Camera, Lenses, and Lighting – Update

I’m researching for cameras and lighting, mainly using the archives of right now [ read this thread ]. Since I know I’m going for a DSLR the information I’m trying to find out falls into the categories of lenses, focusing, apertures, and possibly flicker and light issues in regard to camera settings. Video assist for onion-skinning is a related issue as well.

D50/D70 Tip: “Fixed! For the benefit of anyone following this thread in the future, to solve the “no camera found” problem, use the menu on the D70 itself, and select USB settings, change from Mass Storage to PTP.
It’ll work then, be nice if Nikon had the bright idea of mentioning this small but crucial detail in the installation/help guide…”

Here is the info I’ve collected so far:

Tips on how to mount a spycam to the viewfinder.

Eric and Olario’s spy cam choice.

Here is Olario’s recent listing of camera set up:


D50 body
Nikkor 24mm AIS f2.8mm f 2.8 (on it’s way)
Micro-Nikkor AIS 55mm f/2.8(bidding on ebay as we speak)

Manfrotto 410 (3275) head
475B (3236) Legs

Stop Motion Pro V5 SD (will upgrade from educational version I already had)

0.003 lux bullet camera w/ 16mm lens (Eric’s setup)

Plextor PX-AV100U Analog-digital video converter ( at $50 after rebate)

  • a DSLR camera with full manual control (nikon d50, d70 or the canon 300d or 350d seem to be the two common DSLR preferences right now)
  • Mixing camera bodies with opposite lenses via Adapter Rings defeat the electronic communication between camera and lens so that you don’t have to unscrew the lens from the body. Thus, a Nikon Camera with Canon Lenses via Adapter Ring (like Novoflex) OR a Canon Camera with Nikon Lenses via Adapter Ring (like Novoflex)
  • lenses between 28mm and 70mm (either prime or zoom)
  • prime lens option to get started: a single 28mm and a single 55mm would suffice (add a 17mm in if needed)
  • tele lens option to get started: one 28mm – 70mm
  • macro rings may help magnify things and also help you focus closer
  • lenses must have a manual focus option
  • AIS manual focus prime lenses may be cheaper and are preferred
  • AF auto focus lenses, prime or zoom, will work if the lens allows for manual settings
  • aperture ring control must be on the outside of any lens
  • preferred f-stop settings seem to be around f4 and can go up to f8
  • Lighting: Par Can lighting in 48, 20, 16 sizes.
  • Cameras: Nikon D50 (replaced the D70) or Canon 300D or 350D
  • Prime Lenses with aperture on outside and manual focus: (Nikkor for Nikon) 55mm, 28mm, 17mm

Links to forum threads related to, or having info about cameras, lenses, and settings:

Tips from animators:

  • Leevi: “How to unscrew a lens slightly to remove flicker:

    1. Set the aperture to minimum from the lens.
    2. Look through the viewfinder and start unscrewing very slowly.
    3. When the viewfinder doesn’t get any darker, the lens has been unscrewed correctly.

    (4. If you want, you can make another locking hole to the lens. That’s what I did.)”

  • Eric: “* Nikon Camera with Canon Lenses via Adapter Ring (like Novoflex) OR
    * Canon Camera with Nikon Lenses via Adapter Ring (like Novoflex)

    This defeats electronic communication between camera and lens so that you don’t have to unscrew the lens from the body.”

  • Miles: “Just remember to buy lenses with the aperture on the outside of the lens so the lens can be turned slightly to stop aperture exposure fuxuation”.
  • Leevi: “Even with manual lenses you have to unscrew the lens a bit. It’s not mainly because of the electronic connectors but to prevent aperture from moving between the shots. I have made another locking hole to the lens”. “I’ve used both AF and manual lenses. They both can be set to fully manual operation, if they have an aperture ring on the lens. Manual focusing lenses normally have smoother feel to the focusing ring. Otherwise they work the same. Manual lenses and especially manual prime lenses tend to be sharper than AF lenses (at least if you don’t go for best Nikon roughly 1500usd AF lens).

    So, both can be used without flickering, but there’s no point to pay extra for a good AF lens if a cheaper MF lenses do a better job.” (NOTE: I had read on a photography web site that you should get the maximum aperture you can for the money since the lower number lets in more light – ie. a max of f2.8 is better but more expensive than a max of f4 — Leevi says the max aperture isn’t really an issue.)” “I like using 80-200mm lens with 35mm photography portrait shots of real humans, but I think it’s too tele for most of the puppet shots I do. I mostly use 28mm-70mm range with animation. It’s easier to control more natural depth of field with wider lenses than with tele lenses. Also 3D space, in your puppet sets, is easier to get with wider lenses.” “Macro rings makes it possible to focus closer, but you’ll lose some focusing range in the other end. So they also make the magnification larger. It’s better to get as thin macro rings as possible. 2cm is already very extreme and probably not usable in puppet animation. With too thick rings you’ll be able to focus only to the behind of the camera I’ve made some my self, but never bought one.”

  • Nick: “Yes, you still unscrew with manual lenses, to stop the camera opening up the aperture and closing it down again every time you take a shot. I didn’t at first, and I got flicker. Partly unscrewed, no flicker.” “I am using manual focus AIS lenses. They are all prime lenses, and I always partly unscrew them for animation so they stay stopped down all the time. Some auto focus lenses are ok I think, because you can set them to manual. But the 18 – 70 AF zoom lens that came with the D70 is not suitable, because the aperture is controlled by the camera body. It is a good general purpose lens for still photography, so the extra lenses I bought were all for stop motion only. Since I don’t use them for anything else, there is no benefit in Auto Focus. I feel a little more secure knowing that the lens can only change settings if I physically turn something on it.” “Long lenses (like 80mm or more) have a very shallow depth of field, it might be so shallow that not only is the background out of focus (which can be a good thing), but part of the puppet may be as well (not so good). An 80-to-200 is nice for a lot of outdoor photography, great for wildlife or concerts where you can’t get close enough, but I haven’t found it useful for animation. With my Nikon lens kit for the Mitchell, the 80mm ended up never being used at all.
    The 55mm macro lets me make the puppet head more than fill the height of the frame, which is as close as I need to ever go. With that plus the 28mm I can get the shots I need.

    Those tips would apply to all lenses used in manual mode. Unscrewing the lens a bit would probably disable the auto focus, and it would flash error messages or something. In fact it would disable all auto functions, which is why you need actual physical controls on the lens itself.”

  • Susanna Jerger: “I used the lense that comes in the 300d-kit, when I switched over to the 350 d (broken shutter), I only bought the body. For some shots I used an autofocus “sigma” (70-210 mm) tele lens and an autofocus 28-70 mm “canon” lens, which both came off a friends analog autofocus reflex camera. I always used manual settings and of course switched the lenses to “manual” focus. For makro-close-ups I used intermediate close-up lense rings.”
  • Faywray: “The only thing we do to avoid flicker is to use manual lenses and use the 2nd smallest F stop.” and “We used to partially unscrew lenses until we found out that it wasn’t needed, but probably an extra security…we only use AIS manual lenses now…”.

Tips for focusing:

  • FOCUSING TIP #1: Miles “We printed out a page of a4 paper with writing from the smallest font up to the largest font. Then we just cut the page depending on what size you need to focus on (matchbox size is good for a puppet head)held up by wire and tape . We just place the paper at the same distance as the puppet(making sure it’s on one of the 5 focus points. Then focus the lens barrel till the green focus dot in the viewfinder comes on solidly. then take a test shot.

    We have found that if you can read the 6th line down of writing on a photo then it is in focus. Sometimes going by hair strands on a puppet to see if it is in focus, is just not reliable.”

  • FOCUSING TIP #2: Leevi “Sometimes I shoot test with a ruler horizontally on the set, so I know by a centimeter how long is the sharp area. I’m not actually measuring the distance, but just to see what digits on the ruler are sharp.”
  • FOCUSING TIP #3: Nick “I focus with the lens wide open, then stop down to f-11, and take a test shot to look at. Often the puppet will move closer or further during the shot so I need a bit of depth of field to cover that movement anyway. (Changing focus during the shot can cause barrelling, a zoom effect, so I avoid it if possible.) Since I had less depth of field when I focused by eye than when I stopped down and took the shot, I’m usually ok.”

Tips on flicker:

  • It could be the lighting or the electricity powering the lighting. Electric line conditioners and quality of lights should be considered. The other idea has to do with the aperture opening and closing with each shot and small fluctuations in the size of the opening cause flicker. That is why some of the tips say to keep things manual instead of automatic and unscrewing the lens a bit ensures the camera body is disengaged from the lens so there isn’t any doubt about automatic settings taking over.

Here is a tip from the Wombok Forest production blog that could come in handy regarding lights and video assist.

Something interesting we have not mentioned before that we had to work out with the spy camera we have been using as our video split. Because we are shooting long exposures with the Nikon (around one second) there is not enough light for the spy camera to see anything through the viewfinder, especially if the Nikon’s aperture is stopped down. We built two light switches on the side of our computer trolly one to turn on a light that is bright enough for the spy camera (75watt bulb) to see and one to turn off the tv monitor which often reflects light on the set. So we turn on the light to animate by and then after we have animated we take a frame on our looping computer – turn off both monitor and light and take a frame on the Nikon computer. Hey it all works for us and if the shot is 800 frames those switches get turned off and on 800 times. Surprisingly the finished shot is flicker free.

While we are talking about flicker problems we thought we would mention and idea we have had about different kinds of lights. One thing we have noticed was that when we use a tungsten bulb of any kind we get light fluctuations. We have done a few tests with this and it does seem to make a difference. We 99% of the time use small 12volt 20wat/50wat halogen desk lamps which we cannibalize to suit us. With these lights we have not had any exposure fluctuations.

2 responses to “Camera, Lenses, and Lighting – Update”

  1. Hey D.G.,

    Thanks for the kind words on “Valley of Gwombi”..the trailer for “Man Drawing a Reclining Woman” looks great! I love the semi-exposed armatures…and your behind-the-scenes stills “Vitruvius” are outstanding…can’t wait to see more of your work!

  2. Hi and thank you for the compliments on my animation projects. Also, I agree with your blog entry regarding the Robot Chicken DVD. I picked up some ideas from watching the clips and the extra features as well.