Shooting videos with your DSLR - pt. I - basics & lenses

1st things 1st. Before you decide which lens to buy, you have to understand what the lens descriptions mean and what influence they have on your video. In this post, I'll try to explain the basics - for more information check wikipeda.org

The focal length of a lens tells you how much of the scene can be captured from a specific position. It's much easier to explain this with some still images, so here you go.

This is the same scene shot with different focal lengths from the same position. As you can see, the image gets wider with a smaller focal length. Extreme wide angle lenses are called fisheye lenses. It's possible to shoot extreme perspectives with this type of lenses, but they will also give you a lot of distortion (as seen in skateboard videos), which you have to be aware of. So you'll definitely need a wide angle lens (18mm or less) for shooting big objects (e.g. buildings) from a position that is close to the object. Lenses with focal lengths around 50-85mm are great for shooting portraits of people because you don't have to be too close to the person. Lenses with focal lengths above 85mm are called tele lenses and are used to capture things that are far away from the shooting location. If you own a camera with and APS sensor like the Canon 550D be aware of it's crop factor (1.6). A 50mm EF lens on a 550D or 7D will give you an image like a 80mm lens on a 5DMKII (EF-S lenses are designed for cameras with APS sensors, so you don't have to calculate with the crop factor)! Lenses like the Canon EF-S 18-55 are so called zoom lenses because they offer a range from 18 up to 55 (which is 29-88mm equivalent on a crop sensor). These are nice lenses if you like to shoot videos without carrying a lot of stuff with you or if you don't like to change lenses all the time, BUT prime lenses (lenses with a fixed focal length) are much better when it comes to image quality. Also keep this in mind: zooming during your video will look crappy, so don't buy too much zoom lenses if you want to shoot videos with your DSLR.

Prime lenses do often have better aperture (f-stop) values than zoom lenses which makes them much better when it comes to shooting video under low light conditions. Larger (wider) apertures mean the the lenses have bigger openings for the light to fall into them, which makes them faster because they don't need as much time as lenses with smaller apertures to capture the same shot. Fast lenses do have smaller f-stop numbers like f/1.2 f/1.4 or f/1.8 (the aperture gets smaller (more narrow) and the lens gets slower with increasing f-numbers). Here's a video to demonstrate the effect of the aperture to the image under low light conditions.

As you can see in the video above, a fast lens is much more capable for shooting video than a slower lens. But you have to be aware of the fact that your image will get a very shallow depth of field (only a thin area of your shot is in focus/sharp) with a fast lens that is wide open (big aperture). Check the following pictures to see the effect of the f-stop values to the depth of field of a still image.

Smaller f-stops will result in a very shallow depth of field. This means that the background and foreground of your shot will look very blurred. A lot of people like this effect and in fact shots with a shallow depth of field look very cinematic. If you don't want your video to have a shallow depth of fiel when shooting in low light, you'll have to choose a higher f-number and turn up the ISO. As you can see in the video below, the aperture stays the same and the image gets brighter (but also much noisier) with higher ISO values.

But there's one important thing you have to concider when shooting videos with a fast lens in bright sunlight: because the lens is so fast you will have to set a very quick exposure time for your videos if you don't want them to get overexposed (to bright). But short exposure times will result in a clipped video which is terrible (exposure time should be twice the frame rate to result in a smooth video - I set it to 1/50s in most cases). To avoid this problem you can close you lens (narrow aperture) which will result in a deep depth of field (everything in focus) or attach a ND filter to brighten down the image and make longer exposure times possible. I reccomend the last option because it makes it possible to shoot with a wide open lens in bright sunlight without changing the exposure time of your video. I will show you the effect of ND filters on videos in a seperate post with my new Fader ND.

Do you need image stabilization (IS) in a lens? For handheld shots without a steadycam or rig - yes. If you shoot from a tripod - no. This depends on what you're shooting and how much you want to spend. An IS lens is definitely better (you can turn IS off when you don't need it) but also much more expensive. If you're on a very tight budget and you don't need IS you can keep your eyes open for old M42 lenses and adapt them to your DSLR. I will post a video with a M42 vs. Canon EF comparison soon. What you definitely don't need for shooting videos is a lens with ultra fast focusing (e.g. USM) because you will have to focus manually (autofocus and video? No.)!

So this is what I recommend to put on your shopping list if you want to shoot videos with your DSLR:
- fast prime lenses (f/1.8 or faster!) and some ND filters or a ND fader.
- next thing should be a wide angle lens or a zoom which starts at a short focal length (18mm or shorter).
- what you need when filming animals or other objects that are far away: a tele lens.
- the most important thing: go for primes if you have the money to buy more lenses because they are faster and sharper than zoom lenses.

If you're shooting skateboarding / bmx / ... videos and don't want to spend too much:
- go for a fisheye lens or a zoom lens which starts at a short focal length.
- if this is to expensive screw a cheap fisheye lens to your kit lens (will give you some distortion but who cares).

If you want to have only one lens for shooting video and photos with:
- I feel sorry, but that won't be possible. I would buy a zoom lens like the Sigma 18-200 and a cheap
- fast prime lens like the Canon EF 50mm 1.8 for low light videos.

What do you think? Which cheap lenses are the best for shooting videos with? If you have any tips write a comment below.



A lot of new equipment for my 550D to review

This is just a picture of some new equipment on my desk that I will review soon. It's
- a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens,
- a EW-60C lens hood replica from China,
- Canon Macro extension tubes that I will compare to a
- +10.0dia 58mm Macro Lens,
- a 0.45x 58mm wide angle lens for a fisheye effect,
- a M42 to EF adapter for attaching old lenses to the 550D,
- a lens cleaning pen, and
- a H&Y Fader ND for shooting video in bright sunlight with a wide open lens.

Can't wait to review these things.



jonnionhd.com - new domain

I'm planning to post more videos about my equipment and other DIY projects, so I decided to buy the domain jonnionhd.com. If you have any wishes for this site let me know. I hope you like it and that you will check by again.



A cheap 50mm f/1.8 lens for good photos and superb low light videos

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is a $99 lens that's great for shooting photos and videos with. It gives you a very shallow depth of field and also makes it possible to shoot under low light conditions. It has a focal lenght of 50mm which equals 80mm on the 550D (crop factor 1.6).

Yes, most of the lens is made of plastic - but I don't care because the price is really good. One advantage is that it's very lightweight, but on the other hand you will hear some ugly noises (same as on the 18-55 kit lens) in your videos when you focus manually. But with an external microphone this problem should be solved. Autofocus is very fast and works great under low light conditions. But be aware that this lens has no image stabilization. So running around and shooting videos will not give you the best results (to avoid shaky images say Hi to a Steadicam).

What's really poor is that the lens hood for this lens (ES-62) costs $30. 1.8 lens - $99. Some plastic with Canon written on it - $30. This is a price I really didn't want to pay. So I ordered a $5 lens hood from China. And I think it's basically the same as the Canon lens hood. So here you can save $25.

The lens is really fast and it's much fun to shoot videos with it since you can turn down the ISO values when shooting under low light conditions which will avoid ugly noise. This lens + hood combination is definitely a great deal if you're on a budget. If you have more money you should take a look at the 1.4 lens which is even better but much more expensive ($350).



High Resolution Screens from the "Timelapse test 2" video

Here are 3 original screens from my second timelapse video. Click the photos to see the full resolution.

Looks really great on a full HD television but uploading to vimeo messes it up a little bit.



Timelapse test 2

This is my second timelapse video. It's made of 393 pictures that I shot on my Canon 550D with the aide of my cheap timer remote control. I think the quality of this video is much better than in my first one. That's because this time I set the ISO to 100 instead of leaving it in automatic mode. What I really don't like is that all the thin lines look interrupted. I think this has to do with the resize filter (nearest neighbor) that I used to convert the video to 1080p.

Here's some data from the video:
cam: Canon 550D
lens: Canon EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6
settings: manual mode, 36mm, MF, f/4.0, ISO 100, 1/2500s, picture size small
production: interval 10s, 393 pictures, 24fps, 1080p


Another thing that I had to deal with this time was the flashing overheating icon on the display of my 550D. It occured after only 250 shots! So I do really recommend to place your camera in some shade or make shadow with some objects before you start the shooting. The low battery icon was also flashing on this shoot, but the camera still had enough power to finish the shooting.

Here are some pictures of my setup and the flashing icons on the display (shot with my 1st gen. iPhone).

As you can see nothing special. Kit lens, cheap timer remote cord from China and an old tripod I got for free ;)

I hope this was helpful.




The DSLR Cinematography Guide

If you're new to DSLR cinematography, check out this article. It's very helpful and teaches you all the basics for shooting videos with an DSLR as well as a lot of stuff you would have never thought of could be relevant.

If you like it consider a donation - you'll get rewarded with a printable pdf version. My rating: 5/5.



Timelapse test 1

Here's the 1st timelapse video that I recorded with my new timer remote cord.

I did a lot of mistakes, but I'm still learning and I learned a lot from this short video. I forgot to set the ISO to a fixed value. Therefore there's a lot of flickering in the video (looks ugly because you can see that the video was created with single captured photos). This won't happen again the next time I shoot a timelapse video ;)

Here's some data from the video above:
cam: Canon 550D
lens: Canon EF 50 f/1.8
settings: MF, f/1.8, ISO auto, AV auto, picture size small
production: interval 4s, 356 pictures, converted to 1080p with VirtualDub, 24fps

If you don't know how to make a video out of a lot of stills, check this tutorial - it's really easy.



Tips for timelapse photography (updated)

How to shoot nice timelapse videos:

- Turn off the auto focus before you start shooting. This will avoid image "pumping" and also increase the battery life of your camera. I do focus with AF and then switch to MF - this helps me to find the right focus.

- Select a shutter speed that captures the movement in your shot. This will result in a fluid video. If your shutter speed is too fast, your video will look clipped. So choose longer shutter speeds. If your image is to bright go for higher f's or use a ND filter to reduce the light that gets into your lens.

- If your subject is moving fast (cars) select a short interval time. If it's moving slow (flowers) the interval can be longer.

- Check your camera settings before shooting the timelapse. Manual mode should be preferred. You don't need RAW and big sized images for a timelapse videos, so change it to JPG and choose a smaller size.

- Think of the ISO you want to set (keep it low to avoid noise), don't leave it on automatic. If you do so you will se ugly flickering in your video.

- Turn down the brightness of the screen and swith off the image review to increase the battery life.

- Last but not least, check your battery power and the space on your memory card before shooting the lapse. This will avoid a freak out that - in the worst case - can lead to a broken camera ;)

Continuous interval shooting is not the best treatment for your camera. Mirror and shutter are designed for a specific number of shots (some say 100.000 some say more - I don't know how long they last, but I don't want mine to get repaired). Mirror lock does not work for liveview mode (which I prefer because I think the mirror has to work less in liveview mode), but it can be very helpful when your exposure is around 1/15 and you don't want your shots to get shaky (remember that you have to turn off liveview and that only every second shot is recorded to your card).

I hope this helps. If you have other tips or if you know how to protect the mirror and shutter write a comment please.



Shoot MC-36B timer remote cord for the Canon 550D

My timer remote cord for the 550D arrived yesterday - here's the unboxing video.

I ordered it for 24.30 Euros ($29.98) on ebay (shipping for free). The seller was "digital-winway" and shipping to Germany took less than two weeks. On the packaging the model is named "RS-60E3", in the instruction manual it's "MC-36B", which I think is correct (google search). Build quality is really good, the buttons seem to last a while and even the display is illuminated. Another great thing is that batteries are included, even if this is not mentioned in the article description. I would say this is definitely a good deal. By the way, the manual is in English.

This is not the cheapest remote cord for the 550D, but I decided to buy this one because it looks reliable and i has two batteries - which means it can work a while. It's also very important to mention that you can set the number of shots to infinity. This is what you need when shooting timelapses - and that's what I bought this thing for ;)

Some data:
timer delay: 0s up to ~100h
exposure time: 0s up to ~100h
interval: 1s up to ~100h
number of shots: 1 to 399 or -- (unlimited)
power: 2x AAA 1.5V alkine batteries
battery life: 2 months of continuous shooting

Here you go with my first and second test video and some tips for timelapse photography.



550D vs. 7D vs. 5D Mark II

This is the research I did before I decided to buy the 550D...
(photos and data taken from canon.de, prizes from amazon.de 06/2010)

I searched for a cam to shoot great photos and videos with, so I compared the 550D, 7D and 5D MK II. As you can see, the 550D is the cheapest of these 3 cameras. It has an APS-C sized sensor like tke 7D which is average for beginner and semi-pro DSLRs. It works with Canon EF and EF-S lenses, but you have to take care of the crop factor. The 550D has the same video modes as the 7D and an even better display. Other advantages are that this cam is smaller and lighter then the others and that it works with much cheaper SD cards (I know that this in fact isn't really an advantage (stability, speed), but for me it is because I like to have my cam with me all the time). The build quality is not as good as on the 7D or 5D MK II - but I don't shoot in rain and I don't want to drop it so I don't really care about this that much. As I said before, I'm no professional, and I don't shoot sports that much - so 4 pictures/second are okay. Same fact for the AF sensors - I only need the middle one, so this is no big disadvantage to me.

The 550D does shoot really nice pictures, but the best thing about this camera is the manual control you have when shooting videos (same as on the 7D). So if you want to have a really really good DSLR for the prize of an average one - go for the 550D. You won't regret it.


jonni's 35mm DOF adapter (for M42 and Canon EF lenses)

This is the DOF adapter I built for my Casio EX-F1 when I wanted to achieve a cinematic look in videos I shot with this cam. It is very cheap and one of the shortest adapters I've seen so far. It works with regular Canon EF lenses like the 50mm 1.8 and also with old M42 lenses that you can find for cheap on ebay (I got my 55mm 1.4 lens for 40 Euros).

The image is recorded upside down, but you can solve this problem very easily with a 180° rotation in post production. I also tried to attach this adapter to a Panasonic camcorder and it worked fine - I just needed some cheap stepping rings to make it fit.

Here are some videos to show the abilities of this adapter:

As you can see in the videos the adapter works very well. It is a very cheap solution to get some shallow depth of field in your homevideos that you shoot with your camcorder. The only problem is that you have some light loss and that you can see some grain in the videos (depending on the focusing screen or ground glass you use). To avoid this you have to let the ground glass (screen) vibrate or rotate. I don't like vibrating adapters because of the noise they make and I also think that the vibration has some bad influence to the sharpness (because the movement of the screen changes the flange focal distance). A rotating adapter would be a much better solution. But I have never built one because now I have this superb Canon 550D and I don't need this adapters any more ;)

Here are some tips for all of you that plan to build an adapter like this:
- try to make it as short as possible (light loss)
- don't use a cheap macro lens (distortion, chromatic aberration)
- don't use a cheap ground glass / focusing screen (hot spotting effect)
- use a high quality condenser lens (reduces the hot spotting effect)
- screw don't glue.

If you have trouble with the quality of your adapter read this:
- The distance between the lens and the ground glass (GG) is the most important thing and has to be absolutely correct. It is called "flange focal distance (ffd)". Check wikipedia for the right ffd of your lens.
- Next thing is the quality of your GG. You will loose less light if it is thinner. It also has to be very fine if you don't want to see a lot of grain. So if you have enough money and if you don't need a circular one go for a Canon screen.
- If the quality is still bad check the tips above again. Hope this helps.

If you're interested in the process of building my adapter, here's the original post in a german EX-F1 forum.

Got any questions? Write a commet.

Good luck with your project,


Post #1

What is the purpose of this blog?
...this will definitely be no news site! My intention is to show some tips for shooting good videos and photos with the Canon 550D on a budget. I don't know if this will work out, but I'll try my best and hope it helps someone out there a little bit.

Who is the author?
...jonni, a student from Germany, interested in art, photography, video, etc. I'm no professional, I just like carrying around my camera and shoot some stuff.

I bought my 1st digital camera in 2003. I don't know the model any more because I switched to a Pentax Optio S after 2 days ;). When my brother killed this camera my Casio addiction started. Exilim S500, S600, S770 and finally the EX-F1. The EX-F1 is a really nice camera with a lot of fascinating features like highspeed video - but you simply can't compare it's quality with DSLR material. When I saw some ultra sharp and clear 7D videos on vimeo, I decided to save some money and go for it. But then the 550D came out...... and here I am: brand new 550D and some money left for lenses and other accessories ;)

Maybe you know my EX-F1 videos on vimeo or my DIY DOF adapter tutorial. If you liked this subscribe to my posts - I plan to build a steadycam and a slider for DSLRs, too. The material is already bought ;)

If you're interested in "art" check out my other blog: jonnionart.blogspot.com

When will this blog start?
...as soon as the layout is ready ;)

I hope you'll check by again. If you have any wishes for this site let me know.