The White
A setting to be wary of when roaming locations is the White Balance. Depending on your location and it’s main light source, the colour temperature will be different in the white areas of your image. Be sure to set the correct white balance setting with your main light source. For example if I’m shooting outside in the Sun, I will set my white balance setting to Sunlight. And when I go inside and I’m filming under florescent lighting, I will set my white balance setting to florescent light. There are presets for white balancing, but the most effective way is to balance it manually. This is done by presenting and photographing a piece of white A4 paper, and telling the camera this information is white. Simply refer to the DSLR’s instruction manual to manually set the white balance.
The Picture Style
With the Picture Style setting on your camera, you are choosing for definite how the image will look. For example you can capture images with a standard picture style, and convert it to a monochrome (black & white) picture style afterwards. But if you capture images in monochrome, you cannot simply convert it back to colour with the flick of a switch. You want to have as much control over your captured image, so for this I strongly recommend using the Neutral picture style when recording video.
In every picture style there are 4 settings you can adjust, sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone. In the Neutral picture profile, sharpness will be set to zero, you should not change this. You should change the contrast to -4, otherwise the blacks in the image will look crushed. Last thing is to bring the saturation down to -2. The colour is very rich and reducing this will give you more dynamic range when your project enters colour grading in post-production. The colour tone will be set to zero, this is good and shouldn’t be changed. Another great free to use tool that I mentioned in a previous article is the Cine-Style colour profile. This gives you even more definition in the darker areas.
Frames Per Second
You also have the option to select how many frames per second your video records, which is 24 and 25. 24 frames per second gives you film style motion, and 25 frames per second gives you television style motion. It’s up to you which one best fits your project. Some DSLR cameras have the ability to shoot higher rates of frames per second, which is great for shooting a slow motion effect. However it’s best to choose the final output after post-production as either 24fps or 25fps.
Capturing The Speed Of Light
When using your DSLR fresh from the box, another automatic setting that needs to be changed to manual is the exposure. For the same reason as focusing, it’s best to stay in charge of your exposure. The camera will choose your exposure for the purpose of showing all detail in the frame. But maybe you want the picture to be underexposed or overexposed.
When changing this setting three other settings become available to change, the aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO. Photography 101, changing the shutter speed effects the amount of light going into the camera and the clarity of movement. Changing the aperture effects the amount of light going into the camera and the size of the focal depth. Changing the ISO effects the sensitivity of light without comprising shutter speed and aperture, just remember that the higher the ISO the grainier the image will become. Here’s a graphic to help explain.
Rigging Your DSLR Camera
Now that the camera is set, it needs to be rigged. There are a number of specially manufactured DSLR rigs providing stabilisation and fluid movement, thus making your video look clean and professional. A tripod with fluid head gives that all important stabilisation and steady panning to a fixed shot. If you want to move the camera but keep it stable, a shoulder rig is what you need. However if you want the camera to follow a moving subject smoothly, the shoulder rig won’t help you. Try it, a hundred to one you will notice the frame moving up and down when you move with a subject during the shot. For this you need a steady-rig. It uses a weight to counterbalance the camera on top of a handle, so no matter where the handle moves, the camera stays steady.
One of the limitations with DSLR video is you can only record bursts of up to 12 minutes long. If you plan to shoot one continuous shot uncut over this amount of time, video from a DSLR is not for you. Depending how much video you want to capture to one card without changing it, I recommend at least having three of the 32GB SDHC cards, class 6 to 10. With this card I can record continuously for half a day before I run out of space. In 10 seconds I can change to another card for the next half of the day, with a backup just in case.
In a previous article I mentioned how unhelpful an inbuilt DLSR microphone is. This microphone is programmed to capture every single piece of sound in it’s 360° radius, and cannot be changed. Not helpful if you want to pin point a specific sound among other sounds. If you’re not recording sound externally and want good sound from your DSLR video, I recommend fixing a Rode DSLR microphone to your camera.
So remember, when using your DSLR to capture video make sure you:
- Have enough battery.
- Choose the appropriate lenses.
- Use the appropriate DSLR camera settings for videography.
- White balance for different lighting changes.
- Use the appropriate picture style.
- Choose how many frames per second you capture.
- Make sure you are capturing the speed of the light appropriately.
- Your camera is rigged appropriately.
- You have enough digital storage space.
- Never use the DSLR’s in-built microphone.
- Weather proof your DSLR camera.