Filming with a dSLR – the settings

Whooper Swan in Iceland
Whooper Swan in Iceland

So, now we’ve got our camera equipment ready for shooting film with a dSLR (see my previous post), what settings do we use? First of all we have to set a frame rate. How many images do we need, per second. What choices you can make is in part depending on the part of the world you live in. In Europe the PAL-standard is used, which means the normal frame rate is 25 fps. In the US the NTSC standard is used, which means 30 fps. Now if you want to use slow motion it’s better to use the double frame rate, if the camera allows that. In that case you can shoot in 50 fps and play the video at 25 fps, which means everything is showed at half the normal speed, without making up new frames. Next is video size. For me this is a no brainer. I always shoot in the largest format available, which is in most dSLR’s 1080p (or full HD). The only reason to shoot in 720p is that 50fps is not available at 1080p in most dSLR’s. But if you don’t plan to use slow motion, I would always use the largest size. Downsizing is always possible, but it’s a lot harder to make a video larger…

So, now we’ve got the first settings and we’re almost ready to go. We’ve only got shutter speed, aperture and ISO left… Strangely enough, you don’t want to be each frame crisp sharp. A little motion blur makes for a smoother movie. It’s recommended to use a shutter speed of twice the frame rate. So if you’re using 25 fps (which I normally do), you use a shutter speed of 1/50s. This is not depending on the light available. This means that you have to expose using either aperture or ISO. I normally use aperture to choose the depth of field that I want and only use ISO to get the right exposure. This often means you need to go to a really low ISO-value. This is also the reason neutral density filters are used that often in film making.

Now you’re all set to get the camera rolling… If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below!

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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