Let a pro tell you how to get the most out of your HDSLR.
Q. And for more stability?
A. I use a Manfrotto Fig Rig—it's brilliant—and a Zacuto magnifier for the LCD. For the skateboard video I'm working on now, we put the 7D on a monopod with a ballhead to extend it down into the ramps. My assistant, Dante, who's shooting video with the 7D while I shoot stills with a Hasselblad H3D-31, is also using a larger rig from Redrock Micro.
Q. So shooting isn't that hard?
A. If you know the limitations of your camera, you just work within them. For instance, I use a color meter all the time. You have to get the exposure and the color temperature exactly right. It's like shooting transparencies all over again. H.264 files are 8-bit color. You can't go from daylight to tungsten in the same shot. It's not RAW.
Q. Any other quirks compared with camcorders?
A. With a camcorder, you have autofocus and zoom, but these cameras won't do that. And a DSLR's CMOS sensor scans diagonally from upper left to lower right. So if you pan quickly something bad called jello happens-you get a lot of strange distortion. The 7D handles this slightly better than the 5D. But with the 5D you can get shallower depth of field. If you're shooting someone's face and they're staying in one place, it's just fantastic. With the 7D, slow motion looks fantastic.
Q. What about exposure?
A. You're limited on shutter speed: It needs to be constant. If you're shooting 24p, it should be 1/50 sec—that's the closest to what you'll see in the movies—or less if you like your footage a bit softer. If you're at 30p, for more of a TV look, you should set it to no more than 1/60 sec. And if you're at 60p, it should be no more than 1/125 sec—this gives you a hideous video look. But I use a program called Cinema Tools, which is very easy to use, to pull it down to 24p. This gives you roughly 2.5X slo-mo, and that's really beautiful.
Here's something else you should know: If you're under incandescent or fluorescent light, the shutter speed needs to correspond to the cycle-Hertz-rate of the electricity. In the U.S., we're at 60 Hertz, so you should shoot at 1/60 sec, and 1/30 sec is okay. But in Europe, if you shoot at 1/60 sec, the light will pulse-you need to shoot at 1/50 sec.
Q. And aperture?
A. You don't want to have to change the f-stop and lose your shallow depth of field to keep that shutter speed. On my 5D, I like it at about f/5.6. On the 7D, f/5.6 is still a lot of depth of field. The only time we use those big f-stops—f/16, for example—is with a long lens, because you don't want someone moving and then falling out of focus.
Q. Then there's ISO.
A. If you're shooting outside in sunlight, set ISO 100. The camera has native ISOs, and anything other than the native ISOs look like hell. This is an unknown fact. I learned it from my man Shane Hurlbut. He did a test of these and sent out a newsletter of examples of each ISO. I've written them out and taped them to the top of my cameras. On the 5D, the native ISOs are 100, 160, 320, 640, 800, 1250. ISO 2500 will work, too. The 7D won't go as high—I wouldn't set the ISO much over 800. It's possible to use much higher ISOs, but the image really starts to fall apart. DSLRs handle low light wonderfully, but that doesn't mean you can avoid light. You have to expose and light properly.