Shooting HD video on your HD DSLR

This is a very simple guide to get you out there and shooting with your HD DSLR camera.


Why shoot HD on a video-capable DSLR when there are numerous HD video cameras on the market to suit your budget.


The simple answer, apart from affordability, is because most people want to get the ‘film look’ without spending the big bucks on real movie cameras and lenses.


Cinema look

What is the cinema or ‘film look’? As usual everything is in the eye of the beholder, but put simply the ‘film look’ is associated with a shallow depth of field (DoF) – keeping your subject in focus and throwing the background out of focus allowing the filmmaker to control the audience attention and draw them into the story.


Let’s look at what these pro stills cameras offer. Firstly, unlike video camcorders, professional stills cameras are full-frame (35mm) or have a cropped sensor, which is bigger than the largest 2/3inch broadcast camera sensor. These cameras allow for interchangeable lenses, unlike most video cameras, which have fixed zoom lenses. With interchangeable lenses you have the choice of primes (fixed focal lengths) or zooms. Fast lenses (low F-stops) give you shallow DoF, which is what you are looking for to get that ‘film look’.


Other than lenses, in order to achieve the ‘film look’, video should be recorded the way film is made. Film cameras run at 24 frames per second whereas most video-capable stills cameras run at 30p (progressive scan or one full frame), which is slightly slower motion and will cause audio sync problems. The Canon 7D supports various film rates including the all-important 24p and the Canon 5D Mark ll has had a recent firmware upgrade to 24p.


Low light is another advantage HD DSLR’s have over video cameras and can be used to great effect.


Size counts


Next up is form factor. HD DSLR’s are small and light and are great for tight spaces where most professional movie cameras would be too big for such spaces. This has huge advantages on a movie set saving you time and money. For example, if you were shooting on a kitchen set and wanted a reverse angle on one of the actors you may have to remove one of the walls of the set to get your movie camera in the right position for the shot you wanted. With a HD DSLR on a much smaller rig you would have no problem.


On the move


For a steady shot handheld on a stills camera you would need to shoot at 1/60th of a second. These cameras are not designed for 24 frames per second. However, many companies produce support systems to stablise these cameras, which allows you to get stable shots even on the move. One simple and inexpensive solution is Steadybag. For more professional dolly shots there is Glidetrack.


Audio


This is HD DSLR’s Achilles heel. The built-in mic does not feature professional XLR input. Also, monitoring the audio by headphones is difficult as the LCD is turned off when you attach a head-set. Again, there are companies out there that sell devices to solve this problem. Here is one such device for pro audio recording and suitable for HD DSLR shooters, the Zoom H4n. It is a mobile recording jack-of-all-trades at an affordable price that includes built-in stereo microphones, professional XLR and ability to record four independent channels at the same time. For portable recorder reviews and ratings go to WingfieldAudio.com. This excellent website also gives sound samples.


Synchronisation is done in post with a reference signal. A simple clapper board will suffice for this purpose.


Viewing while you shoot


The cameras viewfinder is blocked on DSLR’s when recording and it is difficult to see detail on the LCD when light is falling on it. Therefore, having a separate LCD screen can prove useful. If you are working with a crew, especially a focus puller, a separate screen is a must have piece of equipment. Smallhd certainly lives up to its name with a screen size of 5.6” and exceptional resolution for its size.


Rolling shutter


Better know as the ‘jello effect’ when the image wobbles. This only affects cameras with CMOS sensors (Cannon, Nikon to name but a few) and not ones with CCD sensors. The effect occurs when the camera is panned or when fast moving objects enter the frame. The solution for both problems is record slowly and speed it up in post or if you are only panning across a static frame try doing it very slowly and smoothly. Here is a plug-in for After Effects and Nuke called RollingShutter, which will solve the problem.


AVCHD, Canon 5D Mark ll and Canon 7D editing


AVCHD uses the H.264 codec, which requires a lot of compression. The colour (Chroma) signal is recorded in a format known as 4:2:0 (composite video) which is half the colour resolution of professional (component video) 4:2:2 formats.


With software like Neo Scene by Cineform, your difficult to edit footage will be converted to industry-standard AVI or MOV files for more accurate colour processing during editing. Neo Scene supports most Windows/Mac software including FCP, iMovie, Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, Movie Studio.


As more and more people start using these cameras we can expect more stunning images in content made for the web that look like they have been created using professional movie equipment.