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Focusing when filming skating with a DSLR

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    Focusing when filming skating with a DSLR

    Hey guys, tried searching for this online but had a hard time finding answers; especially an answer that could be applied to blading (as it's what I intend to film).

    Apparently, as I've seen browsing through some threads in this forum, everyone keeps saying that you're not supposed to use autofocus when filming skating with a DSLR; so you should use the focus ring. My question is if there any techniques to manual focus properly on a moving subject (the blader) or should I just pre-focus on the "most important" distance of the trick I intend to film and use a small aperture (wide DOF) to account for small variations; or even place the tripod perpendicular to the obstacle so the blader keeps within the same distance throughout the trick? Can anyone shed a light on that subject please? Fairly new to cameras.

    EDIT: Not sure if relevant, but I'm shooting with a Nikon d5100 with a 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 and am looking to get a good prime lens in the near future. will depend on the budget, but hopefully a fast-ish 35mm.
    Last edited by Rafacarv; 24.03.2015, 22:33.

    #2
    There's no rule against using AF with DSLR's, it's just that the only DSLRs that come close to having usable AF in video mode are the newer Canons, with the Dual Pixel AF system. And even that isn't fast enough to keep up with a fast-moving subject like a blader. Most mirrorless cams (technically not DSLR's) are about the same if not slightly worse.

    For in-focus shots of skating, your options are as follows, in order of complexity/difficulty:

    1. Put on fisheye or UWA lens, do not remove. Will have deep DOF at all apertures, pretty much foolproof. Also boring!

    2. Shoot with a "regular" lens at a very small aperture (say f11 or smaller, depending on your cam's sensor size). Again, will have almost infinite DOF, almost foolproof. Works fine during the day, will be grainy at dusk as you raise your ISO, pretty much useless at night or at most indoor parks.

    3. Shoot with a shallower DOF, pre-focus on a set point on your obstacle, and just accept that your skater will come into and go out of focus during your shot. This can work great as an insert (quick shot you cut to and from quickly, to show a detail or aspect of a trick/obstacle) but rarely works well as your main/only shot of a trick.

    4. As you mentioned, figure out an angle that keeps the skater mostly at a certain distance from the cam, lock your focus, and just pan/tilt with them. Try to shoot with a deep enough DOF to cover any small variances in their distance. This can work quite well, but gets boring real quick in an edit.

    5. Pull focus manually, keeping your focal plane on the skater. This is the most challenging technique and takes a LOT of practice to get even marginally good at. This can be done by hand, on the lens, but using a follow focus system will help a lot, as it smooths out your pull and you can make reference marks for different focus points to hit (where you expect them to jump, lock, switchup, etc... the end of the obstacle, etc). Unfortunately with a follow focus you're looking at lens gears, a rail setup, etc, so a much larger/fiddlier/more expensive rig.

    Easy things you can do to help yourself out:

    -Get a simple LCD loupe/viewfinder. Carryspeed makes a decent cheap one ($40 or so). The better you can see your image, the better you can judge and thus adjust your focus. Plus it makes handheld shooting a lot steadier, as you'll be pressing the loupe to your eye with the camera- three points of contact (two hands, eye) instead of just two (hands).

    -Get a manual lens. AF lenses tend to have very short, stiff focus throws, which make pulling focus manually difficult/imprecise. Nikon's mount has been the same for decades so any of their manual glass from the 60's on up will work. Good cheapish options are the 50mm f1.4 AI, or 28mm f2.8 Series E, I just got these for about $70 each on eBay for Chynna's new rig. Not sure about 35's, I don't know much about Nikon glass to be honest. I would imagine a 35mm f2.8 wouldn't be too pricey.

    Having focus peaking is a huge help for manual focusing, unfortunately I don't think any of the Nikons have it. You can load Magic Lantern on most Canons to add it, and most newer Sonys and Panasonics have it stock.

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