Biggest Mistakes Made Shooting Video with DLSR’s

I’ve been working quite a bit lately with both the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D, shooting video. I’ve been shooting video with traditional video cameras for the last 11 years so I wasn’t in the dark as to how to shoot motion. But I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve made my share of mistakes with these hybrids.

Here are a few to watch out for:

  1. Don’t forget about audio. So many still photographers forget the importance of audio and then what they are left with are a bunch of video clips with lousy or unusable sound.
  2. Don’t capture audio with the camera mic. You’ll never get good sound if you do. I also stay away from plugging in an external mic with the mini stereo plug.
  3. Don’t turn off the camera mic when using an independent audio recorder. It’s always good to have the audio recorded to cards through the camera to use as a reference when syncing the sound later in post.
  4. Don’t discount reading the manuals. A lot of shooters think since they are coming from a photographic background, they don’t need to read the manuals. There are big differences when shooting video – make sure you read the manuals about some of the nuances and avoid making stupid mistakes.
  5. Don’t shoot video like a still photographer. Remember video is time in motion – so let motion play out in the camera. Let subjects move in and out of your frame. Let the camera roll – don’t shoot moments in time.
  6. Don’t forget about the story and sequencing. I usually see the big picture when I’m shooting. I think about the finished completed movie in my mind’s eye so when I’m shooting I’m always thinking about what is coming next – where will I go from this shot – where did I come from. If you don’t think like this then you’ll have a disconnected mess that won’t be easy to edit.
  7. Don’t be sneaky. These cameras look and are still cameras. Don’t deceive people into thinking that you’re not shooting video and/or sound.
  8. Get it right in camera. Unlike still photographs, video doesn’t do as well when it’s over manipulated or corrected in post, especially when trying to crop or enlarge the image.
  9. Don’t skimp on you shots. When shooting b-roll video – you’ll need lots of it to tell the story in post. Shoot different focal lengths as well as angles for variety to cut to.

10. Don’t shoot verticals. I know, I know there will be some of you that will disagree with me but if you want a vertical – don’t turn the camera sideways – crop the vertical in post. A contradiction perhaps to #9 you say. Well there are always exceptions.

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Gearing Up With HD DSLR’s

Last week was incredibly stressful. I had been dealing with obtaining visas – a somewhat monumental task of which I had no control over, in preparation for my upcoming project Opening Our Eyes, that will literally take me around the world.

On one of my many trips to New York City, I went to B&H and purchased some gear I needed for the Opening Our Eyes documentary that I will be shooting. The gear I bought included – Canon 5D and Canon 7D cameras with extra batteries, (2) 16 GB Sandisk Extreme compact flash cards (I’ll need more), Manfrotto 190CX3 light weight carbon fiber tripod with the Manfrotto 701 fluid head (I needed a small tripod and head that will fit in a backpack),  Samson Zoom H4N digital audio recorder, 2 GB Sandisk SD card for audio, recorder, Rode Shotgun mic with “dead cat”, Delvcam Camera Mount Adaptor (this attaches to bottom of H4N Zoom recorder giving it a hot shoe plate), Rycote Hot Shoe Extension/Extender (this attaches to the hot shoe on the top of the camera giving you extra room for devices – for me, the H4N Zoom recorder and a shock mount for the Rode mic) an adaptor so I can hardwire my Tram lav to the Zoom digital recorder, XLR cords of various lengths, and a couple of Rugged Lacie portable hard drives (500GB)

This weekend, I decided to familiarize myself with the new gear and do some testing. I was looking forward to getting back to my “purpose” for the trip and leave the administrative nightmares behind. I am not a shopper, nor am I a gadget freak. I buy new equipment when I have a need for it as opposed to because it exists. There’s something to be said about sticking with gear that you are comfortable with so that you can concentrate solely on the creative, but because of the pace of technology we are somewhat forced to keep current with our tools.

Whenever I add a new tool to my bag of tricks – I go through a process. First experiencing the thrill of something brand new in my hands. When I first took the Samson H4N Zoom out if it’s little coffin like plastic case and held it in my hands it was a sensual experience because of its design and what they make it out of. The second phase of the “new gear process” is reading the manuals and figuring out how things work. With the Zoom this was a bit frustrating and I am one who is already familiar with audio devices, so I can only imagine the frustration for someone who is not audio savvy. It’s such a sophisticated little mixer with so many choices that it took some time getting used to it. After much testing I settled on the 4Channel mode.

Over the weekend I tested both the Canon 5D and 7D cameras, recording sound with their internal mics as well as with a shotgun mic on camera plugged directly into the camera with an XLR to mini plug cord. I also tested both cameras, recording the audio separately through the H4N Zoom using the shotgun on the camera, and with the shotgun on a boom closer to the subject. Then I tested my Tram mic hard wired into the recorder and finally I did a test with the Tram and shotgun mics recorded on separate tracks on the Zoom.

After the tests, I brought both the video and audio files into Final Cut Pro. I had also purchased Philip Blooms 7D tutorial and in the workflow section he mentions how sluggish and problematic it is to work with the H264 files that come directly out of the camera. He recommends converting the files to Apple Pro Res LT either using compressor or MPEG StreamClip which is faster. I tried it both ways and he’s right the MPEG StreamClip is much faster. After I converted the files into Apple Pro Res LT, I imported them into Final Cut along with the WAV audio files. Incidentally, I shot everything at 24 frames a second and recorded the audio as WAV files at 48KHZ. In addition, I recorded sound through the camera, even though I was capturing my audio with an independent device. I knew I would use it as a reference when syncing the sound in post. My next step was to sync the audio files with the video/audio files coming from the camera. I used a clapper when recording so syncing was pretty easy. Philip Bloom mention using a software called PluralEyes for help with syncing audio and video in post but I have not yet purchased it. I did find out that you need to keep good organizational notes when shooting so that you can easily match up the audio files with the camera files later on. I decided that I like using the 4Channel mode with the digital recorder and using two external mics along with the stereo pair on the recorder. In post I can uncheck “stereo pair” and work on each channel independently.

So after a weekend of playing with the new gear, I went through the gamut of emotions from the thrill of newness to the incredible frustration of learning something new before the light bulb goes off. It will take a while to get to the third phase of the “new gear process” and that’s becoming very comfortable with the tools. And I can almost guarantee when that comfortable feeling start to happen, there will be something new that I’ll need to buy.

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More Convergence – DSLR’s + Video = VSLR

It seems like this has been the year of the video capable DSLR or VSLR. Not only are manufacturers continuing to roll out new models but third party companies have made a big business out of selling attachments or add-ons for these cameras.

Dabblers as well as professional still photographers have gotten into video because the entry level has become easier and more affordable with the advent of these cameras. While traditional news crews haven’t embraced the new hybrid cameras yet, filmmakers have created a cult around them. I must confess that although technically I have had my hands on these cameras, I have not done any test runs using them in the field.  But it is on my list of things to do.

What’s Out There Now

The Nikon D90 shooting 720p was the first DSLR camera to shoot video in HD.  Canon followed with its impressive 5D Mark II which raised the bar by shooting full frame 1080p with external mic input and recently rolled theyout the Canon 7D with variable frame rates for under $2000!

The most attractive features of these hybrid cameras besides the price, is the ability to change lenses, have controllable depth of field and large sensors that work phenomenally in low light situations. However there are limitations that traditional video cameras that come at a higher price don’t have.  Camera stability is one problem due to how the shooter needs to hold the camera because they are designed to shoot in video mode with the mirror up. Since the camera operator must see and focus using the LCD monitor instead of steadying their eye up against the viewfinder, it’s harder to stabilize the camera when hand holding it. Audio capture is very basic as well and must be supplemented in some way.

Third Party Options

Because of these limitations, third party manufacturers have gotten in the game by designing add-ons. Zacuto


has come up with a few interesting items.  One item is the Z-Finder DSLR Viewfinder, which is a device that fits over a 3” LCD and provides magnification for better focusing. It runs around $400.  Hoodman lpp3.0(front)provides a lower cost version called the Hoodloupe without the same optics but at a quarter of the cost.

An added benefit to using these viewfinders is that it provides another contact point with the shooter’s body and therefore provides more stability.  There are also camera support systems available that help remedy the need for better stability in “run and gun”

Rapid Fire

situations where the shooter can’t use a tripod.  Zacuto makes two stabilization devices, the DSLR Rapid Fire and the Quick Draw each designed with a different type of shooting situation in mind. In addition a Cavision has come up with a shoulder mount device the  RS5DM2SET-S.

Package for 5DII-8
Cavision shoulder mount

As far as audio is concerned, if you want to move beyond a supplemental external mic that’s plugged into the camera and use a more professional audio solution you’ll need balanced XLR inputs which will also enable you to use multiple external mics off the camera. Beachtek makes the DXA-5D for around $375 and juiceLink has come up with the juicedLink CX231 for about $300.

Samson H4n

Or you can capture your audio with a stand-alone recorder like the Samson Zoom H4n, also around $300 and sync it later in post.

Regardless of how you ultimately “trick out” your VSLR (video single lens reflex)  you can be sure that there will continually be newer models and solutions as technology keeps moving forward.   Pro Video Coalition puts out a great newsletter online keeping us abreast of the latest tools.  Check out their DSLR Shootout where they test these hybrids and adaptors. Take Dirck Halstead’s Platypus Workshop now incorporating the new DSLR’s in the program. And become a Facebook fan of From Still to Motion for ongoing information and updates.  It’s an exciting time with loads of possibilities.

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