Monday, 4 November 2013

How to Make DSLR Video Look Like Film


I have been amazed at the cameras we at Swagger use regularly for film production. There’s the RED Epic Mysterium X which we used for several commercials earlier this summer, and the Black Magic Cinema Camera 2 that we utilize in a variety of projects as well.


Black Magic Cinema Camera 2 on the set of our Service First Commercial.

However, many film projects I have been a part of have required a lot of flexibility and a LOT of moving around quickly from one location to another. It’s for those reasons and many others that we use DSLRs for a good portion of our film projects.

I have been using a Canon DSLR since 2011, so it’s territory that I’m definitely most comfortable with in the digital video camera realm. DSLRs have so many functions that have the capability of turning digital video footage into breathtakingly beautiful 'filmesque' quality.

The fact that DSLRs are smaller and thus more portable than a Red or Black Magic makes them ideal when lugging them around from location to location on shoot days. And of course, they’re far more economical, too. Although we primarily use Canons, DSLRS in general are great to use in video production. Here are a few tips I have learned along the way that I have found the most helpful in getting DSLR to look the most like film.  


The Canon EOS 5d Mark III. She's a beauty. 

1. Keep Shutter Speed at 50
Why 50? Well, here’s the technical reason: Film cameras have a shutter, like a disc, that spins through 360º. Half of the shutter is covered and shields the light from getting to the film plane for half of its rotation. The purpose of this is for the film to move on to its next frame for exposure during the dark phase and put the next frame statically in place for its exposure. This effectively gives each frame a 180º exposure, in other words half the frame rate. Therefore, you need to set your DSLR at a shutter speed of half your frame rate. At 24p fps you ideally would have a shutter speed of 48. Since it’s not normally possible on a DSLR to have 48 fps, the next best thing is 50 fps (or 1/50th of a second). It’s a very subtle effect, and still maintains the cinematic blurriness we filmmakers so long for.

2. Keep Frame Rate at 24 fps
You may already know this, but if you want your footage to look the most cinematic, use 24 frames per second (fps). It has just the right amount of motion blur. Furthermore, the current standard number of frames per second in the film industry is 24 (regardless of what Peter Jackson attempted in the Hobbit with 48fps... I digress).

3. Lose the Picture Style Settings
If you want the most control over your footage, lose the Picture Style Settings. These settings come with many DSLRs and provide you with presets to augment the saturation, sharpness, color tone, and contrast in your video. 

The problem is that instead of these settings giving you a more film-like quality, the results are artificial and almost cheap looking, especially with the Sharpness level up.

Rather than using presets like Landscape or Portrait, try the Neutral setting, which has each level toned down a few notches. Yes, the overall result of your footage is going to be a little flat, but that just means you can enhance it in post without any artificial barriers!




4. Maintain a Shallow Depth of Field
Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens of the camera. The smaller the number of the aperture, the wider the opening of the lens, and the shallower depth of field. A shallow depth of field means that your subject will be in focus while everything behind your subject (and at times in front of your subject) has a very nice blur to it, also known as ‘bokeh’. Depth of field is what separates digital video and film. Why does film iconically have blurry backgrounds? The easy answer is this:
BECAUSE BLURRY BACKGROUNDS LOOK AWESOME. 

The background blur in this shot is so beautiful I just might cry.
Regardless if the subject is a toy hippo.

But seriously, maintaining a shallow depth of field really does wonders. It reduces background distractions, allowing the viewer to pay attention to the sole part of the image that's in the focus. Shallow depth of field also adds visual interest, like shifting the focus from something in the background to something closer, a technique known as 'rack focus'.




Keeping these basic but key tips in mind has helped me to achieve the film quality I desire, and I hope that it can also help you in getting a more cinematic look with your DSLR. 

Are we missing anything major from this list? How do you get film-quality footage out of your DSLR? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or tweet to us @swagger_media!










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