Basic video production with the Canon 6D

This guide was made for students in my documentary production course, who have access to the 6D through the JEM equipment room.

Check out

The 6d kits can be checked out for 1 day at a time. If you need to have the camera for more than one day (e.g., an out of town shoot), you must make arrangements in advance with both me and Clint Elmore, JEM’s video production specialist. You can find more information about the equipment room and its schedule and policies at their website.

When you check out the 6D you will get the following:

  1. The 6D body
  2. A 24–105 Canon L-series lens
  3. An Audio-Technica 10 series wireless kit
  4. A Rode shotgun mic
  5. An on-camera 150w light
  6. A tripod (in additional bag)
  7. A Tascam audio recorder (in additional bag)

Please check all the equipment to make sure it works before you leave the equipment room.

Basic use

To start shooting video, all you need to do is turn the camera on and flip it in to the video mode. For many situations (especially those with consistent light), the automatic mode is pretty accurate. Long term you should shoot in one the manual modes covered below, but to start the green auto mode might be fine. To begin recording all you need to do is hit the start/stop button inside the video/photo switch.

Shooting manual

Shooting in manual gives you the ability to control the output of the camera. Therefore, manual shooting allows you to make artistic and editorial decisions about the look and feel of the video you are shooting.

There are basically two manual modes on the 6d:

  • “P” for program — you have some control to adjust the exposure
  • “M” for fully manual — you control both the shutter speed and the aperture (or iris)

In both manual modes, you can also take control of the white balance and audio levels. We’ll cover that a bit later.

Program mode

To get to program mode just turn the top dial from the green automatic setting to the “P” setting. Once in the “P” mode, you will be able to adjust the exposure using the rotating the wheel on the back of the camera.

Scroll the button to the left or right to change the exposure of your scene.

Here is an example of how the image changes when you adjust the exposure. [Sidenote: Henry and I build that rad Lego airplane over winter break. It’s a recuse plane, in case you’re wondering.]

The image to the left is five stops underexposed; the image to the right is five stops overexposed.

Using the program mode can be a simple way to override the automatic exposure in a tricky light setting, like when your subject is back lit, but it doesn’t give control over how the camera creates that exposure. Therefore, you have control of the final exposure, but you don’t have direct control over your iris, shutter speed or ISO, all of which can affect the look and feel of the image.

Manual mode

To get to the manual mode, just turn the dial on the top of the camera to the “M” setting. In manual, you have complete control over your aperture (or iris), shutter speed and ISO.

To adjust the shutter speed (variable from 1/30 to 1/4000 of a second), scroll the index finger dial on the front of the camera. The aperture is controlled by the thumb wheel on the back of the camera.

To adjust the ISO, hold in the ISO button and scroll the shutter speed dial.

With control of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you can have control of your depth of field, the noise in the shot and the crispness of each frame of your video (which is important if you want to slow down the video).

White balance

As I mentioned earlier, in both program mode “P” and in manual “M” you can manually control the white balance.

What is white balance? Not all light is the same color. Sunlight is blueish (or cool or 5600 degrees Kelvin) and an incandescent light is yellowish (or warm or 3200 degrees Kelvin). Because of the variability of light, we need to tell the camera the color or temperature of the light we are shooting in. The camera will then adjust everything to compensate.

The auto white balance on the 6D is pretty good, but you often need to flip over to manual for three reasons:

  1. You might have multiple light sources which confuse the camera, like in an office with a window (5600 K) and a overhead light (3200 K).
  2. You might be using one of the LED light kits and you want everything set to the same temp.
  3. You might be shooting a scene where the light is changing and you don’t want the camera constantly correcting.

To use the manual white balance, start by hitting the “Q” button on the back of the camera.

After you hit the “Q” button, move the up and down thumb button on the back of the camera until you get to the AWB box (for auto white balance). On the bottom of the screen, you will see the various white balance presets, such as the sun for daylight white balance (5600 K). If you scroll all the way over to the right, you’ll see two options.

The last one — which is highlighted — allows you to dial in whatever color temp you want, ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 K. Once you select it, you hit the info button and then use the thumb wheel on the back of the camera to set the white balance to the temperature you need.

The other manual setting allows you to set your white balance, based on something actually white within your scene. On the 6D, this is a convoluted process.

Step 1: You need to take a picture of something white in the scene. I could take a close-up of the nose of my plane.

Step 2: Go into the third photo tab on the menu and set the “Custom White Balance” image to the photo you just took.

Step 3: Go back into the white balance menu from above and pick the weird little symbol right before the color temp selection option. The white balance should be set based on the the white in the image you took in step 1.

Audio control

Within the 6D, you can also control the audio when you are in either of the manual settings. To flip in to manual, hit the menu button and the go to the second video tab. Change the “sound rec.” option to manual and then you can adjust the record level up and down.

While this is all possible and will save you in a crunch, if you need to do anything beyond very basic audio recording you should use the Tascam audio recorder.

Associate Professor of Journalism and Director of Land Grant Films (@LandGrantFilms) at the University of Tennessee.