How to Shoot Video with a DSLR Camera

April 7, 2016

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Chris Lavigne


How does video quality differ across three different budgets of $1,000, $10,000, and $100,000? Watch our original series One, Ten, One Hundred to find out! No DSLRs were harmed in the making of this film.

In this video, Chris covers the basic fundamental principles of shooting with a Digital SLR camera. Specifically, he covers how to use the Wistia camera of choice, the Canon 5D Mark III.

Even if you’ve never touched a DSLR in your life, by the end of this video workshop you should be able to pick up a camera and shoot some great looking video footage. While Chris covers the Canon 5D Mark III, many of these principles apply to mirrorless cameras and traditional video cameras as well.

What we’ll cover:

  1. Choosing your software
  2. ISO
  3. Aperture
  4. Shutter Speed
  5. White balance and color temperature
  6. Recording audio
  7. Changing lenses
  8. Lens characteristics
  9. Shot setup and framing

DSLR cheat sheet

Full disclosure: the Canon 5D Mark III is not a video camera. It’s actually a still camera that just happens to also capture video. But there are some incredible advantages to using this camera over a traditional video camera:

  • It’s small and really light.
  • Its interchangeable lenses increase versatility and inspire artistic and creative shots.
  • It’s easy to produce a shot with a shallow depth of field (background out of focus).
  • It’s incredible in low light and variable lighting conditions.

Video settings: frame rate and aspect ratio

At Wistia, we shoot our videos at 24 frames per second to achieve a more cinematic and artistic look and feel to our footage. We record using the 1920/24/ALL-I setting. This produces the highest resolution and highest quality footage the camera can shoot.

If you’d like to shoot at a higher frame rate (to produce slow-motion footage) look for the 1280/60/ALL-I setting. This will reduce the resolution to 1280x720, but will capture at 60 frames per second.


ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to light. In a nutshell, the higher the ISO, the brighter the image will be. The lower the number, the darker the image will be.

Use a high ISO (greater than ISO 640) if you’re shooting inside without a ton of ambient light. Keep your ISO number low when you’re shooting in broad daylight outside or under bright studio lights.

The fact that you can raise and lower the ISO is really, really awesome. But as you raise the ISO, you introduce noise and grain to your picture, so you’ll want to do so carefully. The camera’s going to perform best at the lower end of the ISO range.


Aperture controls the amount of light reaching the image sensor. The smaller the number, the more open the aperture is. The higher the number is, the smaller the aperture will be.

Aperture works just like a pupil. When the camera’s diaphragm is dilated (open), more light will get in. When it’s more contracted (closed), less light gets let in. So use a small aperture, like f/1.8, to let a ton of light into the camera in lower-lighting situations. If you’re shooting outside, you might want to close the aperture to a larger number, like f/10, to limit the amount of light hitting the camera.

Aperture also controls depth of field. To get a blurry and out-of-focus background, keep the aperture as wide (like f/1.8) as possible. To make sure everything in the shot is in focus (deep focus), stop down to a closed aperture (like f/22) to flatten out the image.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed determines the amount of time the camera sensor is exposed to light. The longer the shutter is open (like 1/30th of a second), the more light hits the sensor (and the more blurry on-screen movement will be). With a fast shutter speed, like 1/500th of a second, less light will hit the sensor, meaning you can freeze motion and produce crisper, choppier footage.

When deciding your shutter speed for video, use this general rule: double your frame rate. If you’re shooting at 24fps, your shutter speed should be 1/48 (rounded up on the DSLR to 1/50). If you’re shooting at 60fps, your shutter speed should be 1/120.

Although that’s technically the rule, it’s not imperative to adhere to it. I would much rather prioritize aperture first, ISO second, and then the shutter. So make sure that you find the aperture that you want to use, adjust your ISO accordingly, and then wherever the shutter ends up should be good enough.

White balance and color temperature

Different light sources, like a light bulb and the sun, have very different temperatures. White balance quite literally tells your camera the color temperature of the light you’re shooting.

Try to match the white balance preset to the color of light you’re shooting with. For example, if you’re in broad daylight outside, look for the sun icon. If you’re shooting inside under white fluorescent lights, use the fluorescent bulb preset. If you’re shooting with traditional studio lights or halogen bulbs, look for the little tungsten bulb icon.

There are situations when you’ll be shooting with mixed light temperatures. At Wistia, when we’re shooting outside of the studio, we could have some light coming in from the windows, which is at around 5600 Kelvin, combined with some lights from our fluorescent lights, which are maybe around 4000 Kelvin or 3000 Kelvin. This mixture would give us a final color temperature of around 4800 Kelvin. In situations like this, look for the custom ’K' icon to dial in the temperature until the color in your shot looks natural.

Recording audio

The 5D Mark III’s headphone jack allows you to confidently record audio on the camera by monitoring exactly how it sounds. If something gets distorted or you need to turn the microphone volume up or down, you’ll know right away during the shoot.

This is a super speedy breakdown of the settings we use:

  • Zoom H5 powering Sennheiser ME-66 shotgun microphone with phantom power enabled +48V
  • H5 input volume dial is around 4–5
  • Line out from H5
  • 5D Mark III sound recording is on manual, dialed way down
  • Record simultaneously on the H5 as a backup
  • Monitor the 5D audio by plugging headphones into the camera

Audio quality on the 5d is good, but not perfect. I like to record on the H5 simultaneously, just in case I need to sync the good sound from the H5 with the bad sound from the camera.

This general setup works with other DSLR cameras as well! But there is one giant downfall to using just about any other video-capable Canon DSLR (70D, 7D, 5D Mark II) besides the 5D Mark III: the lack of a headphone jack.

Changing lenses

Why do you want to use different lenses? Well let’s take a look at two lens examples.

First, the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. There are many advantages to using the 50 millimeter fixed prime lens. It has a low f-stop, which means it’s going to let more light in, resulting in better low-light performance. As you let more light in and open up that aperture, you get that nice cinematic shallow depth of field. In general, you can produce a better picture with a fixed lens, which means sharper images, quicker focusing speed, and way more potential to get artistic and blur the background.

Second is the Canon 24–105mm f/4 zoom lens. Now the advantage of a zoom lens, like this 24 to 105, is that it’s great for on-the-fly shooting. If you don’t know exactly what your shot’s going to look like, you can get multiple perspectives with the zoom lens all from one location.

A lens is an investment, so try before you buy. There are a bunch of rental houses that have awesome deals on lens rentals for the day, week, or even month. I’ve found it to be pretty helpful to rent a lens before committing to a purchase.

April 7, 2016

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Chris Lavigne


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