This is article #9 in the DSLR Video Weekly series.  If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.

A DSLR camera is more like a personal computer than you might think.  It’s capable of calculating adjustments based on the available light and action in the scene; it can adjust and control how the camera’s lens performs. In fact, most DSLRs have several features that allow you to take complete control of your camera.

Of course, those features require you to work through a menu system that makes setting up your TV set look easy. You’ll find a complex menu system coupled with a series of dials and buttons. Oh, and every camera model is different (even two from the same manufacturer).

Oh good, you’re still reading.  Although configuring your camera’s features sounds complex, there are only a few key settings you need to worry about. In this chapter you’ll learn about every critical option.  You may need to hunt or peck (or actually break out your camera’s user manual). But I’ll do my best to streamline what you need to look for.

Photo by Lisa Robinson

Choosing a Frame Size

The first choice you need to make when setting up your camera is which frame size to shoot. Frame size is simply a description of how big the recorded image is.  Unlike still photography where sizes and settings can vary quite a bit, usually, there are only two high-definition (HD) video standards you can choose.

This chart illustrates the size differences between the two HD video sizes as well as standard definition video.

The two HD standards you’ll encounter include:

  • 1920×1080. You should strongly consider shooting using this larger HD standard (often called 1080p or Full HD). It will give you the best possible resolution that HD video supports.  This frame size is the most popular for HD and matches the resolution of most HD televisions.
  • 1280×720. Cameras that record with a resolution of 1280×720 (often called 720p) are also perfectly capable of recording beautiful images. Although this is not the highest resolution, it is still considered high definition. Many first generation DSLR video cameras only support this resolution.

Your camera might also include 4K video:

  • 3840×2160. This is the most common flavor of 4K.  It’s also called UHD (ultra high definition) and is exactly four times larger than regular HD.
  • 4096×2160. This version is referred to as DCI 4K. DCI is the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) which is most commonly used for movie production.

Be sure that you look at the options supported by your editing system.  Additionally, note that shooting and editing 1080p will place heavier demands on your computer, storage, and camera.  If you’re only producing video for the Web or for sharing at home, it’s best to choose 720p due to the smaller frame sizes and better performance on older computers.

Understanding Aspect Ratio

When discussing video, you may hear the term aspect ratio, which refers to the relationship between the width of an image and its height. For video, you’ll often see aspect ratio specified in one of two ways: using whole numbers like 16 x 9 or in a decimal ratio such as 1.78:1.

Natively, your DSLR camera probably shoots video using a 3 x 2 (1.5:1) aspect ratio.  This ratio does not match the standards set for HD video. You’ll notice when recording video that the Live View or display on the back of a DSLR camera will show a letter-boxed or ghosted area.


The gray bars indicate parts of the shot that are not written to the video file. This is due to differences in aspect ratio between the camera’s sensor and a television screen.

This masked area is not part of your recorded shot.  Be sure to pay attention when composing your shots. Unlike photography, it is not possible to crop a video shot after shooting without a significant loss in visual quality.

Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.