A lot of photographers are experimenting with video shot on their DSLR cameras. It’s exciting to explore a new medium and many new projects (both professional and personal) await. The two biggest challenges though are achieving proper focus and exposure.
When you shoot stills, you’re probably used to squinting into the viewfinder to get a great shot. The proper use of a viewfinder helps you accurately focus a shot. Most viewfinders also offer useful overlays to judge exposure and provide other technical information about the shot you’re about to take. Additionally, the camera gives you visual or audible feedback when focus is achieved (often using autofocus).
Unfortunately, when shooting video on your DSLR, the viewfinder stops working. This is because the camera’s mirror must stay up when capturing video. This is how the LiveView panel works and it’s a technical necessity when recording video (after all the camera could not maintain opening and closing the shutter 30 times per second for minutes on end).
The LCD can go a long way to helping you, but it has weaknesses. Light pollution makes it difficult to judge exposure. Additionally maintaining focus on a moving subject (particularly with shallow depth of field) is really hard. The autofocus methods when shooting video are generally finicky at best and seem very reactive at best.
I often tell those who want to get better video to buy a “lens for the back of their camera.” The addition of one critical piece of gear—a loupe—can dramatically improve your ability to judge focus and exposure. This device has three major benefits.
- It makes it easier to see focus as the image is enlarged two to three times its original size.
- The loupe blocks out stray light and makes it easier to judge exposure.
- You’ll get a third point of contact with a loupe that helps stabilize your handheld camerawork. Instead of just cradling the camera in your hands, it rests against your face which dramatically smooths out the shot.
Several manufacturers sell loupes. Some loupes attach using a series of bands, whereas some attach to a snap-on the frame. Others attach to the bottom of your camera using a special plate or to the hot shoe plate on top. A good loupe costs between $100 and $400.
Here are a few recommended manufacturers:
- Zacuto Z-Finder — www.zacuto.com
- Hoodman Cinema Kit Pro — www.hoodmanusa.com
- LCDVF — www.kinotehnik.com
- Cavision — www.cavision.com
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