Shoot like a Pro

Exploring DSLR Video

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

The main advantage of DSLR video is one of picture quality. Every control you have for producing outstanding still pictures is available for making outstanding video images.

Are you a photographer who views your DSLR’s video capability much like you would your own appendix? You might have it, but you don’t think about it much.

A growing number of camera manufacturers are installing an ever-growing number of ever-better appendices into their formerly still-pictures-only products. Many professional still photographers are sticking their toes into the video waters while a good number have taken an all-out plunge, adding video production to their list of services. Some wedding and portrait photographers offer “fusion” videos – a combination of moving and still pictures in place of image slideshows.

Changing your perspective

Thinking of your camera’s video capability in terms of video production may make you want to keep it on the back burner. Thinking of it in terms of making pictures that move might cause you to begin to play with it and discover its possibilities.

Making long pictures

The main advantage of DSLR video is one of picture quality. Every control you have for producing outstanding still pictures is available for making outstanding video images. Think of it – an array of focal lengths, control of f-stops for exposure and depth of field, white balance, exposure compensation – it’s all there waiting to be applied to moving pictures.

Oh, and one more thing.

You know that cropped sensor that keeps you longing for a full frame 35mm DSLR? It so happens that a DX sensor is about the same size as the image recorded by one of Hollywood’s full frame 35mm Panavision film cameras. Remember that the image on 35mm movie film is recorded on the film sideways instead of lengthways as in a 35mm still camera. That sideways image is roughly one-third smaller than the lengthways image – the same ratio as full frame to crop frame.

And if you’re the type of photographer that likes to use pictures to tell a story, what is a more natural extension for you than to tell the same story with video?

Same but different

While you have the same image controls, various camera manufacturers may have you apply those controls differently to video. The Nikon D90, for example, allows you to compensate your exposure and lock it in before recording video (to avoid that annoying exposure adjustment that occurs as the camera pans from a light area to a dark area). But those controls are not found in the same place as when shooting still pictures. (In fact, early reviews of the Nikon D90’s capabilities erroneously reported that locking the exposure was not possible with video).

It may take an investment of time to comb through your camera’s manual to find out what’s the same and what’s different about picture controls when it comes to making video. Once those differences are discovered, if you’re already adept at applying those controls to still photos, you’ll have little trouble making the jump to video.

It’s not just the pictures that move

Whereas your tripod until now was all about framing a shot and locking it down, with video, panning left and right and up and down becomes part of the equation. You’ll want to invest in a fluid head so your camera movements are smooth.

Handheld video shots are also now more common than in the past, so acceptable results can be achieved quite easily. One trick I use when making handheld video is to wear the camera on a neck strap and use the LCD to monitor the video picture. I’ll hold the camera in both hands and push it away from me as far as the neck strap allows to create a cross tension that helps stabilize the picture. I also use a battery grip on my Nikon D90 and find that the extra size and weight helps keep things steady.

The fact that the camera is free to move along with your subjects opens up an entirely different way of thinking as far as capturing images. Where your subject in a still picture is placed there in the frame for all to see, video allows you to take your time getting to your subject if you choose.

You can scan the environment in which your subject exists before introducing the subject in the frame. Or introduce your subject first, then show its environment in detail. Or reveal it in piece with several shots. It’s all up to you and how you wish to lead your viewers into your video.

Post production

Once your video images have been shot, they need to be strung together in a video editing program. Both PCs and Macs come with basic video editing programs that, surprisingly, can do a lot.

The software consists of importing your clips into the program, then placing the images in order on a timeline. You can then trim the clips and apply various effects, control how the clips transition from one to the next, add titles and even add music and sound effects. More robust video editing programs are available beginning under $100 and range upward from there.

Which HD format?

There are two formats for HD video, 1080i (interlaced) and 720p (progressive). Interlaced video records and displays images in 1080 horizontal lines. Each frame is divided into two images displayed one after the other at 1/60th of a second. Progressive video displays the picture one image at a time at 720 lines every 1/30th of a second.

Which is better? While videophiles will fight to the death for one format over the other and have good arguments for either, I suggest shooting in each format if your camera supports both and compare the results. Again, it may take some searching to find what your camera supports.

In the case of the Nikon D90, the video menu lists 1280×720 (720p) as the highest resolution. A little digging into the master settings menu for the camera reveals an option to shoot video at 1080i. I presume that the camera downsizes the video to output to 720p, but I’ve found that shooting at 1080 produces a video with smoother movements as opposed to shooting straight 720.

Against the Sky is a test of the video capabilities of the Nikon D90. Shot late in the afternoon, the camera was put through its paces as far as exposure and depth of field are concerned. Side light, back light and low light were all thrown into the mix, and the camera performed quite well. Edited in Windows Movie Maker and exported as 720p HD video. Music was composed and performed by Steve Wick


  • jack, I don’t know for sure but my guess is that your email client is compressing the file. Video files are very large. You can try putting it into a zip file and then attach it to an email. Or use a file sharing service such as YouSendIt.. I sometimes use Google Docs to upload files, including video, and share with others.

  • my video pics look great on my pc but when I sent myself email attactment to ck out, the sharpness and color were very degraded – camera is sona alpha a65 – still pics look fine when attaching to email- I am using windows pc – new to video