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I was recently conversing with one of my readers – a Nikon D5200 user who was putting the camera through its paces for professional-level video shooting. He has given the camera a thorough field test, so I asked him to put together a review and a tutorial of the camera in regards to its video performance. So for today’s guest post, I introduce:

by Steve MacDonald of 5dhdvideo
I have recently put the Nikon D5200 through its video capability paces, in a couple of different shooting scenarios.  Scenario one was a bright sunny outdoor situation with mixtures of heavy sunlight and shaded areas, and the second was an indoor, controlled lighting situation.

Scenario one was tested with a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 making use of a Schneider 4×4 polarizer and Schneider 4×4 1.6 graduated ND filters. Mind you, these are probably the harshest video acquisition lighting conditions.

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

One of the biggest challenges of shooting with any dSLR camera is setting critical focus. One camera feature that can help is a really decent LCD screen. I found the Nikon D5200 screen to be less the stellar, but I suppose that is to be expected from a mid-level consumer camera. Using a Hoodman loupe on the back of this unit, at first, I thought the inability to see a somewhat sharp image was the kit lens. But even with a very expensive Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 zoom lens, manually achieving critical focus was challenging. Using the cameras focus assist the image never really seemed all that sharp, so it’s was a guessing game of finding what would be the sharpest focus point. I quickly abandoned using the LCD for critical focusing and used the cameras viewfinder with a right-angle viewer by Seagull. This worked much better, but it’s something I’m not used to, having come from shooting with many Canon DSLR models.

I decided to give auto-focusing a try, since, a lot of my shots that day were stationary subjects – and that feature seemed to be dead on. The only downside to using this is that in certain lighting situation, the Nikon will throw a beam of light from the AF-Assist Illuminator. Not a big deal, untill you realize the AF-Assist Illuminator is eating into your battery faster than you can imagine.  (Note – you can turn off the Built-in AF-Assist Illuminator using Custom Setting a3.) The battery life of the EN EL14 has already been documented as being less than adequate, which I can confirm.

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

Another quirk I found with this Nikon is discrepancies between metering in the viewfinder then switching back to live view. Many times after setting a dead zero meter in the viewfinder and not moving anything, switching back to live view, could at times , show an almost full stop difference. Switching metering methods didn’t seem to change the situation.

We’re all familiar with the nagging Nikon situation of having to come out of live view to change aperture settings, which is indeed a pain, but what I didn’t realize is if you keep the camera pointed at your subject, it will meter that subject in live view. This brings me to the subject of trying to run and gun with this camera: in two words, very difficult. The reason being is having to come out of live view to change the aperture, making a moving subject next to impossible to keep properly exposed. The way around this is to buy manual lenses with the aperture on the barrel and not controlled by the camera. Or, one would think that is a viable work around – not so. Nikon has further limited video functions on this camera by not offering any metering with a manual lens attached, which in my opinion renders this camera far less than ideal from a professional video acquisition standpoint. (Note: the Nikon D7100 and D7000 offers the ability to register non-CPU lenses in the camera, thus allowing access to additional functions including color-matrix metering – though they suggest you make use of Center-Weighted or Spot Metering in these situations.  The D7100 and D7000 also offer the ability to assign aperture selection to the aperture ring on lenses which have this ring, thus allowing aperture change while shooting video.)

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

It goes without saying, for professional use an EVF (electronic viewfinder / monitor), such as the SmallHD DP4 EVF, is pretty much a must with any DSLR. False color, peaking, and many other features they offer make for a better user experience.  Sure, you could rely on an EVF to set proper exposure levels with a manual lens attached to the D5200, but you’re going to pay a grand for a good one.

The indoor shooting scenario was a two camera interview situation, with the other camera being a Canon T3i. One feature I really liked was Nikon’s ability to tweak the White Balance presets in movie mode, in order to dial in a match between the two cameras. The picture quality of the Nikon looks very good, and the ability to output a clean HDMI will no doubt attract many. Shooting the indoor scenario was much easier, although none of the issues mentioned above disappeared.

At the end of the day, my take on this camera is that it just isn’t full equipped for demanding or professional-level videography. It takes fantastic still images, since as with any of these dSLRs, that is their main function. While its video capabilities and performance may fulfill the needs of a casual video user, there are just too many roadblocks with this camera to make it a sensible choice when it comes to professional video work. One should instead consider the additional video capabilities of the D7000 or D7100, which both improve upon some of these video shortcomings of the D5200.

Nikon D5200 video dslr manual movie mode
Still from dSLR video taken with the Nikon D5200, by Steve MacDonald

Manual exposure and white balance for the videographer with the Nikon D5200

Although the Nikon D5200 has the quirk of having to come out of live view to change aperture, and the fact it won’t meter a manual lens, this section of the article focuses on methods to help you gain proper exposure for shooting video.

Recently, I purchased two Rokinon Cine Lenses for the D5200, knowing full well the camera would not meter these lenses. If you don’t know what that means, basically, the built in light meter of the D5200 will not give you a reading with these lenses or any manual lens. My main reasons for buying these manual lenses was to avoid having to come out of live view to change the aperture, not to mention, for the price, these are great prime lenses!

So my quest after buying these Rokinon’s was to find a way to get a proper exposure, without having to resort to buying a light meter. Don’t get me wrong, having a light meter is well worth having,  but I just spent a chunk on these lenses, so that’ll have to wait. What I did buy was a Photovision one-shot target.  Targets are used to set 18% gray level, but with this particular target, it also has a white and black section outside the middle gray, so in essence, it sets your highlight and black level as well. The target works by first lighting your scene, then setting the target in front of that scene and taking a photo of the target.  You’ll want to make sure the white side of the target is towards the key light of your scene, and that the entire target is filling your screen with the white, gray, and black columns in sharp focus.  You’ll also want to make sure your shutter speed and ISO are set for your video shoot at hand. Next, set your D5200 play back display options by accessing the menu, highlighting the display icon, top icon on the left, then making sure all those options have a check mark beside them. Now, hit your playback button and bring up that photo of the target.

By clicking on the bottom portion of the multi-selector you can scroll through the various information provided for that particular photo. What you’re looking for is the histogram display. This histogram display will show you three distinct spikes. The left most spike being the black level, the middle gray, and the far right spike is your highlight. It’s this highlight we want to set so that it’s not clipping.  Clipping would have the far right spike at or very near the far right side of the histogram. Now, by adjusting your f-stop (aperture setting) for subtle changes in exposure, and taking a photo of the target after each f-stop adjustment, you’ll be able to view that photo in playback and determine if that exposure gives you the proper histogram.

After determining which histogram suits your best exposure, you’ll want to set that target photo as a custom white balance within your D5200.  Note: although by default the camera sets the last photo you’ve taken as your white balance, I choose to select the photo just to make sure its definitely the right one. You’ve now not only set a proper white balance, but you’ve also set an exposure level. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to light your scene for proper levels because the target has no idea how light or dark your subject is, it only reflects what lights you’ve set up for a particular scene.

Now, with all that being said, this target wouldn’t work in a run and gun situation, it would just take way to much time. For these types of situations, you can still utilize the histogram feature of the D5200 to get a proper exposure. To do that, set your f-stop (aperture), take a photo of your scene, review that photo and look at your histogram. If the highlights are slammed against the right side, lower your f-stop (aperture), take another photo and review it’s histogram reading.  The advantage of using the histogram in this manner, is that you’ll soon recognize what’s over exposed just by viewing it in the LCD, because you’ve been in these situations enough times and have looked at enough histograms to know what’s over exposed just from viewing your scene from the LCD.Utilizing the one-shot target, as well as, learning to read your histograms will give you a big advantage in gaining proper exposures with your Nikon D5200.

I began to discuss the autofocus modes of various dSLR cameras in previous posts including Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System and Taking Advantage of the Autofocus Systems of the Nikon D5100 and the Nikon D7000

In this post I wish to go into more detail about one of the reasons it is important to take control of your autofocus system, namely not allowing the locations of the AF Points in your viewfinder to dictate your final composition.

As I mentioned in previous autofocus posts, one of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.

In addition, there are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just focusing with the center AF point and then recomposing.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject.  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

One of the additional critical reasons to take control of your autofocus system is so that you don’t let the location of the AF Points dictate your composition. What happens when the subject you want to focus on is not located exactly under one of the AF Points? Even with 9 or 19 or more AF Points to choose from, they will not always be located exactly at or near where you need them to be.  Recomposing or re-framing your shot is often necessary so that you can capture exactly the image you wish to and not one dictated by the locations of the AF Points as you see them in the viewfinder.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 1 – The desired framing and composition of the shot I wish to take, yet no AF Point, including the selected lower right point (the larger point shown in red here) is located exactly at the woman’s head where I wish to focus. (Canon 7D viewfinder shown)

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Image is temporarily framed to place the selected AF Point over the woman’s head, Shutter Button is pressed half-way and held to lock focus at that distance, image is recomposed to the desired framing of previous Figure 1, and Shutter Button is fully pressed to capture the image.

Figure 1 shows the desired framing and composition of the shot I want to take, but the woman is not located under an AF Point. This composition is desired for me because it captures the entire window along with some space around it, as well as some space in front of the woman for her to “walk into” – but not an excessive amount of space. So I manually select the lower right AF Point (using Single-Point AF Mode), temporarily frame the image to place the selected AF Point over her face or head, press and hold the Shutter Button half-way to lock focus at that distance (Figure 2), and see the Focus Confirmation Light illuminate in the viewfinder. I then recompose back to the final framing I want (Figure 1) and press the Shutter Button fully to take the image. Even though the subject is moving, I do not need the sophisticated tracking of AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode to keep her in focus. I can quickly lock focus using One Shot (Canon) or Single Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode, recompose, and take the image without the camera-to-subject focus distance changing significantly.

With the example images above (Figures 1, 2), focusing on the wall would not have been tragic because the distance between the subject and the background is small, and if a medium or narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/16 is used both the wall and the subject may be in acceptable focus. If the background was further away, and/ or a wide aperture such as f/2.8 was used – especially with a telephoto lens, and if the image was enlarged, you would clearly see that the camera focused on the wall and not the woman. Not to mention the fact that the wall is a somewhat consistent area of color and the AF system may have difficulty properly focusing on it. So it is best not to take shortcuts such as focusing on the wall and hoping the subject will also be in focus, because in many other situations you will not have this option. It is best to take the photo properly and to learn and practice the habit of working in the more rigorous manner if you want all your photos to be sharp.

If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems of your Canon or Nikon dSLR camera, as well as learn to use the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes, all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on their titles or on the banner below:
Canon 7D Experience
Canon T3i Experience
Your World 60D
T2i Experience.

Nikon D7000 Experience
Nikon D5100 Experience.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

For those with other cameras, check out my Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography which also discusses taking advantage of any dSLR camera’s autofocus system.

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Learn How to Use the Nikon D5100 Autofocus System

The autofocus system of the Nikon D5100 may not be quite as complicated as the 39 point AF system of the Nikon D7000, but it does offer many of the same capabilities and options, and can be a little confusing to figure out.  The autofocus system includes not only the three Focus Modes used in various combinations with four Autofocus Area Modes, but also includes a few Custom Settings as well as the optional AF-L or Autofocus Lock Button.

Nikon D5100 autofocus system AF focus mode autofocus area mode
Image by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

You will first want to set up the autofocus Custom Settings so that the AF system functions how you desire.

a1: AF-C priority selection – This setting determines if attaining focus is top priority when you are in Continuous-servo AF mode (AF-C autofocus mode), or if you just want the shots to be taken even if exact focus is not attained for each shot.  If exact focus is your priority, set on Focus.  If getting the shots at all costs is the priority, set for Release.

a2: Built-in AF-assist illuminator – This is used to enable or disable the autofocus assist light, to assist you in autofocusing in low light.  Note that the AF-assist lamp only works in AF-S mode or when the camera is in AF-A and choosing single-servo (not always under your control), and when in Auto-area AF area mode or only with the center AF point in other AF area modes.

a3: Rangefinder – This setting is used to help obtain focus when you have turned off autofocus and are using Manual Focus mode (MF) and manually focusing.  (Be sure to also set the autofocus switch on your lens to M)  The exposure indicator in the viewfinder is used to indicate if the subject is correctly in focus.

f2: Assign AE-L/AF-L button – This is to assign the function of the AE-L/AF-L Button., which gives you the option to use this button to lock focus or to initiate focus, and this separate those functions from the Shutter Button.

This should get you started, and I go into more detail about each of these Custom Settings, as well as all the other D5100 Custom Settings in my e-book guide Nikon D5100 Experience.

Using Autofocus
The information below is also excerpted from my e-book user’s guide Nikon D5100 Experience, so I hope you have a look at the guide in order to learn more about the AF system as well as all the other functions and controls of the D5100.

One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by choosing its own Focus Point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object or human subject.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on.  So you should choose where the camera focuses using the autofocus Focus Points and selecting a specific AF point.  This does not mean you have to manually focus the camera, it means you tell the camera exactly where to autofocus.  But you also need to select the desired Focus Mode and Autofocus Area Mode, based on your subject and its type of movement (or lack of movement).

Focus Modes

The D5100 has three different Focus Modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving.  It also has four different Autofocus Area Modes (see below) to specify how many of the AF points are active and how they track a moving object.  You can set these two functions in various combinations.  First the Focus Modes.

Single-Servo AF (AF-S)
Use this mode when your subject is stationary, or still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  When using AF-S, you can select from two Autofocus Area Modes, either Single-Point AF where you select the AF point, or Auto-Area AF, where the camera selects the AF point(s) for you.  I suggest you nearly always select your own desired AF point so that the camera focuses exactly where you want it to.

Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C)
Use this mode when your subject is moving.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you, the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance, as long as the Shutter-Release Button is kept half-pressed.  You will need to use this in conjunction with the Autofocus Area Modes to determine if and how the camera tracks the subject laterally to the surrounding AF points, or if it will only track the subject if it remains at the initially selected AF point.  Single-Point AF will only track the subject’s distance as it moves near or far if it remains under the selected point.  It will not track lateral movement if the subject leaves the selected AF point.  If the subject is going to be moving somewhat unpredictably and may leave your selected AF point before you can react, use the Dynamic-Area AF mode so that the surrounding AF points are used to maintain focus while you realign your selected AF point with the subject.  If the subject is going to be moving across your field of view, set the AF-Area Mode to the 3D-Tracking mode so that the camera tracks it in any direction as it moves to the other AF points.

Focus on the moving subject with the selected AF point when using Dynamic Area Mode or 3D-Tracking Mode, or let the camera select the AF point in Auto-Area AF Mode, and then as long as the Shutter-Release Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject to the other focus points if it moves to them and as it moves closer or farther in distance.

Auto-Servo AF (AF-A)
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in Single-Servo AF (AF-S) mode then changes to Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, if you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and your resulting focus may not be where you want it to be, or may not be as accurate as it might be if you are using Single-Servo AF.

Manual Focus
Sometimes you may be taking several photos of the same subject from the same distance, or for some other reason want to keep the same focus distance and not have to keep re-focusing and re-composing.  Or you may be taking multiple photos for a panorama.  In these situations, turn off the auto-focus with the autofocus switch on the lens itself (set to M) and change your camera’s Focus Mode to MF (Manual Focus).  Just remember to switch them back when you are finished.  You may also wish to do this if you want to precisely manually focus with the focus ring on your lens.  (Note that for lenses with “full time manual focus” you don’t need to switch to M in order to manually override when slightly tweaking the autofocus with the lens focus ring.  These lenses will have M/A and M on the lens focus mode switch instead of A and M.)  Use the Rangefinder feature of the D5100 to assist with manual focus – Custom Setting a3.

Autofocus Area Modes

The Autofocus Area Modes are used to set if just a single AF point is active or else how many AF points surrounding your selected AF point will be used to track a moving subject if you are using AF-C or AF-A Focus Modes.

Nikon d5100 autofocus af auto focus system lock point area mode
Selecting an AF Point using Single-Point AF and locking focus

Single-Point AF
Only one AF point will be active, and surrounding AF points will not become active to track a subject that moves away from the one selected point.  This is typically used along with Single-Servo AF (AF-S) to focus on a stationary or still subject, or in a situation where you will be reframing the shot after you lock focus at a specific distance.  It can also be used with accuracy with AF-S mode for moving subjects if you take the photo quickly or if you recompose and take the shot quickly after locking in focus, especially if the camera-to-subject distance does not change at all or very much in that period between locking focus and taking the photo.  Use the Multi Selector to choose your active AF point as you look through the viewfinder and use the OK Button to quickly select the center AF point.  If you choose Single-Point AF with Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A) for tracking moving subjects, it will only track the subject as long as it is positioned at the selected AF point, and it will not be tracked laterally to the other, surrounding points.  As noted above, the single AF point you select will track a subject if it moves closer or farther away, but the AF system will not track the subject if it moves left, right, up, or down and away from your selected AF point.  To do this, you use Dynamic-Area AF mode or 3D-Tracking mode.

Dynamic-Area AF
With the Dynamic-Area AF Mode, you select an AF point to tell the camera where to autofocus, and if your subject briefly moves away from that point to a neighboring point or if you lose the subject from your AF point while panning, the camera will use the surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on it.  Select Dynamic-Area AF when you are photographing moving or potentially moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  These modes are ideal for a subject moving closer or further from the camera but which may also move laterally away from the selected AF point faster than you can react in order to keep it located at that point, or for when you are panning and following the subject and attempting to keep it located at the selected AF point, but may have a little or a lot of difficulty doing so.  Remember that you need to keep the Shutter Button half-pressed in order for the continuous focusing at the initial point or the surrounding points to occur.  Note that the camera may pick up and start tracking a new subject that falls under the selected AF point if you lose your initial subject.

The Dynamic-Area AF Mode is not used to track and maintain focus on a subject that is moving across the various AF points in the frame, but rather is used to stay focused on a moving subject that you attempt to keep located at your selected AF Point.  To track a subject that is moving across the frame, intentionally passing from one AF point to the next, use 3D-Tracking.

3D-Tracking
This mode is used for subjects moving across the frame in any direction, or subjects moving erratically from side-to-side in the frame, and they are tracked by areas of color.  This is used when you don’t wish to necessarily pan or follow the subject to keep it located in the same part of the frame, but rather when you wish to keep the camera relatively still as the subject moves across the frame.  You may select this option when you are tracking and photographing moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  Again, you choose the initial AF point to locate the subject and begin the tracking.  If the area of color you wish to track is too small or if it blends into the background, this mode might not be very effective.

Auto-Area AF
The camera uses all 11 AF points to detect what it thinks is the subject and automatically choose the appropriate AF point(s).  Typically, the camera will select the nearest subject or a human in the frame, so it may not focus on exactly what you wish to focus on.  That is why it is best to use one of the other modes and select the AF point yourself.  However in certain situations such as quick sports or action scenes you may have to make use of this.

Locking Focus

The next step is to learn to lock focus independent of locking exposure, typically through the use of the AE-L/AF-L Button as noted in the f2 Custom Setting above.  But for that, and numerous other important functions of the D5100, you are going to have to have a look at my e-book, Nikon D5100 Experience!
Nikon D5100 book user guide manual download ebook

I’ve put together a video introduction to the D5100 autofocus system to compliment this article:

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, see the related post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point? Even with all the AF points of an advanced Nikon D5100 or D7000, this will often be an issue.  Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

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Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon, B&H Photo, or Adorama logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!