How to record video on your DSLR

In Photo Tips by Matt Shetzer

Over the last 5 years, one of the new features our DSLR’s have included is recording video.  By having video on my camera it has really extended my field time.  A couple of years ago I was up in Alaska photographing Bald Eagles, and it started snowing big flakes.  My still images were unusable as I was getting big fuzzy blobs in front of the eagles.  Rather than calling it a day, I switch over to video mode and had a great time.  Now I make a point to shoot a little video every time I take a trip.  I’m hooked and really enjoy reviewing the footage years later.

Lets talk about some of the different movie/camera settings that will help make nice video clips.  Most cameras will have a section for video/movies in the menus where the settings below are stored.


Video Frame Size

  •  1920 x 1080 – Know as 1080.  This is a great option if you are looking to produce video to be played back on your TV.
  • 1280 x 720 (720p) – A little less resolution than 1080, however a great option for web use.  When increasing frames per second (50-60 FPS), this will be the default option for many cameras, as they are not able to produce 1920 x 1080 at 60 FPS.
  • 4096 x 2160 (4k) – Ultra-high-definition television (UHDTV).  This is where we are headed with higher resolution displays.  Only a couple of DSLRs can produce this video resolution currently, with the new Canon EOS-1D C being one of them.

Most of us will shoot 1920 x 1080 for a normal scene, however when we opt to shoot fast moving action and raise our frame rate to 50-60 FPS to accommodate this, we will normally have to shoot 1280 x 720 as this is a limitation of many cameras.  Look in the next couple of years more cameras producing 4096 x 2160.


Frames Per Second (FPS)

  •  24 – Widely adopted format which mirrors film. This has been adopted for movie theater film projectors.
  • 25 – Originally intended for PAL television (Europe, Australia, parts of S. America and Africa).  More about PAL.
  • 30 – Video Standard for NTSC  (North America and parts of S. America)    Produces smoother motion than 24 FPS, and is widely adapted for video.
  • 50 – Better for action photography for PAL, rather than shooting 25 FPS (double).  By shooting 50 FPS you have the option to slow action down in your final video. Slow-mo !
  • 60 – Better for action photography, rather than shooting 30 FPS (double).   By shooting 60 FPS you have the option to slow action down in your final video.  Flickering and strobing are reduced as well.  Basically 30 FPS doubled for NTSC television (North America and parts of S. America).

Since I live in the US\Americas, I create my movies with either 30 FPS (less movement) or 60 FPS (for action).


Image Settings

One of the main things we will need to do for recording video is to remove a lot of the automatic settings.  The reason for this is that we do not want to see a setting change in the middle of our recording.  For example, if the light color changes a little bit, our auto white balance will fix it.  We don’t see this on a still image, however in a video, if one frame has one white balance, and the next frame a different white balance, the viewer will certainly know.

Manual Exposure – You will want to leave the automatic modes of Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority behind as you will not want to see a shift in the exposure during the scene.  Place your camera in Manual Mode and then adjust your Shutter, Aperture and ISO to achieve the perfect exposure to your video.  Many cameras have live histograms, which are a fantastic tool for adjusting your exposure.  See our Photo Tip on Histograms for more information.

Shutter – To create clean video, you need to double your Frames per Second (FPS).  For example, if you are shooting at 30 FPS, your shutter speed will be 1/60sec.

Aperture – This controls your depth of field, the same as you would in normal still photography.  A low number such as f/4 would produce very soft backgrounds, and a higher value f/16 would provide more detail in the background.  As our shutter speed is very low during video, we normally have lots of extra light to raise the aperture higher than we normally would with a still image.

ISO – Since our Shutter speed is locked due to doubling our FPS, and our Aperture is controlling our depth of field, we will fine tune with our ISO.  Just make sure you don’t go to high and add noise/grain to your video.  With my Nikon D800 and D4, I will go as high as 3200 ISO, but every camera model is different.

White Balance – Do not use Auto mode for the exact same reason we use manual exposure.  We don’t want to see a white balance change in the middle of a scene.  It will be very disturbing to the viewer.

Manual Focus – This isn’t as scary as it sounds.  During your video, you don’t want the camera re-focusing or focus search during the scene.  An easy way to do this is to pre-focus on the subject, and then switch your auto-focus over to manual focus (normally a switch on the side of the body).  If you use Back Button Focus you don’t need to do this (One of my favorite techniques).


Miscellaneous Settings

Video Button – Most DSLR’s will have a special button to flip it into video mode.  This will move the cameras mirror, render the eye-piece obsolete, and display the scene on the back LCD.  One of the handy things about this is that some cameras remember your still photography settings, so when you switch back, you are all ready to go.

Tripod – This is a must for smooth video.  Lock your camera down, start recording , and enjoy watching the scene yourself.

Button for Recording – Many cameras use a different button for recording video.  I always want to use the same button I take stills with so I can use my remote cable release.  I don’t want to start my video off with a bouncing camera as I push a button.

Live Histogram – Many cameras have an option in the display to have a live histogram.  This is an excellent tool, and I would highly recommend using this so you capture your perfect exposure.

Crop factors – Some cameras have an option to do an in camera crop.  My Nikon D4 has an option for a 2.7x crop.  WOW !!!  This means when I have my 600mm on the camera, in crop mode , I can record video with an effective 1620mm  (600mm X 2.7X).  Best of all the video quality is EXCELLENT !!! Now when I go to a location and the wildlife is too far away to photograph stills, I flip into video mode and have a great time.

Here are  couple of sample videos we have done with our DSLR’s.

Now grab your camera and go play with video !!!

How to record video on your DSLR was last modified: January 24th, 2016 by Matt Shetzer