How To Guide for Shooting HD Video With A DSLR Camera

Ever since Nikon introduced the D90 in August 2008 as the first DSLR camera that shoots High Definition (HD) video, a silent revolution is taking place in media production. At a fraction of the budget creative camera people are able to produce remarkable high quality footage - all with a built-out stills camera for a total investment of $7,500. This is good news for online video.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Look at the following video (preferably full screen):

This short was done by director of photography Philip Bloom, who, after a career of twenty years in video, has embraced shooting with Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras. And with good reason. Unlike video camcorders, professional stills cameras are full-frame (35mm) or cropped sensor — both way bigger than the largest 2/3inch professional broadcast camera sensor. A huge sensor is one thing, having the ability to put very fast (i.e. low F-Stop number) 35mm stills lenses in front of the camera, is quite another. This results in an unbelievable shallow depth of field (DoF), a very common practice in the world of professional cinema.

The Visual Beauty of Depth-of-Field

A shallow DoF allows you to focus on the subject, leaving the rest out of focus. This isolates the subject from the background and allows you as a film maker to control where you want the audience to put the attention. If everything were sharp, the viewer could easily be distracted by details that do not matter to the story line. And it simply looks amazing.

However, working with a shallow DoF is not easy: subjects that move around imply that you have to keep turning the focus ring to keep them in focus (a.k.a. pulling focus). This is paramount in the movie above. However, if you know that Philip Bloom created this movie with equipment of about $7,500, you start to realize that a new form of content production is born:

  • Camera: Canon 7D body
    (not full-frame but cropped sensor, but with native 24/25/30/50/60p recording format support)
  • Glass: various lenses
  • Filters: Vari-ND & Fader ND
  • Sound: Rode Video-mic
  • Stabilization: Zacuto DSLR Marksmen Kit with Zacuto Z-Finder
  • Stabilization: Baby CineSaddle
How To Guide for Shooting HD Video With A DSLR Camera Philip Bloom in actie 300x199

Philip Bloom in action

In order to shoot such a movie, until now, you had to work with professional cinema equipment worth half or a full house, with a minimal crew of four (director, camera operator, camera assistant, sound engineer), but probably more. Not to discount the value of a good production crew (life does get a lot easier), but fact of the matter is that you can do everything yourself. All it takes is a built-out camera set and a creative mind.

Admittedly, the short above does not have a real story to it, other than that it is a random collection of weird people on Venice Beach, California. This short, however, is the fourth in a sequence since Bloom discovered the possibilities of working with DSLRs while in Sofia for a training session to film makers. As Bloom and his friends were on their way to get some food, he decided to shoot some video with his Canon 5D-Mark II and the first version of the Zacuto Z-Finder (a critical device when shooting handheld). This resulted in Sofia's People, followed up by other jewels such as Dublin's People, San Francisco's People and Venice's People (embedded above). This way, Bloom has managed to create a format, which now serves as source of inspiration for a fast growing group of DSLR shooters.

The movement that Bloom has partially started has translated into various training videos, presentations and training sessions all over the world. Together with his business partner Dennis Lennie he has started F-Stop Academy which intends on training people how to work with DSLRs. But the buck does not stop at training. Renowned brands including Greenpeace hire Bloom to create short feature films, such as a recent one recorded in Dehli. Even more recently, Bloom has managed to gain traction from DoPs such as George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino, as a recent post on his website indicates. Tarantino was quoted as saying that the quality from these DSLRs to be "Epic". Indeed.

Top 10 DSLR Disadvantages & How to Overcome Them

Is there no bad news at all when it comes to this way of video production? You betcha! However, there are also a growing number of ways to overcome them. Let's review them:

  1. Stability
    First of all, a stills camera is built to maintain steady for about 1/60th of a second, not to record 24 frames or more per second (i.e. shooting movies). Enter Zacuto. This Chicago-based corporation, founded by people with a history in camera work, cranks out one after the other innovation that helps DSLR-shooters to stabilize their shots. Also: enter CineKinetic (or Visual Departures). Using the Mini- or BabySaddle (or the much cheaper SteadyBag) allows you to create stable shots even while in moving objects such as a car, train, tram, bike or air plane. For those who like to walk: enter Glidecam. And for those who are ready for more professional dolly shots: enter GlideTrack and WallyDolly. However, be careful with too fast movement as the CMOS sensor chips do provide some jello effects (see below).
  2. Sound
    Second, DSLR cameras suck at sound recording. The built-in mic is miserable and the camera does not feature a professional XLR input. Above and beyond they should fix the Automatic Gain Control (AGC) in the next firmware upgrade and allow at least for on screen manual control of dB levels. Also, there is no way to monitor the audio by headphones as the LCD is turned off when you attach your head-set to the AV Out on the Canon 5D (the 7D has a different plug).  But, then again, sound recording was never a topic by design. Enter Zoom. The portable H4N recorder provides the DSLR-shooter a simple device that excels in sound recording, allowing for up to four independent channels at the same time (1x crossed stereo at the front and 2 XLR inputs for external mics). Synchronization is done in post with a reference signal, such as clap of hands or clapper board in front of the camera. It is therefore key to keep recording sound on the DSLR for reference audio purposes. And, if you are editing on Final Cut or Sony Vegas, enter PluralEyes (too bad I'm on Adobe Premiere Pro). If you do want to have manual control of audio on the camera itself then the Magic Lantern firmware hack may be an option.
  3. Light
    DSLR cameras do beat any video camera when it comes to low level light situations, fair and square. Nonetheless, and this applies to any type of camera, having enough and right amount of light is crucial to the end result. Various suppliers have entered this arena, offering useful equipment at interesting prices. Enter the Dedo Ledzilla and Litepanel Micro.
  4. Filters
    If you want to go for that shallow depth of field, you have to open up the iris on the camera. In a stills camera this may easily result in over exposure. Most photographers would be tempted to start changing the ISO setting or shutter speed. Shutter should be kept at twice the frame rate you are shooting (e.g. 30p --> shutter at 1/60th, 24/25p --> shutter at 1/50th as 1/48th is not supported) to adhere to the 180 degree shutter rule in cinema. A better way to reduce the incoming light: enter the Neutral Density filters from Singh-Ray (effectively two circular polarization filters combined into one). This gradually reduces incoming light from 2 to a full 8 stops.
  5. Viewfinder
    In order to be able to judge sharpness, you do need a proper viewfinder. Since the viewfinder on the DSLR is blocked when entering live mode (i.e. required when shooting video), you need to see detail without being distracted from incoming light falling on the LCD screen. Enter (again) Zacuto with the Z-Finder. Is looking through the lens not an option due to the position of the camera? There are alternatives like the 720p native resolution LCD-screen from SmallHD.
  6. Rolling shutter or Jello effect
    This is indeed a problem on most DSLRs. The effect occurs most when you quickly pan the camera or when fast moving objects enter the frame. Solution: don't whip pan - record more slowly and speed up in post.
  7. Editing AVCHD
    The DSLR cameras record in AVCHD format using the H.264 codec. Ever since CS4, Adobe has invented a way to efficiently cope with delivery codecs for editing by using the GPU through CUDA or OpenCL technology.
  8. Compression versus color
    Although DSLR cameras are capable of registering HD video with a full frame (35mm) sensor, a lot of compression is used upon recording it to a compact flash card. This means that component video (4:2:2 or 4:4:4) is typically not available and that color grading is done on a composite signal. This makes heavy color grading, matte painting, chroma keying or rotoscoping in post more of a pain. However, for basic post-production color grading: enter RedGiantSoftware. Using Magic Bullet Looks allows for fast and efficient (or slow and extensively) grading those shots.
  9. 30p versus 24/25p
    In order to realize that cinema or film look, the video should be recorded the way film is traditionally made. Meaning 24p or 24 full frames per second. In planet NTSC the framerate is 29,97, while 25 in PAL markets. Initially, the stills guys thought they could change the world by going for 30p (dead-on, not drop-frame) as the new standard for video. Wrong idea. Since there are still way more televisions than cameras on the planet, this has turned out to be lost battle from the start. When conforming 30p to 24p you are actually shooting in slight slow motion, or you ask your computer to take out or combine frames. This gives a slightly noticeable visual effect and easily introduces audio sync problems as well. Canon has realized their mistake and is starting to correct it. The Canon 7D now supports various frame rates (24/25/50 in PAL and 24/30/60 in NTSC), while a much-anticipated firmware upgrade for the 5D mark II is (hopefully?) due for release in January 2010. Come on Canon, make us even more happy!
  10. Recording limit
    The recording limit on most DSLRs is about twelve to fifteen minutes for a single take. For what it is worth, from what I heard this has something to do with import restrictions. If they go beyond, these products are no longer regarded as stills cameras and fall in a different tax category. Another story says that it has something to with the 4GB file size limit (support for 720p would partially solve that). Either way, is it a problem? In my opinion, no. Unless you are recording a live event, most shots are likely to be way shorter than that. Most important thing for continuity's sake is to record the audio properly — you can fill in the blanks in post afterwards with extra material you shot before or after the event (or stills from slides if you're recording a live presentation).
How To Guide for Shooting HD Video With A DSLR Camera zacuto 5 200x3001 e1261451942121

Shooting from the hip with Zacuto Kit and SmallHD screen

Okay. Enough about the pit-falls. Time to see some more examples of what you can do with these cameras. Here is a wedding recorded with a 7D, and do check out this short titled Perya as well. Also, see the amazing effect of using tilt-shift lenses in this short movie which was recorded in Switzerland, although it appears to be shot in a miniature toy park. To the right is a visual of Michael Robertson (aka Velodramatic, a photographer with 20 years of experience in cycling photography) who shot his first video production with a 5D-Mark II and borrowed Zacuto gear. Finally, here is my very own first video shot with the 5D. Topic is Christmas in London 2009, shot over a period of two days. I used the following gear:

  • 5D-Mark II
  • Canon F1.2 50mm USM II
  • Canon F2.8 24-70mm USM
  • Zacuto Z-Finder
  • Zacuto Tactical Shooter
  • Rode Videomic
  • Singh-Ray VariND 77mm
    (not usable on 50mm lens - 72mm ring (!) - therefore some shots have blown out skies)
  • 6 Canon Batteries
  • Graded with Magic Bullet Looks
ALSO ►  By 2019, 80% of the World's Internet Traffic Will Be Video [Cisco Study]

Convergence in Video Production

The image above of Robertson may appear to some professional camera people as an attempt to mimic a pro broadcast camera rig.  However, given the budget and the astounding end results, I believe this will be more common in the years ahead. I, for one, have decided to go DSLR all the way, foregoing the option to purchase a Sony EX-3 (a 1/2 inch sensor) and trying to trick that into a believing it to be a film camera using a Letus Relay lens and Letus 35mm adapter (total budget required: $15k+). And that's even without any 35mm lenses! In my opinion, working with such a set up effectively reduces the EX-3 to a recording unit (albeit one with HD SDI component video out - nice to register on a Nanoflash device at 280mbps). Instead, I have decided to invest in two (!) camera bodies (Canon EOS 5D + 7D) and some of this budget in proper 35mm glass to put in front of them.

DSLR cameras fill the void left behind by the market leaders in broadcast. Eat your heart out, Sony and JVC. Canon beat you to it. For now. Come 2010, the new kid on the block may turn out to be RED with their 3k-images-for-3k-Scarlet camera, although that is rumored to have a "mere" 2/3 inch sensor. Indeed, as Bob Dylan once sang, "The times, my friend, they are a-changin". True convergence in video production is now finally looming.


Should you go DLSR or stay with (semi-)professional video equipment? My answer to that is that it all depends on what you are making. The key is comparing time versus budget. I do admit that working with DSLRs, much like digital cinema, is probably better suited for those who have the time to set things up properly, if only for making sure the disadvantages are met (read: check subject sound and record sufficient ambient or set noise!). Without any stabilisation equipment and manual sound recording, DSLR may not the best camera to have and hold when Obama comes out to meet the press for a quick interview. You probably want shoulder-mounted ENG cameras for that. The typical price points of those, however, are not within most people's budget. So if time is not of the essence, going with souped-up DSLRs is a very, very attractive alternative.

Does going for DSLRs make you an on-the-fly film maker? No, because it takes knowledge, talent, a lot of practice and learning from others. As WIRED recently correctly concluded, "DSLRs may be cheap, but talent is priceless". However, with more people at least having the ability to start shooting beautiful images, you can expect an exponential growth in high quality content made for the web (even at 1080p) that looks like it was created using professional cinema equipment. And that is exactly the business I am in.

  • Doug Via

    Great read Mark! For 1 hour, run and gun shooting, (Like you mentioned) I have my shooters use something like the Panasonic HVX200 or AVCCAM, Canon FX100/105, Sony NXCAM, and the like. It's been my experience that though folks have a DSLR camera that can shoot HD video, often times don't result in receiving good video and most importantly usable audio. Plug in a wired or wireless mic via XLR, set levels with headphones, white balance, iris & focus using your pop-out LCD monitor and rock and roll. Now, making an indie film where you can take an hour+ to get your shot established with all the external gear, I can see the DSLR being a great choice.

  • Susanto Gunawan

    good job, many thx....

  • Yaya Saidou Jibrill

    I like video production.

  • Rik Rudra Mandal

    many many thanks........

  • Cracking Media Video Production

    An excellent article - thank you.

    We shoot HD video with both (using a Canon 7D and a Canon 60D when wanting the benefits of a DSLR) and would probably shoot more if using a DSLR for shooting video didn't handicap you in other ways.

    With the arrival of the new Canon C300 (see comparison with the new Red Scarlet-X elsewhere on this site:, the merging of technologies and benefits between HD video shot on a video camera and the same on a DSLR gets ever closer. At the same time prices are gradually being squeezed which will mean more and more video makers adopt DSLRs. I wonder if we will see a hybrid at more budget prop prices entering the market soon?

  • J & D Photography

    This is excellent advice!

  • Yusup Dwi P


  • Anonymous

    The best advice about trying to use DSLR's for serious work is: don't. Under $1,000 camcorders have better features for doing video than most high-end DSLR bodies. Follow the news on DV.COM. DSLR's are the hard way to go. At the top end, DSLR's are silly compared to Reds and CineAlta camcorders.

    • Diana G. Pop

      From an artistic point of view, DSLR's allow you to capture way more beautiful footage than a broadcast camera does.. also, colour correcting footage from a camcorder doesn't give you a broad spectrum.. and for web or even tv, all you need is 1920 by 1080.. The 2k footage or 4k you can capture with RED isn't really necessary.. Of course your opinion will be against DSLR's if you're getting your facts from DV.COM.. do you really think their interest will be to say "well.. yeah fine, DSLR's look better.. go buy one... don't worry about us, we'll just go bankrupt, no biggie".

  • Jacob Larsen


  • Keith Noyle

    Awesome, certainly opened our eyes to using our artistic skills and photographic skills to the full potential.

  • Syed Khurram Qaisar

    Nice Work.

  • Nhiếp Ảnh Nha Trang


  • Andrew Sleight

    when is someone going to create a 5D type camera that is built from the ground up as a shoulder mount config?
    We use a stabilizer, but for run and gun, setting up the whole thing is a real pain in the..

  • Palash Khan


  • Ahmed Rachi

    its really great...

  • MaSao Wan

    i like

  • Milan Dvořáček

    super !!

  • James Wood

    Great article on DSLR overview.

  • James Wood

    Hi Richard thank for the article it reminds of the DSLR for Dummies, which breaks down the how to of DSLR video production.

  • Gokul Krishna Borkakoti


  • Ben Edwards

    Nice quide, alos check out Beginners guide for using DSLR video just put up

  • Iwan Irawan Cameraman

    good.....i like.

  • SuddenSam

    Hmmmm. Watching this short video kinda makes it clear that DSLR is not there yet. It's ok, but while it may be in the ballpark, it's definitely still on the bench. Maybe the next generation will actually get into the game.

  • Mark McKay

    I am pretty sure they don't record in AVCHD.

  • Fuckyou

    How do dSLRs get rolling shutter when they have a global shutter?

    • Mark Robertson

      F U 2 ;-)

  • Bo Reidler

    Did you record the audio using only the Rode Video mic? Surprising good quality audio from the mic. Others have suggested that this technique does not provide the best results?

  • Steve

    Inspirational and moving. Never really thought of the Still Camera as a source of movie cinema products....nicely captured in this article. Thank you.


  • Paul

    The problem, like in Blooms video is the DSLR spawns a lot of people who think stringing a bunch of pretty shots together make it a great video.

    Not so. For all the gear the ability to direct, to tell a coherent narrative is a skill in itself. I would much rather watch a great story shot on a Flip than pretty shots that don't tell me much except that dslr shoot pretty shots.

  • Ohiomitch

    This is good, but could we also see a lower-end technology training program which would show the software to put a combination of stills and video to make a production.

  • Sunil Situnayake

    Both HD 1280 X 720 resolution and HD 1920 X 1080 are described as full HD. When seen on a say 20" computer monitor, how discernible is the difference in resolution? When you watch an HD video on something like UTube, it does not specify whether it is 720 or 1080, and my guess is that if you were watching on an average size screen, the main way of telling would be the download speed. Given that the target is high quality content for the web, and with present internet speeds, is it possible that 720 resolution is as viable right now as 1080? If so, it would bring many cameras other than Canon into the game.

  • Video Production

    What comes out of this camera is pretty amazing it must be said :-)

  • danimations

    I'm holding out til Nikon have a 1080p ready body. The best part for me is, Nikon never changed their lens mounts, so I can put my old super-fast prime lenses from the 70's and 80's straight on the new digi body. Exciting times!

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      @Danimations - To be honest, I have not researched Nikon. Sorry for being biased. I have now invested a small fortune in some superfast Canon L-Series lenses so they'd better not change their mounts for a while (as in: never).Nonetheless, the old Nikon primes are undoubtedly solid as a rock and with a small adapter ring you can attach them to Canon bodies. However, as with any future Nikon body, this will only give you manual control. Now, for video that is generally what you want, but some features such as Motion Stabilizer on the longer focal lengths can be a benefit.I had to make a choice now and Canon currently is the only one to embrace Video DSLRs. It's only a matter of time until the other brands wake up and smell the coffee...

      • Grahame Madge

        I have been a dedicated Nikon user for two decades, but now I realise that it's time to make the switch to Canon. The good news for Nikon owners is that you can use your old Nikon glass on Canon cameras, with a cheap adaptor off eBay (mine cost £15). The even better news for me is that I can obtain more functionality (metering!) with my old manual-focus 300mm Nikkor on a Canon body than I can with it on a budget Nikon body. The only drawbacks are that you do need lenses with a dedicated aperture ring, you can only meter in stopdown mode and you lose autofocus. You can't have it all.

        • Mark Robertson

          I wish I could afford either ;-) Good to know about the adapter as I didnt
          know you could use Nikkor lenses for a Canon. Thanks for the comment

        • Dugdale

          Hey Mark, if you are interested I created a new blog for my new Canon T2i called As I learn along the way I will post some tips.

        • Mark Robertson

          cool... thanks dave.

  • armen

    Great article. So much information I haven't come across anywhere else.
    What I really would like to know is how do you edit 7D footage on premiere? When I was in Europe everyone used to work with Premiere or edius, now I'm in US and almost everyone uses Final cut pro or avid. I know that they import MOV files directly into FCP, how about a premiere editor? Is buying a cineform product the only solution? Does it work? isn't that lowering the quality? or Isn't that taking long to convert all the footages? I'm editing AVI files on my laptop with a premiere, would I be able to do so with the 7D files?

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      Hi Armen,Thanks for your compliments. This article is the result of my search for my own camera set: a combination of multiple online sources. However, much credit goes to Philip Bloom (frequently quoted) who has really managed to become an authority in this field and continues to share his insights on new products coming out that help DSLR shooters to improve their skills. Follow his blog if you're into DSLRs: you need for Premiere Pro is NeoScene by Cineform. The .mov files straight out of the camera are compressed H.264 files, which contain not so much I-Frames and more P-frames. For playback this is OK (although even somewhat older processors don't like it), but for editing this is pure drama. As you scroll through the files, basically your processor has to calculate (predict) each intermediate P(redictive)-Frame. NeoScene makes wavelets (a mathematical calculation) and tells your processor what each intermediate frame contains. Beyond that, NeoScene also interpolates the 4:2:0 encoded original into a 4:2:2 file, which allows for more control when applying post processing effects, such as color grading or rotoscoping. NeoScene is not expensive ($129) and you can get a discount at or not you'll be able to edit on your laptop depends on your processor and video card. I use a workstation for this, although I have to upgrade it too...

  • Ed

    Having bought a Canon d7 I have found that the biggest draw back is definitely the sensitivity of focus due to shallow depth of field. In fact, I find it so difficult that it's turning me off the camera. Millimetres make all the difference and its very hard to constantly pull focus and film on what is ultimately an ergonomically difficult camera for shooting video, even with the Zacutto rig.

    Lovely pictures yes, practical video shooting no.

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      Ed, Have you tried increasing your exposure to say, F5.6? You will lose a couple of stops, but this will effectively enlarge the focal plane, hence allowing for larger parts of the image to be in focus. Essentially, it works identically to most any video camera that you control manually. This way, you can still use that nice shallow DOF for objects that are not moving that much... alternative is to keep working the focus ring. Trust me, you´ll get better at it.

      • Ed

        5.6 isn't a really feasible stop in the Irish winter! Unless i'm indoors and still...
        I'm well used to constant focus having spent years working with a Z1 but still I find the 7D just too sensitive. Maybe I need to fork out another 1K on a decent lens!

  • soufian

    " can expect an exponential growth in high quality content made for the web (even at 1080p) that looks like it was created using professional cinema equipment..." WRONG ! Not every human being can afford an HD DSLR but everyone on earth can upload any quality vids on the web. The internet is the only place left for people who can afford expensive high quality gears but still have something to say (or to show for that matter).

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      Compared to the exaflood of video content that is being put on the web today and tomorrow, DSLR-created videos are minimal. Nonetheless, the number of videos made with a DSLR will continue to grow exponentially (1 to 100 to 1000 to ...).

  • TQ

    Check out the Panasonic GH1. It can do HD video as well for a 1.5k pricetag.

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      I believe Philip Bloom did a review on that. I don´t own it, so I can´t tell... having done substantial research before going DSLR, I am afraid I am a bit biased, until something substantially better (quality and price) comes out.

  • paulpiasecki

    Great little article, the question is, isn't Canon going to make some kind of a hybrid (RED SCARLET) type of camera? Especially a real viewfinder. As a DP for many years, this seems like a problem. But I'm excited about these cameras.

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      I am thrilled about the convergence thing happening and excited with what Canon has enabled me to achieve thus far (although I really, REALLY need 24-25-50-60p framerates on the 5D).

      I have sent out a request to Steve Weiss at Zacuto ([email protected]) to request an angled viewfinder, as I am breaking my back in these akward positions behind the camera as well. If you do too, perhaps Zacuto will listen...

  • Stillborn

    Misleading title, as it fails to cover other brands than Canon. What about Nikon, Panasonic & Pentax?

    • Richard vd Boogaard

      Please name the models that do Full HD video and I'll include them...

  • veloswimmer

    And now that DSLRs can do video, there's a product that allows you to take them anywhere called OUTEX. It's protective wear for the camera in any environment, even underwater.

  • denevans

    Very useful article. Many useful tips including the one about shutter speed. I've just started experimenting with video on my year old Canon 5DII.

  • Dugdale

    Good write up. I have been following Phillip on tweeter and he offers a lot of great tips and examples. I am looking to buy the 7D but it might be a little more than I can handle.