Advanced Tutorial 11
Your camera is an amazing tool for taking photographic stills, but that is nowhere near the limit of its abilities. Modern advanced video functions and movie modes can unleash your creativity – you have, in your hand, all you need for high-quality digital film-making. So let’s look in detail at those creative video functions.
Advanced video with Creative Movie mode
Never was there a more popular time for making videos using large-sensor, SLR-style cameras. Successful commercials, documentaries, music videos and even films and TV have all been produced using the new generation of ‘Hybrid’ digital cameras.
For example, here is Panasonic’s LUMIX GH4 in ‘Pro Video’ set-up:
The reason directors are choosing this format is the availability of larger sensors in ‘stills’ cameras, compared to traditional video cameras – plus the benefits of lower cost, more compact dimensions and greater creative control, too. The high performance of these ‘consumer’ models makes for a compelling choice for a professional but is also available for the amateur.
How has video changed?
There used to be a world of difference between film and video. Movies were shot on film, TV on professional, broadcast-quality video. Home video was shot on small, tape-based camcorders – then digital technology arrived in the 90s, changing everything. Now, the line between ‘pro’ and consumer quality is blurred; we have ‘domestic’ cameras that can record with the same resolution and bit-rates as pro kit – and as so are being used professionally worldwide.
What are the creative options?
For photography, advanced performance and creativity are the main incentives for stepping up from a compact to an Interchangeable Lens System Camera – and those same reasons apply for video too. A DSLR – more especially a DSLM – offers the following creative video advantages, compared to a compact stills camera or camcorder:
- Variable frame rate shooting
- Aperture and shutter control during recording
- Shallow depth of field
- Interchangeable lenses
Variable frame rate shooting
The biggest move, creatively, for consumer cameras was the introduction of frame rates that match those of film-making. For almost 100 years, film has been shot at a global standard: 24 progressive frames per second. Video, however, has a number of formats around the world. In Europe, it is captured as 50 interlaced fields (each containing half the information of a whole frame) that, when combined, playback at 25fps.
Such interlaced video (50i) looks very different on screen to film – the dreaded ‘soap-opera’ effect – so is regarded by film-makers as inferior. The ‘filmic look’ is much sought after and the ability to shoot video at 24fps goes a long way towards achieving it. Modern Interchangeable Lens System Cameras offer not only this but also 25p, 50i and even ultra-smooth 50p – via the ‘Rec Quality’ menu, as shown. Because of their advanced video abilities combined with excellent photographic performance, they are often referred to as ‘hybrid’ cameras.
When choosing for your production, consider the subject matter and what you will do with the recording. Here are a few pointers on the merits of each format:
- 1080/24p – has the ‘motion effect’ of film. Favoured by video enthusiasts for shooting shorts and dramas.
- 1080/50i – ideal for family movies. Wide compatibility with editing software and TV/DVD/Blu-ray playback.
- 1080/50p – smoother motion and more detailed than 50i (especially noticeable on larger screens). Requires high processor power for editing on special compatible software. Shooting at 50p and then playing it back in a 25 frame timeline also makes for a nice slow-motion effect.
Creative exposure settings
As with photography, aperture and shutter control dramatically change the way video looks.
A film-maker aiming for a particular look will select an f-stop giving the required depth of field, or a shutter speed portraying sharp, clean movement, or maybe a soft motion-blur effect. The Hybrid camera allows such control during video mode, but there are limitations. Because the native frame rate of video is 25fps, the slowest shutter speed available is 1/25th sec.
The rule of thumb for choosing shutter speed is based on the ‘shutter angle’ used in cinemas for projecting film. Until very recently, this was 180 degrees; it essentially means each frame is flashed twice on screen, which is one reason why film looks as it does in cinemas. If you are keen for a ‘cinematic’ look, not only should you shoot at 24fps, but also keep your shutter at 1/48th sec – on a DSLR/DSLM, the closest to this is 1/50th sec.
You can use this ‘doubling rule’ when shooting at 25 or 50fps, but if you want to try a faster shutter for sharper movement capture, simply experiment! What works best for you? Just be aware that to achieve a bright enough exposure when sticking to a minimum 1/50th sec shutter speed, you may need to select a higher ISO or, better still, use very fast lenses.
Shallow depth of field (DoF)
The available lens aperture obviously has an effect on DoF, but it is sensor size that makes it more or less pronounced.
The larger your sensor, the shallower the DoF and the softer the background focus. For example, the Micro Four Thirds sensor is around eight times larger than a compact’s and at least three times larger than some professional video cameras.
This is why DSLMs make great-looking movies, and your point of focus can be used very effectively to emphasise objects or facial expressions.
As we have observed, one main determiner of how good your pictures look is the glass sitting in front of the sensor.
Great film-makers agonise over their lens choices to ensure they get the look they want. The ability to experiment with lenses, tailoring your camera to different shooting scenarios provides a powerful creative tool.
There is an amazingly diverse range of lenses available for today’s hybrids, but if you prefer to shoot with that ‘old school’ 35mm look, ‘PL mount’ adapters are available that will support most retro lenses.
As previously mentioned, wide-aperture ‘fast’ lenses offer greater flexibility when shooting video. But look out, too, for kit such the LUMIX ‘HD Video Support’ lens range. Their ‘Silent Design’ dramatically reduces noise recorded during focusing, zooming and aperture operation – perfect for video use.
The LUMIX Advantage
All LUMIX G models support HD video recording, but the world-renowned GH series offers hybrid models that take it to a new level. The flagship GH4 not only offers true cinematic 4K resolution, but also 4:2:2 10-bit sampling and video bit-rate up to broadcast standard 200Mbps (in FHD mode) plus many more pro-video features.
Here is the GH4 with its lens line-up:
With the dedicated ‘Manual Movie’ mode, full creative controls are easily accessed – allowing you to hone your video skills. Also in this mode you can use either the shutter button or dedicated video button to start/stop recording.
Stretch your creativity by experimenting with video exposure settings. Firstly, try the 180-degree shutter angle rule, sticking to a shutter speed twice as fast as your frame rate. Next, try breaking that rule! Shoot some fast action using a faster shutter. Playback on a TV to get the best idea of how it looks.
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