DSLR cameras have become a popular choice for video shooters, and for good reason. They provide (in a relatively inexpensive package) a camera system with interchangeable lenses. Traditionally, dedicated video cameras have had built in lenses that focused at infinity. It was difficult or impossible to achieve a shallow depth of field. DLSRs allowed creators to shoot HD video that more closely matched the look of cinema, due to frame rate, shallow depth of field, and low light performance.
Here are some tips for capturing video on your DSLR camera.
The number one thing that separates professional video from amateur home video is stabilized shots. A tripod is the obvious choice, and if you are serious photographer you probably already have one. If you purchased a tripod for photography, chances are it has a head built for still photography. Ball heads or standard photo heads allow the camera to be tilted on the horizontal axis, which is great for portrait photography, but not ideal for shooting video.
Many tripods have removable heads. You can simply unscrew the head and attach a fluid head when you’re ready to shoot video. A good video head will allow you to pan and tilt the camera in a smooth motion while keeping the camera level on the horizontal axis. If you’re looking for a solid fluid video head, I really like this solid Manfrotto 502 Video Head.
Just as with still photography, I recommend you choose a solid base tripod that best fits the kind of shooting you do. I’m packing my tripod on the airlines 1-2 times a month, so I prefer a compact travel tripod, although I have yet to find one that I like enough to recommend. As I shoot both video and still photos I usually pack two heads, the Manfrotto 502 I listed above, as well as the Manfrotto MH054M0-Q5 ball head for when I have some time to take some still photographs. I’ve read about a few tripod heads that lock into video or photo mode all in one, but with mixed reviews I have yet to try one out.
Tripods are great. They allow for the most basic of camera stabilization and smooth pan & tilt. If you’re shooting video with your DSLR a good tripod and video head should definitely be high on your list of essential equipment.
As important as a basic tripod shot is, there are interesting ways to move the camera that just are not possible with a tripod alone. The next piece of stabilizing equipment many shooters add to their kit is a slider. A good slider will allow you to create dolly style movements. You can dolly the camera left and right, or do push or pull moves with camera moving closer to or farther away from your subject.
Here’s a compilation of slider shots I created a few years ago when I got my first slider:
Tripods and sliders are great for certain types of video work. They do take some time to setup and can be a pain to carry around if you are a one man crew. For the majority of the event shooting that I do, I prefer to stay on a Glidecam as much as possible. Glidecams, sometimes called steadycams, do a really good job of balancing your camera on a high end ball barring. With practice, you create some incredibly smooth shots that mimic dolly track or even a crane or jib. The keyword is practice. Don’t expect to get any usable footage the first time you pick one up. It takes a surprising amount of time to setup, practice and perfect the glidecam shot (not to mention arm strength.)
Once in a while, someone comes up with innovative new ways to stabilize a camera. That’s exactly what a company called Freefly Systems did when they announced the MoVI – A three-axis motorized camera stabilizer that does all of the hard work for you. Of course, with a base price of over $4,000, the MoVI is out of reach of for many freelancers or amateur shooters, but there is no question that it is worlds easer to operate than the Glidecam. It can be difficult to explain in words how the MoVI works – here’s a demo video:
Freefly Systems was nice enough to loan me a MoVI M5 for my upcoming trip to Nice, France. Be sure to check the blog in the coming weeks for my full review and thoughts using this innovative system. I will also be posting behind the scenes photos on my instagram account. I’d love for you to join me on instagram. My handle is droneflyer.
2. Camera Settings
I’ll go into more detail on the camera settings for DSLR video in later posts, but for now a good starting point are the following settings:
- 24 fps
- Shutter speed: 1/50
These settings produce video that is closet to a cinematic look. Why? Because most films are shot at 24 fps and maintain a shutter speed near 1/50th of a second. Our eyes and minds are so used to watching movies in this format that anytime we see video that was shot using these settings it seems more cinematic to us. I use these settings the majority of the time when shooting video on my 5D Mark III. Vary the aperture and ISO depending on the lighting conditions and for artistic choice. If I’m not using these settings, I’m usually using the following settings:
- 60 fps
- Shutter speed: 1/125
Why? Because shooting in 720p allows me to up the frames per second on the 5D Mark III to 60. This is useful if I know I want to slow down the footage later during editing. Footage shot at 60 fps can be slowed and played back at 24 fps for smooth slow motion. We’ll go in more depth in later posts.
3. Audio Capture
Professional videographers know that a big part of what makes a good video is good audio. An audience will forgive a little camera shake but noisy or bad audio will kill a project fast. It’s funny. Many people are willing to invest thousands on a nice camera, lenses, stabilization gear and more, but audio equipment is often an afterthought. What audio gear you should buy will depend on the type of video projects you create, but here are some basics I like to have in my kit:
Lav mic – If you’re shooting interviews, you’ll want a wired lav mic at the very minimum. This can connect directly to the audio jack on your camera. Not all microphones are created equal. Mics are one of those things that you get what you pay for. If budgets are tight you got to made do with what you can, but remember that good audio is worth investing in. Start with Simple Lav and then save up for something more professional.
The biggest downside of a wired lav mic is… well the wire. It can be tempting to purchase a cheaper wireless mic system. (I’ve owned two or three from radio shack in my day.) My advise is to avoid these at all costs. They are a waste of money. The audio quality is poor, and they often are pick up static. When you’re ready to go wireless, invest the money in a proven wireless lav system like this high end wireless lav mic from Sennheiser.
For general run-and-gun audio capture, Rode makes a really good hot-shoe mounted shotgun mic. This is a battery powered mic that connects to the audio port on your camera.
An alternative to recording your audio directly to your DSLR is to connect your mic to a stand alone audio recorder. There are several benefits to this method of audio capture. A good audio recorder will have a LCD screen that will show you audio levels and headphone jack, so you can monitor audio during recording. If you have a crew helping you, one person can focus on recording good audio, while another person is focusing on just the video portion of the shoot. If you stay organized, it’s a fairly simple procedure to sync up your audio file with the video during editing. Any of the TASCAM audio recorders are a great choice.
Music selection is terribly important as well. Sometimes I’ll pick out a piece of music that I know will work for my project before I even begin shooting. The music will drive the entire project, from what shots to capture to how the end project is edited. You can get stock music from many sources online. Here are some of my favorites:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and can use something here to shoot better video with your DSLR. If you’ve never shot video before with your camera, it can be fun and addicting. This is the first of many posts that will go over DSLR video. If you have any questions leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.