Tips and Tricks to Better DSLR Video

In the past few years, I have shot everything from weddings to television commercials to a full length movie on a DSLR camera. I love the versatility and reliability of the DSLR. This list of tips are things that I have learned over the years and have helped me tremendously. I tried to vary the tips for all experience levels. I am traditionally a Canon man, but I believe most of these tips will translate to other brands as well.       

1. If at all possible, always shoot with a manual exposure setting because exposures will change as you pan the camera.

2. When investing in a memory card, make sure it has a high data transfer rate of at least 400x. Slower speed card can error and lose it’s content.

3. Use the Neutral color profile as much as possible. This will allow the most information in the footage for color correction in post.

4. Invest in some good stabilizing equipment. A good shoulder rig or slider is worth its weight in gold, but be careful with fast movements as the CMOS sensor chip does produce some 'jello' effects.
Canon 5D Mark II
5. Utilize one of a DSLR’s greatest strength. A shallow depth of field can add a professional look to what ever you are shooting. This can be accomplished by opening the Iris as much as possible. This can lead to overexposure so make sure to adjust the ISO or the shutter speed. My general rule is the Shutter should be kept at twice the frame rate you are shooting (e.g. 30p --> shutter at 1/60th, 24/25p --> shutter at 1/50th as 1/48th is not supported)

6. For the clearest image, stick to ISO’s that are native to the camera. DSLR’s work in intervals of 160.

7. Use the digital zoom as a focus assist. Focus often!

8. Never use the internal mic. Always record audio on a secondary audio system such as a H4N zoom recorder.

9. To avoid aliasing, lower you f-stop when shooting small patterns (in clothing or fabrics) or use an ND Filter.

10. Your camera is only as good as the lens you shoot with. Invest in some high quality glass.

11. I service my cameras after every 30 hours of use. This will keep your sensor in good condition and the resale values high.

12. In post production you should always convert your footage to a NLE friendly format. In Final Cut Pro, I convert my footage to Apple Prores 422.

13. For a picture based HDR time lapse, invest in an interval trigger.

14. If you shoot for long periods of time. Get a good battery grip. This doubles your battery life as well as adds weight to the camera.

15. Use your shoulder strap to pan or stabilize your shots. Wrap the shoulder strap around the back of your shoulder and below your armpit.  Push the camera out and create a tension.

16. Especially for long shoots, invest in a good vest or bag, always have lens cleaners, batteries, ND Filters, and extra memory cards.

17. Lens caps get lost, buy cheap ones.

18. DSLR’s have a recording limit of 12 minutes at a time. Plan around this for long takes.

19. Natural light is great when shooting on a DSLR, but always over plan for light. I always take a LED light panel that can attach to my cameras cold shoe mount.  

20. 3rd party firmware updates can be dangerous to your camera. Make sure when using one that it is from a safe source and you know how to revert back to old settings.

21. Magic Lantern has some great firmware updates and extras. Scopes, audio monitors, color profiles and focus assists will make your life easier.

22. DSLR's arnt the best at capturing clean audio effectivly. If you do record audio from a secondary source, make sure your DSLR is recording referance audio. You can match the audio by hand, or use software such as Pluraleyes to help sync your secondary audio to your video.

23. On hot days shooting outside, keep your camera in the shade as much as possible. DSLR’s can overheat. If your camera has a blinking thermometer on the display, turn it off and get it out of the sun to cool it down.

24. Invest in a good bag. You can never have too much protection when transporting your lenses and camera.

25. Try new things. One of the greatest things about DSLR is that it's new, it's innovative, and it can be used in new and exciting ways all the time. The possibilities are endless!