This is article #2 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.

Every coin has two sides. So, although there is much to love about shooting video on a DSLR video camera, there are some drawbacks that will drive you nuts. If you’re used to shooting video on a traditional video camera, these shortcomings will be particularly noticeable.  Be sure to pay attention to these issues as you grow and develop your shooting techniques.

Using an external microphone improves the quality of the audio your camera can record.

Audio Workflow

The audio recorded by your DSLR camera is usually dreadful.  Your camera likely has a cheap microphone that happens to be placed right where your hand will brush against it (or even cover it). For this reason, most people add an external microphone onto their cameras to improve its sound-recording abilities.

If dialogue or interviews are important, you may need to go a step further. You can record far better sounding audio using a dedicated digital recorder and a professional-quality microphone. You can merge all of these audio sources together during the editing stage. 

Tapeless Workflow

In the past, video cameras shot to tape.  Tape was cheap, and when the project was done, you had your original tape as a backup for your project.  You could also record your finished project back to tape.  Tape was easy; you could hold it in your hand and easily know what you had.

As cameras moved into the world of high definition (HD), the use of tapeless recording formats really took off.  Tape takes up space and makes cameras bigger.  Additionally, tape requires a lot more moving parts on a camera, which are more likely to break.

With DSLR video, you record to memory cards—chances are lots of memory cards (every three minutes you record is about 1 GB of data). You also need to use higher-speed memory cards because the video files you capture have a lot of data to quickly record.  The upshot is that cards are more expensive (than tape was), and you’ll need more of them.

Unless you have a lifetime supply of memory cards (or a lot of money), you’ll need to transfer the files on those cards in order to keep shooting.  Hopefully, you’ll have enough space on the cards you have to get you through the day. But speaking from firsthand experience, there will be times when you’ll be backing up your footage while on a shoot.  You might need to transfer your footage at your hotel each night while on vacation or while out and about to your laptop.  In any case, you’ll need to keep in mind that you’ll have a lot more data to work with and will need strategies (and disk space) to deal with all that data.

In this busy scene, parts of the shot are in focus and parts are out of focus.  Adjusting the aperture of your camera will have the greatest impact on what is in focus and what is not.

Focus Is Difficult

A hallmark of DSLR video is shooting with a shallow depth of field.  This look is often associated with a “film look” and is attractive but challenging to attain.  DSLR cameras also lack most of the auto-focus features that are available in many consumer video cameras. Add to these issues challenges with the ergonomics and form factor, that make the camera difficult to hold when shooting video and you’ll discover that focus is tricky. Although you can adjust exposure and audio, there is nothing you can do to fix a picture that has soft focus. However, this problem can be resolved with practice and the addition of some equipment. 

Add-on Gear Is Important

If you’ve never been near a professional video or film set, you’d be amazed at just how much gear is in use and the number of people needed for a successful shoot.  You see, most Hollywood feature films have a huge lighting department, multiple photographers, and audio specialists. The DSLR camera can also have lots of add-on gear to improve its ergonomics and performance. You on the other hand, probably don’t have such resources to run out and buy every piece of gear or hire a full crew. 

If you read some of the web or read magazine articles about DSLR video, you may think you need to own several thousands of dollars of equipment, which can really be overkill. But out of the box, a DSLR camera can be a little challenging to use.

Here are three essentials that I consider must haves:

The use of a fluid head makes it easier to control your camera.

Fluid-head tripod

A tripod provides your camera with a steady platform.  The use of a fluid-head can help you create animated movements of the camera as the camera pans (side to side) or tilts (up and down).  A shaky camera leads to soft focus and can give your audience a feeling of motion sickness.  You really need a video style tripod or to adapt your existing tripod so it uses a fluid head. A stable platform for your camera is one of the best pieces of equipment you can use to improve the quality of your video.

This loupe attaches to the back of the camera to magnify the LCD image when shooting.

Viewfinder or loupe

The screen on your DSLR camera will make your video look in focus and properly exposed (even when its not).  A small screen makes it difficult to judge image quality. A viewfinder or loupe is like a lens for the back of the camera that can help you with exposure and focus. The benefits to using a loupe or viewfinder are many, and I’ll discuss them in depth throughout the book.

The Zoom H4N makes it easy to connect external microphones, as well as monitor the sound recording through headphones.

Audio recording device with microphone

“Audio is half the picture” is an adage used by video professionals. The thought is that good sound greatly enhances a story.  In fact, poor audio will quickly force anyone watching your production to stop. Investing in a microphone—and possibly a dedicated recorder —allows you to record much better sound.

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.