Friday, January 29, 2010

Cheating: Turning a DSLR into a powerful motion picture camera.

When ever people see this type of footage of mine,

they always go "ooooh" and "ahhh" and then it never fails... the question arises; "how'd you do that?"

Of course there are occasions where simply put, you let a camera roll for 20 minutes up to an hour (tape length) or so and then speed things up in post production. This is somewhat a long process and sometimes can yield weird results as well. For me, this does work after hours of experimentation, fighting with artifacts, hick-ups and ...

But a really clean way and also a very super hi-res way is with my handy dandy Canon Rebel series DSLR. But really any brand of DSLR will work as long as it has a so called "bulb mode". Sort of. Let me explain why you don't want to settle for less than that feature. Please note, I am not talking about the new DSLR's that also have HD video features. I am talking about "run of the mill" DSLR's that only take still shots.

Look, I am not telling you to go out and by a new camera for the sake of a new camera if you don't have that "bulb mode" - you can still do this process. But I can tell you, you will get some weird results by going fully auto on everything.

By not having "bulb mode" and going auto everything, you will get different light settings (brightness), shutter speed, f-stop, focal length etc.. for each frame depending on the action in frame. If a dark car is in frame, the camera will compensate and try to balance the whole shot... but that car no longer exists in the next frame, so guess what? Understand? It will take a bit to get used to. Of course sometimes this might actually make for some good "grunge style" stuff. :) Here is an example of this:

So, by having bulb mode, you can now concisely control the consistency from frame to frame. Hence, you won't get any of those irregular bright flashing, drive you insane and may trigger an epileptic attack feature. Here is what a smooth session looks like with everything manually locked in:

I know this is a subjective call, but this last or prior clip really works even with the stray light and shadows. Hence the changes in light had no effect on the camera settings because they were locked in. Cool? Or in other words, if this was on automatic, it would have been a good half hour of my life that I would never have gotten back.

So moving right along, what else do you need to be successful with this method? So here are some camera possibilities:

Here is a very important, no, mandatory device you will need - and make sure it works with your camera model. These devices are called timers, remotes, intervalometers, incronometers and probably many other scientific names.. but here is a good variety for starters:

And last but not least, you need something to hold that camera super still:

As an alternative to tripods, I have been known to use sandbags, the type we use as weights or counter weights on lighting equipment and I have also used a plastic bag filled with packing popcorn, but the best is a strong cloth bag filled with real popcorn seeds. This will easily "grab" and hold the camera nicely as long as you don't overfill it. If you use a bag of this nature, do not set it on a car hood, roof or anything that can even slightly move or shake from the wind (or people getting in or out of, while slamming the door). (Experience talking here!) - It's a real problem when you have the camera moving, particularly if you use things like, oh, let's say a 400mm zoom lens.

In any case - this is just one method to make your digital still shot camera become a very powerful video camera. Very cool indeed. Stay tuned.. there will be more to come on this topic.

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