Pentax DSLR Movie Video Setting Techniques

In my efforts to improve the quality of my convention videos, I have spent time working through the settings of my DSLR cameras to get the best quality out of them as possible. I went over some settings in my previous article, but I thought only settings themselves were worth spending more time on.

These techniques and settings apply to the K-5 and most likely the K-7 cameras.

Overview on Youtube:

Setting: Movie Aperture control (Fixed, Auto). Use FIXED for more control.
Fixed: The camera allows you to chance the aperture at will. When the camera is recording, the aperture will be locked at whatever it was set at. The Auto setting means that the camera will control the aperture completely without user input. Using auto might be good for the sake of simplicity or when using the camera in strong lighting.

Pressing the green button when in Fixed mode will allow the camera to automatically adjust the aperture. It’s a nice feature to get a good starting point on proper exposure of the scene.

Setting: Exposure compensation. Change it depending on your needs.
Cranking down the exposure compensation allows you to create moody lighting or other effects where you don’t want mathematically perfect exposure. The camera will naturally try to “perfectly” exposure the scene, so you will need to use that setting to correct for things like blown out highlights from a bright window in the background.

AE-L (exposure lock). Set this after achieving the exposure you want.
Pentax cameras don’t currently have completely manual exposure control, so it is necessary to lock down automatic signal gain with the AE-L button. Otherwise when filming, the video will have a pulsing effect as your scene changes. For example, if most of your scene has white in the background and a person with a black shirt walks through pretty close to the camera, the camera will attempt to add gain to the signal so the black shirt is brighter, everything else will get brighter as well. When the person walks out of the frame, the auto exposure will decrease gain back to what it was previously, causing that pulsing effect. Locking down the exposure produces much higher quality video as long as you are mindful of your scenes and exposure range in them. If you are moving from a very bright area to a dark one, it is best to just shoot a second clip with different exposure settings.

Setting: Recorded Pixels. Use HD 30 for 720p 30 FPS video.
Define what resolution and frame rate you want to use. 720p at 30 FPS is a good option to mix performance and file size. Otherwise, depending on your camera, you will have the option of full HD at 1080p or a VGA mode.

Setting: Quality Level. Use 3 start for highest quality.
For example with a 8GB memory card:
*** = 17 minutes 22 seconds
** = 26 minutes 37 seconds
* = 36 minutes 55 seconds
I always use three stars, but files can get very large with the K-5 and K-7 camera bodies due to the simple mjpeg compression format used. The positive is that source video can be high quality with low compression artifacts.

Setting: Cross Processing and Digital Filters.
You have 7 different settings. The manual describes them as the digital equivalent of developing film with the wrong chemicals. From my perspective they look like low contrast tints applied to the video.
Digital filters are similar to cross processing, but a lot more heavy handed with the filtering they apply. These are more gimmicky with things like toy camera, retro, and extracting a color. I don’t use either of these settings when taking videos. You could apply similar effects in post-processing with the right software.

Shake Reduction (On or Off). Turn off when using a tripod.
This is simply If you want sensor based shake reduction on or off. It is very helpful when taking video hand-held with any lens you have available. When using a tripod, turn shake reduction off to avoid unintentional problems with the camera trying to compensate when there isn’t any movement going on. If this setting is grayed out, make certain that the wireless remote option is turned off. That remote setting is in the timer button that is located at the top of the directional button pad.

Setting: Sound (On or Off). If audio isn’t needed, turn it off to save memory card space.
I’ve found the sound to be pretty good. Often, I use the external microphone jack instead of the internal microphone to further improve sound quality.

WB (White Balance), Timer, and Color buttons.
These are three buttons from left to right going clockwise and are part of the directional pad. The function just as they would in photo mode with the exception that the timer button only has two settings (wireless remote on or off).

Focus (Auto focus, manual focus).
In my video above, I go over using a manual focus aid to get spot-on focus before starting the video. You can zoom in by pressing the INFO button and then just manually move the focus ring until it looks good. The main benefit here is for lenses that don’t have quick-shift. For example, the FA 31mm f1.8 lens benefits from using that method instead of letting the camera auto-focus because otherwise you would probably need to flip the AF drive mode switch between AF-S and MF every single time you wanted to focus the lens before using video. Otherwise the lens focus ring would be fixed in one position when the video is being recorded.

While I didn’t go over auto-focus in the video above, that is available. It uses contrast detection AF. You can also use the INFO button to zoom in, but only up to 6x. That allows the camera to do consecutive focus faster. Auto-focus is the fast and easy way to get initial focus and works best with lenses that have quick-shift functionality built in.

Video situation examples:
1. So let’s say we want to take a clip inside a large hotel room with bright sun coming through one side of the room. You are trying to take a photo of someone with their back to the window, but they are almost completely black. You are okay with blowing out the window light and you just want the person to be more than a silhouette. First, change your aperture to a larger setting to limit video grain. Second, use the exposure compensation button to increase the overall exposure until the person is visible. Third, press the AE-L button to lock-in that exposure setting. You can now start recording. If their back was facing the opposite direction, you might need to use exposure compensation to decrease the exposure so their skin isn’t blown out.

2. You are in a room with a few lamps that only provide minimal light. Your goal is to use that as mood lighting for the scene, but the camera is trying to expose the room to be too bright. Once again, use negative exposure compensation to tell the camera you want the overall scene darker.

3. You are trying to take a panning tripod video of a large group of people with a lens that has a large maximum aperture like f1.4. With aperture control to AUTO, you can’t even tell what aperture the camera is using. Chances are it is using MTF which could be around f2.8 depending on how much light there is. When your checked your first clip you see that only the first of three rows of people are in focus. You change your aperture control setting to Fixed and then set the aperture to f16. Since you are on a tripod that aperture will work fine. Set the AE-L button to fix the exposure so when panning the camera you won’t see any variation in brightness.

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