HOW TO SHOOT VIDEO WITH A NIKON DSLR

I use a Nikon D5300 for shooting stills & video of locations, setups, rough concepts, storyboards, happy snaps, etc.

It’s small and light, and it delivers the highest quality video image of any APS-C camera.

But because it’s a DSLR, not a dedicated video camera, it takes a little extra concentration when shooting video.

For a start, the camera has to be in Live View mode (that’s when you use the rear LCD screen as a viewfinder) when shooting video.

And (a Nikon quirk) you have to temporarily switch out of Live View to adjust the aperture.

Now, there’s a ton of information online about how to shoot video with these cameras. But a lot of it is technical, complicated, and sometimes plain wrong.

Here’s the simplest way to get professional video results from a low to mid-range Nikon DSLR:

Stay Away from Nikon’s Manual Movie Setting

Nikon has added a Manual Movie setting to make shooting video easier. It doesn’t.

  • It imposes a minimum shutter speed of 1/30sec
  • It switches off Auto ISO
  • It disables the Aperture indicator

Nikon was having a major ‘Doh!’ moment when it decided on these settings because:

  • 1/30th sec. is a crap shutter speed for video. It should be half the frame rate: 1/60th sec. for 30fps, and 1/50th sec. for 24 and 25 fps
  • Auto ISO adjusts the ISO to automatically compensate for changing light levels. Switching it off means you have to manually adjust the aperture instead. But the Nikon quirk means you can’t change the aperture while the camera is in Live View (video) mode
  • With the Aperture indicator disabled, you can’t adjust the aperture quickly by pre-adjusting the aperture in Live View and then rapidly switching out and back in to Live View

So, for shooting video, you need to turn Manual movie settings to OFF. Then you can select the correct shutter speed for your video frame rate, and allow Nikon’s superb Auto ISO to smoothly and silently adjust for changing light levels while you shoot.

Here’s how I set up my D5300 for shooting video:

  1. Set Mode Dial to M (Manual mode)
  2. Set Shutter to 1/50th sec. (for 25fps video)
  3. Set Aperture to f5.6 (a good starting point for most lenses)
  4. In the Shooting Menu:
    • In ISO sensitivity settings:
      • Set ISO sensitivity to 100
      • Set Auto ISO sensitivity control to ON
      • Set Maximum sensitivity to 1600
      • Set Minimum shutter speed to 1/50th sec.
    • In Movie settings:
      • Set Manual movie settings to OFF

Now your Nikon D3000/5000 series camera is set up to shoot video at 25fps, with the correct shutter speed for the frame rate, and with a starting aperture of f5.6.

To compensate for changing light, the ISO will adjust automatically between 100 and 1600 ASA.

We set an upper ISO limit of 1600 because, above this level, low-light footage shows obvious sensor noise.

If and when Auto ISO approaches the 1600 limit, stay in Live View mode and:

  1. Open up the aperture (say, to f3.5)
  2. Snap off a still shot (which forces the aperture mechanism in the lens to change to the new aperture setting)
  3. Continue filming

Simple. And you didn’t have to toggle out of and back in to Live View mode.

And one other thing. For general use, fit a decent zoom lens so you can find and frame your shots quickly.

I use a Nikkor AF-S DX 18-140mm VR lens.

It’s Nikon’s sharpest DX zoom lens, is stabilised, and offers a useful wide-end zoom range.

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  1. I have a D5000 and after reading the Nikon Manual’s advice on setting the camera up for video shooting, I was so confused that I gave up trying.
    I found your article to be sensible and easy to follow.
    I have now hand written your instructions, will now type it up – give my tired old 90 years old brain a chance to cool down. And when I fell brave enough I will see if I can get the camera to shoot video.
    Would it be possible for you to set up a printing option for your very good advice?
    Well done, that man!
    Kevin McCauley

  2. Hi Kevin
    Try this with your Nikon D5000:

    1. Set the Mode dial (on the top of the camera) to AUTO
    2. Switch on Live View (press LV button on back of camera)
    3. Aim at subject or scene and HALF PRESS the shutter button to focus
    4. Then press the OK button (on back of camera) to start recording video
    On top left of the screen a red dot labeled ‘REC’ will blink to indicate your camera is now recording video.
    5. Press the OK button again to stop recording.

    The D5000 will record for up to 5 minutes of video at a time. Sometimes the camera’s sensor will overheat and you’ll have to wait for it to cool down before resuming recording. Also, start videoing with a freshly formatted SD card to avoid recording errors.
    Let me know if you have any other problems.

  3. I have a a Nikon D5300, which i use for streaming. I know it’s not the best for that, considering i am unable to turn of o the auto-shutdown! Your instructions are really clear, however any settings that i try i consistently get a laggy output to my pc… The image looks fine, auto focus is set correctly – yet i find my images freezing for a split second.

    Do you know what might be causeing this, or is there more specific settings for this I am missing?

    • Are you using ‘live preview’ instead of ‘live streaming’?

      ‘Live preview’ sends a copy of your Live View screen, via USB cable, to your computer so you can see it on your computer monitor. It’s laggy because it’s not supposed to stream video, it’s just an aid to composing your shot on a bigger monitor.

      ‘Live streaming’ on the other hand, transmits video & audio streams, via HDMI, from your D5300 to a display, a capture device, or a conversion device. The device has to have an HDMI-in port (like on an LCD TV).

      For streaming video, you connect a conversion device ($10 to $110 on Amazon) via HDMI to your camera. Then connect the device to your computer via USB (pref. USB3). The device delivers an audio/video stream to whatever app you’re using to stream.

      David Coleman explains it in detail here: https://havecamerawilltravel.com/photographer/nikon-d5300-webcam-live-video-streaming/

  4. Thank you!! I’ve been trying to film with this camera and it’s been so difficult. I made the adjustments that you stated and the footage looks great!

    One question – I was filming inside at night and the lighting is not the best. The ISO was flashing 1600 so I tried to open the aperture but it will not go below F5. Any idea why?

    Also, is there a need to adjust the shutter speed when filming or is it generally okay at 1/50 when filming at 24fps.

    Thank you again!!!!

  5. Tim, your lens could be limiting your achievable aperture.

    If you’re using a standard Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, it’ll open up to a max of f/3.5 at the wide (18mm) end of the zoom, but only f/5.6 at the 55mm end.

    So if you can’t set your aperture faster than f/5, you’ll have to zoom the lens wider and try again.

    But even then, f/3.5 isn’t especially fast, especially for indoors, and at night.

    Nikon makes a super cheap, super fast (f/1.8) 35mm prime (non-zoom) lens for the D5000/D3000 series cameras.

    It delivers those professional-looking shots where your subject is sharp and crisp and the backgrounds are attractively blurred.

    And because it’s such a fast lens, it’s brilliant in low light.

    It’s the Nikkor AF-S 35mm 1:1.8G.

    JB HiFi has it for $299 but you can probably get $20-$30 off just by asking.

    It’s the ultimate walk-around lens. Fast, sharp and always ready.

    it will totally transform your photography and video shooting, indoors and out.

    And if you need to zoom, you can use your feet. Which will make you become more mobile and you’ll start to find more interesting and creative shots.

    Re. shutter speed – at 24 or 25 fps, I’d just leave it at 1/50th sec.

    • Thank you very much for your reply. I will pick that lens up tomorrow so I’m all set for Christmas morning filming.

      A follow up question if I may – is the flashing ISO 1600 a problem? I’m assuming that it’s indicating that it’s maxed out and that more light is needed. Will the more open f stop of the news lens help?

      I’m assuming that setting the max ISO at 3200 will create too much noise?

      Thank you again!

  6. Tim, the flashing ‘ISO-A’ just indicates that ISO is set to Automatic.

    You’re right, the ‘1600’ indicates that Auto-ISO has reached it maximum pre-set limit of 1600, and the sensor needs yet more light.

    Your choices are: add lighting, use a slower shutter speed, or a wider Aperture.

    Putting aside lighting, you can’t really slow the shutter speed (although you could try 1/40th or 1/30th sec. at the expense of increasing motion blur in your footage).

    Which leaves Aperture.

    If you can’t open the Aperture any further, then you need a faster lens (lower f/stop).

    Each f/stop number represents a doubling of the light entering the camera: 5.6, 4, 2.8, 2, 1.4.

    So if your zoom lens, at it’s long end, has an f/stop of 5.6, then fitting a fast (f/1.8) prime lens will give you roughly 3.3 stops faster performance (or around 11 – 12 times more light).

    At 3200 ASA and above, dark areas in the footage will shimmer with dancing dots. It’s up to you how distracting you’ll find this. But for commercial use, 1600 ASA is the limit for clean footage from these cameras.

    Merry Christmas.

  7. Thank you so much for this article. It has been very helpful. Would you recommend making any adjustments to the white balance? Looking at the settings on the camera there are a number of different white balance scenarios to choose from. With auto be best or should this be sent to one of the preset options depending upon where we are filming?

    • Regarding White Balance, Nikon’s colour science is one of their great strengths. Consequently I leave WB on auto unless it does something really, noticeably weird.

  8. Jiří Dlouhý on

    I made today plenty of video test with my Nikon D5600 with opposite result. When Manual movie settings is OFF, camera completely ignores shutter speed and ISO (including auto ISO) in ALL MODES (including M – manual). It seems to me it uses constant shutter speed (based on my measurement 1/30 s for 25 fps video quality). When there is too much light that it can’t go bellow ISO 100, only then it increases shutter speed (resulting not smooth movements). During bad light it increases ISO to crazy high values with plenty of noise.

    • Sorry to hear that, Jiří.

      Sounds like your D5600 is shooting video in Auto mode.

      The D5300, 5500 and 5600 share a common 24.2 Mp sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor. So I assumed Nikon’s firmware would enable the same features and settings.

      I wonder if Nikon has changed the D5600 firmware so it won’t compete with their newer higher-end bodies.

      Camera manufacturers do this – release a new camera, then use successive iterations to bring the manufacturing costs down while adjusting features to minimize competition with their other camera models.

      I don’t have a D5600 to test, unfortunately. And I can’t find much info online about the D5600 and Manual movie mode.

  9. Thanks Billy

    Great article that puts it simply and explains why and how.

    I bought the Nikon Z6 body to back my trusty Nikon VR Lenses for a documentary film I’m making. As someone else mentioned the Nikon manual is so ludicrously hard to folllow even for a seasoned operator, being a photographer moving to Dig Vid (adjustable filmmaking).

    On the first day of shooting It was quickly evident something in the menu was set incorrectly so being a documentary following a subject I just threw it to Auto and just prayed it would still shoot 24fps. It did admirably but I couldn’t tell you what it was doing which is frustrating.

    Having read your article, within the first few paragraphs you clearly stated that ‘the ISO’ will account for the light and not the shutter…. Boom (the penny dropped with a thud. From there it all makes sense. Shooting everything with a fixed low aperture really gives that cinematic flow to your footage. Add a gimbal and good subject matter, curious angles and a little lense flare and you have really engaging footage.

    I have the tools and now the settings to get back out there and chase my story down.

    Thank you kindly,

    Davitt

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