What is the right self-tape camera to create your best self-tape? Does it really matter? What are some things to consider? Is my cellphone just enough? Read more in today’s article.
The smartphone should be just enough for most aspiring actors. It’s totally acceptable. In today’s article, we will be talking only about cameras and capturing the PICTURE. If you want to know more about sound, maybe my previous article can bring you some new insight – check out HOW TO CREATE A SELF-TAPE – “SOUND.” But, in short, know that if you are using a smartphone as your capturing device, consider buying an external microphone as any external microphone is better than the built-in one—the closer the microphone is to you, the better quality of the voice recording. But now, back to discussing cameras.
Smartphone as a self-tape camera
Everybody has a cellphone nowadays, most coming with a built-in camera. So we can create an amazing tape using just a smartphone. It’s very convenient, all you do is attach your smartphone to a tripod, and you are ready to go. For those who don’t know, use the back camera on your phone. Usually, the back camera is much better quality than the selfie one.
CURIOSITY – the first camera on cell phones was in 2002, on models such as Nokia 7650 and the Sanyo SPC-5300
Smartphones have a wider lens, so you have to be closer to the cell phone to create the right framing, but not too close because it could distort your look. No worries. The distortion is minor, but you can see slight differences if you compare the tape with the DSLR camera shot. It could be, for example, a different shape of your head or a bigger nose, etc. Still, nothing to worry about because you barely notice it, but if you do and don’t like the look, maybe it’s time for a change. You have options such as buying an external lens for your phone or investing in something more expensive, such as a DLSR camera.
Please don’t go crazy with the zoom function on your phone. Of course, it really depends on what cell phone you are using, but in general, zoom can bring issues like bad focus or light balancing. The same could apply to the DLSR camera – the rule is – if you don’t have to, don’t use the zoom.
Is your smartphone right for self-tape?
You are very limited with the settings you can play with on cell phones because you don’t have many options to set, and even you do, the phone is still doing stuff mostly automatically. Another inconvenience is that you have to set up the smartphone every time you want to do your self-tape. On the other hand, with a dedicated device, you can have it ready in your audition room /space, and it will become convenient if you are doing more auditions weekly. This is more about preferences, but also one good thing you can consider. So, let’s take another step and look at DSLR cameras and the basic settings we can do to create the right self-tape.
If you have the budget or want to create more content than self-tape or want to be a photographer or aspiring filmmaker, you have the right reasons to invest in a better camera and buy a DSLR. Then the world full of opportunities will open as you can set up your own settings to capture the scene and create the right feelings you want in your self-tape.
TIP Always set up your self-tape camera at the height of your eye line.
When you are shooting on the manual setting, you should know about these three things, at least. ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture.
In basic terms, ISO is overall light coming on the sensor at any given time. Higher ISO number – brighter picture and vice versa.
TIP FOR BEGINNERS: Don’t go above 600-800 ISO number. It will bring a grainy image.
Shutter speed is how fast your shutter (imagine small door) opens and closes to light. Higher shutter speed (1/500) – less light and choppy image. Lower shutter speed (1/30) – more light and smoother images.
Maybe now you are thinking about what these numbers in the brackets mean. These are measurements of when the shutter will open and close, usually measured in fractions of a second. 1/4 is one-quarter of a second. So the “small door” to the camera opens for a quarter of a second and then closes. The light (meaning you and your amazing performance) will be catching on the camera’s chip for 1/4s. While 1/250 is 4 milliseconds (one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second), so the magic door will open just for 4 milliseconds and then close.
Try to wave in front of a camera and play with the setup of the shutter speed, and you will see what you prefer more. One will be more choppy, and the second smooth and more motion blur.
Aperture is how much depth of field is in focus. Imagine when you start moving the aperture number. First, your nose is in focus. Secondly, it is your face, then it is your face and your shoulder, and then including the background.
TIP: Always record your self-tape horizontally if your agent or casting director didn’t ask differently.
Smaller aperture – less of the field is in focus. Higher aperture – more of the shot is in focus. For self-tape, have it around 2.8.
More things to consider to choose the right self-tape camera
If you are using a DSLR camera best lens is 35mm-50mm for self-tape video.
You can bring white balance by setting it up on your lights. For example, use white light, a white bulb, or bring up the white balance in your light settings if you use LED panels.
Bring a sheet of white paper (or any white material) next to your face and set up the white balance on your camera/phone.
For iPhone users – after you bring the paper next to your face, touch the screen for 2 seconds and when the AF/AE is locked, drag it a little bit up. You can also bring the brightness up on the camera to get the right result (though don’t overkill it.)
For DLSR users – When you have all your lighting set up – take a photo of white paper, covering the whole frame in the scene with AWB (auto white balance), then go to the settings and choose “Custom white balance.” The camera will ask you for a photo, choose the one you took with white paper. Then, go back to video mode and choose custom white balance.
Let’s ask some questions to make clear what you need the camera for. Will you record your self-tapes very often? Are you going to use a camera for photography? Or are you an aspiring filmmaker? If your answer is any YES to any of these questions, maybe you should consider investing in a better camera.
Before you purchase your first DSLR camera, you should also consider that you will need a memory card, lens, maybe extra batteries, etc., so don’t forget to include everything in the budget before making your purchase.
Hopefully, these bits of advice have provided some help for you. Let me know your experiences, ideas, tips, advice, etc. See ya next time.
About the author:
I am a never-ending fighter for the perfect ART, enjoying the process of unperfectness. I am many things and nothing, but my main focus is acting. I've studied at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts. I've been an actor in Theater Around The Corner, Moravian Theater Olomouc, Theater DiGoknu, or Mlada Scena II. And I am working hard on my craft.