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Using Your Hands as Focal Length Calculator

Canon 60d Takumar 85mm LensSince I have been using solely my prime vintage lenses for video lately, I have been wanting the capacity to pre-visualize what prime focal length lens I need for a specific shot. I want to be able to setup the tripod and know exactly what lens I need to mount for the shot I am trying to achieve.

Having been a photographer most of my life, you would think I would already have this skill. Unfortunately, I was used to relying on the functionality of a zoom lens, somewhat as a crutch, to help frame the shots I wanted.

To make things even worse, I am currently shooting with a Canon 60D which has an APS-C sensor and a multiplier of 1.62 for every one of my prime lenses printed focal lengths. Getting a “Full Frame” camera would fix the multiplier issue, but I am not very enamored by any of the full frame HDSLR camera offerings for video. And quite honestly, I would still have trouble being able to visualize the focal length being so out of practice at it.

Visualizing shot framing
Takumar 85mm Lens & Takumar 55mm Lens

There are a few different ways to determine focal length and frame width, including a director’s viewfinder (costs money), a smart phone application (costs money and distracting when working). Another no-cost option would be to simply practice more in order to get better at visualizing my shots and seeing the focal length without any aid at all.

I tried practicing more and was not very successful because I need some visual reference point to go by. This started thinking about the tools that we already carry with us everywhere we go. Here is where the arms, hands and fingers come in. After all the human body was one of the original measuring devices. Ever wonder why a foot is called a foot?

Most of us realize that the human body has certain dimensions, but here is the really cool part. Your hand and finger length along with your arm length tend to scale in proportion to your body for most people, roughly 95% of the population in fact.

Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour - Human Body Visual Dimensions

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, an illustration of the human body inscribed in the circle and the square derived from a passage about geometry and human proportions in Vitruvius’ writings

Some of you might know the focal length rule that two hands equals 50mm and one hand equals 100mm. This still works great for full frame cameras, but when there is a multiplier involved, things start to get more complicated rather quickly. Many of us have also likely used our thumbs and fore fingers to approximate the 16×9 frame shape. Unfortunately, this shape does nothing to help determine lens focal length. You could move the “finger frame” in and out to approximate different focal lengths, but this quite variable less accurate than what I am going to share with you.

Using your hands to visualize framing

Using your arms, hands and fingers is an easy way to visualize the frame width for a specific lens making it a breeze to determine what prime lens you need for a certain shot. And once you know the frame width, approximating a 16×9 frame height, or any other frame height is a pretty easy task.

All measurements are done with your arms fully extended in front of you with hands tipped up at roughly 90 degrees. It is helpful to close one eye for determining the final frame width. Keep in mind the measurements scale according to each persons body and should be very accurate for around 95% of the population. If you fall into the 5% with short arms with long fingers or long arms with short fingers, you will need to adjust the measurements to compensate for your proportions.

The APS-C sensor size I am referring to in the table is the Canon sensor with a 1.62 multiplier, if you have a camera sensor with a different multiplier from another vendor such as Nikon or Panasonic, you will need to adjust the measurements. I have also included a table referencing “Full Frame” focal length hand measurements. Each photo can be clicked for a more detailed view of each hand position.

APS-C Crop Body Measurement Table

Lens
After 1.62
Multiplier
APS-C Sensor (1.62 lens multiplier)
Canon 60D, 7D, 70D, T3i, T4i
Hand Positions
18mm
29.16mm
Three hands wide at full arms length.
18mm Lens Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
28mm
45.36mm
Slightly less than two hands wide at full arms length.
28mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
35mm
56.7mm
One hand + width of one fist at full arms length.
35mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
50mm
81mm
One hand wide + width of thumb at full arms length.
50mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
55mm
89.1mm
Slightly less than one hand wide at full arms length.
55mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
85mm
137.7mm
Inside edge of thumb to tip of forefinger wide with hand in “L” shape, thumb up.
85mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
100mm
162mm
One fist with thumb out wide at full arms length.
100mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
135mm
218.7mm
One fist wide with thumb at side at full arms length.
135mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
200mm
324mm
Index finger knuckle to first joint wide at full arms length.
200mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands
250mm
405mm
Thumb knuckle to first joint wide at full arms length.
250mm Lens - Frame Width APS-C Using Hands

Full Frame Body Measurement Table

Lens
Full Frame Sensor Canon 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, 6D
Hand Positions
28mm Three hands wide at full arms length.
28mm Lens - Frame Width - Full-Frame Using Hands
50mm Two hands wide at full arms length.
50mm Lens - Frame Width - Full-Frame Using Hands
55mm One hand + width of one fist at full arms length.
55mm Lens - Frame Width - Full-Frame Using Hands
85mm Approx. One Hand + Width of Thumb at full arms length.
85mm Lens Frame Width - Full Frame - Using Hands
100mm One hand wide at full arms length.
100mm Lens - Frame Width - Full-Frame Using Hands
135mm Inside edge of thumb to tip of forefinger wide with hand in “L” shape, thumb up.
135mm Lens - Frame Width - Full-Frame Using Hands
200mm Length of index finger wide (knuckle to tip of finger)
200mm Lens - Frame Width - Full-Frame Using Hands

It was truly fun putting this post together and I hope some of you found it useful for helping to visualize your shots. Comments will be open for roughly 30 days and it would be wonderful to hear your thoughts on this topic. **Closing comments due huge amounts of SPAM. If you want to comment on this article, just drop us a message. Thanks!**

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Canon 5D Mark II 5th year Anniversary: State of the HDSLR Nation

Canon 5D Mark IIThe 5th anniversary of the Canon 5D Mark II it is a great time to take a step back and assess where we have been and where we might still travel down the HDSLR road. Is the HDSLR market dead or dying? I say emphatically no, but it is changing and progressing into more of an HD (including 2k & 4k) market. To quote from Star Wars, “I Think It Is Time We Demonstrated The Full Power Of This Station.

Technology has jumped ahead of where many of the camera manufacturers feel comfortable treading. Thus, they hold back major improvements in favor of smaller ones, falsely thinking that they only need to keep up with their competitors. Let’s not forget that the Nikon D90 rocked the market and was the first DSLR to offer HD video. Soon after, Canon, to stay competitive, introduced the Canon 5D Mark II. The HD video capability was obviously pretty mature in-house or Canon would not have been able to so quickly bring the industry-changing 5D Mark II to market. Large camera manufacturers appear to offer only whatever updates are necessary to sell the next batch of new model cameras, and that is truly a shame for the entire industry.

Magic Lantern Menu 1The developers at Magic Lantern have proven time and time again that even cameras like the Canon 50D, which is over five years old, are capable of shooting RAW video using their innovative free tool. The capabilities of my Canon 60D are spectacular using the Magic Lantern add-on and if the same capabilities were offered in a stock camera, I would likely purchase it.

The new RAW video feature that the Magic Lantern team has enabled on the Canon 5D Mark III is truly amazing! I predict that the first company to produce a top notch algorithm to help reduce the RAW video file size in-camera without losing color and dynamic range quality will rule the market for a couple of years. You see, RAW video files require lots of computer power and storage space to cope with them and thus will be limited, at least for now, to those who have the time and processor power to incorporate RAW into their workflow. The developers at Magic Lantern have truly moved the bar and they are dragging the major camera manufacturers kicking and screaming into the next generation of video capture. Perhaps the upcoming H.265 codec will make the 2k and 4k file sizes manageable for everyone, but RAW video files are likely still going to be huge.

Canon 70D Flip-out LCDFor my style of shooting, the flip-out LCD is really appreciated and something that helps me introduce alternate creative shooting angles into my footage, not to mention the beauty of being able to reverse the screen for protection when the camera is not in use. So, here is the question: Why is there no full-frame sensor camera on the market that offers a large flip-out high-resolution LCD screen? I was really hoping the Canon 5D Mark III would have this feature, but again Canon went with the status quo. There is no doubt that the Canon 5D Mark III is a great camera and a large jump ahead, but it could have been a quantum leap rather than a just another standard upgrade. The new Canon 70D is a great example of focus innovation mixed with the same video quality of the previous generation 60D. I am sure there are some minimal improvements, ISO etc., but again the upgrade is underwhelming and my guess is that sales of the 70D camera will be as well.

Black Magic Pocket Camera

Will the HDSLR market still exist in 5 years? Unless Canon and the other big name manufacturers start putting the features into their cameras that the independent filmmakers are clamoring for, the HDSLR market share will dwindle and they will lose dollars to the other more nimble and innovative companies like Black Magic. I personally think we are moving toward the mirrorless cameras, as the smaller form is something that we can all appreciate. Give me a full-frame sensor, mirrorless camera, large enough to hold comfortably, that will shoot a modified version of RAW video and fit my existing Canon glass with good audio capabilities along with a high resolution EVF plus a large high resolution flip-out LCD screen and I will be a pretty happy camper.

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P.S. This was my contribution to the Planet5D eBook which includes over 30 contributions from various people from all over the world. You can get your copy of the full version on Planet5D.

DSLR Shoulder Rig: A brief history of the shoulder-mounted video camera

The face of professional video cameras has changed a lot over the last several years, bringing ever more capable cameras like the Canon’s 5D Mark II, Mark III 6D & 70D and Panasonic’s GH2 & GH3 and Nikon D600 & D800 into the hands of the amateur and professional alike. What used to be two distinct markets, video camera, and movie camera, have now nearly merged into one.

Shoulder mounted camera - Camcorder - DSLR Comparison

I remember when I first heard about DSLR cameras getting video capabilities. At the time, I owned a Panasonic DVX100 and I was not sure why anyone would want to capture video with a DSLR when they lacked the much-needed features only available on professional video cameras. Well, times have changed rather quickly and thanks to tools like Magic Lantern, the DSLR can now compete with many of the professional video cameras. In fact, many DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark III are being considered professional video cameras in their own right.

Betacam SP Camcorder by KMJ - WikipediaEven now, some electronic news gathering (ENG) organizations are choosing the DSLR for its portability and the robust capabilities housed in such a small form factor. As sensors have gotten better, and most recording mechanisms have moved to solid state, the need for these large cameras is shrinking along with the cameras themselves. However, many news gathering cameramen and camerawomen love the stability a large shoulder mounted camera provides, but many of them also have related back problems brought on by lugging around such a large camera.

In the early 80’s the Betacam was introduced and it was one of the first, and most successful video cameras with on board recording. Before that, these types of ENG cameras consisted of a shoulder-mounted camera with a separate backpack or shoulder pack that held the recorder portion, which was then connected to the camera by cable. At least the two-unit system provided for some weight on the other shoulder helping equalize the pressure on the spine a little.

Ikegami Electronics HL-33 Camera by Fletcher6 - Wikipedia

Fortunately technology has progressed and we no longer have to haul around huge weights on our shoulders to achieve great video results… or do we?

From the looks of many of the recent DSLR camera rigs on the market, you would think we are moving backwards. I am quite perplexed as to why so many camera support manufacturers think that placing everything back on the shoulder, creating offset plates, and even adding counter weights is such a great idea. Fatigue is a huge factor when hauling around so much stuff and it eventually affects the resulting video and the health of the operator. Ergonomics seems to take a back seat as designers reach to the past rather than reaching forward for new, more innovative designs.

Manfrotto Fig RigA few manufacturers have created small shoulder braces. Unfortunately, they sacrifice stability for portability in hopes of providing a lighter option for those operators not wanting to haul around so much weight.

Occasionally a new idea will come to market such as the Fig Rig, which puts the camera on a hoop that is supported with both hands. This design ended the myth that stability and good video results could only be achieved with large shoulder-mounted DSLR camera rigs. I am truly surprised that more manufacturers are not thinking outside the 1980s era shoulder-mounted Betacam box.

This is where the new DSLR Solutions Camera Rig comes in. The new camera rig design provides up to three stabilization points per arm giving you really stable video results without having to put additional weight on your shoulder and rig. It also gives the user many ways to comfortably grip the camera rig without needing to adjust a single handle.

DSLR Camera Rig - User

On top of that the design puts the camera in front of the operator (no electronic view finder (EVF) or offset plate required) and gives the ability to rest the rig on the waist between shots, which even allows for hands-free operation when shooting from the hip. Lastly, the DSLR Solutions Camera Rig opens up even more creative options with easy high- and low-angle capabilities.

It is an exciting time to be a videographer or filmmaker. New camera capabilities are continually being developed with increased resolution at lower cost in smaller form factors. I am personally looking forward to seeing even more simple and innovative designs brought to market.

More information about the DSLR Solutions Camera Rig can be found here: http://www.dslrsolutions.net

A. Spence
President/CEO
DSLR Solutions

P.S. Why do we carry such heavy burdens on our shoulders? Here’s a bit of humor from Neumann Films to lighten things up: http://youtu.be/ixVjpvrn7n4