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Camera Settings

How To Setup A Video Camera

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A step-by-step guide to setting up a camera for video like a pro!

Let's jump right in...


1. Choose a Frame Rate

Usually the most important consideration. Other settings and workflow will be determined from this.

Frame rate is the speed at which frames/images are captured and then subsequently played back to achieve the perception of motion. This is represented in frames per second (fps).

When motion is captured and played back at the same frame rates, movement appears at the same speed as it occurred in real life.

With video, frames can be captured and played back in 2 basic ways - progressively or interlaced.

Progressive frame rates are captured and played back in complete frames, one after another.

Progressive Video Frames Animation
Progressive Video Frames

Interlaced frame rates are captured half a frame at a time, by alternating horizontal lines (e.g. odd then even). An interlaced frame is called a field.

Interlaced Video Fields Animation
Interlaced Video Fields

This format was created to fit twice the visual (spatial) resolution within the same amount of information (bandwidth) compared to a progressive format.

While the interlaced format is still used today, it is considered a vintage format that is rarely used outside of broadcast television.

Therefore, interlaced frame rates should ONLY be used when capturing and/or delivering for interlaced playback.

Frame rates listed below are almost always progressive.

23.976 fps / 23.98 fps

24 fps

25 fps

30 fps / 29.97 fps

50 fps

60 fps / 59.94 fps

60+ fps

2. Choose a Resolution

Resolution is the number of pixels that make up a single frame. It is measured as width x height in pixels.

In general, the larger the resolution the more pixels that need to be captured, processed, and stored.

This will be determined by your final delivery/playback method, your system's processing power, and/or your post production workflow.

Common resolutions include:

1280 x 720 (HD)

1920 x 1080 (FHD)

3840 x 2160 (UHD 4K)

4096 x 2160 (4K or DCI 4K)

3. Turn Off All Automatic Settings

I recommend running everything in manual mode as much as possible. Here is why.

Look for switches and/or settings that include the words auto, automatic, manual, or acronyms that contain A or M.

4. Set the Shutter Speed

The shutter controls how long light is allowed to hit the camera sensor.

Shutter speed directly determines exposure (brightness) and motion blur.

It is represented by either time or by angle.

Shutter Time

Based on the principle of a physical shutter opening and closing in front of the sensor.

Shutter Time Animation
Shutter Time

Shutter Angle

Based on the principle of a disc, with a section like a pie piece removed, rotating in front of the sensor.

Shutter Angle Animation
180-Degree Shutter Angle

For video, the default shutter speed should always be double frame rate. For example:

Choose a faster shutter speed ONLY if you want to achieve less motion blur for stylistic purposes or you need to reduce/minimize flicker from lights or displays shown on camera.

Choose a slower shutter speed ONLY if you want to achieve more motion blur for stylistic purposes or you need to reduce/minimize flicker from lights or displays shown on camera.

5. Set the ISO/Gain

ISO and gain are numerical representations of the camera's sensitivity to light.

More ISO/gain = more light sensitivity = more exposure/brightness = more visible noise/grain. And vice versa.

ISO is a standard that is represented by whole numbers like 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc.

Gain is represented by decibels (dB) of amplification applied to the sensor like 0dB, 3dB, 6dB, etc. (also negative numbers in some cases).

Default ISO should be the camera's native ISO. Check the manual if you are unsure of the native setting. If there is no stated native ISO or you're still unsure, it's generally recommended to keep the ISO at 400 or lower.

Default gain should be 0dB (or the lowest possible).

6. Set the Aperture

Aperture, also referred to as the iris, determines how much light is allowed through the lens to hit the sensor.

Aperture is represented by f-numbers (f/N).

The lower the f-number, the more light is allowed through the lens and the brighter the exposure becomes.

This is the most subjective of the main settings and may take some experimentation to find what works best.

When in doubt start at a fairly standard aperture of f/2.8 and work from there.

7. Set the Proper Exposure

Exposure is how bright the image is.

Proper exposure makes everything look true to life, or as it is seen in person.

If your exposure is too bright, do these things in order of priority:

  1. Use less light (be careful with dimming lights though - incandescent fixtures can change color temperatures when dimmed)
  2. Limit the amount of light (back lights away, diffusion, scrims, ND gels, etc.)
  3. Use an ND filter over the lens (or built into the camera)
  4. Close the aperture (unless you have it set for stylistic purposes)
  5. Lower the ISO or gain on the camera

If your exposure is too dark, do these things in order of priority:

  1. Use more light
  2. Open the aperture (unless you have it set for stylistic purposes)
  3. Raise the ISO or gain on the camera (this will usually add more visible noise/grain to the image, though)
  4. Adjust your shutter to match the frame rate or between 180-360 degrees (this will create more motion blur, though)

How to know exposure is correct:

The only reliable way to know these numbers is to use reference tools. They are visual aids to be used during shooting and post production, not to be recorded to final files.

Zebras

Zebras appear as dancing diagonal stripes on areas that are brighter than a chosen threshold. They are only used during shooting.

Typically used to determine the brighter areas of the image, they are rarely usable for brightness settings below 50-70% in most cameras and monitors.

Waveforms

Waveforms are a visual representation of an image's brightness/luminance.

The horizontal axis represents columns of the image (e.g. an image with a horizontal resolution of 1920 pixels will have 1920 columns).

The vertical axis represents brightness/luminance with dark/black on the bottom and light/white on the top.

This helps you visualize where the brightest areas of the image are along the horizontal axis.

Filling the camera frame with a middle gray card should show a solid horizontal line (or close to near horizontal) around the middle of the vertical axis when properly exposed.

Filling the camera frame with a white card should show a solid horizontal line (or close to near horizontal) around the top of the vertical axis when properly exposed.

Histograms

Histograms are a graphical representation of an image's brightness/luminance.

The horizontal axis represents brightness/luminance with dark/black on the left and light/white on the right.

The vertical axis represents how much of the image takes up any given brightness level.

Filling the camera frame with a middle gray card should show a spike or peak near the exact middle of the waveform when properly exposed.

Filling the camera frame with a white card should show a spike or peak near the top, or far right, (not touching the limits and not invisible) of the waveform when properly exposed.

False Color

False color is not as popular as the two options above and is a little trickier to use, but can be very handy once you learn it.

It overlays various colors (all drastically different from one another) onto areas of specific brightness to give you a quick visual of where things sit in the exposure.

If your camera or monitor has a false color feature, you can learn more about it in the manual.

8. Set the White Balance

White balance is the process of telling the camera what white should look like.

All light has a natural color cast to it, called color temperature.

Color temperature is measured in Kelvins and is represented by a number (e.g. 5600K).

For example, when compared to an incandescent light bulb (~2700K) the sun (~5600K) has a color temperature that is more blue.

Setting a proper white balance in the camera is necessary to ensure colors appear natural when recorded or transmitted.

To properly set the white balance:

  1. Turn off all lighting except the main light(s)
  2. Place/hold up a white card/paper so it is hit directly by the main light(s)
  3. Point the camera at the white card/paper and fill the screen with white from the card/paper
  4. Set the white balance or perform an auto white balance (AWB)

Remove the white card/paper and compose your shot. Visually confirm that colors, especially skin tones, look natural or as expected.

If colors appear unnatural, or colors appear different depending on what light is hitting them, then you possibly have a mix of color temperatures in your scene. If so, work on making all color temperatures match by turning off fixtures with offending color temperatures, using color temperature correction gels, or block sources of light with unwanted color temperatures.


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