Almost all CSCs can record Full HD video movies. But whereas in DLSR cameras it’s only available in Live View mode, electronic viewfinders make it possible to shoot movies while holding the camera to your eye. This can have important advantages.

In bright outdoor lighting, shooting with the monitor is extremely difficult. Even with the brightness set to maximum, it can be difficult to make out where the edges of the frame are and, often, where the main subject is located.

Using an EVF has the double advantages of isolating the scene from potentially distracting surroundings and showing photographers what will be recorded as it is captured. EVFs also enable users to superimpose grids to assist with shot composition, and they display icons indicating camera settings and histogram overlays showing the brightness range in the scene. Most cameras let users choose what they wish to overlay.


Accessory microphones can be attached via the camera’s hot shoe and connected via a standard 3.5mm stereo mini-plug.


EVFs have the dual advantages of isolating the scene from the surroundings and providing a display of camera settings with the option of superimposing aids to shot composition and exposure monitoring.

For photographers who prefer using the monitor, cameras with adjustable monitors provide freedom for different shooting angles in live view mode. The monitor can be turned to face down for above-the-head shooting, or faced upwards to shoot with the camera at waist level. (Some cameras allow it to be faced forward for shooting ‘selfies’.)

Adjustable, touch-screen monitors allow users to shoot from different angles and set the lens to focus anywhere on the screen. This can provide greater flexibility when recording movies indoors. (Source: Olympus.)

Shooting Movies

Most cameras provide two ways to record movies: via the mode dial and shutter button or via a dedicated movie button (usually identified by a red dot). The latter can be used whatever shooting mode is selected. Most cameras default to either full auto or programmed AE (P) recording when the movie button is used.

In cameras that support manual adjustments in movie mode, these settings are usually accessed by selecting the dedicated movie mode. More sophisticated cameras provide selectable P, A, S and M shooting modes that allow users to control lens aperture and shutter speed settings. You may also be able to adjust ISO settings (although limits will apply) and use most of the in-camera digital effects and filters.


More sophisticated cameras make the A, S and M shooting modes available when the camera is in movie mode, although the default setting is usually the P mode.

Most CSCs default to the last focus mode that was used when shooting in movie mode. Some cameras automatically implement AF tracking in movie mode and some permit manual focus over-ride.

Exposures may be set with the first frame in a clip, although most cameras can adjust exposure as a clip is recorded in response to changes in the brightness of the scene. However, this usually happens quite slowly, particularly when these changes are substantial and when the camera is panned quickly across the scene.

Many cameras provide compositional aids like superimposed grid lines and some include level gauges to help users keep the camera from tilting during a recording. It is normal practice to display the available recording time remaining on the screen or track the time recorded in the current clip.


An example of some of the shooting aids available in movie mode. This picture shows a superimposed 3×3 grid plus vertical and horizontal level gauge indicators.

Movie Formats and TV Standards

CSC sensors are designed primarily for still photography; their resolution is substantially higher than you need for video movies. So the image data from the sensor must be compressed to match the resolutions of typical TV sets and comply with the TV standards used in the region where the photographer lives.

The most popular video file format is MOV with MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression. This uses the same compression as Blu-ray discs and some broadcast TV formats. AVCHD (Advanced Video Coding High Definition) is an alternative compression format developed by Sony and Panasonic.

Motion JPEG is popularly used for standard definition movies as it is supported by most image browsers. Consequently, it’s a good format for online sharing via YouTube, and enjoys widespread support among media players and game consoles as well as video editing equipment.

Different regions of the world have different TV standards. To view your movies on a home TV screen, the movies must be recorded in your region’s local format. The PAL (Phase Alternating Line) standard is used in Australia, China, India, much of Europe and parts of Africa and South America. It’s based on a TV display system of 625-lines / 50 fields (25 frames) per second.

The NTSC system is used in Japan, North America, South Korea, the Philippines and parts of South America. It’s based on a TV display system of 525-lines / 60 fields (30 frames) per second.

All CSCs ship with the ability to record both PAL and NTSC video but once the menu has been set to one of these standards, only the settings relevant to that TV standard should be displayed and accessible. Australian users should select the PAL standard, which typically offers the recording modes and capacities shown in the table below.

Three main frame rate standards are commonly used in digital cameras and supported by TVs and monitors: 24p, 25p, and 30p. Some cameras offer variations on these standards, including faster frame rates that support either slow-motion playback or improvements to picture quality.

Frame rates are also delineated by the way the screen is scanned for playback, with two options. Progressive scanning (‘p’) displays the lines that create each frame in sequence to produce a virtually flicker-free picture. Interlaced scanning (‘i’) displays the picture in two halves, the first showing the odd lines, with the second filling in the even lines a millisecond later. Human eyes can’t detect the scanning except as occasional slight flickering.

24p is a progressive format that matches the frame rate of cinema film. It is used when you want a ‘film-like’ look for your movies.

25p is another progressive format that runs 25 progressive frames/second, providing a similar look to PAL TV displays, with a slightly higher vertical resolution than 24p.

30p produces video at 30 frames/second with a similar effect to 25p for NTSC regions.

50i is an interlaced format that provides the standard video field rate/second for PAL television. 60i achieves similar objectives for NTSC TV. Both are used in high-end HDTV systems.

50p and 60p are progressive scanning formats with higher frame rates to deliver crisper looking movies with reduced motion blurring. They are becoming increasingly important with the introduction of cameras that support 4K movie recording.

You will often see CSCs video formats expressed as 1080p or 720p, which respectively refer to Full HD and HD resolution with progressive scanning. The vertical resolution is used for reference as it has greater impact on picture quality than the horizontal resolution.


Virtually all CSCs record audio soundtracks with movies, although some let users turn the audio recording off for silent recordings. This is useful if you prefer to dub-in soundtracks later.

Cameras that can record stereo soundtracks usually have tiny microphone holes, either on the top panel or near the upper edge of the front panel. The separation between the microphones isn’t wide enough to produce top-quality stereo performance, although it can often be quite good. (Cameras with a single microphone hole can only record monaurally.)

Many cameras let users control the sound recording volume, with either a slider or pre-set volume levels. Higher-featured cameras include a wind-cut function that can suppress wind noise when recording out-of-doors. At best it will reduce the volume of wind noise but not eliminate it entirely.


Many cameras allow users to switch audio recording on and off.

Higher-specified cameras include a socket which accepts an external microphone. It’s usually fitted via the camera’s hot shoe. In other cameras, the optional microphone is plugged into a dedicated accessory port. Entry-level CSCs seldom support add-on microphones.


Microphone level adjustment with a typical CSC that supports stereo recording. Note the separate adjustments for the left and right microphones on the right hand side of the screen.

Image Stabilisation

Regardless of whether a CSC uses sensor-shift or lens-based stabilisation, this function is important when shooting movies. But don’t be surprised if frames are cropped slightly to ensure subjects stay in the same position on the screen. (Digital image stabilisation always crops frames.)

Shoot a couple of test movies before embarking on a serious project to see how much of the screen is cropped. Some cameras will crop the live view feed slightly to give an accurate preview of what it will record when set to movie mode.

Don’t expect miracles from stabilisation in movie mode because most systems are designed for still photography which only needs stability for a fraction of a second. And no system can fully compensate for wavy panning or jerking of the camera when you change settings while recording or switch suddenly from one subject to another. You can, however, expect the tiny jitters produced by hand shake to be significantly reduced.


Stabilisation improves your chances of obtaining jitter-free movies and makes it easier to track moving subjects, especially with telephoto lenses.


A tripod is recommended when recording movies in low light levels, as shown here, particularly when image stability is essential.

Shooting Tips

Creating engaging movies takes practice and involves some approaches and techniques that don’t apply when shooting stills. The following tips will help you to produce watchable movies.

1. Aim to tell a story. Unless you plan on editing, record only the important moments and assemble them in sequence to let users re-live the event.

2. Shoot from several different vantage points to provide variety and add interest to the story the movie presents.

3. Frame shots carefully and, where possible, fill the frame with the subject. Use space to suggest situations like isolation or crowding; close-ups to make connections between subjects and viewers. Leave a comfortable amount of headroom above the subject’s head.

4. Don’t over-use the zoom while shooting. It’s better to change the focal length before the clip starts; pause and re-adjust than to attempt to cover a wide zoom range in a single shot. Be sparing with zooming and if you need to zoom in and out, take it slowly and steadily.

5. Use special effects only when they will add value to the viewer’s experience. It’s better to add effects when editing movies than as part of the shooting process.

6. Use special effects only when they will add value to the viewer’s experience.

7. Practice holding shots for 10 to 20 seconds (or longer). While you may use only five to 15 seconds, you want to make sure the focus isn’t changing during the shot, ensure there is no unwanted panning or zooming, and that you have enough extra footage each end of the shots to insert transitions when shots are combined to make a movie.  

8. Watch your lighting and avoid contrasty situations that produce very dark shadows that contain no details or bright, blown-out highlights. Use a video light on the camera to counteract backlighting (where the light comes from behind the subject). LED lights are ideal for these situations and often affordably priced.


Excerpt from  Compact System Camera Guide.