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Shooting video with a DLSR camera

DSLRs with video

In 2008, Nikon launched the D90 model which was the first DLSR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera that could film High Definition (HD) video. Now, all of the camera manufacturers have incorporated this function in their new models.

These developments produced a true revolution in the audiovisual market. The sensors of these cameras capture an even higher quality image than some professional video camera. In addition, DLSR lenses offer greater detail and versatility than video camera lens. However, DLSR cameras are much lighter than video cameras and are primarily designed for shooting images, not video. This means that there are a few drawbacks if using the cameras for video that you should keep in mind and be prepared for.

Stability

A video camera is specifically designed for greater stability when filming. The lightweight structure and the shape of the DLSR camera doesn´t automatically provide the same level of stability. While producing professional video, you should use additional tools to achieve an acceptable level of stability. There are numerous possibilities; we can only cover a few here.

Tripod

  • When creating a static shot of a scene where the activity (and movement) will occur, you can use the same tripod that you use in photography.
  • If you are interested in a more dynamic shot with some camera movement, you will need a special tripod head designed for video. A fluid video head allows you to smoothly pan (make horizontal movements) or tilt (make vertical movements) the camera.

Shooting Handheld

If you would like to leave the tripod behind and shoot handheld or otherwise use your body as the camera support (a more informal, journalistic style) you should remember the following:

  • Adding weight can help reduce the potential camera shake.
  • You must find a solid point of contact with your body to stabilize the camera. There are many rigs or set-ups which have been specifically designed to secure the DLSR camera itself and support it on the shoulder or against the chest.

You will also need an external monitor accessory that will allow you to see the HD picture while filming. This usually results in another point of support for handheld filming.

There are countless specialized, online stores such as Cavision, B&H and many more where you can find a wide selection of different, sometimes ingenious rigs. If your budget is tight, you can also find great deals on eBay.

Of course, for the handymen (and women) among you, there are support systems waiting to be discovered by your ingenuity and creativity. Who ever said that a couple of pieces of wood wouldn’t make a great shoulder mount?

Additional Gear

There are other pieces of equipment that allow you to add a variety of different camera movements. A minidolly has a head mount that supports the DSLR and can move on wheels or guides in straight lines (for example, a parallel movement to the action being filmed) or in circles and curves. Other interesting possibilities include mini-jibs, crane kits, sliders and more (at least you’ll have fun saying their names, if not while using them!).

As we mentioned before, when you start to “up-cycle” materials, there is a world of interesting and economical do-it-yourself gear options. One example is this Dolly, complete with a full how-to.

Aliasing and Moiré

Sometimes video filmed with a DLSR produces an aliasing or moiré effect in areas of the image where there are close parallel lines or other linear patterns.

This occurs because the camera is designed to initially record an image of much higher quality than that which video can allow. The camera is designed to record an image of 5184 x 3456 pixels, but video filmed at full HD has a maximum size of 1920 x 1080 pixels. When the initial image is re-sampled (sized down) in real time to the smaller output size, the reconstructed image might include this distortion in certain areas.

  • You should keep this in mind as you prepare the wardrobe and set of any given scene. Be aware of the textures and patterns that will appear and save yourself a headache by especially avoiding patterns with fine lines.
  • You might be able to minimize the problem by shooting with a lower sharpness level for the camera (within the menu of image adjustments). You should experiment with different levels, and once you’ve found one that works, remember to save it as a personalized adjustment setting for future occasions.
  • Always keep your camera updated with the latest software actualizations and improvements to be sure that you are maximizing its performance (see website of your camera manufacturer).
  • There are a number of filters on the market which were developed to eliminate moiré when filming. While we haven’t tried them yet, you can see more at Caprock Developments.

Memory Cards

We recommend that you use memory cards with a high memory capacity (starting at 32 GB) and a high transfer speed. Most of the memory cards on the market today offer transfer speeds superior to 20MB/s. This is important because it’s possible to lose frames if your card is recording slowly.

Of course, we understand that within your gear set, not everything can be the top brands/models/etc and sometimes you must make do with cheaper imitation options or such. However, in the case of memory cards, we recommend that you invest in good ones. Cutting the corner will cost you expensive in the end, if you are losing frames from your footage.


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