Vlogging with DSLR’s

Earlier today I saw a tweet asking for advice on a DSLR setup so it got me thinking. There are quite a few things to consider for this:

First thing is the camera.

If you are vlogging with a DSLR and you want to do a lot of shooting of yourself (i.e. your face talking in shot) then using DSLR’s are going to be a bit more tricky because of focus. This is for two reasons:

  1. Currently only the Panasonic Lumix G series of cameras will do automatic follow focus while shooting. i.e. the camera will adjust the focus automagically if you move closer or farther away from the lens. While all cameras boast auto focus don’t be confused by this. Canon’s for instance have a very brutal autofocus mechanism that is loud and wont follow a focus point.
  2. Not all DSLR’s have swivel LCD viewing panels so if not using one of those then it will be very difficult to see what you’re shooting let alone adjusting the focus.

For a selection of cameras I would recommend see this list – in no particular order (all have swivel LCD panels)

  • Panasonic GH2 – will do follow focus but small sensor and micro four thirds lens system.
  • Panasonic G3 – will do follow focus but small sensor and micro four thirds lens system.
  • Canon 600D – will NOT do follow focus, Great Canon legacy, great lens choices.
  • Canon 60D – will NOT do follow focus, Great Canon legacy, great lens choices.
  • Nikon D5100 – will NOT do follow focus, Great Nikon legacy, great lens choices.
  • Nikon – will NOT do follow focus, Great Nikon legacy, great lens choices.

Part of the “not being able to see yourself” issue could be overcome with faffing around with the camera but I’m raising the issue so you don’t shoot a brilliant 5 min rant only to find that none of it is in focus. I have however done stuff like this without being able to see myself and its been fin – you just need to remember to not move about too much ion the shot. Another option would be to see if you could use the HDMI out that most cameras have these days and feed it in to a screen and use that as a reference point but that’s getting equally faffy! My point is there are always ways around these problems but too many to put down in an email – feel free to bug me about this though anytime.

Next is sound:

The inbuilt mic’s on all these cameras are a bit rubbish. That’s not to say that they wont get the job done but you need to consider the environment you are shooting in. So if you’re doing all this in your home or office and you can control the background noise and make it a minimum then you’ll be happy as Larry. If however you want to shoot something on a busy street corner in London its gonna be crappy. It comes down to two main thongs:

  1. Most cameras have an inbuilt feature called Auto Gain. What this does is it automatically adjusts the volume if it suddenly gets loud. Imagine being on previously mentioned street corner and a lorry/buss drives passed. The resulting sound will be muffled to kingdom come.
  2. Proximity – again on said street corner if you are not close enough for the mic to pick up your voice the result will be Captain Muffled.

If you will be shooting in lots of “live” environments then the solution is to get a half decent Mic – prolly a Rode Video/DSLR Mic. Using a specific mic reduces the affects of Auto Gain and you can mount it on the camera or even just hold it out of shot. If you get a decent one then it will also be directional thus you can set up you camera angle and mic angle to point away form the main noisy sources.

I will briefly mention the things that should be obvious:

  • Phones on silent
  • Phones away from camera to avoid signal interruption on the sound
  • Avoid music in background because of:
    • copyright issues
    • difficult to edit final piece

Lastly is Lighting:

Don’t worry – I’m not gonna suggest you buy any expensive lights or anything like that – You’re not setting up a studio. What I will say is to use the light you have to your advantage. So here are my top tips:

  • Don’t have your back to an open window – it will generate a silhouette – unless you’re going for a covert look.
  • If you have a window – face the window to use the natural light to light yourself. Natural light is a much more flattering source than artificial lights (except direct sunlight which makes ya squint).
  • If you’re shooting at night then a simple trick is to use a table lamp. Even better buy one of those directional lamps you can point. Now you may think that pointing a lamp at your face will be a bit intense and you’d be right as doing only that would also be silly however a simple hack is to hang a couple of sheets of paper in front of the bulb thus defusing the light (or however many sheets you need to get the desired effect).