Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year 2012: DSLR Video Tips

Happy New Year 2012!
Canon 600D | ISO 3200 | f/3.2 @ 22mm | 1/15s
In this new year's eve I was reminiscing the past 19 years of my life spent in 21 countries scattered around the world and in my 20th year, I am living thousands of miles from my homeland, in Korea. I'm now 20 so does that means I'm no longer a teenager perhaps? This blog that started early 2011 made my name as a camera enthusiast and some people actually asked my advice for a camera. It made it easier for me to share and learn more knowledge in photography, well there is a saying, knowledge is most useful when it is shared. So on the first day of 2012, I am going to talk about DSLR video tips. I just used this camera for about a month and a half so let's see what I've learnt from it so far.

So let's do business, I am a proud owner of a Canon 600D or T3i and shared a similar sensor with the 550D, 60D and even the high end 7D. What differentiates them is their metering system, the shutter mechanism and a few other features. That's in still photo mode. When we switch it to video mode, every single one is exactly the same. Don't believe the kids who want the best equipment for everything. Even entry-levels gets the job done. We need pro results, not pro equipment. A friend of mine said, "my mom asked me what camera I used because my photos are so good." I said, "mom, after you cook a great meal, I don't ask you what stove you cooked on."

The info-screen in photo mode. I love the interface most than Nikon's dull interface and Sony's clutter.
Let's start with some specs. These Canons take great high quality videos in the following settings:
  • 1920x1080p: 30/24 fps (NTSC), 25/24 fps (PAL)
  • 1280x720p (HD): 60 fps (NTSC), 50 fps (PAL)
  • 640x480 (SD): 60 fps (NTSC), 50 fps (PAL)
NTSC and PAL are the regions of TV systems. They differ in the frame rate as you can see. The videos recorded are saved in MOV MPEG-4 AVC format using low compression H.264 compression so the files are big, about 5.5MB/sec in the video. Working with video this big, you're gonna need a high speed memory card to go with it. I am using a Transcend 16GB Class 10 20MB/s SDHC card for it. Class 4 wont be able to transfer the content quick enough, the buffer would be full and it will display "recording has been stopped automatically" on the screen. Watch out.

The mode dial on my Canon 600D. PASM modes are covered in light reflections dam!
For recording videos some would say, "why not just buy a videocam?". Here, your question is answered. These DSLRs have DOF (depth-of-field) control by changing the aperture for the effect of blurred background and cinematic style track focusing which is achieved by using shallow DOF and focusing on different subjects to change the subject. You won't get that in a normal grade videocam. You gotta go to the professional grade Canon EPIC X or the RED One 4K cameras. Although it might sound you get more for less on the DSLR, but actually you lose the ability to auto-focus. Yes, the DSLR can't focus accurately as the mirror in the box is blocking the light path to the auto-focusing sensor located near to the pentaprism. For the money you gotta have some give-and-take. Point is, DO NOT AUTO-FOCUS

You can see the info bar displays 1/60s | f/2.8| ISO 1600 | on manual exposure setting
Manual Exposure Settings
The next tip I would like to share is always use manual exposure settings while filming. If you let the camera automatically changing the exposure, it changes every time you move it around places with different light intensities, making the video choppy and bad. Even though you might say auto this auto that is easier, trust me, these cameras are built for manual and sometimes a total fail in auto. So control it yourself. It works pretty much like it work for photos. Basic stuff actually. Control the shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO speed. For shutter speed, you would want it slow, like 1/50 when you're shooting 24fps and 1/125 if you're shooting sports with 60fps. You can go higher but fast moving objects will appear choppy if it is too fast. 

The aperture also means DOF. I will explain it below. The ISO, keep it under ISO 1600 and digital noise will not be so apparent. To balance these three you need to really get it on your hands and try to get the correct exposure yourself as light conditions vary a lot. Try to balance the EV meter on the info bar closest to 0. Well, most people want for low light performance. They want to shoot dark movies like Matrix or Harry Potter, where the scene seems like to be illuminated by only some candles. Still, they get clean smooth noiseless movies. Hollywood is a lie! Look at the 'making of' videos and you'll see how bright the scene actually is! They use spotlights and floodlights to lower ISO and then physically lower exposure by ND or polarizing filters and colour grading. Can't beat the pros, all of them have their own tricks to be ahead of the game.

Below is a 'no-light' very high ISO video. All shot at ISO 3200. I broke the ISO 1600 law! Haha. Looks fine to you? Looks bad to me. Notice the way I play with the focus for the blurred bokeh looks?

Use small Aperture for DOF
The usage of a large aperture like f/1.8 is mainly for creating shallow depth of field (DOF). This simplifies the frame into concentrating on only the subject and the rest is blurred out. If you're mounting the camera on a tripod to do cinematic style track focusing on a motionless subject, its great. But if you're shooting moving subjects like a person walking, you're gonna need a small aperture so that it is easier to focus manually. I've used f/9 and f/12 before for a deep DOF. Sometimes it is impossible to get shallow DOF in the middle of a bright day as we are working with slow shutter speeds. But if you really want a shallow DOF with slow shutter spees, pros use gradiated ND filters to physically darken the image by one to three stops of exposure. I want that! In the following video I used a large aperture for shallow DOF and used track focusing technique to switch viewer's attention from the box of milk to the girl in the same frame.

'Q' Button
After pressing the 'Q' button (above WB) you'll see more parameters.
After pressing the 'Q' button you'll see more parameters to set. The first one is focusing mode, this is useless in video as I will use manual focusing all the time. Then there is the white balance, it works just like photos to set the color temperature of your video. Next is picture style, this I will explain later on. Below it is Auto-Lighting Optimizer which tells the camera to pull out detail in the shadows. Then it is picture size, I don't see the reason why it must be here in video mode hehe. And the long one is resolution and frame rate options like I told you above. The last one is video snapshot which allows us to record short clips of a few seconds and keep it as one fine. My 600D is equipped with digital zoom which must be activated before shooting. Bear me, digitally zooming the noise are more apparent.

Which resolution?
Let's go a little deeper, as I said earlier, there are four main options of resolution to choose from. The biggest is 1080p with two frame rate options of 30fps and 24fps. I love 30fps as the video looks smoother. People say, "let's shoot 24p for movie look". Frame rate doesn't change your composition, color grade, lighting and storyline. For the cinematic feel there is a lot of effort must be put to plan before, compose wisely during shooting and post edit it afterwards. For slow mo, shoot at 720p because it is the only one that offers 60fps. you can later slow it down to 30fps. But careful, there will be some aliasing in the highlights when using 720p compared to 1080p. What it means? Well lets say high frame rates has some setbacks. VGA? Okay you got me! It is for the moments when you nearly ran out of memory but really need the shot or just plain stingy in memory space or bonkers enough to shoot using slow cards.

Picture Styles on videos?
For the accurate skin tones and all, you really gotta mess with the picture styles. There is a lot of presets to choose from, like Auto, Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Monochrome, Neutral, Faithful and some more manual settings. These guys give major effect on how your movie looks. If you messed with the wrong mode you'll end up having people in your video looks as red as steamed prawns. So I would usually go to the Neutral picture style for smooth colours. But even the Neutral setting is not enough to extract the most detail in shadows for post colour grading. So I tweaked it manually for a really flat colour and here's how it looks. I love how it looks even without grading. I am still learning on how to colour grade on Adobe Premiere though.

The last tip?
For the last tip is, keep your camera steady during recording and don't let anything hinder your creativity. Hope this help a bit for you to start shooting. I will slowly update this very post as I learn more so keep following me up or like my Facebook page. Well, happy shooting!


Masterzoul Zulkifly said...

Salam, bro.
Saya ada pakai 650d, saya more to shootIng videos in full hd. But the prob is.... Saya beli 16g kingston sd card class 6, 30mb/s. bila saya shoot, timing tak stable. Kdg2 sy bleh rakam smpai 5 mins, kdg2 4 minit, kdg2 beberapa saat saja!! Ia trus stopped automatically!! Saya tak faham.. Adkah saya kena beli class 10 yg trnsfer rate dia 45mb/s?? Huhu duit abis beli sd card jer! Pls help me!!!

Adzrin Mansor said...

Salam to you too. Saje reply BI org senang baca. You got it. The card is the problem. Canon full HD files have large variable bitrate so you need a fast card to cope with it. Get a card of at least Class 10. SanDisk Extreme is excellent if you have the money. But a cheaper option is a Transcend Class 10 Card which can cope fine with the files from a Canon DSLR.

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