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This weekly course covers the most common questions videographers encounter when shooting and editing with DSLR cameras, from choosing a frame size and frame rate to understanding moiré. Authors Rich Harrington and Robbie Carman will also help you understand the impacts of compression and the difference between cropped (or micro 4/3rds) and full-sized sensors in cameras, and much more. This continual FAQ guide is a handy way to find the answers to the questions that plague you the most.
Rich Harrington: You'll talk to pros and they'll say never use the autofocus. Robbie Carman: It's like a dirty word, like autofocus? I know how to focus. Rich: Yeah, yeah, and we are not saying use the continuous autofocus because that could really mess things up as things move around your scene, but let's face it, just like I use the calculator on my computer or my phone, I can do the math in my head but sometimes it's easier to just give certain tasks to the computer. Robbie: Yeah, you know, focusing is a tricky thing, and obviously there's people who do it professionally, focus pullers on big, you know, movie sets and that kind of stuff, but one thing that you can really do to sort of help yourself out to at least set initial focus--now things might change as objects move through the scene, but to set initial focus I am a big fan of using the autofocus function.
Believe me, these camera manufacturers have put a lot of thought into autofocus and how it works and how accurate it is. So at least initially when starting off trying to sort of get focus on something, it's okay to cheat a little bit. Let the camera help you out and then you can refine from there. Rich: Now if you're using a prime type lens, an older one or even a cinema-style prime, you'll find that the focus ring on the camera has a wide range of turning, you have almost like you know 270 degrees, 320 degrees, to turn makes it really easy to find that.
But if we cut to the camera here, and I use the ring manually, what you're going to notice is that the ring does not have that wide of a turn. So there I hit the end, and I turn it back to the other way and that's only about 30 degrees of rotation. Robbie: Yeah, remember Rich, that these lenses that are used on DSLRs for the most part, people are using their photo lenses, right? Rich: Yeah. Robbie: You know, these lenses were not made to do extreme rack focuses and that kind of stuff. Rich: They are designed to focus quickly, and if it only has to turn a very small amount, for still shooting that's awesome, because you hold down the trigger and it's going to lock in real quick.
Robbie: Exactly, but for you know, videography and you know, filming purposes, it is a little limiting. However, the autofocus can be our friend, right? Rich: Yeah. Robbie: We can sort of get over some of these limitations of the actual lenses by themselves by using autofocus. Rich: Yeah, let's punch in there, and I'll just push that down and it racks through and it goes green, indicating that it auto-focused and I could see those fine details here in this wax figure. Notice there as it locks in. Robbie: Yeah. Rich: Now as we punch back out, because we are at 2.8, our subject in the foreground is in focus and our subject in the background is out of focus.
So you have to decide what's in focus, and a lot of times you can move that target around. Robbie: Yeah, and different camera manufacturers are going to have different ways of showing this on screen. Some will be boxes, some will be circles, but that little target that's square in this case is the area that you are trying to focus on. Rich: Yeah, when it locks in and it goes green, you know you have it. Don't just wait for a while, usually you'll get some indication, it might be a short beep, something. You could still of course punch in and that will let you check it and cycle in and notice that that that's a very different focus, and let's go ahead and pan over here towards the front, see as that's getting shallower and shallower and as we look at that foreground subject, in this case because we are shooting at 2.8, these things are about, what would you say, a foot and a half apart? Robbie: Yeah, something like that.
Rich: So that's enough at 2.8. Now if we change that, notice here we'll go ahead and increase the depth of field by taking the f-stop down, and we'll go ahead and pop back out here. Let's just autofocus, there we go, and now everything is better and focused. Of course, we will need to adjust the sensitivity either by increasing the ISO or the light and that's your exposure triangle coming back to visit you there, but notice there in this case because we're at a smaller f-stop, we have a greater depth of field and we can actually have both the foreground and background in focus.
Robbie: Right, well, that's what we were shooting first, and when we just shot we sort of raised the f-stop so we actually have more in focus. And this is actually--well, two important points that you raised. The first one is that when you are using autofocus, especially if you're shooting at a very shallow depth of field, you can sometimes trick the camera, right? Unless, you know--unless you're having something really close to the lens, I've found that autofocus sometimes at a shallow depth of field and low number f-stop 2.8, 1.4 or whatever, it can be a little tricky. The second thing that I think is important to sort of, you know, note about what you just said there is that you don't always have to have things out of focus.
It's sort of one of these things that's come up in DSLRs, sort of the encyclopedia. Rich: Yeah, people love bokeh. Robbie: Yeah, you know, it's one of those things that you know if you are shooting a landscape, it's weird if only you know the one flower in the front of the scene is in focus and everything else is out of focus, so. Rich: People overdo this, so make sure, yeah. And if you haven't watched our episode on the exposure triangle, go back and check that out. If you don't understand the exposure triangle, you won't understand focus. All of these things tie together, but great point there.
Make sure that you actually verify the autofocus and that you set your f-stop properly so you have the depth of field you need, either a very deep depth of field, or a very shallow depth of field, and that's going to be directly related to the f-stop that you choose. Robbie: Absolutely.
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