Shooting Video With a DSLR

Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras Shoot Video

shoot video with DSLR Canon EOS Rebel T2i

The Canon EOS Rebel T2i

Retail for $899, including an 18-55 mm kit lens

The Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras have taken the video and film worlds by storm. Looking very much like Single Lens Reflex cameras, these cameras can also function as High Definition camcorders. And what makes this special is the shallow depth of field that is possible. That feature is one that separates the typical feature film look from the typical look of video.

The DSLRs have larger sensors than most camcorders and this allows for shallow depth of field which is a common visual trait of movies. The resolution is still 1080 or 720, but it’s that pleasing look of throwing the background out of focus which gives the image that “film look” which videographers have been chasing for years. Video, on the other hand, often exhibits a deep depth of field so that most everything is in focus. This removes the mystery and dream-like quality that makes film so special.

Another way to get that shallow depth of field film look is with a 35mm adapter. You can use 35mm lenses on some video cameras with these special adapters that provide the depth of field characteristics of 35mm film on your 1/3″ chip or similar video camera. You can also use them on 2/3″ chip cameras, but the adapters work best on the smaller chips.

Here are some of the players in the 35mm adapter field:

Letus 35m adapters,

the Redrock M2

Shoot 35 Blade.

The other factor that helps video look like film is 24p. This is video that captures 24 frames per second rather than the normal 30 frames per second. The “p” means the frames are scanned by a progressive mode rather than the normal interlace (or every other frame) mode of video. Film cameras record at 24 frames per second so recording video at this rate also makes it look more like film than video.

These two aesthetics – shallow depth of field and 24p – are what make these cameras appealing for video production.

Here’s an example of what you can do with the Canon 5D Mark II. Reverie, is an independently-produced short video by Director of Photography Vincent Laforet.

There are a number of challenges for shooting video with these cams.

1. You’ll need to add a monitor since the fixed LCD makes shooting awkward.

2. Audio is problematic. So far no DSLRs with XLR inputs. Most do not have manual audio controls. There’s no jack for headphones.

These days there are some great audio options. For more information on the audio digital recorders see the Audio Forum at VideoUniversity.

3. There’s no power zoom.

4. Zebras are pretty different on these cameras.

5. The CMOS sensors, unlike the CCD sensors, have a problem called rolling shutter that is evident when there is vibration or fast panning.

While this was not shot with a DSLR, this video clearly shows the jello effect in a CMOS camera, Canon’s HV20. Some claim it is caused by the rolling shutter while others claim it is caused by the optical image stabilization.

Not all CMOS-based pro video cameras such as the Sony EX1 and EX3, and the Red One show this much “jellocam.” They may show some image distortion on rapid pans or subject motion, but far less than the this is far less that is seen with Combocams.

6. There are no built-in ND filters with DSLR cameras because still cameras unlike video cameras can use aperture, shutter and ISO to control exposure and therefore aperture settings. Most video camcorders have built-in ND filters to help you choose your lens aperture and resulting depth of field.

Zacuto has a whole range of pricey accessories that allow users to make DSLR’s work much like camcorders and film cameras. You can add a follow focus, matt box and other accessories common to cinematography.

7. Storage cards have limited space of 22 minutes.

In a refreshing move a young man and his father in Sweden created a DIY wooden DSLR shoulder rig inspired by the Zacuto hardware.

The Canon 5D Mark II shoots great looking 1080P video:

It allows many more lenses, anything that can be adapted to the EF mount. Its 35mm full-frame sensor is larger than the RED ONE’s sensor. This gives it shallower depth-of-field than any camera or camcorder, except for the Phantom 65.

The dynamic range and latitude are close to the capabilities of high-end HD cameras.

It’s better in low light than any other video camera including the Red One.

Despite these significant advantages the Canon 5D Mark II still has some debilitating disadvantages for video. So one adventurous soul, Trammell Hudson, wrote his own firmware to bring camcorder luxuries to this DSLR.

It’s called Magic Lantern. It improves audio recording by adding onscreen level meters, disabling automatic gain control, and adding manual gain control. It improves video by enabling zebra stripes and the various crop marks for 16:9, 2.35:1 and 4:3.

Here’s a video which explains the Magic Lantern in more detail.

Magic Lantern introduction from Trammell Hudson.

It’s not yet sanctioned by Canon so there is some risk to installing it on your camera. I’d guess that Canon will, sooner or later, adopt this or similar firmware. For more information or to download it.

Philip Bloom, a UK based Director of Photography has created something of a cottage industry showing people how to get film like results from these DSLR cameras.

Bloom interviewed GREG YAITANES, the director of the TV series”House.” The season finale of this show was shot entirely with a Canon 5D Mark II. Canon called this “a paradigm shift in the way professional cinematographers and filmmakers capture HD video.” At the same time Canon never made this camera to be a movie camera even though many are planning to use it for low budget feature film work.

Bruce Dorn, a professional photographer and videographer working for Canon

offers the following tips for shooting with the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

A good shutter speed for video is 1/50th second. That’s the “classic sweet spot”

* Set the ISO to 200.

* The aperture setting of F/5.6 is favored by many cinematographers. Most lenses look best at this aperture.

• Shoot at 24 fps video capture.

• Avoid auto white balance at all costs. Instead, pick one white balance mode and stick with it throughout the video.

What are your experiences with these DSLR cameras?

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10 thoughts on “Shooting Video With a DSLR

  1. Nels Chick

    I’ve been shooting with the 7D since it came out. I made the move to DSLR to get a more film like look, and it was the right choice for me.

    My first experience was awful. I shot something with a lot of detail at 720 60p, and I saw horrible aliasing. I learned a lot from that experience, then got back on the horse and shot some beautiful waterfall footage. I agree with Bruce Dorn, stick with 1080 24p, unless you really want to slow something down.

    These cameras aren’t perfect, and I would only suggest getting one if you are willing to accept the drawbacks, and play toward their strengths. These aren’t great for run-n-gun shooting, but can produce a beautiful image.

    A word of advice is to get some nice lenses, used if you can find them. Adapters are cheap, and there are some great old primes available for cheap. They will increase sharpness and enhance colors far beyond the stock zooms that come with these cameras.

  2. Hal

    Hey Nels,

    Your trailer looks great. I’ll hope you’ll share some more of your hard-won knowledge. These cameras immediately made me think of producing low budget features.

  3. Maribeth R

    I re-entered video production 9-09. Catching up with technology on a daily basis. I bought a new Canon 5D Mark ii and recv’d it this past Wed. I was originally going on a job Saturday (Indian wedding) as a “tag along/grip” just to learn how other shooters are using camera. The second shooter dropped the job the day before. I was hired! I LOVED this camera!!!!!!!!! I could type for hours about it. Must be used with a crew, best coverage for all aspects with 3 shooters. I look forward to the next opportunity to use my camera for video!!!

  4. Utah Video Production

    I thought that was a pretty good article and even though I have had a 5dMK2 since it came out the whole magic lantern thing was new news to me. Im excited to give it a try. I will say, and i do it in all respect but the cuts to the 5d footage in the video looked pretty bad. Very Orange and smudged as if there were massive amounts of noise reduction. That being said I think this camera is a good tool, I wouldn’t say it comes anywhere close to competing in the professional world against cameras like the Red One. However, for low budget jobs it seems to get the job done. Especially for web video….YouTube Never looked so good!

    Anyways, I have used this camera for quiet some time In commercial photography and videography and there are a few things to note that were not mentioned.

    1) you need a good tripod, not a photography tripod but a heavier duty video tripod, like a Satchler. Especially if you are going barebones and don’t have a rail system. If you do not use a nice video tripod your video will be jumpin and jerkin everywhere.

    2) Like the Op said the jello effect is real do not expect to do fast pans with this camera, or the whole world begins to skew. Even just walking and doing handheld stuff its noticeable. This camera really needs to be on a tripod.

    3)For display to a professional monitor you will need to get an HDMI to hdsdi converter. I use this one: I would also recommend getting an HDMI splitter. Because once you plug into the hdmi jack on the camera , you lose your image on the back. With a splitter you can feed a client monitor as well as one of those Small HD monitors for operating.

    4)Most the guys I know,including myself record audio to a secondary device. E.G. an Edirol or Zoom Ex. On the camera you record a scratch track and use a program called PluralEyes to sink it back in post. This program works well with multi-cam shoots. It is fast and inexpensive and the quality you get from an edirol or a zoom is really good.

    5)I could probably go on but Ill make this one my last. The depth of field on this camera is very narrow when using low apertures or long lenses. I have seen way to much stuff come to our studio that is out of focus. Even the final episode of House had a lot of focus issues. My suggestion is use a DOF Calculator until you get the feel of how narrow your focus really is. Even on one of the small HD monitors it is not showing you an accurate image. I would say the best bet for beginners is to shoot at a 5.6+ and use an F8 on anything over 100mm. If you need more light either add some or use the Iso. I’ve shot stuff at 1600 that still looked good, also the 7d has a smaller sensor so the depth of field is deeper however the focal length is longer by 1.6x

    Ok one more thing exposure. 90% of what im seeing is overexposed, over-saturated and overly contrasty. Set your picture style to custom and dial it back. It is far better to add it later then to be stuck with a gooey mess. 😉

    One more i promise, Spend some time on websites like this learning the basic. Not only about video but about the camera itself, Exposure, composition. It will really help in the long run. Currently everyone is flooding into the video production field, marketing them selves as videographers or Dps. Just because you bought a glorified camcorder dose not make you professional. If you are serious about making a business out of it then give your customers the service of professionalism, quality and a good business ethic, or the same thing that happened in the photography world will happen here. To much supply and little demand. The only ones making any money were the camera companies, selling a new camera every week. Now all the newbes have dropped out to become videographers but the clients that still want photography want the same low prices as the gold rush but require endless resumes and proof of work because they have been screwed so many times…..end of rant…. anyways good luck

  5. Dave Williams

    We jumped on the 5S MKII bandwagon in December 2008 and never looked back. In early 2009 we stopped using camcorders for wedding and event work and also began using the DSLRs in our corporate work as well.

  6. fx4boutique

    Thanks for the article. We have been wondering if we should get a 7d or Rebel T2i for our business. We shoot designer swimwear for our website, and I am hoping by getting a camera, we can also film some video clips at fashion shows and buying shows. Is the 7d a better choice? We do have a professional photographer with his own gear, but we would like to have something we can use too and just need to decide on the model, or whether to get a DLSR and a video camera separately. Thanks.

  7. Justin

    Can anyone speak to the Canon vs. Nikon issue when it comes to quality for video. I’m a Nikon shooter and am planning to upgrade my body and want to know if their video capabilities are up there with the Canon. I’m shoot weddings in Wilmington NC and want to be able to add few quick clips for my clients. Thanks, Justin Pearson

  8. Dan Banici

    Hi Justin. This comes 2 yrs late, but if you were to compare cameras now, Nikon D3100 is your best entry into DSLR filmmaking for the price. The Canon line is great if you are a tinkerer, simply for the ability to install the Magic Lantern sidegrade. Their newest T4i product shows promise, but no benefit for Canon users, since you must buy it with the newly invented lens in order to achieve autofocus while filming. Maybe it’s just me, but price is part of the attraction of filming on DSLR. If you have thousands to spend on a camera, buy a proper video camera with interchangeable lens (Sony, Panasonic, Black Magic, Canon, etc)


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