Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Step by Step : Shooting Video with the DSLR

Composing and Focusing 

One of a series of posts aimed to help still photographers produce better videos with their DSLRs.

One of the many limitations or frustrations if you will of shooting video with today's DSLR is the lack of a proper built in focusing aid. Since in most cameras the mirror flops up and blocks the viewfinder, so you need to use the LCD for focusing. There are no electronic viewfinders built into these cameras as there are on "real" video cameras.

Composing and focusing your image with the LCD will work however only if it is at eye level. (The Canon 60D, Nikon D5000 and Olympus E5 are the notable exceptions with swivel LCD screens) And trying to focus on a tiny 3 inch reflective screen in the bright sun is nearly impossible. Even indoors, follow focusing can be difficult due to the small screen.

So what do we do? Right now, there are two options, a loupe that fits over the LCD, shading it from the sun and providing magnification and an external monitor. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Early next year, we will see a third option - an electronic viewfinder that attaches to our DSLRs via the HDMI out. Zacuto and Redrock are both working on these.

LCD Loupe Advantages
  • Compact
  • Blocks sunlight from hitting the LCD
  • Magnifies the image up to 3X
  • Offers another contact point for stability when holding the camera
  • No easy way to attach to the LCD
  • Can't be used for composing or focusing when on the ground or in another hard to reach position 
  • Can burn the LCD if the eyepiece is aimed up to the sun
  • Can be expensive
External Monitor Advantages
  • Large screen to compose and focus 
  • Extra features such as peaking, pixel to pixel magnification, aspect ratio marks, and false color 
  • Can position camera anywhere and view monitor from another position via an HDMI cable
  • Bulky
  • Needs batteries
  • Needs a sunscreen
  • Very expensive

This loupe from Zacuto attaches over the LCD screen to a frame that is glued to the back of the camera. It snaps right on and off and gives you a 2.5 - 3X magnification of the LCD screen. 

Composing a ground level image can be difficult without an external monitor. This monitor by Marshall Electronics is their new portable 5" monitor than runs on 4 AA batteries. Light and compact and with a long HDMI cable, can be placed far from the camera if need be.

What to buy? Tough one to answer. As you can see by the list above, they each offer their own strengths and weaknesses. I use both depending on the shoot. When I'm mobile, shooting run & gun style, the loupe is the way to go due to it's compact form factor. However, with the external monitor, there are many features that make composing and focusing your shot so much easier. If I'm shooting mostly on a tripod, I almost always use the external monitor.

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