HD DSLR Film Making Basics - Understanding Aperture, Speed, and ISO Relationship - Part 1 - Aperture

I started doing videography using Sony PD-170 and VX-2100 DV system, it was back 6 years ago. Now, I use all DSLR equipments to shoot my videography. The image quality is really astonishing, as now we are able to achieve Cinematic look and feeling in less than $20,000-$30,000 equipments. But the downside is DSLR is designed originally for photography, the video is the extra feature, not the other way around. So in order to operate DSLR for film making, we need to know the basics of photography itself. Which I think, most videographer that used to with the DVCAM or HDVCAM equipments will have a challenge.

Lucky for me, my background is visual graphic design and photography. Even with that, I still met a lot of challenges with DSLR. One of them is the Manual Focus, which I will discuss more details in my next articles. This time, I will discuss the basics of DSLR, from photography to videography.

As we all know, photography is one of the major breakthrough in the 19th century. The principal is very simple, it's basically a black box with a small hole ( terms: camera obscura ), which allow the light pass and projecting image to the back of the box, and the image exposed is captured using chemical reaction to a media. Nowadays with the advancement of technology, this simple principle becomes more elaborate in pursuit of producing better and better image.

Let's take a look at the box. The box is the camera. The small hole is the aperture. Now the aperture is controlled by the lens, which in term the quality of the lens is crucial to get the sharpest, distinct image that allows the light to pass to the media. Most of the time a good lens price will cost more than the camera itself. Another factor is, the camera technology is advancing so fast like the computer, every year we see newer model coming up, with better feature and the price went down very fast for older model. By contrast, a good lens will be used at all time no matter what kind of body camera we use.

Aperture, is "the size of that small hole". Aperture is measured by 1/x. the x is 1.2, 1.4, 1.8, 2.8, 3.5, 4, 5.6 and so on. The smaller the "x" number, the Bigger the "hole". Lens price normally will commensurate with "Bigger" aperture. so if you see 35 mm f/1.2 normally the price will be more expensive than 35 mm f/2.8.

Now, you might wonder why is that?

There is several factors that I can think of. First, the technical difficulty might be more challenging in producing lens with bigger aperture. Second, the demand for this lens is less than other type of lenses ( ex: zoom lenses ). It's just economic, less demand, difficult to make means higher prices. Well I might be wrong, but this is just my take on this.

Now, you might also wonder, why the demand is less? it took really nice image right?

Yes it is. but it also needs someone with at least intermediate-advance level, to shoot a good picture with it. Trust me, artistic looks doesn't mean it translate to more appreciation with general public. If you don't believe me, just go to your local camera store and ask them which lens is their best seller? So the market is less for this type of lenses.

Ok, so why do we need big aperture lens for video?

I can only think of 2 reasons. First, we need it in lower light situation. The bigger the aperture, means more light comes in. Second, the "Bokeh" ( terms for that blurry background around the focused subject ) the bigger the aperture the more "Bokeh" you got. It is making the subject far more interesting and artistic than the whole frame focus.

How big of aperture do we need for video?

Again, this is more of an artistic taste of each video / cinematographer. For myself after using the DSLR for half a dozen weddings, I realized I can live with f/2.8. Because I mainly shoot for events, the pace is fast and there is no take 2 or take 3 or more. It's only take one - and you can't ask the bride to walk in the aisle again just for you to shoot the video. Bigger aperture can mean out of focus easily, since the 3" screen is so small, sometimes is really took some experiences to develop "the feeling" to get the right focus.

I do use the bigger aperture like 1.4 for the scripted featurette, such as the pre-wedding featurette or short film or just for interviewing ( the talking heads ). So I have one or two lens in handy.

That's my take on the HD DSLR film making basic - Part 1 - Aperture

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Fond productions is an independent wedding, events and commercial video / cinematographer based in Los Angeles.


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