Dec 212011

This is a three-part article, you can access part 1 here and part 3 here

In my previous post I explained the issues that commonly come up trying to record video on DSLRs, particularly on the Nikon D5100. You can read it here if you would like to catch up.

The next two posts are dedicated on how to avoid these issues to get better quality video footage. I’m covering the Nikon D5100 specifically in this series and the techniques might work for other cameras, but you’re on your own for finding the equivalent menu options to get the same results. I’ll be covering the “set and forget” options you’ll want to have for shooting video and why they’re important in this article. I’ll leave the ideal ranges and values for the next one.

So let’s get started! Let’s get that camera configured!

1. Set Fn Button to Control ISO Sensitivity


Assigning the Fn ButtonTo start, the D5100 should be configured to make your work in finding that right exposure easier when it comes time to record video. I have assigned my Fn button to “ISO Sensitivity” adjustment as I prefer to pick my desired ISO by holding the fn button and spinning the adjustment wheel when needed. You can assign it in the Custom Settings menu (the pencil icon on the left side) and choosing “f Controls” from the menu. The Fn button adjustment is the first one in the list (the item labelled “f1”).

Controlling your ISO sensitivity helps to reduce the graininess of your pictures, the big killer of image quality. In general, keeping your ISO lower reduces the noise at the expense of using a slower shutter speed. By having the ISO adjustment so readily available, it becomes a lot easier to find that sweet spot you so desperately want.

Some people prefer to use the Auto ISO option instead, but I find the bouncing ISO and shutter speed just make it difficult to pin consistent settings and even harder to reproduce them if needed.

2. Set AE-L/AF-L to AE lock (Hold)


Assigning what the AE/AF lock button doesWhile in the custom setting menu, you will find it very handy to set the next option (“f2 Assign AE-L/AF-L button”) to “AE lock (Hold)” as you will need to lock the camera’s exposure when you find the right balance and stay there. This means you can play around until you get the optimal shutter speed and ISO sensitivity and then lock it by just pressing and releasing the AE-L/AF-L button and it will stay there. Far better than the default of holding the shutter release button half-pressed to lock your exposure for your whole video shoot.

This will help to prevent your video from dimming out or brightening up as you’re recording. Note that it also means you won’t be exposing properly as your lighting situation changes, so you won’t be able to have a single shot of your kids running from the yard into the house without readjusting your exposure somewhere in-between.

3. Create (and Save) a Limited-Processing Picture Settings Profile


manage picture controlSave/edit for Manage Picture ControlThis can be a very important option to set up if you’re going to be editing video later on, especially if you are going to be performing color correction. You may want to skip this step if you have no intention of performing any color correction later on, but it doesn’t hurt to create this profile and save it in your camera settings so you can call upon it if the need does come up. It’s not that difficult, and I’ve found the footage created with this color profile looks quite good all by itself.

Choose reference profileAdjust SettingsTo create a new custom picture settings profile, go into the shooting menu and choose “Manage Picture Control” and select “Save/Edit” to pick your reference profile.

From here, you will see a list of the current picture control profiles already set for the camera. A good baseline to start with is the “Neutral” profile. We have to first edit the profile so DO NOT press OK to select it, instead press right on the command wheel around the OK button to go into the next screen, Adjust Settings.

Save Picture ControlNaming the new profileNext, set Sharpening to “0” (not “A” which is for automatically pick it), Contrast to “-” (again, not “A”) and Saturation down two points. Leave Hue and Brightness set to the mid point marker of “0”.

By reducing sharpening to zero you are removing the camera’s pre-processing settings from the equation and by dropping contrast and saturation you will “flatten” the contrast and color of your video so you have more dynamic range to work with when color correcting. It also allows you to gather more range to work with, so you can adjust your exposure a little bit when editing if your editor supports it.

When you’re done adjusting the values, press the OK button and you’ll be taken to the pick slot screen and given the chance to enter a name for your new profile. Assign it to an unused custom slot and give it a name to save for later.

4. Set Movie Recording Format


movie settingsThis should go without saying: you should choose an appropriate setting for recording your video that suits your desired target. If you pick 480p and try to show it on your big 80″ HD TV in your living room, it’s going to look like crap. If you’re recording a sporting event, that 24 fps won’t keep up as well as 30 fps. I personally prefer to record on the high quality 1080p format and am getting into the habit of recording in 24p as I’m trying to target a bit more of a filmic look.

The choice of formats vary from the 640×424 normal all the way to the full and robust 1080p 30 high quality video. Your personal target might vary, such as using 720p for some balance between file size and having decent resolution. I don’t think there’s any real advantage for choosing the “Normal” quality versions of the video settings since if you do any video editing, that normal quality will start to show it’s highly compressed nature far too easily and the space savings isn’t that great.

Nowadays though, there is no real reason to shoot in anything less than 1080p as hard drive space is a lot cheaper than it was in the past and the final file sizes are pretty reasonable all things considered. If you want smaller for playing back on your smart phone or for Grandma’s computer, you can save a lower resolution video after editing to get your desired size.

5. Set Auto Focus Mode to AF-S


Auto focus is a great feature to have… It can track the action and keep what’s relevant in clear focus as it moves into frame and back out. Unfortunately, as I covered in the last article, it has difficulty keeping up and hunts too much. To take care of this problem but still have the advantage of auto focus when you need it, you should set your auto focus mode to AF-S.

You will have to set it in LiveView mode as it remembers two different settings for the auto focus mode, one in LiveView and the other when you’re shooting through the viewfinder. So you can set it once and then leave it be and not worry when you’re shooting through the viewfinder that your focus is not tracking your subject anymore.

When you have the camera set to AF-S, it will try to auto-focus when you push the shutter release half-way and then will effectively lock. If you need to refocus, you can press the shutter release half-way and it will readjust for you. Also, if your lens has the A/M mode, you can get a rough focus with the half-press and then fine tune by manually adjusting the focus ring.

I’ve found that AF-F mode ends up turning off after a minute or so anyway (you can adjust the timeout in the settings) and is a significant drain on the battery while active. AF-S mode limits focusing to when you want to adjust focus, not when the camera thinks it needs to.

The downside with auto focusing with the shutter release button is the D5100 might alter the exposure momentarily and that will be captured in your video if you’re recording. So it’s best to adjust focus between shots, or just go all manual.

All Configured, Let’s Shoot!


Hold on there, mate. We’ve set up the persistent options now, but we still have to set up when it’s time to shoot the video. That’s the subject of my next article.

I don’t like to leave you hanging on the lurch like this, but I’d rather leave you with shorter articles than one long article you won’t read through.

And I still have to write it.

So grab your camera, set it up and I’ll get to work on writing the last part of this series for you right away. Well, after I finish my eggnog latte.

Until next time!


  10 Responses to “Shooting Better Quality Video on the Nikon D5100 Part 2”

  1. Great article. Very informative. I particularly like the bit about setting the colour profile in camera. Would not have thought of that.

    Cheers, keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Diego… I greatly appreciate it!

      The color profile tip originates from a video I saw with Philip Bloom talking about dropping the saturation and contrast on the canon cameras… I got to thinking about it and noticed that a lot of video folks prefer to have the desaturated unprocessed footage to work with as it compresses the color and light level of the footage to give more "meat" for color correction/color grading later on.

      Having the picture presets just makes it that much easier 😉

  2. Any advice on the AF-area mode? Thanks for the great article!

  3. Thanks mate for your such an informative article on "Nikon D5100". I recently started shooting video with this camera, did same mistakes what all are mentioned and here i got your article. Looking forward to more of your articles. Bit late to thank you but i got it today 🙂

  4. Glad i stumbled across this page, i have come for filming with video cameras and couldnt work out why the video from the 5100 looked so bad.

    I have grasped most of what you have said, Buts it all a big blurry mess (abit like my efforts) trying to wrap my head around when to enter live veiw, and when i can readjust aperture etc.

    I for one would be happy to donate some $$$ if it will convince you to do a video tutorial

  5. Hi,

    i dont know what “leave saturation down two points” means. Can u please explain ? Regards,


    • Hey Perez,

      If you examine the image above and to the right of the text, you will see what you want your color profile settings to look like. When you hilight the saturation setting by using the arrow down key, you will want to move your saturation level by pressing left so that it’s hilighting the square two squares to the left of its big 0. That is what I mean by that statement.

      Basically, match your settings to the screen shot and you should be good.

  6. Briliant! I love the way you educate STEP-BY-STEP! So many tutorials forget about that.
    A good guide gives the necessary details -- like this one 🙂

  7. Thanks a lot. simple and elegant and to the point. Most articles don’t know what they are writing and whom they are writing. This article is spot on with both objective and its execution

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