First Experiences: Shooting Video on a DSLR

I’ve shot video with many things over the years – actual video cameras, hand-held HD cameras like the Kodak Zi6 and Zi8, and even my iPhone. I’ve shot quick videos of my kids with my little hand-held point and shoot digital camera. But until last week, I’d never shot and edited video created with a DSLR camera for public consumption.

Video is something that we were doing quite a bit at the end of my tenure at Allegheny, and it’s something that John Carroll hasn’t been doing nearly enough of, especially on the marketing and communications side. We needed a cost-effective solution that would allow us to quickly go out and grab photos and video and share them on our website(s).

The idea of consolidating those two very different functions into 1 piece of gear was compelling. After consulting with some folks, whose opinions I value, professionals who shoot video all the time, and a ton of web reviews, I went with the Canon EOS Rebel T2i.

First, a few specs on the camera. Here’s the marketing blurb on it straight from Canon:

Canon T2iThe new flagship of the EOS Rebel line, Canon EOS Rebel T2i brings professional EOS features into an easy to use, lightweight digital SLR that’s a joy to use. Featuring a class-leading 18.0 Megapixel CMOS Image Sensor and increased light sensitivity for low light photography, the EOS Rebel T2i also has an advanced HD Movie mode for gorgeous Full HD movies. Able to capture up to 3.7 frames per second, it’s ready to go the minute it’s picked up. Advanced Live View, a new wide-area screen, plus features like Canon’s brilliant Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone features ensure brilliant photos and movies, easily. With some of the most advanced features of any digital SLR, it’s simply the best Rebel Canon has ever created.

After just a week of shooting with it, it’s delivered and then some. The T2i shoots 1080p HD video, which is nice, but the ability to shoot at 24,30 and 60 frames per second is especially nice, especially for a lower level camera like the T2i.

If you’re not sure why 24 and 30 FPS is important, here’s a quick primer. Video you see on TV, for example, and most videos you see at places like YouTube are shot at 30 frames per second. It looks like, well, video. I’m not saying that’s bad. Movies (and anything shot on film) is shot at 24 frames a second. It looks and feels smoother and more like, honestly, film and less like the camcorder video you shoot a family reunion. This wikipedia article really breaks this down.

Our first video project – a video about parking changes on campus. I know that’s not terribly exciting, but it was a good chance to get our feet wet and get the equipment figured out. We shot outside in very bright sunlight which was a little tough to deal with, but I think the video came out ok.

Audio for this shoot was also a new area for me. In addition to the camera, we picked up a RODE VideoMic. It attaches to the top of the T2i in the shoe (but doesn’t take power from the camera.) In tests I’ve done, it provides much better audio than the on-board mic.

After the shoot, I edited in Final Cut Express. It had been a while since I’d used any of the Final Cut programs, but its like riding a bike. After a few hours, I was rocking keyboard shortcuts like nobody’s business.

So, before I get to my conclusions, here’s the video. I know the content isn’t very exciting, but watch it in HD.


1. I need to keep a better eye on exposure when shooting
When shooting video, the LCD screen on the back of the camera is the only spot you can see what you’re shooting. In bright light, this is very difficult to monitor to make sure exposure and other settings are correct. You can get a loupe for the LCD screen that may be a necessity if we’re going to be shooting more outdoors.

2. Put the mic closer to the subject
I was pleased with the audio the RODE mic picked up. It was attached to the top of the camera and placed a few feet away from the subjects. In the future, I’d like to get a mic stand and place the mic closer to the subject to get better, cleaner sound. I can hear the sprinklers going in one of the shots.

3. Get a longer lens
This video (and all the photos you see in it) were shot with the lens that came with the camera kit – an 18-55mm lens. A longer lens will give us more flexibility and better depth of field where needed.

2 thoughts on “First Experiences: Shooting Video on a DSLR”

  1. Very cool. The video quality on these cameras is amazing. I’ve been using my 5D mark II for over a year now and its better than a $4000 prosumer camcorder.

    Working outside in harsh, overhead sunlight is really tough. The only way around it is to use a diffuser over the subject, but that’s not always possible.

    When shooting, make sure you have the exposure histogram displayed and that nothing is getting clipped on the right side. Judging by the image on the LCD alone is tough, even after adjusting the LCD brightness level for your environment.

    For shooting talking head interviews, I highly recommend the Canon 85 f/1.4 lens. Lets in plenty of light indoors and can really blur out the background for that shallow depth of field film look. Stepping (way) up I’d go to the 135 f/2.0.

    I just finished one project – a testimonial video for the annual fund. First time using green screen. It was tricky to remove all the green since the H.264 format has a narrow color space. I learned that shooting in a format with wide color gamut and higher sampling would be much easier. Hopefully Canon gives us new recording formats soon.

    I bought this video light kit on a whim the day before the shoot and I’m glad I did – works brilliantly. Cheap, stays cool and portable.

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