Filming With DSLR

Ever since Nikon launched the D90 back in 2008, people has wanted to use their DSLR for filming. I must admit I’m still a bit puzzled why so many would like to use, or even buy, a DSLR that has been fine-tuned over decades to be hold up to the eye, looking through the viewfinder and take stills, to handhold and look at the screen while filming. I mean, doesn’t a dedicated film camera do a better job as it has been specifically designed for that job in mind? Well, that doesn’t seem to keep people away from buying and using their DSLR to make a movie, so what do we need to keep in mind?

First off, what to you need to start filming with a DSLR?
A camera body, the newer the better normally, as the technology is under rapid development.
A lens, what type depends on what you would like to film.
A microphone, despite what the PR department would like to tell you, the built-in mic is crap. What type of mic? It depends on that you would like to film.
So, already there you see that there is not one package fits all.

Camera
There is no secret that even though Nikon was first to include video in a DSLR, they still struggle with the autofocus in video mode. Other brands have a much smoother autofocus, while the Nikon’s hunts more back and forth. For bloggers or others that has a (more or less) fixed distance between the camera and the subject, the trick with a Nikon DSLR is to focus first and then turn off autofocus completely. With an aperture of f/5.6 you can still move around quite a lot and be in good sharpness.

Recommendation
It all depends on what you have or even what friends and family have that you may borrow. Using what you have until you get more experience and are better qualified to upgrade to something better is my best advice. If you are buying new or used, read reviews and make your choice according to what you need.

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Lens
I’ve read and seen a lot of praise of wide angle lenses like 24, 30 and 35mm for bloggers, and I’m not sure when all this started as it will distort the subject’s face. If such lenses are used for head and shoulders type of typical video blogs, it will make nose and mouth look much bigger than it is in real life. Only time I would recommend a lens with a focal length as mentioned above, is if it is because of limited space only. There is a reason why 50 and 85mm lenses are considered to be “portrait lenses” on full frame camera, because you need a bit distance between the camera and the subject before the distortion effect is minimized. Recommend to try to have at least 3 meters between the camera and the subject and then determine what focal length you should use to get headshot, head and shoulder, head and down to the waist, head and down to the legs or even the whole body. Also, a wide-angle lens will include a wider area of the background while a telephoto lens will minimize what is included.

Recommendation
If you have a camera already, use the lens(es) that you have before buying a new one. Get experience with it and figure out what you miss or limits what you want to achieve. If you are buying new or used, go for the kit lens first to get experience before you decide for something else, maybe the kit lens is all you need.

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Microphone
To clarify why I don’t recommend the built-in microphone. There are mainly two things, first it’s mounted in the camera, and any noise from operating the camera or focus motor will be picked up by the microphone. Secondly, if the distance from the mic varies, the sound level will vary too. Also, if you are filming indoors, it will be a lot of echo (if it’s not a very big room though). Maybe a third thing as well, as most things you are filming is not very close to the mic, it will pick up a lot of ambient noise as well (you will be surprised how much ambient noise there is).

If you would like to film people talking, I would say that a Lav-mic (short for lavalier) is one of the best options, because its small and you can clip it to the subject’s clothing.  The Lav-mic can be connected to the camera, but in most cases it’s better to use your mobile phone as a recorder and then sync it with the video in editing later on. Benefit is that it will always be at the same distance from the subject’s mouth, and thereby give even sound at (almost) any situation. Just as important is that the mic will be relatively close to the mouth and relatively far away from other sounds, making ambient noise mostly mute. Drawback is that you need to sync the sound to the video later if you use a recording device like a phone.

If you on the other hand would like to record more of the sound of what you are filming in front of you, a “shotgun” mic would be a good alternative, as it is a directional mic that records sound more in the fashion of a telephoto lens. Best option is to have a sound guy that can aim the mic in the direction of what you are filming, but most likely you would mount it on top of the camera. Drawback on mounting it on top of the camera is that it still may pick up sounds from the camera and lens, although not as much as the built-in mic.

Recommendation
This is the only place I will actually come with a recommendation, and that is the Røde Smartlav+. I will also recommend Røde Videomic as very good beginners shotgun type. I don’t say those are the best, but they are very good for the price and you need to pay much more for something considerably better. If you start with one of these, you will already have much better sound than those who only use the built-in mic in the camera!

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Light
Again something I’ve seen a lot of recommendation for is the ring-light for bloggers. A ring-light positioned straight in front of the subject and with the camera in the middle will have even light all around the face with little to now shadow. I know it’s popular in beauty and fashion, but does it look natural? We are all (at least most of us) used to having light coming from above at an angle, so why not have a more natural approach to lighting? Like slightly above and little bit to the side?

Recommendation
This is a tricky one, as it’s all depends what you would like to film. Again, I’ll recommend that you use what you have before buying something you may not need. For indoor, big windows give a nice soft light. Outdoors, shade is always nice, but not always you can choose. If you like to add a light for indoor use, I recommend to buy a kit with a softbox, bulbs and stand in one package. Make sure you get daylight balanced bulbs as they blend more easily with light coming in from the window. Will also recommend to get light where you may adjust the output power, making it much easier to get the look you want.

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Sound and/or video quality
Strangely we see a lot fuzz about video in full HD, 4K and even 8K, but not so much about sound. Truth is that sound quality matter much more than video quality. If you are filming and the camera shakes a little bit here and there or it sometimes misses the focus, most people wouldn’t care about it. But if the sound is bad, like volume going up and down, or if the wind make noise or clothes touches the mic, people will complain immediately! What bout skipping the ambient sound completely and add some music instead? Be careful what music you choose but done right it can add a lot to the final result. So, even if your video is in crystal clear 4k, don’t forget that the sound should be on the same high level.

Recommendation
Experiment and get experience before you publish your masterpiece.
Minimize the intro and drop the NOISY background music!!

More
As in photography, think about your background if its inside or outside. Inside it can be an idea to use a dedicated backdrop to have full control over what is in the frame. In addition, you will need a tripod and a video editing software. Unfortunately, there isn’t a tripod that fits all, so after some time you may end up with several for each situation. For video editing software, there is a lot of free ones. Recommend to download and try several before you decide witch one who fits you best. You don’t HAVE to get Adobe Premier because “everyone else does”.

Here is a video that we have made: Tomorrow’s Outlook – A Voice Unheard CD Package, Iron Maiden in Trondheim + my first CD artwork ever

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