Tips For Recording Better DSLR Video – Part 2

DSLR rigged for video
A simple DSLR video rig - photo by Bill Pryor

In Part I we covered the basics of shutter speed and frame rates.  Today we’ll delve into some of the more technical aspects of video production with DSLRs and you’ll understand better why you can’t just run out and shoot amazing video with your camera without some education.

Turn Auto-Everything Off

It’s hard to turn off all the automatic settings on the average DSLR, there are quite a few you might not even think about.

The easy ones are turning off auto exposure, automatic white balance and auto focus.  Less obvious are turning off auto ISO, Peripheral Illumination correction and Long Exposure Noise Reduction.

Anything that automatically adjusts the picture quality in the middle of a shot has to go.  The reason for that is when doing color correction in post, if auto anything is enabled, your color settings will be changing in the middle of shots.  Nothing will get a video colorist on to a new career path faster than color settings jumping around in the middle of a shot.

Shane Hurlbut recommends the further step of changing the color space from sRBG to Adobe RGB, but that’s the where I draw the line.  I’ve tried them both and never run into a situation where the color curves where that far off.  Be aware that if you change your color space, the camera will change the file naming format.  I’ve had panic moments because my file browser didn’t recognize files with a “_” at the beginning .


When it comes to getting good audio out of the camera, you can pretty much forget that.  Occasionally the camera audio will be adequate, which is only proof that even a blind sow gets an acorn once in a while.  Most of the time you’ll need to record second sound.

Luckily there are many good options for portable recorders.  The Marantz PMD661 and H4N Zoom are popular among DSLR shooters, matched up with mics like the Rode NTG-2 shotgun.

For syncing up video and external audio, it’s a lot easier if you make a loud noise at the beginning and end of a shot, or use a clicker.  If you don’t want to do that then invest in software like PluralEyes which will save your sanity.

Aliasing and Moire

Aliasing and its French cousin moire are two challenges that have been with DSLRs from the first day they were fielded.  Aliasing can be seen in any tight pattern shot at a higher f-stop.  Strong side lighting can make the effect even worse.  Brick walls, composite roofs, and herringbone fabrics are famous for producing the kind of alias strobing that makes it looks like the background is alive with crawling ants and patterns.

To reduce moire you’re going to need to use your ND filters to stop down to a wider f-stop and pull the focus just enough to soften the background as described in this article.  For herringbone clothing, your talent is going to need change or you’re going to need to go really tight on their face.  No way around it.

Or you can buy a $400 anti-aliasing filter.  It really depends on how much video you plan on shooting.

Color Presets

I could write a book on custom presets for DSLR video and there are several good articles on the internet that go into great detail on creating custom presets for DSLR video.

Simple interview setup
A simple interview setup for a DSLR

Luckily there is one custom profile, developed by people who really know what they’re doing at Technicolor.  It’s called the CineStyle preset and it’s the one I use for all my video work.Use the Technicolor CineStyle custom preset, turn off all the automatic functions of your camera, shoot at 24p and watch tight patterns and the video people you work with will be both pleased and impressed.

Tips For Recording Better DSLR Video – Part 1

DSLR rigged for video
A DSLR rigged for video - photo by Bill Pryor

Back when Nikon and Canon engineers first started getting requests from field reporters to add video to their high end still cameras, I’m sure the top two manufacturers were doing it so they didn’t lose business to the other.  It wasn’t an unreasonable request at the time because video capability was turning up in all kinds of appliances.  If your toaster had a camera, someone would have added video recording.

Even though they were reluctant participants at first, that all changed when the first video from the Canon 5Ds hit the internets machine.  The film world experienced a collective jaw drop as video from a full frame 35mm sensor behind quality glass hit home.  I remember there was a great disturbance in the Film Force that went through the normal stages of grief:  Denial, anger, bargaining and, ultimately, depression.  Hard to believe that was just 2008.

Today Canon DSLRs, particularly the Canon 5D and Canon 7D are as common on movie sets as Assistant Directors.  The film world recovered from their initial shock and life went on.

For still photographers, the transition to video isn’t always easy because the rules are different.  Instead of framing a shot and pushing the button, you’re scripting a scene that might feature multiple angles.  The normal rules for exposure and composition go right out the window when you flip the selector switch from the little still camera over to the little video camera and DSLRs have some quirks that you need to aware of when shooting video.

There’s so much information about what goes into quality video, I’ve divided this into two separate features.

Frame Rate

I’m continually amazed at camera reviewers who take the position that 30 fps is “better” than 24 fps.  It’s not a question of better or worse, when it comes to quality the two are almost indistinguishable.

A frame rate of 24 progressive frames per second is a hold-over from film days.  When the film vs video worlds first collided, there was 24p on the film side and 30i (okay, 29.97) on the video side and neither was about to budge.  DSLRs changed all that.  Video from a 5D was good enough to be inter-cut with film, only the frame rates didn’t match.  So some techno-wizards came up with the Magic Lantern firmware update which gave the Canon 5D the ability to output 24p video and, shazam, film and DSLRs were suddenly BFFs.

Today, most high end DSLRs support 24p, 30i and sometimes 60i.  As movie theaters move away from film projection and production switches to video over film, the 24p/30i argument is less critical in production. Still, if you are thinking about shooting a video feature on a DSLR, you’ll want to stick with a 24p timeline.  Mixing 24p and 30i on the same video timeline does not work.  Sure, there is expensive software, like Twixtor, available that changes the frame rate and it looks decent, but the motion is still always a little off.

Unless it’s a quick cut-away shot, when you start a project in 24p or 30i, you’re stuck there for the entire project.  Choose wisely.  If you’re just grabbing some quick video at the beach, it doesn’t matter.  If it’s a feature length documentary or film, you’ll want to shoot 24p.  I shoot exclusively in 24p.

Shutter Speed

This one trips up a lot of photographers new to the video world.  They think they have have the same exposure control they do over a static image.  If you want a smaller f-stop, just bump up the shutter speed to compensate.  Easy, right?

Wrong answer in video, where your shutter speed options are dictated by the frame rate:

24 fps → 1/48 (or closest, usually 1/50th)
30 fps → 1/60
60 fps → 1/120

Ignore those rules and your video with either look smeary at slower shutter speed or the motion will look choppy at higher shutter speeds.

If you want to change to lower f-stop for a shallow depth of field and the light isn’t right, you’ll need to use ND filters.  To get a wider depth of field at a higher f-stop, you may need supplemental lighting.

In Part Two we’ll talk about color space, presets, audio, moire, and camera settings.

Canon T3i Review

Canon T3i
The T3i packs high end video capability in a consumer point-and-shoot - photo Canon

I realize a review of the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a bit belated, but it’s only been out since February and wanted to see what kind of market buzz it would generate.  So far, the buzz meter over the summer has been near zero.  The T3i is a camera that can best be described as “odd” in a number of ways.

In spite of the lack of enthusiasm and a few design quirks, the camera gets good reviews from owners.  Canon seems to be trying to hide the fact it comes with an 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor.  They’re all about mentioning the megapixel rating and the fact the T3i is packing the Digic 4 image processor, but I had to dig through the detailed comparison specs to get Canon to admit to the APS-C chip dimension.  A strange oversight considering how many fine cameras in the Canon line use that particular chip.

Outside that the T3i is a consumerized version of the 60D, with more features for people who spend most of their time shooting on auto.

Another surprise in the T3i are the video specs, which are similar to their higher end models.  1080p HD at 24, 25 and 30 fps.  Maybe Canon envisioned the T3i as a “B” camera for an independent filmmaker using a Canon 7D with a PL mount so they can drag out their cine glass. Odd that Canon would put so much video capability into a mid-range DSLR.

At $700 for the body only, I’d be tempted to lock one for a wide coverage shot on a video shoot and keep in the bag as a spare body for weddings.

Here’s a hands-on review:

For more info check our the T3i on Snapsort, or check out these comparisons.

Top 5 Portrait Lenses

canon 100mm
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 makes a great portrait lens for full frame DSLRs

When buying a new camera most people, unless they already have lenses, will get it with a decent kit zoom.  Their first lens purchase will almost inevitably be a portrait lens.There are so many great lenses out there for portraits, it’s hard to pick winners.  So my compromise is to pick my five favorites.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 D

Coming in at just under $500, the 85mm f/1.8 is one of the of the most highly regarded lenses in Nikon’s arsenal.  Not a great choice for low-light situations, but portrait photographers swear by it.

Specifically that would be head and shoulders style portraits or close-ups.  If you want to take full body shots, you’ll have to step back quite a bit.

Nikon makes a f/1.4 version of the same lens, but at twice the price it’s hard to justify the cost.

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

Criticized lately on build quality, it’s still a fine portrait lens for around $200.  Maybe a tad less sharp than the 85mm, but it takes better eyes than mine to see much difference.

Mounted in front of Nikon’s APS-C, a slightly larger sensor than the Canon APS-C, it yields an effective zoom of 75mm.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Autofocus Prime

This lens might be a tad long for APS-C models, like my Canon 7D, but matched up with a full size sensor on a 5D, this is a killer portrait lens.

Fast enough to provide good performance in low light, and snaps to focus nearly silently.  Work a stop or two under wide open and it’s sharp enough to slice paper.  Priced around $600.

The only downside to using this lens all day is the weight.  It’s one of the heavier lenses of the top picks.

Canon “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8

You knew this one was coming.  It’s one of the finest portrait lenses Canon makes.  Priced around $100, it’s the first lens most Canon shooters purchase and the one that ends up spend the most time on the camera.

Newer models have developed a noticeable buzz in the auto-focus.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II

This is my personal favorite.  A little more expensive than some of the others and the only zoom on my list, I love this lens.  It’s a great performer in low and mixed light and delivers razor sharp quality.

The auto-focus is noisier than you’d expect for a lens at this price point and it can act confused and slow hunting around for focus.

Priced in the mid-$600’s, it’s still my choice for portraits or weddings.

The Yongnuo HN467 Speedlite

The Yongnuo YN467 - Decent flash, priced right
I investigated the Yongnuo Speedlite YN467 as an alternative to Canon Speedlites, which I jokingly call “Spendy-Lites”.  Jokes aside, the Canon Speedlites, like the 430EX ii and 580EX ii, are still the gold standard for external flash units to use with Canon products.
But the price tag. Ouch.  $270 for a 430EX ii and up to an eye-popping $468 for a 580EX ii.  For sure you get a lot of nice features for that kind of money.  Wireless e-TTL and Canon’s reputation for quality and reliability.  Every time you push the button, you’ll get fabulous results.
Still, the price point nagged at me, so I set out to investigate the alternatives and turned up a diamond in the rough. For just over $70, you can get a Yongnuo YN467, a very decent flash unit that’s compatible with Canon’s e-TTL, though you’ll have to use a sync cord if you want to use it off camera.  Even with the cord, the package comes in at less than $90.

I didn’t run a full scale flash test, just mounted it on the camera and shot some test shots to get the feel for the unit.  I wasn’t expecting much and was pleasantly surprised by the results.

YN467 Flash Text
YN467 off camera left with the aid of a FC-311 sync cord
The build quality is better than expected.  Solid, heavy and well fitted, it comes with a soft carry bag and table stand.  It’s got a built-in bounce card and flash diffuser.  When it comes to power, it will light up your life.  You might not get 250 feet outdoors like a 580EX, but I was able to blow out a large, dark interior pretty effectively.
The only ding on fit and finish is the battery compartment door which slides back and opens out feels a little flimsy.  It’s got a small plastic locking tab that looks like it would be easy to break.  I wouldn’t get in a hurry changing batteries.Where it counts, the YN467 works like a champ.  As soon as I mounted it on my 7D, the camera and flash synced up and worked together flawlessly.  Matched up with a $20 FC-311 cable by Pixel, Inc. I was able to hold the flash off to one side and still use the e-TTL features.  I wasn’t able to out run recycle times, even in burst mode.

This is not the flash unit I’d get for studio work, but then I wouldn’t use a 580EX for that, either.  For that I’d look at floor units like Paul C. Buff’s Alien Bees line.  But as an on-camera flash for $70, it’s tough to beat.