Guide to Camera Settings

WAIT! Before you hit record, have you checked these settings on your camera? It’s important to understand (and be reminded of) these settings and what they do to get the best footage possible. Time is extremely valuable in this business. Save yourself the trouble of finding these technical mistakes in post and adjust these settings every time before you shoot.

Frame Rate and Resolution

Frame rate is the number of frames captured in one second. 24fps, 25fps, or 30fps (frames per second) is considered real time. By increasing the frame rate and playing back in real time, your video will appear to be in slow motion. Speed ramping and capturing less than 24fps will achieve fast motion, often used for time-lapse or other stylistic effects. Resolution is literally a measurement of the width and height, in pixels, of an image. Basically, higher resolution means more image detail. When shooting with multiple cameras, each camera needs to have the exact same resolution and frame rate for continuity in post.

Manual Focus

Attention will be called to the subject that is in focus, so make sure that your focus is on manual, not auto. The most common problem people have with auto-focus is the camera refocusing itself in the middle of a take. Auto-focus also has a hard time in very bright or dimly lit scenes, and it can’t keep up with fast zooms or lighting changes within the scene.

White-Balance

As one of the most overlooked of video settings, white-balance is in charge of making colors look natural. Color temperature of light varies with each location, so it’s important to take the time to adjust your white-balance properly with every set-up. Some people use an incorrect white-balance as a stylistic effect, but most of the time your main concern is making sure your subject looks normal. Resetting your white-balance is crucial when going outside then inside, for example.

It’s a good habit to keep your white balance on manual instead of auto. If your settings are on auto-white-balance and the light changes or shadows move in your scene, and it will be noticeable when your camera tries to adjust for this.

Obligatory bean shotAperture/F-Stop

The aperture is the opening that lets light through the lens. The function of the aperture works just like your eye, e.g. in a dimly lit environment, your aperture needs to be large in order to transmit the most light possible.

The f-stops are the numbers that correlate to the different size openings of the aperture. Don’t be confused by the f-stops; remember they are just short-handed ratios. The LOWER the f-stop number, the more OPEN your aperture will be, and The HIGHER the f-stop, the more CLOSED your aperture will be. You might hear someone say, “Stop down the lens.” This means they want you to DECREASE the amount of light coming into the lens, so you would need to INCREASE the f-stop number. Knowing your lens’s maximum aperture will help you choose the best f-stop setting for the situation.

ISO

ISO increases or decreases the light sensitivity of the image sensor. In a dimly lit situation, you would need a higher ISO for increased sensitivity. With more light you can set a lower ISO for less sensitivity. A common mistake people make is having their ISO too high. This may look good through your viewfinder, but you’ll find out later when reviewing your footage that higher ISO settings create more noise/grain. Lower ISO settings give a cleaner image. Refer to your manual or play around with the different ISO settings to create different looks.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is simply the amount of time that your shutter will be open for each frame captured. Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second. Both shutter speed and aperture determine the total amount of light being exposed to the sensor. Keep in mind that each speed increment halves the amount of light.

As a rule of thumb, double the frame rate you are shooting and that should be your shutter speed, e.g. with 24fps your shutter speed should be 1/48 of a second, 60fps should be 1/120. A slow shutter speed such as 1/15 will give a smooth look with motion blur. A fast shutter speed such as 1/1000 will capture distinctive and clear frames, with little to no motion blur.

 

By Alex Warner

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