Why You Shouldn’t Ignore The Video Mode on Your Camera


There has been a certain reluctance amongst some photographers to accept the fact that video is here to stay on stills cameras. It’s understandable, particularly for those of us from the pre-digital era where photography and video were often seen as entirely different entities. However, it is here to stay so rather than avoid it, let’s embrace it and to help you along the way, today we will give you a little run down on video modes and how to shoot footage.

The Video Modes

Your camera will have a number of video modes that at first might seem confusing. Typically they are defined by numbers such as 1080/25p. The first number is the video resolution size. The figure 1080 represents what is typically known as Full HD, that is an image height of 1080 pixels and a width 1980 pixels. The figure 25 represents 25 frames per second and the letter P stands for progressive. Also hidden in some cameras menus is the ability to change between PAL and NTSC. These refer to two different TV broadcast systems, PAL being mainly European and NTSC being American. In the modern digital era they are largely irrelevant but do go to explain why why have a number of different frames per second rates.

The 25 frame per second rate is based on the PAL system whilst the 30 fps rate is a hangover from the NTSC system. You will also find some other frame rates, typically 24fps, this is to simulate the shooting speed of film to give a cinematic look and also there are 50 and 60fps. The latter two will give a smoother looking but more video like feel to your clips and are also useful for slowing down clips for slow motion effects in post production. Lastly some more recent cameras also have ultra high speed modes shooting up to 1000fps to create ultra slow motion effects.


1080p os the standard HD format

Returning to the video resolutions some other sizes you may find are 720p, this is an image size of 1280×720, as well as some smaller lower resolution sizes, which are ideal for quick clips that do not take up too much space.

720p is still a common HD format

There are also now cameras producing a resolution of 4K. This is a ultra high definition video and typically will have an image size of 4096 x 2160 pixels. This is the current forefront of video technology in stills cameras and expect it to become mainstream in the next couple of years.

How to Shoot Video for Best Results

When shooting video, there are a number of things that you need to keep in mind. Firstly, you need to think carefully about your shutter speed. Using a high shutter speed in video leads to a less smooth looking clip. Typically you want to keep your shutter speed the same or double your frame rate. This means if you are shooting 1080p25, your fps rate is 25. Therefore you need to go for a shutter speed of 1/25 or 1/50 of a second. The reason for this harks back to the cinematography and but what it does is ensure your video is smooth and film like.

Focussing video is also a bit of an art. Whilst video autofocus on stills cameras has got much better, it is still preferable to focus manually. The simple reason is that when using autofocus, the focus point might shift during the take throwing your subject out of focus.. Manual focus can be hard to achieve, especially as you will be trying to do it from the LCD screen but with a little practice you will soon get the hang of it.

DSLR video for photojournalism

Manual focus is still the best option for video, by James Willamor, on Flickr

Another key issue is camera steadiness. There is a big difference between the natural looking handheld look found in many TV series today to shaky handheld video clips. One of the biggest issues is rolling shutter, an effect that turns your video clip jello like if there is too much motion.

The Bend

<The effect of rolling shutter, by Travis Juntara, on Flickr

When hand holding for video, you need to keep your arms very relaxed so as not to introduce sharp uncoordinated movement. If you are looking for truly steady shots, then invest in a good quality, dampened video head for your tripod. This will allow not only solid locked off shots but also beautifully smooth pans and tilts. You can also invest in a steady cam system but be aware, the cheaper models you find on eBay are often not worth the money. Even the best models will require a lot of practice and patience.

Video can be a fun way to extend your photographic knowledge. It can give you a greater understanding of shutter speeds and of how to hold your camera steady. Composition for video follows similar rules but in a much wider frame, meaning you literally have to think outside the box. Virtually every camera these days has video capability, why not explore what you can achieve with a little motion footage.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

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