Lesson Three: Basic Camera Settings for DSLR Video
You’ll want to become very familiar and comfortable with your video menu settings, because making videos isn’t quite as simple as clicking a shutter to make a photo. So take some time to sit down with your camera and user manual, and make sure you understand the various video functions unique to your camera. You will feel more confident and in control when you start filming.
Here are the basic camera settings I use. You can use these as a starting point, and as you become more experienced and explore other settings, you may develop your own preferences for settings.
Frame size and resolution
1920 x 1080p is my go-to, as 1080p records high definition footage and strikes a great balance between high quality and convenience.
4000K (4K) footage is a higher quality option on many newer cameras, but does require more storage space. It can be manipulated and edited more heavily, and still images harvested from 4K will be higher quality. It also heats up my camera much more quickly, which concerns me for long sessions such as births and Day in the Life. Finally, it is harder on your drives to process and takes much longer to render and export. I don’t personally shoot in 4K unless it’s for a brand film or by client request, but it’s good to have that option.
Link to Explore More: 4K vs 1080p
Picture Profile/Picture Style for video
This is an area where you’ll want to experiment and find what suits you best. Generally speaking, flatter picture profiles (Flat, Neutral) increase dynamic range in video files and facilitate color grading in post-production. But they lack contrast, sharpness, and saturation straight out of camera. The Flat picture profile can be easily edited to create custom looks and tends to preserve highlights well without under or overexposing, but it retains noise in dark shadows. For this reason, it is a good option for bright outdoors since you won’t have many deep shadows where there is abundant light.
Neutral is useful in low light, and I like to customize it further by reducing the settings for contrast, saturation, and sharpness to render flatter footage but without the effects on the shadows that Flat profile creates. If doing this, you would want to dial back contrast as much as possible, decrease the saturation to 25%-50%, and disable the sharpness (it is digital sharpness after all, and we want our sharpness to come from our lens quality or possibly editing techniques, not automatic manipulation of footage). You would then manually add in contrast, saturation, and sharpness as desired during your color grading. I personally shoot in Neutral most of the time indoors and outdoors.
If you don’t intend to color grade or don’t have time to do so, you can select Standard picture profile and leave the settings at default. You will have sufficient contrast and rich color, but not as much data/information retained in the file and less flexibility when editing.
Television Display System
NTSC setting is for United States + Japan, and PAL is common in Europe and parts of Asia + South Pacific (look up your region if you are not sure)
ISO settings that are optimal for video
Some ISOs are better than others for video. Use multiples of 160 for the least amount of noise: 160, 320, 640, 1250 (note: multiples of 125 are worst for noise because these are only based on ISO 100 and then simulated to 125, adding noise). My go-to in low light, such as birth, is 1250.
Tip: When first starting out, you might want to write your optimal video settings as a reference on the back of your hand or on a piece of paper for your pocket.
Set your white balance (WB) as you normally would for photos (Kelvin, custom WB, auto, etc), with special consideration for the type of lighting you will encounter. Auto WB works well in many cases with natural daylight, but when there is a large area of solid color, low light, artificial, or mixed lighting, using Kelvin or setting a custom WB works best. You can scroll through your white balance settings by holding down your WB button and turning your command wheel to see the way your screen changes in live view with different WB settings. You can also scroll through Kelvin settings to find the best fit for your setting. Set a custom WB by selecting your custom preset and using a white piece of cardstock, white card, or other white object to fill your frame fully in the lighting where your subject will be and allowing your camera to analyze the temperature to set a custom WB.
When shooting in mixed light with incandescent light, where different parts of your frame are lit by differing light temperatures, it’s recommended to set your white balance to correctly render the cooler light source such as daylight or fluorescent lighting. Note that for video, your white balance can’t be as heavily influenced in post processing as it can when editing stills, so try to get it as close as possible to reality before filming. You will also notice some variation between stills and video of the same scene even when edited with the same preset/LUT (preset for video).
Settings that can help us tell the story with intention
Frame rates: The frame rate is the number of complete still images (or frames) shown every second. It is adjusted in the video menu settings (pay attention to corresponding frame size as some cameras have limitations for combinations of frame rate/frame size).
I mainly use these two combinations:
The most commonly used frame rates for our purposes are:
24fps (or 24p) for cinematic quality (25fps for PAL regions); this looks closest to real life. Not intended to be slowed down in post production.
30fps is a preferred look by some and is standard for television programs. Can be slowed down to 80% for smooth motion. Good for subjects walking or talking (when voices aren't heard).
60fps (50fps for PAL regions) yields a classic slow motion effect. Good to show clapping, to enhance emotive feel, running/jumping/spinning/swinging, or a child tossed in the air.
Tip: Place a hairtie around your wrist or fingers to remind you to switch your frame rate back if you find yourself forgetting.
Link to Explore More: Why Frame Rate Matters
Shutter speed can stay at 2x frame rate as a point of reference, but do take creative liberties to change SS as desired and as necessary (ie: by slowing shutter to 1/30 or thereabouts to avoid flicker in certain lighting situations, or by increasing shutter speed in bright outdoor light where the regular shutter speed would yield blown out footage). I often shoot around 1/160-1/250 with fast-paced sessions and also for the moments of crowning/emerging in birth, so that I can later harvest better stills from the crisp footage. Experiment with shutter speed and frame rates and see what you feel comfortable with. Just be careful to make very slow camera movements in order to avoid judder (frame jumps) when filming at higher or lower shutter speeds.
*Don’t forget to adjust shutter speed when switching back and forth between frame rates*
Tip: Filming at a frame rate for slow motion also minimizes this judder effect.
Just as when making photos, you will use your aperture to control the amount of light entering your sensor (managing brightness and darkness) and also to control the focal plane width. I recommend starting with f/4-f/8 until you become comfortable with focusing. I know it feels odd to do that as an experienced photographer, but you will see why when you begin to practice pulling focus. Then you can open up more and use your aperture artistically as you become more familiar with how much to turn your focal ring for the desired amount of focus to nail your shot. These days, I generally film between 1.4-2.5 on my prime lenses.
Tip: It helps to think of the focal plane like a thick slice of focus (stopped down aperture) and a thin slice of focus (wide aperture) moving through the picture versus a single focal point as we do with photography.