Shooting with your DSLR

This article is going to give some tips regarding shooting Video with your DSLR and editing it in kdenlive afterwards.

Camera hardware


Generally Primes are preferred over zooms in video. (Some people, like me, prefer it over zooms as well for photography — but this is a matter of taste and of how you work.) Why that? A psychological reason is that eyes (at least mine) cannot zoom either, so zooming is hardly ever used in video. The technical reason is that Primes are cheaper to build whilst offering better quality: Better sharpness, bigger aperture (for limiting the Depth of Field). Opening the aperture gives you a very nice look. (Please also read ArtInvent’s comment on this.)
Examples for very popular primes are the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II.
If you own such a lens, just don’t forget that you should not always shoot at f/1.8. ;)
Directly related to the previous point about lenses. Shooting with an open aperture works well as long as it is dark. In bright sunlight it will fail because there is too much light falling on the sensor. Furthermore you are forced to use a high shutter speed which makes movements look jerky; Most of the time you will want to have some kind of motion blur because it looks more natural to our eyes.
If you ever tried to follow a bird or another animal with your eyes in dawn, you will know that our eyes do support motion blur.
So the trick is to remove some light with a filter called Neutral Density Filter. You can see one on the right. (The piece of kneaded eraser is not part of the filter.)


Aperture, Shutter, and ISO

The same as for shooting stills. Really? Not quite. As written above you will usually want to have the shutter speed lower than for photography in order to get motion blur — around 1/50 s. (This is just a rule of thumb, as all rules in video are; made to be broken.)
Also, some additional problems may arise due to the sensor being read out line-wise. One I would like to mention are Rolling Shutter effects. Longer exposure can, but need not, prevent such problems. It does if you are shooting with fluorescent lamps. Shooting at high shutter speed shows wave patterns from top to bottom of the screen, lowering it hides them if you hit the correct shutter speed.
On the right: Two images I shot with my Nikon D90, the left one at lowest ISO possible, the right one at highest possible.

The image should be exposed as bright as possible (without too much clipping!) if enough light is available. If you don’t need to boos the brightness too much in post-production, you can avoid some noise in dark areas.
White Balance

The White Balance should be set as accurate as possible because DSLRs only support 8 bit per color channel (see also my article about the Waveform Monitor). If done wrong, much of the color information is lost.
DSLRs also offer different camera profiles with different Contrast/Saturation/etc. settings. Usually low saturation is preferred over high saturation — especially because raising the saturation can be done in post, and because high in-camera saturation settings can lead to color clipping.
In the example images on the right you can see the difference. The left one looked blueish due to wrong white balance and was corrected in post; much of the tonal range of the blue colors has been lost. The right one has been shot with proper white balance.
The in-camera autofocus may be fast enough to focus, but it will fail in the most important moment. It is useful for getting the initial focus point, but while shooting it should stay switched off.

Camera specific tips

Nikon D90

The Nikon D90 was the first DSLR offering video. 720/24p (AVI container).

D90 videos at 720p are scaled awfully. That’s why you can see stair-stepping in sharp, skew lines. If this becomes perturbing for a clip, you can apply the «Nikon D90 Stairstepping fix» frei0r filter. Written (but not invented) by me :) See our Nikon D90 page for an example of how stairstepping looks like (before and after correction).

There is an extensive overview over the D90 video function at Understanding and Optimizing the Nikon D90 D-Movie Mode Image

Canon EOS 550D/Ti2 (and Co.)

These cameras shoot 1080p (H.264 encoded, MOV container) — but record video with a height of 1088 pixels. Prior to MLT 0.5.6 you have/had to crop the additional 8 pixels with a crop effect from the top or the bottom of the video, newer versions of MLT do this automatically.

DSLR related links

One can find tons of information about shooting in the internet. Some helpful links listed below.


Summary? There is no such thing. You need to read everything, really :)

Have fun!
Please drop your comments below.

Simon A. Eugster (Granjow)


Great article Granjow!
Very informative and well laid out.

Thanks for this article ! (especially the part on the neutral density filter, I didn't know about that ;)

great posting...very usefull artikel

It's nice to have a set of primes, sure, but most people still buy a zoom or two for their SLR and tend to use them more often as well. And there's nothing wrong with this, as modern zooms (at least the decent ones) are perfectly good glass. So I'm not sure that telling people they really ought to use primes is all that valid. Actually plenty of pros use zooms for still, film and video work. They just don't zoom during the shot. That's the main point: don't zoom while rolling. And that's not universally true either, a very slow zoom can be usefull and effective once in a while.

I agree – on the other hand, the 24-70 mm f/2.8 from Nikon costs ten times as much as a 50 mm f/1.8.
A matter of preferences and money :)

Great article, thanks.

I am missing here the, for the EOS 550D at least, most important issue.

The sensor is quite sensitive, it makes shooting quality photo's at ISO 800-1600 possible, which isn't possible with earlier camera's in this rage, without too much noise.

This makes for excellent footage shot outside. In the house though, lighting is much much fainter, it will require the exposure to be set to the lowest value possible (either 1/30 or 1/60), which is not a problem, but it also requires the aperture to be set wide open and the ISO to be set to 3200 or higher. The latter two are troublesome. With the aperture at 5.6 (which isn't even too wide open) the depth of field is already minimal, count on a plane of only 5 cm that becomes really sharp on film, which is fine for static scenes, but unacceptable for moving subjects. Also at setting ISO 3200 at least this camera has really too much noise in the picture. I don't think this is any different for comparable camera's of other brands.

So for inside shooting, this class of camera's is really not suitable without a LOT of extra lighting. I bought myself a 400 watts lamp for this purpose and now I can shoot inside, as long as the subject remains within two meters of the lamp. Not really ideal, but then I can select an aperture of 9-11 and ISO 1600, still with slowest possible shutter.

The alternative is buying an EOS 5D which has a better sensor that can shoot at ISO 3200 or maybe even at ISO 6400.

Something similar for the sound. The builtin microphone is mono and always gives some noise. As soon as you connect an external microphone, doesn't matter what type, you will get a loud hiss that cannot be avoided. Some say it's caused by an overactive AGC, but sound shouldn't hiss at all, of course. BTW, it really doesn't depend on the external microphone, it happes as soon as you plug -anything- in, be it even a single plug with nothing connected. So, be prepared to buy an additional external, independent, microphone (like the Zoom h1,h2,h4) for little noise, stereo recordings.

I also have a comment on the shutter speed. You say one should set it as long as possible to prevent movement becoming jerky. This may be true at 50 fps shooting speed, at 25 fps (progressive) shooting speed, my experience is that movement really shows as "smearing" (which of course obviously is indeed the case). If you set shooting speed to 1/50 or 1/60, the motion looks much more fluent and less smeared.

Thanks for your comments! I will compare shutter speeds as soon as possible (at the moment it is not possible since I cannot set it on the D90). What I wonder, would you adjust the shutter speed in low-light situations? (Only regarding the visual impression; ignoring all ISO/brightness issues.) The reason why I'm asking is that in low light situations the eye's «shutter speed» is much slower and movements look ways more smeared than in bright sunshine, so one might want to change the shutter speed on the camera as well to make it look authentical.

Well that's a subjective/artistic issue I cannot comment on ;-)

Using 25/30 fps the movement is always either a bit smeared or a bit jerky, that's unavoidable.

But personally I prefer just a little bit jerky to smeared, so if lightning conditions permit, I tend to shoot at 1/50, even at 25 fps. My experience is that denoisers and deinterlacers on video players and tv sets tend to smear the picture a bit anyway, so it doesn't look that jerky.

I think the degree of dependency on prime or zoom goes to personal inclinations. As I myself incline to use zoom lens over prime and since I know many people with similar taste, the assumption that prime lens is superior in use is fundamentally flawed. Furthermore, one of the latest trends in video editing is zooming in and out recurrently to highlight events which we can see in most of the YouTube videos that are uploaded these days.