DSLR Video: In the rapidly changing world of photography, we have seen some dramatic changes from film to digital and now the convergence of still photography and video.
This page is intended to be used as a guide for those who have attended one of my DSLR Video workshops.
My Video Evolution
I began experimenting with video on the web in 1996 just 2 years after converting to digital photography. In those years the cameras were traditional tape video cameras that could take small still images. In 1998 I was contracted to use my digital camera to capture still images and combine them with audio and output to video tape for speaker introductions. It was a long process from still image capture into Adobe Premier Pro, add a sound track and then output to video tape, a challenge I never thought I would complete as I learned that rendering video = a pile of processor speed and time.
In 2004 I was asked to do an aerial shoot still for a cruise ship company. The day before the shoot they asked if I could double up and shoot still images and video as well for the web. I chose a Sony Z1 HDV camera which was 1080i at 30fps (numbers I was later able to understand) and went at the assignment with new-found enthusiasm. (see a portion of that video here)
In 2008 Nikon came out with the world’s first DSLR video capable camera, the Nikon D90 and the world of photography started a new shift as other DSLR camera manufacturers came on board and a whole new industry was formed. I became a convert to DSLR video at this point and jumped into the evolution. Welcome to this new and exciting stage in the Evolution of Photography, I hope you find some of the information contained here useful.
Nick Didlick – 2013
DSLR or Not
There are three main hardware considerations in making your first video, and that is which camera you will use. You can choose a traditional video HandyCam, or a Compact System Camera like the Nikon1 system or your video capable DSLR camera. They all have advantages and disadvantages and you can mix and match them to suit your video production. “Choose wisely” and you will save yourself hours of time in shooting and post production.
Why would you choose a DSLR?
1) Larger sensor giving you control of depth of field like in Hollywood movies
2) You can use all your DSLR lenses in the making of your production
3) You can shoot in extremely low light and control your “Color Look” with Picture Controls or Picture Styles
Why not choose a DSLR for your video production?
1) Sound recording can be problematic
2) Image stabilization is not as good as a traditional HandyCam
3) Fewer accessories are needed and a HandyCam is just easier to use.
Equipment is a personal choice and needs to be tailored to a camera, assignment and shooting style. Here are links to equipment I use for still camera video it is by no means exhaustive but I have tested all the gear and use it when making video productions.
Cameras – Mix and match cameras but make sure you use the same video size, bit rate and Frames per Second (FPS) to avoid production/editing problems
Nikon V1 – Nikon’s EVF (Electronic View Finder) mirrorless camera (check out the camera and video here)
Nikon D7100 – With its APS-C (DX) sized sensor probably the best camera for the dollar on the market (check out the D7000 video here)
Nikon D800 – Wow full of features and FX (Full Frame) sized sensor
Nikon AW-110 – Nikon’s point and shoot underwater camera great for working an arm’s length underwater
Go Pro – The standard for POV action shots
Contour – Another great POV camera with lots of options like GPS tracking.
Monopods, Tripods and Gorilla Pods
Manfrotto 561BHVDV-1 Monopod stabilization with lots of great video moves
Manfrotto Midi Twin System – Nice mid priced video tripod (There is a difference between a video tripod and a still photo tripod)
Manfrotto Hi Hat – for those low angle shots
Gorrilla Pod Focus – Great portable stabilization and works as a microphone stand as well.
Gitzo Fluid Head – Great for a hybrid video/photo tripod when used with the Acratech Leveling Base (look at the end of my blog here for more info)
Other Video Accessories
Atomos Ninja 2 – Portable HD recorder for camera HDMI direct recording and storage in higher quality bit rate
Vario Neutral Density Filters – Singh Ray Vario ND or the Genus ND Fader
LCD Hoods needed for DSLR Video – Lots of them to look at but they start with the Hoodman Cinema Kit and range to the Zacuto
DSLR Rigs (Franken Rigs) – Lots out there but one of my favourites is the Jag35.com Field Runner
Dollies – I wanted something small, portable and versatile so I choose the Pico Flex Dolly
Sliders – For Time lapse with a motor I love my Kessler CineSlider but for more traditional lightweight video moves I use a Cinevate Duzi
Booms/Jibs – Many choices in all sorts and sizes look at the Kessler Pocket Jib or the Indy Pocket Jib
Steady Arms/Rigs – It’s really a personal choice between Merlin SteadiCam or a Glidecam HD
Matt Boxes and other accessories Kamerar
Quadcopters – Drones
Check out DJI Phantom a budget priced quad-helicopter that has a camera and gimbal in one package. They are not as easy to fly as it may seem and I would recommend getting a lithe RC controlled quadrocopter to learn to fly before heading out with any RC helicopter carrying a camera payload. You should also consult your local hobby shop and learn about balancing props to get rid of “Rolling Shutter” in your footage.
Want to see the DJI Phantom in use here is a short film called “Where the Wild Fish Live” that includes some fancy flying in the trees. There are a total of 4 shots using the Phantom and a gimbal in the movie.
Cables – Sescom LN2MIC-ZMH4 for connecting a Nikon to a DXA-SLR-PRo or Zoom H4n
Audio Software – Audacity
My Baseline Camera Settings
Video Size -1080p or 720p depending on the camera/s and the production output
Video Frame Rates – Generally I use 24 fps for everything but sometimes I will choose 30 fps (This is all about the image blur on frames 30fps is close to TV at 23.97fps and 24 fps is close to a cinema feel).
Exposure Mode – (Depends on the Camera and scene I am shooting) Manual or Shutter Priority
Shutter Speed – At 24fps choose 1/50th of a second and at 30fps choose 1/60th of a second (You can shoot at a little higher shutter speeds but will depend on the subject and background)
Video Quality – This is all about the Bit Rate from the camera. I will always choose High Quality (about 24mbits per second for Nikon cameras), as this will give me more room for editing purposes.
Color Management – Set to sRGB
Picture Controls (Picture Styles) – Standard or Neutral (when choosing Neutral I will flatten out the Sharpness and Contrast and build them back in post production, you will need to do your own tests depending on which camera or camera models you will be using)
Audio Control – Nikon Cameras have pretty sensitive built in microphones. On cameras that have a Audio Sensitivity control it will normally be set to “2” on a D90-D300s (cameras built in 2008-2010 generally) and “3” on a Nikon1-D7000 (cameras built in 2010-2012 generally). With the D800-D4 try and target an audio level that will peak about -12dB (look in the Movie Settings/Manual sensitivity menu to see the detailed audio setting). I never use “Auto Sensitivity” on any camera as it can yield unexpected results.
With audio, it is very important to test your audio levels before recording a scene.
Remember when using different cameras in your video production to set them all the same.
Think in Video
A friend of mine who has been in video production for years Alex Stevens of Blue Pixel Creates has driven into me that people in today’s world have grown up with or are used to seeing the world through television. So shoot your videos in the way people expect to see the world. The main points I have learned to adapt to when shooting video are:
Don’t Shake – Shaky video is unwatchable
Don’t Pan – Moving the camera left to right in a Pan is also not watchable, unless it is a slow Pan where the viewer can stay with the images being shown.
Don’t Zoom – Not a problem with most DSLR’s as they don’t have great zoom capabilities but if you are going to Zoom make it a slow zoom to reveal or creep into your subject.
Audio – Wow this was the hard lesson for a still photographer to adjust to and it is as important as the video pictures if not more so. Pay attention to the details when recording audio and when using a separate audio record match the speed of the recorder to that of your camera to avoid audio drift
Shooting your video
Just like still photography we have four main items to consider
1) Subject – Make sure you have planned for the audio and lighting for your subject and the movement in the scenes they might make during your video production
2) Lighting – Make sure your subject is well-lit so that the viewers can easily see the subject of your video. Also make sure that you have accounted for lighting any moves your subject may make during your scene
3) Background – Background is generally not as important as in still photography as your subject’s movement should keep the attention of your viewer. However moving or bright objects in the background of your scene will detract from your subject.
4) Background Audio – It is very important to pay attention to the background audio and sounds in your video scenes, as they will confuse your audience unless they make sense to the scene you are recording.
P is for Planning in Video
Planning – Another new item to still photographers transitioning to video. Every video needs to tell a story and every story has a beginning, middle and an end. Don’t paint yourself into a corner and make sure you have a way to start, tell the story and then end your video production.
Story Boarding – Having a written story plan is an essential part of a video production
Shot List – Once you have a storyboard you can then add in your shot list, as each scene will require a number of shots to be gathered to make the editing process easier and give a flow to your story. These shots will generally include, Establishing Shot, Wide Shot, Medium Shot, Close-Up and a Cutaway.
Once you have your Story Board and Shot List you can do an equipment list for each of your scenes in your video.
Post Production Tools
Transcoding – Compressor – iClipWrap – MPEG StreamClip
Mac Users – iMovie – Final Cut ProX
PC USers – Adobe Premier Elements – Adobe Premier Pro
Audio Synchronization tools – PluralEyes and DualEyes for use when you record separate audio and need to sync it to your camera’s audio and video
Time lapse Post Production Tools
My wife and I just wanted to thank you for a great weekend at Nikon School in Sacramento, CA this past weekend. We both learned a lot, and I have been telling all my colleagues and friends about it.Neil H. & Rose S.
Great class as usual Nick. Thank you. You’re an inspiration to all of us Nikonians… my work has definitely improved because of you. Thank you again.David W.
First let me say thank you for the great content and your outstanding presentaiton at the New York Nikon DSLR Color, Light & Tech program.Subhra B.
Just a brief note to say how much the NHS members enjoyed your totally superb presentation! I’ll go out on a limb to state that your presentation was the highlight of the Convention! What a masterful job you did, and I thank you on behalf of the Nikon Historical Society. Totally professional!Mike Symons
It was really nice meeting. I enjoyed the lecture you gave entitled “Introduction to Digital SLR Photography, Color, Light and Technology” on October 15 & 16, 2010. You were witty and very informative. Your presentation drew me and the audience in and held our attention for the two day classes. There was never a dull moment. I will begin to implement all of your suggestions and I am confident I will improve and be a better photographer. Thank you for your helpful comments and suggestions.Marilyn C.
Nick, I am so hugely grateful for you. One of best things I ever did was take the course with you. ShellyBShelly B
You were one of the instructors this past weekend at The Nikon School in Cleveland. This was the fifth Nikon School that I have attended. (two film classes, two digital classes) This was the first time you instructed one of the classes that I attended. I want you to know you are a great instructor! I really enjoyed your style of instruction. I also appreciate how you have follow up info on your web site for Nikon School students. Thanks again for a great class.Eric I.
Thanks very much for today. Really enjoyed the preparation you brought to the day. I spend a lot of time at conferences, and presentations, spending a lot more than we did to see you today – and I REALLY thought you “brought it” today. Looking forward to catching up with you again in the future.Paul D.
“Really enjoyed Nikon school this past weekend! Fabulous teacher! Very inspiring! I had a hard time going to work this morning. I wanted to go out and take pictures instead!”Lori C.
Nick I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your classes last weekend. I attended both. I was the one who know Ron Edmonds. I should have taken a class when I first started using digital photography. Like I told you, I shot alot in the film era which is why I knew Ron and Andy DeLucia and Gary Fong. I stopped shooting for a long time. Digital is a whole new world. Thanks for a hint of what is available. I know the only way to learn more is to practice.Larry M.