The hybrid shooter: Mirrorless video tips (Part one)
Back in 2008, the Canon 5D Mark II blew everyone’s minds with its ability to shoot both full frame 21MP stills and 1080p video. Best of all, it allowed us to use prime lenses to get a sweet shallow depth of field for that cinematic look – something consumer video cameras with their small sensors could never give us up until that point.
But ever since endowing us with true hybrid shooting abilities, many camera manufacturers have been dragging their feet by arbitrarily crippling their DSLR and Mirrorless video modes to make them almost awesome – but not awesome enough to cannibalise their sales of dedicated ‘prosumer’ video cameras.
Until recently, this crippling pained us with omitting things such as full frame 4K, high frame rates, professional video file formats and importantly, the ability to switch between stills and film rapidly and seamlessly.
So why finally give us the full pie? Apart from faster processors, a few other things helped usher in this latest generation of hybrid cameras. Smartphones hybrid capabilities have killed the profitability in the lower end consumer market.
Also, upstarts like Sony and Panasonic stepped into the fray with amazing hybrid mirrorless models. The result was that by the mid 2010s, competition was heating up.
This brings us to the current generation of mirrorless cameras that are endowed with a bunch of innovative inclusions such as body combination lens image stabilisation, super accurate eye tracking focus, insane low light abilities and very capable film formats including 10bit 4:2:2 recording (meaning a billion colour combinations) and 8K RAW video.
Finally, we have all the ingredients to be both a VERY capable photographer and cinematographer.
Mastering photography first
Stanley Kubrick was a genius director who originally developed his eye as a stills photographer. He became renowned for realising many iconic shots and film scenes. No matter whether it was still or moving, he understood the aesthetic and emotive power of the image.
So, if you are good at photography, you really won’t find it a big jump to cinematography. Framing, lighting, lenses – they are all pretty much the same concepts. After all, film is just a series of photos played back together, or, as I like to think of it – a camera movement ‘take’ is just a ‘still image’ with two, three or more ‘shots’ you transition between.
Setting up your camera
1) Frame Rate
Remember those old BW films and how they look so ‘choppy’ and comical? That’s because they were shot between 12-20 fps. Generally, modern motion pictures are shot at 24 to 25 frames per second (fps). This is the minimum speed needed to capture video while still maintaining realistic motion. It’s also a speed we have grown accustomed to.
Videos that are 30fps can end up looking a bit like a ‘soap opera’ look but are slightly better for capturing sport. That said, there are advantages of shooting at higher frame rates such as 50(PAL) 60(NTSC) 100(PAL) or even 120(NTSC).
It not only looks cool to see things in slow motion, but it also helps stabilise the footage. But no matter what the frame rate is you settle on; the result will end up being displayed at 24 to 25 frames per second. I often shoot at 100fps to capture ‘dreamy’ cut away / B Roll images. The key is to make sure you shoot anything that you want to appear ‘normal’, or with sound, at 25fps @ 1/50th second shutter speed – see more on that below.
2) Shutter speed and ND filters
Get used to shooting everything in Manual. The general rule is you’re going to want to keep your shutter speed at approximately double your frames per second. So, 25fps = 1/50s, 50fps = 1/100s, 100fps = 1/200s etc.
With normal shooting, this ‘slow’ shutter speed can lead to overexposure problems in bright sunny conditions. For example – let’s say you want to shoot outdoors at say 25fps, 1/50s @ f1.4 @ ISO 100. The way to retain f1.4 is by using a Neutral Density Filter 32 (ND32) which cuts the amount of light by five stops without altering colour. Or you can stop down to f8 – urgh!
You can think of ND filters as basically dark sunglasses for your camera. You could use a variable ND which is basically two polarisers stuck together – but this can lead to uneven distribution of light on the sensor.
You can buy ND in various densities which have their own annoying unhelpful scientific labelling system. E.g. ND 4 = 2 stops, ND8 = 3 stops, ND16 is 4 stops, ND 32 is 5 stops etc. Depending on how fast your lens is and what aperture you want to shoot with - an ND 16 or 32 is a good start. I have a ND4 and ND32 in my kit bag and while not recommended, at a pinch you can double up and use them together.
3) HD, 4K or 8K and Intraframe Codec and RAW
While the idea of shooting at 8K sounds great, the reality right now really isn’t. Do you know anyone with an 8K TV yet? HD, aka 1080p, is generally good enough for anything that you are going to see on YouTube or social media on your phone, laptop, or large monitor, or even on a 4K TV. It’s also easier to edit and store all the footage on hard drives. Setting your Intraframe Codec to ALL-I is also preferable to IPB as you have more information in the images to fix in post.
If you are shooting a short film or feature – sure, shoot in the highest quality you can. This includes RAW file format. It does enable higher quality and the ability to crop or even ‘digitally zoom’ in. Just be prepared to fill up tonnes of CF Express Cards / SD Cards and hard drives and having to add a bunch of RAM to your computer to manage the editing process.
Watch out for part two next week.