HD SLR Video

Quick Digital Imaging Tip 32/101: Keep It Level

This is tip #32 of 101 digital imaging tips I plan to post here over the next few months. Stay tuned.

Today's tip: Keep it Level.

Not keeping the horizon line level is of the biggest mistakes novice still photographers make.

Keeping the horizon line level, and the entire scene level for that matter, is even more important when shooting video . . . but not always, as recently pointed out by an astute reader.

I've found, by watching Juan Pons in action, that the easiest way to keep the scene level is to use the Manfrotto Ball Leveller (438).

I just got mine. Juan was using his when we were at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas shooting videos for our upcoming Wiley Publishing DVD: Canon DSLR Video Master Class.

The new holiday classic, The Christmas Cheetah, was shot at Fossil Rim with the Canon EOS 7D and Canon 70-200mm IS f/4 lens. The camera/lens set-up was mounted on the rig you see at the opening of this post.

For all my video gear, click here.

Explore the light,

DSLR HD Videos: Steady Shooting and Superb Sound are Key

When it comes to shooting HD videos with your digital SLR, steady shooting and superb sound quality are super important. Of course, if you want your video to look like Hurt Locker, you can hand-hold your camera as you run down the street at top speed. For steady results, however, you'll need some sort of camera support.

In the above photograph, the videographer is using a shoulder mount (Cavision RS5DM2SET-F Shoulder Mount Package) to steady his camera – actually my Canon 7D :-)

The shoulder mount is very effective and gives you mobility while shooting in the field. However, for super steady shots, you'll want a very sturdy tripod with a video head that is designed specifically for movies, such as the Manfroto 701HDV Pro Fluid Video Mini Head shown below. Ahhhhh, don't ya just love smooth pans and tilts.

When shooting videos, you'll get less camera shake with wide-angles lenses than you will with telephoto lenses – which is also true for still photographs.

Also note that you can reduce some camera shake in Final Cut Pro by using the Smooth Cam feature.

Sound - it's more important than you may think. In fact, great sound can save a poor quality video – but not vice versa.

First off, you want to use an accessory mic, such as the Rode Video shotgun mic – shown in the opening photo with a Pearson Fuzzy Windjammer.

Placing a mic on boom (such as the Rode Mini Boompole) is even an better idea than using an camera-mounted mic – because the mic is closer to the subject.

Another option is to use wireless lapel mics, such as the Sennheiser EW112-0 G3 system. The Sennheiser receivers for a two-mic set up, along with a BeachTek mixer, are shown in the photo below. In that photo, the sound is being recorded directly to the CF card.

Sure, you can record directly to the CF card in the camera. The results are okay. For best results, however, you'll want to use an external recorded, such as the Zoom H4n, which is attached to the rig in the opening photo with several rubber bands. Yes, mounting brackets are available, but hey, if pros can use duck tape, you can use rubber bands.

Note: You still need to record the sound to the CF card, as you'll need that sound track to sync your off-camera mic recording.

One more thought, for now, on sound: You must wear good headphones when shooting. Not only do you want to check the volume and quality of your sound, but you want to VERY carefully listen for background noise and audio "hits." These hits can be caused by everything from fabric rubbing on the mic to an HD signal (depending on which channel you have selected for your mic) to an iPhone.

I have heard these hits/clicks on several recordings. They ranged from being barely noticeable to being so obvious that they ruined the video.

Let me know here if you'd like to see more posts on shooting videos with you digital SLR camera.

If you want to see a cool digital SLR HD video by my friend/co-founder of the Digital Photo Experience, Juan Pons, click here. Now that is steady!

For a list of the DSLR video gear I recommend, click here.

Explore the light,

P.S. As you noticed, the videographer in the opening photo has both eyes open. If you learn how to shoot with both eyes open, you'll have a better chance of keeping an eye (so to speak) on what's happening around the main action in your viewfinder. This technique could save you from tripping while walking and shooting, and could save your shot by letting you know if something or someone is about to enter/ruin the scene.

HD SLR Video: Getting Started with a Basic Setup

In talking with my friend and HD SLR innovator, Vincent LaForet, he offered some good advice for those just getting into HD SLR video: Keep it Simple.

Well, I am just getting into HD SLR video, and I took his advice.

Here is my simple (starter) setup for images and sound - and why I use this stuff:

Rode VideoMic - Camera Mounted Shotgun Microphone. The sound quality is very good and I only have one thing to worry about (as opposed to a transmitter/receiver lapel mic set up). Also, the mic plugs directly into the camera (or an accessory recorder). Because it's not wireless, there is no chance for interference, which I have experienced even with a very good transmitter/receiver mic setup - even when I turn off my iPhone. :-)

If you use an on-camera mic, be sure to turn off the IS and AF features on your camera. Those tiny sounds will be picked up big time.

Want more professional sound? Check out the Zoom recorder. That's the recorder I use for my DPE on-site interviews.

Induro CT 214 Tripod. Steady as a rock and supports the longest lens I use for video: 70-200mm f/4.

If you plan to use longer lenses or other accessories, you probably want a heavier tripod.

Manfrotto 501HDV Fluid Video Head - Supports up to 13.2 lbs (6kg). Lets me move the camera in any directly smoothly and easily. As a bonus, the handle makes me feel like a pro. :-)

A fluid head is an essential accessory for steady shooting.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital Camera Kit with Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM AF Lens. I like to travel light. This lens is very versatile for people and scenic shots. What's more, at the wide settings, I can hand-hold the setup.

Another favorite lens of mine is the 17-40mm. I shoot more wide-angle stuff than tele stuff.

Lexar 32GB Professional UDMA 600x CompactFlash Card. Reliable and plenty of space for shooting several segments.

Don't leave home without plenty of memory cards (and batteries).

For more HD SLR video/sound information, check out the Digital Photo Experience. Juan Pons posts some good stuff there, as does Art Howard. We also have a interview with Vincent on the site!

Explore the light,