The film look, or ‘cinematic look’ can feel like the holy grail of video for filmmakers. Why? Not only does it provide an overall tone of professionalism, but let’s be honest – it just looks cool. In a digital DSLR world, however, it’s not always easy to capture that cinema feel; Well, unless you know a few tips and tools on how to optimize your DSLR. Don’t worry, Broken Slate has got your back! Let’s talk about how to get that beautiful, cinematic look you desire and what needs to be done in production and post to achieve it.


Before We Begin …

Let’s start by saying that you can get a cinematic look with a DSLR if you are willing to put up with the limitations that come along with shooting on one. Often the price savings that you get from using a DSLR body come at the expense of the features that are available to you on a professional level cinema camera. These can be things such as audio inputs, zebras, higher recording formats and etc. It is also important to note that a lot of this advice is subjective. There aren’t really hard and fast rules you need to follow. Some great Hollywood films break all of these conventions; these are just some tips to start playing around with to optimize your video footage.

Take Control of Your Settings

In most cases, you can significantly change the look of your shot by grabbing the reins and switching up a few settings. To do that, you need to make sure your camera is in ‘Manual’ mode. Got it? Great, now you’re officially in the driver’s seat. Never leave your creative decisions to the camera, and yes … aperture, frame rate and shutter speed are definitely creative decisions when you want to get a film look with DSLR.

Lower Your Frame Rate, Not Your Day Rate

An ideal frame rate for a film look should be either 24 or 25 fps. Want to see the difference it makes? Just try searching for ‘comparison of frame rates’ on Google. You’ll quickly find out why this particular setting will offer a more cinematic feel than 30, 40, or 50 fps.

Shutter Speed

Your shutter speed should be set (say that five times fast) at double the frame rate. In this case, that means about 50. This will provide you with a natural-looking motion in all your scenes, creating a more realistic vibe.

Go Deep With Depth of Field

Depth of field is one of the most noticeable aesthetic choices that sets film cameras apart from camcorders; and plays a huge role in creating the film look on your DSLR. There are three ways you can achieve a greater depth of field and give make DSLR look like cinema. First up; change your aperture. The wider your aperture, the less depth of field you capture. Number two, change the focus distance between you and your subject; The further you are away from your subject the greater the depth of field you will have. Last but not least, change your focal length. Combining the above two techniques with a wider lens (and shorter focal length) will give you more depth of field.


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Open Your Camera’s Eye

You may find that you have to maintain a shallow depth of field quite often for this style, and you will constantly be battling aperture and exposure; especially if you’re going for a natural, realistic look. Maintaining proper exposure is incredibly important. Make sure your aperture is set correctly – even if it means having a bit less of that beatiful boken in your scene.

It’s not the guitar … it’s the amp!

One of my friends has a seriously awesome guitar collection. I don’t know much about guitars, but I do know that they were the envy of any guitarist who saw them. The problem is, my friend didn’t much value his amp – and whenever he plugged the guitar in to play a tune – the audio was muddy and lacked the quality you’d think a high-end guitar would produce. Ask yourself if you are doing the same thing with your DSLR. Are you putting all of your hard earned cash into a high-end DSLR body and killing the image quality by using kit lenses? If you are on a budget and deciding on buying a high end camera body, or a set of great film lenses – go with the film lenses. Camera bodies change every year, but a good set of film lenses can last you decades.

Another related tip as submitted by a reader: Go vintage! Many large budget films use vintage lenses to create an film look from a certain time period or just a unique look. It’s a great way to add some subtle extra quality to your production … and you can get some vintage lenses on the cheap too. Score!

Picture your Color Differently

Pre-baked colour settings? Get rid of ‘em! The baked in picture style preset, which can be great for looking at video right from the camera or quick turnaround projects,  limits you in post-production when it comes to color correcting and applying a grade. This is important because a proper color grade is essential in getting a film look from your DSLR footage. Ensure to use your camera’s neutral, cine or S-LOG mode to get a flat picture that can be properly graded.

Get High on Record Quality

Ideally you will shoot RAW footage but at a minimum aim to shoot in 4:2:2. The higher the bitrate and closer to RAW footage you can get, the more flexible your footage will be when it comes time to grade. Countless filmmakers (myself included) have felt the burn of ticking off all the above boxes only to shoot in a low, highly-compressed H264 format. The end result is neutral footage that is falls apart when you grade it; at that point, getting it to look better than your baked-in picture presets can be a challenge.

Finding Film in Post Production

The sky’s the limit when it comes to post-production. Proper color grading, adding smoothness, and knowing your way around After Effects and Premiere can be extremely helpful. Try to keep things as manual as possible, even in post, so you have full control over what the final product looks like.

Have questions about how to get a film look with DSLR?

I’m always checking on my blog for new comments … so if you need some help, leave a comment below and I will pop back on and answer as soon as possible!