One Photographer’s Experience Using Sigma Lenses for video in Istanbul, Brussels, and Paris
By Eduardo Angel
For a recent assignment in Europe I chose a set of five Sigma lenses that would cover all the bases, no matter what type of shot I needed:
For photographers and videographers new to Sigma, it takes a bit of work to navigate through Sigma’s nomenclature, but everything makes sense in the end. Based upon the format, Sigma assigns different designations for formats and image circles, as follows:
DG stands for “Digital Grade.” The coating on these lenses is optimized for full-frame DSLR systems.
DC stands for “Digital Compact.” These lenses are specifically designed for APS-C sensors.
DN stands for “Digital Neo.” The lenses under the DN designation are intended for mirrorless cameras interchangeable-lens cameras that feature either APS-C or Micro Four Thirds size sensors.
Here’s a crazy but true story about how I ended up choosing what camera to bring on the trip. At the Digital Distillery, we have a couple of Canon 5D Mark III bodies which were inadequate for this project as I was mixing DG (full frame) and DC (APS-C) lenses. So I chose a couple of Canon 70D bodies for this project. This particular model captures great stills and video, performs very well under low light situations, and it is relatively light and small. On travel photography assignments, most moments are unplanned and happen extremely fast and the 70D has a very fast Autofocus for stills and a basic but sometimes handy Autofocus for video. We also have a couple of Canon C100 cameras that are amazing for video, but not really designed to shoot stills.
In addition, we also own a couple of cameras that seemed ideal for this hybrid project, but the adapter to make the Sigma lenses for Canon work with the Panasonic body would not be available before my departure. The lens adapter works great for video, but I would much rather have fast Autofocus!
The principles for ISO and Aperture have the same effect on video and stills. Increasing ISO increases the sensors “sensibility” to light and adds noise to the image. Increasing or decreasing our Aperture will affect the amount of light reaching the sensor or film. When we choose a wider Aperture to decrease our depth of field we increase the amount of light reaching the sensor, and vice versa. We all know that a slow Shutter Speed will “capture the motion” and a fast Shutter Speed will “freeze the action,” but the way we can combine Shutter Speed with ISO and Aperture to achieve our desired exposure changes depending if we are capturing stills or motion.
Let me explain; if we are shooting stills we can easily compensate the exposure by increasing our Shutter Speed. That’s not necessarily the case for video. As some of you already shooting video might know, the “Shutter Speed rule of thumb” is “twice your frame rate” so if I am shooting at 24 frames per second my “ideal” Shutter Speed would technically be 1/48th of a second and practically 1/50th of a second. Most cameras won’t even let us go under 1/30th of a second while shooting video in Manual mode, since, if you’re shooting at 30 frames per second, that’s the slowest possible fraction of a second to allow for the right number of video frames per second.
We can set the Shutter Speed much higher than1/50th of a second but if the Shutter Speed is too fast there isn’t enough motion blur to smoothly transition from one frame to the next causing a “stuttering” effect. This effect sometimes can be used very effectively for fast action scenes or when planning to pull frames from the footage, but generally speaking, we want to stick to the “twice your frame rate” rule. A second rule of thumb for Shutter Speed when shooting video is to “set it and forget it.”
Here’s a real example from the video above: I was shooting a driving scene in a fast moving vehicle at dusk. Talk about having ideal working conditions! Using the Sigma 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM Art at ISO 3,200 gave me a proper exposure at f/4, but I wanted to use a faster Shutter Speed to minimize the movement. I didn’t feel comfortable increasing the ISO on the camera for that shot, and I was already using the widest Aperture and fastest acceptable Shutter Speed (1/60th if I remember correctly). So, I quickly switched to the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Art, set it at f1.8 and immediately was able to double the Shutter Speed (1/125th) and keep my exposure without adding noise to my footage. This is a great example when a specific lens becomes the best tool for a specific job. While I could have framed the image identically with both lenses, the 18-35mm gave me a clear technical advantage for this specific situation.
I prefer fast aperture lenses for travel photography assignments, as most moments are unplanned and happen extremely fast. Achieving a very shallow depth of field is another great, and obvious, advantage of very fast lenses, and is my preferred method to create “abstract” shots. By simply using a wide Aperture, say F/1.8 or F/1.4 we can decrease the depth of field to just a few inches (or less!), blur the background, and guide the viewer’s attention to the elements on the image that we consider most important. Of course, we can also create abstract shots with a variety of objects like filters, light shapers, specialty lenses, or translucent objects in front of the lens, but, when possible, I try to use what each location offers me.
For daylight exterior scenes, I generally set the ISO to the lowest possible setting on the camera. If there’s a lot of light and I’m shooting stills, I simply control my exposure by increasing my Shutter Speed. Since we can’t take the same approach with video, we often will need to add Neutral Density (ND) filters to achieve our desired exposure. ND filters are designed to decrease the light reaching the sensor in specific f-stop increments. I personally prefer the “variable” kind, which offer a rotating ring to choose the degree of ND and provide up to 8 stops of exposure reduction on a single filter.
Decreasing or increasing our depth of field will affect the amount of light reaching the sensor or film. For example, using a very wide aperture to limit the depth of field will greatly increase the amount of light reaching the sensor. This is key on locations with extreme low light, but also can we used creatively when there’s plenty of light. Learn the Rules, then Break Them!
As you can see, your lighting strategy and what camera to use should always go hand in hand with lens selection and planning your shots. Regardless what your role is on a photography or video production, a good understanding of lenses and composition is paramount. You’ll be able to foster more creative freedom with the more technical knowledge you acquire. Choosing the lens that happens to be attached to the camera without any consideration of its function within the story or project will most likely lead to a collection of random shots—not a meaningful body of work.
7 Simple Tips and Tricks for Hybrid Shooters
Traditionally, a video production is something like an assembly line. Someone would write a script, and someone else would chose to produce. The producer would then select a director who would work with a trusted Director of Photography, who would also count with at least a grip and a gaffer. Someone entirely different would be in charge of capturing sound and they would work with the editor who once done, would send everything to a colorist.
That’s NOT exactly how very small, low-budget, hybrid productions work.
All these jobs are still required, someone needs to direct, shoot stills and video, record sound, and fix all kinds of technical challenges, but everything might need to be done by three, or two or even one person as it was the case for this specific assignment.
This was not my first solo hybrid assignment, and it won’t be the last, as I believe this is one of the most exciting challenges still shooters have met in recent years.
While there are many similarities between photography and cinematography, there are key aspects, like sound and camera movement, to name but two, that are uncharted territory for most photographers.
Here are 7 simple tips and tricks I’d like to share:
- Don’t obsess over gear Tools are just that: tools. Invest more time learning the why’s, not the how’s.
- Time everything. Time every step of the process. Knowing how long something takes enables better
collaborations, more accurate budgets, and fewer surprises.
- If possible, use two cameras: one for stills and a matching one for video.
- Think about camera support. Avoid handheld whenever possible. A monopod can be an amazing tool.
- Record sounds of everything! “The ear, not the eye, leads the senses.” Record as much clean sound as possible.
- Test your workflow. Test every piece of hardware and software you are planning to use before departure.
- Research extensively before departure. Have a clear concept, rough itinerary and dream shot list for every location. It is hard; I’m not going to lie. It takes a lot of prepping, walking, shooting, and editing to get a decent 1 or 2-minute piece out. But once I have it, I can’t wait to start all over again!