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Filmmaking Basics part 1: Setting up your camera


So you've just received your brand-spanking new camera, you boot it up for the first time, set time- and date, and... now what? If you're new to filmmaking, it's easy to get overwhelmed with terms like frame rate, shutter speed, aperture, bitrate, etc. But at the end of the day, there are only a few settings you need to understand to get great results with any camera. This guide is meant to get you up-and-running quickly. Let's dive in!

Resolution

Most modern cameras offer a variety of shooting-options: HD (1920x1080), 4K (3840x2160) or maybe even 8K (7680x4320). Even if you're delivering in HD, it can be useful to record in a higher resolution, and downscale the footage when editing. This way you'll end up with a more detailed image, and gives you room to reframe or stabilize footage afterwards without noticable quality loss.

Do keep in mind though that your computer and must be able to handle the higher resolution and larger file sizes. Also check if the higher resolution doesn't come with its own drawbacks, like worse autofocus or a cropped image. In all of those cases you might be better off sticking to the lower resolution recording mode.

Some cameras are capable of downscaling the full resolution of the sensor to a lower resolution file (for example 8K to 4K). This is called "oversampling" and can give you the best of both worlds: a very detailed image, without the massive file sizes or processing power required.

Some cameras allow you to choose options like bitrate and codec. Learn more about those here.

Frame rate

The third choice you need to make before you start shooting is choosing your frame rate, or the number of frames per second your camera records. In North- and South America, the standard frame rate for video is 30 frames per second (fps), and in the rest of the world the standard is 25 fps. Cinemas traditionally use a frame rate of 24 fps. The frame rate you choose has an effect on the way motion looks in your films, so if you want your movement to look cinematic, it's best to stick to 24 or 25 frames per second. If you're planning to shoot slow-motion footage, use a frame rate of 50 fps or higher, so that you can slow it down afterwards.

Codec and bitrate

Many cameras don't allow you to choose the bitrate and codec independantly of the resolution, but I still wanted to shortly mention them so you have a general understanding of what they mean.

The codec is the format in which you record your footage. This can go from highly compressed H.264 and H.265 (smaller file-sizes, harder to process for your computer) to ProRes (large file sizes, easier to process).

Bitrate is the amount of data that is captured per second (measured in megabits per second). Generally, the higher the bitrate, the higher the quality, but also the larger the file sizes.