THE NIKON D3400 VIDEO SET UP
The Nikon D3400 is an entry-level DSLR camera designed by Nikon for people who are moving up from bridge cameras or from compact cameras and whilst it takes excellent stills it also shoots superb video. One of the selling points of this camera is that it shoots Full HD video which is 1080 at 60 frames per second, which is really very impressive, and gives you a very smooth and very high quality video reproduction. One of the downsides however is that it doesn’t have an external microphone socket and that is very much in common with most cameras in this category – though ironically its predecessor, the Nikon D3300, does have an external microphone socket and I would say that if you’re going to shoot a lot of video, which will require a lot of sound when you’re actually recording the video – perhaps you are doing interviews or you are recording bands – then you might want to look at the D3300 rather than this camera.
On the other hand one of the things that I really do like about this camera is that it has a lot of effects and modes, so that you can be quite creative with the way that you shoot stills and those effects are translated through to videos too which is really quite fun. So you can have a lot of fun with photo illustration which shoots a sort of comic effect but in video. You can have fun with the miniature effect which shoots a sort of time lapse but within the miniature effect option, and you can also have some great fun which I found with toy camera effect which gives a really OLDE WORLDE type of shot through video with vignette and quite unsaturated color.
Before you shoot video you need to change some of the settings in the menus. So first of all switch the camera on and press the menu button and you are looking for the shooting menu. The video options are right at the bottom of the page so you could use the multi selector to go all the way down or you can press it one up and, because it’s on a rotating dial, it means that you go straight to movie settings. Then you can choose your FRAME RATE and FRAME SIZE. There are two different frame rates one is NTSC which is mainly for America and that will give you 60 frames per second or 30 frames per second, and the other is PAL which is mainly for Europe which will give you 50 frames per second and 25 frames per second. It is quite important that you choose the correct one for your country so it’s worth checking if you are not sure. I would recommend 1080 at the highest frame rate, obviously. It will go down to 720 which is perfectly acceptable for social media for YouTube etc. If you move one down on the menu you can have a look at movie quality which, of course, should be high rather than normal and then go down one more option to microphone. The D3400 doesn’t have an external microphone socket, but it does have an internal microphone which can be reasonably effective over short distances.
You have three options for microphone – the first one is AUTO, which is okay and worked reasonably well for ambient sound, the second one is MANUAL, which I would recommend because it gives you more control over the sound that you’re recording. If you are in manual you should be aiming for your sound to peak at 12, so if you can test out the recording before hand – if somebody’s talking for example – then what you’re really looking for is when that person is at their loudest, to peak on 12 and you can use the multi selector to move the sensitivity up or down to ensure that that happens. The final one is to switch microphone OFF and I don’t recommend that at all even if you don’t intend using the sound used having the sound on the video is actually a very useful way of selecting clips when you’re editing. Coming out of that you then go on to wind noise reduction which doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. The final option is manual movie settings. If you leave that off, then even if you go into manual on here you won’t be on manual settings because you’ve switched it off here. If you switch it on here you can use the manual settings and the auto settings so I would recommend that you switch that on.
Once you’ve changed the menu settings you can start looking through the camera to see what you’re actually seeing when you want to shoot a video. In order to do that you have to press the Live View button at the back. There are two quite important buttons here for when you are in Live View and one is the info button on the top and the other is the i button which is down on the bottom left-hand corner next to the screen. When you switch initially to Live View you will see a lot of information going along the top of the screen. Now, because you have switched on to Live View this isn’t yet on to video mode and so a lot of the information is, in fact, for stills so for example you will have what mode it’s in, whether it’s on auto or manual aperture priority, flash on/off, the shutter setting, the auto focus settings, the picture control setting, the white balance and whether the stills size and quality. If you press the info button on the top once then, you will now be in video mode, and that tells you more relevant information about what you have actually got as settings for video. If you are in this mode and you press the i button, that gives you all the things that you can change when you are in this mode. If you are on auto it allows you to change the frame size and quality, the microphone settings, the wind noise reduction and the focus mode. If you switch the camera to M for manual and go into that setting then it will give much more information. It will show movie frame size and quality, the white balance, the microphone settings, ISO, the picture control, wind noise reduction, auto focus area mode control and the focus mode. So that is one really useful way of seeing what is available to you when you are shooting video. If you press the i mode again to come out of that and then press the info button again, then that information disappears, so that the screen is fairly bare, but we do get the marker showing the extent of the video. When you’re shooting video you will notice that you don’t get the entire full screen that you would when you’re shooting stills and that is because the area of the sensor being used to shoot video is smaller, and so you get a smaller area on the screen that actually is included within the video range. That will change slightly if you’re shooting 1080 or if you’re shooting 720 so it’s worth keeping an eye on. If you press the info button one more time, then you get the grid so that you can keep everything level.
In many ways the settings for shooting stills or videos on a DSLR are the same. For example, you can use the dial mode to select the mode in which you want to shoot either stills or video. You can have it on AUTO you can have it on Manual and the parameters are effectively the same. You can change your ISO, you can change your aperture or you can change your shutter speed. The only extra element when you are shooting video is your frame rate and that is selected when when you chose 1080-60 or 1080-50 or 30 or 25 or 720, so the frame rate is the extra element for video. Now if you are shooting at a given frame rate it is recommended that your shutter speed is twice that frame rate. So if you are shooting at 30 frames per second, the shutter speed should be about 160th. Likewise if you’re shooting at 60 frames per second then your frame rate should be about 125th. You do have some flexibility here, you could easily go up to 1/200th or 1/400th if that’s what you want without the video suffering too much.
In terms of keeping quality as good as possible then you’d like the ISO to be as low as possible and the aperture, of course, will control your depth of field. The three elements here, ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed can all be changed when you are in the manual setting. The odd one out, in a sense, is aperture because you cannot change the aperture when you are actually shooting the video, so you need to pre-set your aperture and you can only do that outside of Live View. When you are in the back screen you can change aperture by pressing the exposure button on the top and using the main dial. Now at this point you can also change the ISO and the Shutter Speed in exactly the same way. You can change the shutter speed by using the main dial on its own and you can change the ISO by looking at the i button and moving across and choosing the ISO and changing it. However you may want to change either the ISO or the shutter speed whilst you are actually shooting the video, in which case you can either use the function button which you have preset to change ISO and use the main dial which will change the ISO, even if you’re shooting at the same time. Or you can use the main dial on its own to change the shutter speed. Again even if you’re shooting video at the time and the great thing about using the back screen is that you can instantly see the change, in either changing shutter speed or ISO, the image will go lighter or darker.
Jeremy Bayston has worked in the photography industry for over two decades. He has a particular interest in digital photography and has written on the subject for many websites including CameraWize. He has written user manuals for the Nikon D5200, Nikon D3400 and Canon 1300D/T6. Learn more about the new DSLR cameras here and the Nikon D3400 here.