The Best Settings for Shooting Videos With the Nikon D3400 DSLR Camera

If you are a photographer already or you are learning photography then you will have most of the required skills to shoot video, but there are a couple of things that you need to give more consideration to or that you have not really thought about as of yet. The first is sound. Sound is really really important when you are shooting video and the reason for that is that your brain is very good at putting together clips of visual imagery and making it into a story. When it comes to sound, if it is not good sound or consistent sound then it can be extremely distracting and you only have to listen to, say for example, a radio station where you are not picking it up properly to realize how bad sound can be really distracting and actually really detrimental to the experience. So the objective when you are shooting a video is to produce good visuals but also good and consistent sound so that when people walk away from that video they feel that they have enjoyed the video and that the sound was not distracting and did not take away from the experience and make the whole thing seem rather amateurish.

The other thing that is really important when you are shooting videos is to understand that you are liberated by the moving image. When you are shooting a still – particularly if you are shooting a still that you want to tell a story – then you will try to get certain components of that story into the frame, and where they are positioned in that frame will help in that storytelling process. When you are shooting video you can have various components of the story, but not necessarily in the frame at the same time, because you can move the camera and the video will move with it from one component to the other and, in doing so, bring those two components together. That is a really interesting skill to try to develop and it really brings your videography up to a much higher level, but it is something that for a stills photographer can be quite difficult to understand and to execute very well. Those are the two elements – sound and composition – which you will need to explore further and consider more when you are shooting video than when you are normally shooting stills.

So lets now take a look at the Nikon D3400 and see how we can prepare it to shoot videos. Unlike some other cameras, is it doesn’t have a specific video mode on the mode dial. So I would recommend really that you either leave it on AUTO or you leave it on MANUAL because when it comes to video modes you either have an automatic mode, which essentially does everything for you, or you switch it over to manual where you can have much more control.

Lets look at Auto first so that we can have a look through that. Go into menus and then the SHOOTING MENU. The last option is MOVIE SETTINGS. These are the only settings which are specifically for shooting video and they are all in one place. There are various options – frame size and frame rate, movie quality. the microphone, wind noise reduction and manual movie settings. Lets start from the beginning and have a look at frame size and frame rate. There is a long list of different frame rates and frame sizes. 1920 x 1080 is Full HD and is probably about the best quality you can shoot on a DSLR at the moment outside of 4k, which is the revolutionary new system which actually although what people are talking about it not many people are using. Certainly in terms of social media – YouTube or Vimeo or any of those platforms – they are more than happy to take 1920 x 1080 and in fact they are more than happy to take also the one down towards the bottom here which is 1280 x 720. 1280 x 720 is called HD and 1920 x 1080 is called Full HD.

Then you get on to the frame rate. Now you have various frame rates here and they are different for different reasons. Let me try to explain the differences between the frame rates because whilst it might not seem terribly important it can be. These refer to television systems and in the United States there is a system called NTSC and NTSC runs at 60 Hertz. In Europe predominantly and also other parts of the world there is a system called PAL and PAL runs at 50 Hertz. If you want to shoot video that you want to put onto television in the United States you need to shoot either 60 or 30 if you want to put your stuff on TV in Europe you need to shoot either 50 or 25 and the reason for that is that if you shoot video which is out of sync then the quality will deteriorate. There are other reasons as well because the Hertz here 60 in the States and 50 in Europe refer to the TVs, but they also refer to light – to the electricity supply – and if you shoot video in fluorescent lighting for example which is at 60 Hertz and you are on 50, then because it is out of sync, there will be a flicker in your video and if you shoot somebody in front of a TV under 60 Hertz and you are shooting 50 then you will see a black band going down the back of the television on the screen. That is because they are out of sync. You will see that on the video but you will not see it with your naked eye, because your brain is far too clever to fall for that trick and filters all of that out so that you get a constant image, but when you come to look at the video it will be noticeable.

The next thing you want to think about is whether you want to shoot at 25 or 30 frames per second or whether you want to shoot it 50 or 60 frames per second. Now 25, 30 frames per second is perfectly acceptable – by which I mean you will get good quality video and it will not appear disjointed or jagged because that is the perfect speed at which people enjoy watching videos and movies. If you decide to shoot at 50 or 60 which is twice the rate then you will have the advantage of the video looking a little bit smoother. You can also use it for slow motion and that can be really effective. It is very useful because, of course, having shot it twice the normal frame rate you can reduce the speed of the film by half and it has quite an impressive effect. To see this, watch the video mentioned below in the links.

The next one down is MOVIE QUALITY and that option is either HIGH or NORMAL. Obviously, I would recommend that you choose high quality. Why would you shoot normal with a high quality camera like this? The important thing to remember here is that, regardless of whether you shoot 60 or 30 frames per second, you are going to use a large amount of space on your memory cards, so an ordinary memory card when you are shooting video would be minimum size I would say 16 gigabytes and probably you will be looking at 32 gigabytes. When you shoot video, you really should get into the habit of saving your video on to at least one external hard drive and the rule of thumb with video is that if you have not saved it twice, then you have not saved it at all. Believe me, there is nothing more heartbreaking than losing video which you thought you had saved on a hard drive, because so much more effort goes into it than just shooting stills so please save it and save it very carefully and in at least two places if at all possible.

Below that is MICROPHONE. As you probably know this camera does not have an external microphone socket. It does have an internal microphone. If we go into the microphone settings then we have three choices: the first one is MICROPHONE OFF which I do not recommend even if you do not really intend to run the sound. The reason is that having the microphone on and therefore having sound on your video even when you are editing can be useful because it can help you remember which clip is which. Then the other two settings are AUTO SENSITIVITY and MANUAL SENSITIVITY. AUTO is pretty good and MANUAL is very useful if you have some control over the sound that you are going to record.

Then the bottom option is MANUAL MOVIE SETTINGS. As I mentioned right at the beginning you can shoot on auto or on manual settings on this camera. However, if you do not switch manual movie settings on here, then even if you switch around to manual settings, it will still run on auto settings because you have not told the camera that you want it to run on manual settings. If you have it on an auto setting when the manual settings are on that does not make any difference. It will just run on auto so it is worth just knowing that you need to switch that on in order to use the manual settings.

AUTO WITHOUT FLASH will control the ISO, the Aperture and the Shutter Speed. You can go up to ISO1600 before you start to lose some of the quality, and you want a reasonable aperture because you would like a reasonable depth of field (though sometimes if you want to shoot film style you want a very shallow depth-of-field). The shutter speed, when you are shooting stills is fairly straightforward to understand. The shutter speed here is restricted by the frame rate. It goes back to the old days of film. If, for example, you are shooting 24 or 25 frames per second then the given at the time was that your shutter speed should be roughly twice that speed. This camera, when it is on auto, will do its best to try to hit that ratio and shoot at either 1/60th second or 1/125th second. This is the point about auto – if you shoot on auto you are going to get very good, well exposed video. It will get the best exposure within those parameters of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, but because you have put an extra requirement there in terms of the frame rate you can see quite quickly that you have instantly restricted the flexibility on that shutter speed because the camera will try to hit the two to one ratio. That leaves two other variables – ISO and Aperture. You don’t want to go over ISO1600, so that just leaves your aperture that you can change – which can be quite restrictive. You are going to be restricted because the frame rate will impose restrictions on the shutter speed which will then restrict the ISO and aperture and restrict the flexibility you have there.

Of course when you are shooting stills you can chop and change those as much as you like, even within auto if you are on P mode, and that enables you to shoot at a faster shutter speed or at a wider aperture etc. But because of the restriction of frame rate, Auto video is far more restricted than Auto stills which is why ultimately you will want to try shooting on manual mode. When you shoot video with this camera then you are going to shoot it through the back screen because that is the only way you can shoot video with the D3400 and actually it is very useful because it helps with composition. However there is one thing you need to remember if you are in Auto. The exposure on the back screen or what you see on the back screen does not really matter too much because, being on auto, that camera is going to try to get the best exposure it possibly can for you when it shoots the video. If you are in manual then you just need to check that you have not changed the brightness of the monitor.

Initially, when looking through the back screen in Auto, we are not in video mode and so the information on the back screen is not necessarily going to be telling you anything to do with video in particular. By pressing the info button at the top then changes the settings. When you get to the video settings, you will get the frame rate and the quality, it gives you the focus, the auto focus setting, the picture control and the white balance and also, at the bottom left it gives you an indication of the levels for the microphone. That does not necessarily mean that you can change any of this, it is just giving you that as information. In order to change options then you press the I button at the bottom left at the back of the camera. In Auto it allows me to change picture quality and frame rate, the microphone settings, whether I have wind noise reduction on or off, my microphone and the auto focus mode. That is all. There are no other options I can change here so those are the restricted options I have when I am shooting video on AUTO.

So lets move it around to MANUAL now and see what I can change when I am in the manual mode. If I press the i button then it gives me a lot more that I can choose from. It gives me again the movie frame and quality, but it allows me to change the white balance. It also gives me microphone, it allows me to change the ISO, it allows me to change the picture control, the wind noise reduction again, but they also allow me to change the auto focus area mode as well as the focus mode, so there are more things here that I can change when I am in manual mode.

But lets have a look now and see how I can change the three more import elements which are our shutter speed, aperture and ISO which is why I am in manual mode. Now there are two elements here that I can change actually when I am shooting video. The one I can not do – the one on this set beforehand – is the Aperture and I need to come out of Liveview here and go back into normal manual mode, basically, in order to change the aperture. So if I come out of Liveview now and press the AUTO EXPOSURE button at the top and then use the main dial I can change the aperture to make it go up or down. The way I change the ISO is by using this function button. There is an option called buttons in the menus and I can set this function button to ISO. Now I can just set the function button and on the back screen the ISO option goes yellow which shows it is live and then I can use the main dial to change the ISO and you can see when I do that because the exposure comes straight through to the back screen. I can see how that affects the exposure of my video. Now, as I say I can actually do this while I am shooting the video but I do not want to particularly all the time anyway, but it does give me the option to do that but it also shows me through the backscreen how changing the ISO will change the exposure of my video. If I just turn the main dial ordinarily without pressing any of the buttons then that changes the shutter speed. Again this can be done while I am shooting the video but it also again shows me through the back screen how the exposure will change when I change the shutter speed. The ideal ratio is two to one but it does not have to be and I think you can be reasonably flexible if you are on 25 frames per second then you could easily go up to 1/100 – 1/150th perhaps without the video looking too disconcerting. There is an element of flexibility there and this allows you that flexibility. So when you are in MANUAL you can change the aperture only before you start shooting, but then you can change the ISO and the shutter speed either when you are in video mode or when you are actually shooting the video.