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Getting Started with DSLR Video

video dslr
Photo by: Dean Terry

To get great results out of your DSLR cameras when shooting video you must first make sure that it is setup correctly to shoot video. In this article we’ll discuss how.

Setting Up Your DSLR Camera To Shoot Video

Shoot in Manual Mode

First and foremost set your shooting mode to Manual (M). One of the most common mistakes made by amateurs is to try to capture video in one of the semi automatic modes like Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Priority (TV) or Program (P) mode. By doing so you lose complete control over how your video will look as the camera has absolutely no idea what it is that you wish to convey in a scene.

Picture Styles

Familiarize yourselves with the various picture style presets your camera has. It is better to choose Flat, Neutral or Faithful settings for achieving professional results white shooting video. This will ensure that your video footage is not overly contrasted or saturated and any enhancements needed could be done later during post.

Setting User Defined Picture Styles

Many cameras also allow you to set User Defined Picture Styles; you could select one and modify it to suit your needs by dialing in values for Sharpeness, Contrast and Saturation.


It is better to set sharpening to ‘0’;any in camera sharpening done is irreversible and could make your video look pixelated.


It is recommended to set contrast also to ‘0’; it will ensure that details in both highlights and shadows are captured properly. Details lost while filming cannot be recovered in post.


Most cameras produce slightly more saturated colours than normal by default. So set saturation down two notches.


Resolution represents the pixel dimensions of video and is one of the standards of measuring quality of video. Simple rule to remember is larger the resolution, greater the video quality. It is recommended that you shoot in HD quality as video footage shot in higher resolution can always be scaled down but not the other way around. In HD mode your 1080p video in widescreen is 1920x1080 pixels. However not all 1080p HD video is created equally, more on this later.

Aspect Ratio

Aspect ratio is the ratio of width to height; Different cameras allow you to shoot in different aspect ratios. Choosing the right aspect ratio is critical and should be only done after analyzing the final usage of the video and the devices on which it is intended to be played. For example the most common setting is the 16:9 wide screen format. However if your video is targeted to be played in traditional non wide screen televisions then you will need to use an aspect ratio of 4:3. So always keep in mind the target devices when choosing the aspect ratio of your video.

Frame Rate

Frame rate denotes the number of frames your camera will record in a second while shooting video. Sometimes it is expressed with a “p” attached to a number, such as 30p. Here are some of the most common frame rates possible with DSLRs and their effect on final video.

24FPS – Capturing video at 24 frames per second will give your video a cinematic look.

30FPS – Capturing video at 30 frames per second delivers a little more fluid motion, this is one of the most common setting used for DSLR video.

60FPS  -  Not many DSLR cameras allow you to capture video at 60 frames per second, it is mostly suited for capturing fast action. The ability to shoot at 60fps has many advantages, you could split it up to slow down the sequence (take 60 frames captured in one second and stretch it across two seconds).

Shutter Speed

In video shooting shutter speed is set based on the chosen frame rate. For best results, the rule of thumb is to set a shutter speed that is twice that of the frame rate. For example if the frame rate is 25 fps use a shutter speed of 1/50. Using shutter speeds lower than this will tend to blur motion and using shutter speeds much higher than this will cause motion to appear jumpy.

Use Aperture to Control Depth of Field

Unlike still photography you no longer have the flexibility of changing shutter speed while shooting video; use Aperture to control the depth of field in your shots and the increased or decreased light levels should be compensated by either adjusting ISO or by using ND filters.

For example if you shift to a narrower aperture (by two stops) to create more depth of field you should compensate by either increasing ISO by two stops or increasing the amount of light available in the scene by two stops. And if you shift to a wider aperture (by two stops) if you are shooting at higher ISO’s you could lower ISO by two stops if not you will have to use a two stop ND filter to get right exposure, or you could reduce the amount of available light by two stops.


ISO is the camera sensors sensitivity to light; it is always recommend shooting at the lowest ISO setting for best results, which in case of most cameras is ISO 100. However in situations when you need to raise ISO the following tip will come in handy to get the best results.

As per Technicolor it is recommended to use ISO in multiples of 160 for best results, followed by multiples of 100 and lastly multiples of 125 for worst quality. 

So multiples of ISO 160 like 160, 320, 640, 1250  produces best quality
And multiples of ISO 125 like 125, 250, 500, 1000  produces worst quality.

Here’s the Reason Why

The native ISO values set in digital cameras are , 200, 400, 800, 1600 etc. The values in the middle like (125, 160, 250, 320) are all simulations. So when you set the ISO at 125, there will be more noise than at ISO 100 because the camera sets the ISO at 100 and then simulates the higher ISO (125) by applying GAIN. Similarly, when set at ISO 160, the camera actually goes for ISO 200 and applies NEGATIVE GAIN, making the image darker and thus hiding a lot of the noise. In the former case the camera is adding gain and in the latter it is hiding gain and that is the real secret behind.

White Balance for DSLR Video

White balance works just the same as when shooting stills; if you need accurate colours in your video use a white balance preset that matches your light source or for more accurate results use Custom White Balance. For using white balance to simulate creative effects refer: - Using White Balance as a Creative Tool. The LCD display is a great tool to see the difference each setting has on your video instantly.

Be Mindful of Sensor Overheating

Shooting video means using most of the electronics inside of your camera, including sensor and lcd. As a result the camera quickly uses up a lot of battery power and also heats up real quick. Most DSLR cameras only allow continuous video shooting for 15 minutes or so before it heats up and stops. The duration varies with camera make and model. The average time before overheating is around the 15-20 minute mark, though some cameras can run for 30 minutes or longer in the right conditions. If your camera overheats and shuts down it will take some time before the camera will power up and allow you to shoot, it is better to avoid this by shooting in short durations with periods of rest in between also whenever you are not actually recording turn off live view and use the view finder.

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