Why Shutter Speed Matters With DSLR Video

I will be the first to admit that when I try to take on a new skill that I become completely obsessed with really understanding every aspect of it in order to do the best I can and use the new skill to its full potential. Such is the case with learning to shoot video with my Canon EOS 7D. Since the best video camera I had up until the 7D was a small Canon Vixia camcorder. While the Vixia can shoot 1080p video, the only settings are 24 fps or 60 fps. The only thing this meant to me was that if I shot action sequences at the faster frame rate, I could slow the sequence down better because there was more data to work with. Now that I am learning to shoot video on the 7D, I have ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed available. The big question is, how do these affect your image when shooting video.

ISO and Aperture

The good news is that two out of three aint bad. What I mean by this is that ISO and Aperture affect video exactly the same way that they affect stills. ISO will make the sensor more sensitive to light so just like stills, you can increase the light into the camera by increasing the ISO setting which, just like stills, will add digital noise to the image.

Just like still images, Aperture will open or close the lens’ aperture diaphragm to allow more or less light into the camera which will affect the depth of field.

So long as you already have a good handle on ISO and Aperture, the same principles apply to both stills and video so you already well on your way.

Shutter Speed

With stills, shutter speed is fairly simple to understand, a longer shutter will allow more light but may add motion blur while a fast shutter speed can freeze motion but cuts down on the amount of light entering the camera. The confusing part is how this affects video. Many new video DSLR owners simply think this affects only the light since the frames are already moving. The reality is that the shutter speed can have a significant impact on the video image and most of the articles on the internet are painfully difficult to understand.

The traditional standard for video is 24p (which is actually 23.976 frames per second) which is very pleasing to the eye and is pretty much the standard for camcorders and DSLR video recording (much more on this is available on Wikipedia).

To achieve a film look (which has just enough motion blur between frames to look natural without being “smeary”) you need to follow the 180 degree rule which, simply put, says that your shutter speed should be double the frame rate. This is one of those times when I want to say “don’t worry about what it means, just go with it” as the technical explanation is quite…well…technical. Tyler Ginter did a really good job explaining the technical side of this on his blog post 180 Degree Shutter – Learn It, Live It, Love It.

While I am not going to try to explain the whole 180 degree shutter concept, I will instead just jump into what it really means to you and your video.

Since we already know that when we are shooting stills with action, a slow shutter speed will have motion blur and a fast shutter speed will freeze action. When we translate this concept to video, a slow shutter speed will create a smeared look to the video. If the shutter is too fast there isn’t enough motion blur to smoothly transition from frame to frame causing a stuttering or staccato effect. If you have ever looked at something moving with a CRT monitor behind it you will know what this stuttering can look like. Sometimes, this can be used for creative effect like in the opening of Saving Private Ryan.

To see how this looks in actual video, I did this quick comparison of 24p video shot at both 1/50th (yes, I know 1/48 is double the 24fps but most cameras can’t do 1/48th shutter speed so we have to take the closest option which would be 1/50th) and 1/300th shutter speed.

What about exposure?

The issue with exposure is not when things are too dark as we can open up our aperture and increase our ISO (only to a certain point before we need additional lighting anyway) but when things are too bright, we only have a few options. If you are already at a small aperture and a low ISO and 1/50th of a second will result in an over exposure the temptation is to increase the shutter speed, but this is going to violate the 180 degree rule and cause the stuttering video.

The only way to knock the exposure down is with the use of a neutral density filter. The most versatile filter is a variable neutral density filter that allows you to dial in the amount of filtering. A good example of this is the Fader ND Mark II which is adjustable from 2 to 8 stops.

The real beauty of using a filter with this much versatility is that you can shoot at the relatively slow 1/50th of a second at wide open apertures to create a very short depth of field that just isn’t possible with regular camcorders. The ability easily create different depth of field shots  is a key reason many filmmakers are jumping onto the DSLR video bandwagon.

The Exception to the Rule

Let’s face it, every good rule deserves a good reason to break it and the 180 degree shutter rule is no different. In fact, there is one really good reason to break it and that is when you are specifically shooting for video that will be shown in slow motion. If we use the basic rule of having a shutter speed that is double the frame rate, when we slow down the video we will end up with more blurry video. If you shoot at faster shutter speeds, when you slow the video down you will get cleaner looking video.

This actually brings up a major difference between shooting stills and video. With stills, our final output will be a still frame. Sure, you may use some panning and zooming in a slidehsow which may require cropping that isn’t very tight but lets not digress too much. With video, you really need to think ahead about how the video will be played back. Will the video be sped up, played at normal speed, or slowed down as this final product needs to be considered when choosing the shooting settings.

Summary

Hopefully this has helped make some sense out of the shutter speed issue with DSLRs. If you are just going to be shooting video for yourself, you may not care much about all this but if you are trying to really make your video look its absolute best, and most certainly you can achieve incredible results with the current video enabled DSLR’s, then this is one of those topics that you really need to get a handle on.

KerryG

Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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45 Responses

  1. Mario says:

    Thank you for this post, it's been really helpful.
    I have a question about the 'Exception to the Rule' that you mentioned though.

    'If we use the basic rule of having a shutter speed that is double the frame rate, when we slow down the video we will end up with more blurry video. If you shoot at faster shutter speeds, when you slow the video down you will get cleaner looking video.'

    The more I thought about this, the less it made sense to me.
    Let's say I shoot at 50fps with 1/100 shutter speed (according to the 180 degree rule).
    Now I slow the video down by playing it at 25fps – which means I'm playing 25fps video which was shot at 1/100 shutter speed. Wouldn't I rather want 25fps with 1/50 shutter speed? So my point is – in order to follow the 180 degree rule for the resulting video, wouldn't it make sense to shoot at SLOWER shutter speeds when shooting for slow motion?

    But then I started thinking about the actual motion that was captured in each frame:
    In the example given above the 1/100 shutter speed seems too fast for 25fps, but the sharper image might be justified by the fact that there is a lot less (blur-needing) motion in every image compared to video that was shot at 25 fps.
    So it seems to me that if you're following the 180 degree rule when you're shooting the result might be just fine no matter at what speed it's going to be played.
    Anyway – any further explanation would be appreciated. 🙂

    • kgarrison says:

      This is one of the most confusing topics I have ever dealt with in all the years I have done photography. My basic understanding and based on my experiments, is that if we are going to slow down the video, if we had shot with a slower shutter speed we would get a softer image due to the blurring between frames. If we use a faster shutter speed we have more clean data to work with. A slower shutter speed provides less data so the final result will be worse.

    • S_G says:

      My opinion is for slow-motion effects, you would want to treat the fast-moving subject as slow-moving. So using a faster shutter speed, you will have the same degree of motion blur for the fast-moving subject as for the slow-moving subject using slower shutter speed.

  2. james says:

    Shutter speed it important to give a more natural and realistic motion to your work on DSLR video, other wise a stuttery or slight juddery look can result. Also if it's to fast you can get artifacts and the rolling shutter effect is exacerbated as well.

  3. John C says:

    WHat a great explanation. Thank you for this!

  4. Mike says:

    If you are shooting 24 fps, the shutter is opening 24 times a second, that would take care of the shutter speed. Doubling the shutter speed to 50 means you are taking 50 frames per second. Doesn't it ????

    • kgarrison says:

      Unfortunately, no it doesn't. That's why shooting video gets very confusing. My Canon 7D maxes out at 30fps but I can set the shutter speed to 1/500th but I am still only shooting at 30fps but at a faster shutter speed each frame is exposed for a shorter period of time.

  5. Clay says:

    It helps to realize (or keep in mind) that when shooting video, you are ACTUALLY shooting 24 STILL shots per second (or 30, or whatever your fps is set at). So, this means that all 24 photos taken in that second have the same characteristics as 1 still photograph. With still photography it is often desirable to "freeze" motion with a high shutter speed. This gives you a crisp clean photograph with no blurring. In Video, this crispness is unnatural and confuses the brain (most brains).

  6. Sugarhouse Media says:

    Thank you for your succinct explanation and accompanying video.

  7. jessicasmartphotography says:

    Great post!
    With video/7D – Im also wondering about zoom capabilities with lenses attached to the 7D – they seem to lose focus on zooming and you have to press the shutter half way down to refocus which takes a few seconds and looks unprofessional.
    Do I have to buy parfocal lenses for when Im filming and need to use the zoom?

  8. Ana says:

    Nice article.
    Another thing that can contribute to a more filmic look is shooting with a more flat picture style. This more closely emulates the extended contrast range of film. There is a good overview on the topic in this post on Canon picture styles.

    The slow motion shutter needs to be faster only if you are going to apply blending through Twixtor or a similar software. For simple conforms from high frame rate to lower frame rate the 180 degree shutter is best.

  9. lizzy says:

    I found this very helpful thanks 😀

  10. Nick says:

    This was super helpful. Great job and thanks!

  11. ghuhyf says:

    beautifully said

  12. Vincent says:

    awesome post, super helpful!

  13. guru says:

    Thank you : )

  14. Dennis says:

    If I wanted to slow a video down, what would be the difference in shooting something at 30 fps with a shutter speed of 1/500 vs shooting something at 60 fps with a shutter speed of 1/120? I'm trying to figure out what the best method of shooting some slow-mo videos and the more I read the more confused I get.

    • kgarrison says:

      You never want to go more than 1/50 of a second at 24fps or 1/125 at 60 fps. Here is another article to read that explains more: http://cameradojo.com/2012/08/15/getting-good-slo

      • joan says:

        It depends on what he wants to do. If the goal of the slow motion is to analyze a very fast motion like sport, then he should set the shutter speed to a very high value, like 1/2000th, to avoid any blur in the output and get clear pictures during frame by frame.
        For sport analysis, we want the combination of most fps with fastest shutter speed.

        • Michael says:

          I'm using a Sony nex 5R and plan to shoot an indoor volleyball match in slo motion for training purposes to identify/correct bad mechanics. (and the cool factor too) I just looked and the highest setting is 1/4000 – recommended? (at 60P)

          Thanks

          Michael

  15. saurabh says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I took video today and see the same stuttering video. Now i know whats the reason behind it

  16. In a few words, the bigger number of shutter, the better the results?

    • kgarrison says:

      Note really. If you start to go faster than double the frame rate you will start to get a jittery "staccato" look that isn't very pleasing to the eye. The goal is to always shoot at double the frame rate or as close as possible. 24fps = 1/50th of a second, 60fps = 1/120th second.

  17. george says:

    thank for the post. 25 fps is the world new standard

  18. Thanks so much for the information. I am also new to the whole video thing; I usually do wedding photography. I am equally obsessed with figuring out this whole thing and I've been trying to figure out which camera to buy. One of the main issues I have run into is the camera I want doesn't allow for manual control of shutter speed. It's stupid in my opinion. Anyway, I'm left trying to decide if I should buy another model just because I don't have that kind of control. Any opinion on that matter? Is that a deal breaker?

  19. Brian says:

    Thank you for this article. It was exactly the info I was looking for explained in an easily-understandable way. The video demo really drove the point home. A demo of how the shutter speed affects the slow-motion would be helpful. Do you have any links that show an example? Thank you!

  20. Fred says:

    Hi!
    I just shot a train passing by. Not very fast moving. I shot with 25p and shutter 50. The image looks fine but the train passing by gets to blurry..!
    (And it was the beautiful detailed Orientexpress passing by out here in nature on its way to Venice from Stockholm!)
    So what do you, anyone, say about that!? Exception from the 180 rule needed?
    Thanks in adv.
    Fred

    • kgarrison says:

      I would tend to shoot that at 60p – 1/120th shutter speed. But still, it its moving you are better to try to pan with the train to grab the detail of it. If the object would be blurry in a still at 1/50th than its going to be blurry in video.

  21. kipstah says:

    okay okay okay i'll clear the confusion about these numbers…remember shutter speed is a RECIPROCAL (fraction) of a second NOT a whole number!

    "shutter speed 50" does not mean 50 shutters per second. it means the shutter is open for 1/50 second per frame. so 25fps at shutter speed 1/50 means the shutter opens 25 times each second, and in that period, the shutter is open for half of the time (1/50 x 25 = 1/2.)

    so the 180 degree filmlook guideline should be phrased "your shutter speed should be double the reciprocal of your frame rate." so if you shoot 60fps, your shutter speed should be 1/120 to maintain filmlook.

    the portion about highspeed/slowmotion is confusing. it should state that high framerates should also follow the 180 degree guideline to maintain a filmlook, but at a certain point, decreasing shutter speeds stops being helpful and becomes more detrimental to exposure….think about shooting 1/1000 indoors at iso 100!!! that's what 500fps calls for. ouch. better off just to slow the framerate, blur the motion more, and let some light onto the sensor.

    remember 1/50 shutter on video is the same as in still photos…so if you shoot a pic of a speeding train at 1/50 second, it's going to be blurry.

    so to make the train less blurry, use the same tricks as in still photography (panning, fast shutter speed) and increase framerate. a train at 40m/h = ~58 ft/s, so if your camera was focused on a 1 ft section of passing train, for example, 60fps would capture every passing foot, but you would also need a fast shutter speed to freeze each frame.
    i think nyquist would recommend 120fps at 1/250, but i would recommend zooming out, panning and trying 60fps at 1/125.

    -engineering dropout

  22. amande says:

    AWESOME explanation! Thank you so much!

  23. Jaanak says:

    very helpful ,…thanks man

  24. Daniel says:

    Thanks.

    Isn't the standard video frame rate 30 (29.97)? I thought 24 was the standard cinema rate.

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