Prepping Still Cameras To Work With Video

The market for video-capable DSLR and mirrorless cameras has exploded over the last decade, thanks in part to their advanced video functionality and relatively small size. While most photographers can pick up a still camera and start shooting straight out of the box, the videographer needs to spend some time, and effort, to configure most still cameras into video capture superstars.

While motion and stills capture are largely based on the same sensor technology, video gear has enhanced processing and storage needs because of the high volume of data generated during video capture. Dedicated camcorders and digital cinema cameras have the internal space and airflow design to support much more powerful internal processing, which allows them to have more powerful features. New top-shelf 8K cameras like the large-sensor Panavision Millennium DXL and RED’s Super 35-sized Weapon Brain with Helium 8K S35 and Epic-W 8K S35 are offering video capture at up to 8192×4320 and dynamic range of up to 16.5 stops with similar frame rates.

With high-end digital cinema cameras capable of true DCI 4K (Digital Cinema Initiatives) at 4096×2160, there are also a number of other resolutions available during capture like full 2K and 6K. In post-processing, these additional pixels can help to achieve several benefits in editing, like enhanced image stabilization through cropping or reframing of compositions. These large-resolution palettes are also available because filmmaking sensors must cover a variety of available aspect ratios.

Anamorphic lenses, for example, are captured at a special “squeeze” ratio, and require “desqueezing” to achieve projection in a theater. Because of their unique capture format, they’re able to achieve an incredibly wide aspect ratio of 2.40:1, while most DSLR systems capture in either widescreen at 1.78:1, more commonly referred to as 16:9, or standard full screen at 4:3 at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Canon recently introduced anamorphic capabilities to its lines with the flagship Cinema EOS C700.

Other lens mounts available directly or through mount adapters include Super 35 at roughly the same dimensions as APS-C, Super 16 at half that, and, of course, full frame. The use of full-frame sensors for image captures has made the Canon EF mount popular in the filmmaking industry for the availability of lenses that will cover both full frame and APS-C with a variety of focal lengths. Blackmagic, Olympus, Panasonic and other manufacturers that employ the Micro Four Thirds mount, or MFT, have been fighting back for market share with lenses that are much lighter and more compact thanks to the smaller sensor requirements of MFT at half the size of the traditional film plane.

prepping still cameras for video work
Stabilization systems like the new Glidecam Centurion are unique solutions, in that they provide “floating” footage—video that seems to have been shot by a camera suspended in the air.

Because of the 2.0x crop when using Micro Four Thirds compared to full-frame, wide-angle lenses are the Achilles’ heel of the MFT movement, though today lenses are available as wide as the Rokinon 7.5mm ƒ/3.5 fisheye, measuring in at 15mm in 35mm equivalence. With a huge amount of filmmaking accessories available, Sony’s E-mount line of lenses and cameras like the a7 series have also proven very successful because of the camera’s small form factor, S-LOG and external recording.

There are also a number of new cine lens systems in both full frame and APS-C from Sigma, Tokina, Rokinon and Canon that feature the design of traditional cinema lenses from the golden era of Hollywood. These lenses have oversized barrels with luminescent markings that can be seen in the dark to avoid adding extra light during filming. The markings are also useful for performing repeatable focus throws in a scene when an actor or a subject must hit two or more spots.

Cine lenses also measure the absolute light passing through the iris instead of the theoretical amount of light for the aperture rating. This more accurate measurement, which is labeled in T-stops, measures the exact amount of light passing through the lens. The iris in a cinema lens is also declicked, which means it has silent operation, without the hard stops found in still lenses, and can be opened or shut during a take for exposure effects. For DSLR or mirrorless users, follow-focus units and lens gearings provide the same kind of meticulous focus rotations. There are also a variety of useful accessories for DSLR rigging, like large matte boxes, for example, which can be used to block out the sun and any extraneous light or flares, or monitoring systems.

Camera support systems not seen in photography are also going to come into play. Rail systems give horizontal or vertical movements while jibs, dollies and cranes can provide movements like camera pushes and pulls or sweeping overhead or underhand shots, as well as combinations of all of the above. Many rails and support systems are motorized or controllable via remote, which makes them doubly useful for time-lapse photography. Rail systems can also be laid as track for long takes when using advanced support systems like camera dollies. Zacuto, ikan, Cinevate and many others make a number of camera rigs and support systems, with advanced motorized models also available from Redrock Micro, which is known for creating accessories that can convert DSLR systems into filmmaking machines.

prepping still cameras for video work
Zacuto offers camera rigs and support systems, like the Indie Recoil Rig with Gratical Eye, HDMI Converter and Gripper battery. The shoulder-mount rig works with all DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Handheld video is often very shaky, especially when using still camera systems. (Most camcorders are weighted evenly to be used as shoulder-mount solutions when handheld.) Stabilization systems like the new Glidecam Centurion and Tiffen’s Steadicam Solo and Steadicam Merlin2 are unique in that they provide “floating” footage—video that seems to have been shot by a camera suspended in the air.

Finally, while tripods and monopods are absolutely necessary gear solutions, just like with stills, ideal models for video will have fluid heads or bowl heads for smooth movements during motion capture, as well as sturdy tripod legs that are capable of supporting the camera and lens with microphones, lights and even larger accessories like matte boxes. Professional tripods use bowl systems rather than the columns found in most photography tripods, which are more prone to vibration during camera movements.

While professional systems have a number of “ins and outs” like HD-SDI for channeling high-frame rate, high-quality video with minimal compression, most DSLRs and mirrorless systems top off with an HDMI connection for monitoring. HDMI is most commonly known as the connection for HDTV sets, but it can be used to preview footage or to capture “clean out,” which is a way for the camera to capture better color fidelity and heightened sharpness with an external video recorder like those available from Blackmagic Design, Atomos, ikan, Convergent Design, Video Solutions and numerous other companies. Larger screens are also available for detailed monitoring of footage in studios from companies like SmallHD, Sony and Marshall, with many of the more advanced models in both categories incorporating advanced filmmaking image-quality control options like peaking, zebra, histogram, audio meters and a lot more.