Shooting video with a DSLR is very different from shooting with a standard dedicated camcorder. For one, DSLRs only recently became a popular choice for videographers for their ability to pull crisp images with interchangeable lenses. Unlike camcorders, certain aspects like image stabilization are sacrificed due to the design of DSLRs being primarily focused on taking great stills.
Some advantages are quite clear. At a lower price point, you can capture amazing video on a DSLR complete with bokeh (depth of field) and low-light performance that makes even the most expensive professional camcorders take note.
So what do you need to keep in mind when shooting video from a DSLR camera? Here are some tips.
Get an External Microphone
Never rely on the on-board microphone on a DSLR to give you good audio. This microphone is meant to act as a reference in cases where a separate audio recorder is in play. That’s it, period. Find a digital recorder, lavaliere microphone, or a shotgun mic (the Rode VideoMic Pro is a good one) and use it any time you’re shooting video with sound. Trust me; this is an absolute must.
Set Shutter Speed to Double Your Frame Rate
If you’re shooting 1080p video at a frame rate of 30 FPS, you’ll want to set your shutter speed to 1/60. This might not have big impact on the look of the video in live view, but it does make a difference in your rendered video. Rolling shutter, flicker, and other visual improvements come about when the shutter speed it set correctly.
Here are some shutter speeds to consider when shooting at various frame rates.
- 24 – 1/48 (1/50 will work)
- 30 – 1/60
- 60 – 1/120
You can normally change shutter speed on Canon DSLRs by rotating the main adjustment dial located closest to the shutter button. Magic Lantern, a popular video recording overlay plug-in used for DSLR shooting, will indicate a good target shutter speed by coloring the numbers green with yellow and red coloring indicating less favorable shutter speeds.
Use a Tripod, Monopod, or Stabilizer
DSLRs don’t do a very good job of image stabilization. Even if you have a lens that has built-in image stabilization, these lenses are made to take still images, not video. Don’t get me wrong, a lens with good stabilization helps, but it won’t be enough to make your video come out just right.
A monopod offers great vertical stabilization without sacrificing portability for the videographer. Just set it up and shoot for slightly better video when you’re not walking around.
A tripod provides the best possible image during still shots. Whenever possible, I highly recommend using a tripod. If you find one with a nice, fluid arm on it that allows you to pan back and forth without any jerk or stutter, then you’re sure to record excellent video. Unfortunately, a tripod doesn’t make it easy to move around.
A camera stabilizer gives you maximum portability and often provides good enough stabilization to provide a natural and fluid video. A good steadicam can be very expensive, or very picky. I have one from Glide Gear that works pretty well as long as I’m not holding the camera for too long because it’s heavy. Some shoulder mounts are really good, but come at a high price unless you build them yourself.
Use Aperture to Control Depth of Field
Adjusting aperture during shooting is a great way to add a little extra 3D effect to your shot. Depth of field is controlled directly by aperture, and this also impacts how much light gets in to the sensor. During shooting, you often have to balance good depth of field with keeping the ISO of a shot down to reasonable levels (higher ISO introduces noise to the image). Learn how to control aperture during shooting on your camera, and use it to your benefit in the field.
Don’t Rely on ISO to Brighten a Dark Scene
It’s better to shoot a bright scene and use an ND filter to knock it back than to shoot a scene with terrible lighting. Your camera piles on ISO in order to make subjects visible to the sensor. This has a double-edged effect of adding noise to your image. Try to keep ISO down around 100 whenever possible. This might mean adding more light to your subject, but it’s far easier to reduce this in post than it is to add it after the shoot is over.
I personally have two lighting umbrellas at the ready for any important shoot so my subjects are bright enough to stand out at the lowest ISO levels.
Be Mindful of Sensor Overheating
DSLRs have a limited amount of shooting time before they overheat and shut off. This time isn’t dictated by the SD card (unless your video file passes the 4GB size limit set by a FAT32 storage format), but by the amount of heat that builds up on the sensor during shooting. Unlike a photograph, which exposes the sensor for a fraction of a second (unless you’re in live view), video opens everything wide up and this uses a lot more power. As with any power-using activity, this expended energy translates to heat, and that heat builds up inside a closed camera frame until it becomes too much for the camera to handle.
When the 5D Mark II first hit the scene, it had a recording time of about five minutes before it shut off. This was later improved through firmware updates, and modern DSLRs can usually shoot for quite a bit longer. The average time I’ve seen before overheating is around the 15-20 minute mark, though some cameras can run for 30 minutes or longer in the right conditions.
Just as a side note, you should also have a fast SD card in the camera because that can cause it to shut off, too. If you’re shooting 1080p video, go for a class 10 SDHC or SDXC card. Class 6 will work for most people, but it doesn’t cost much more to get that speed boost.
Photo: Robin Danehav