DSLR Full-Manual (avoiding flicker) extremely confused.

I've been reading a lot of threads in a lot of forums, and I'm still flabbergasted about how complicated this topic is to fully understand. I'm hoping someone with experience can help clarify the "digital lense flicker" epidemic for me. I'm looking to buy a camera, but I'm frozen with too much panic and confusion to make that move just yet.

#1. Is it really true that all DSLR cameras simply don't allow full manual control over focus, aperture, ISO, and shutter speed? There are absolutely no settings that could be changed to allow full manual control over these things?

#2. OR - is it the digital lenses that cause "flicker"? Same as above: is there absolutely no way to just flick a switch that would tell the lens to stop messing about and just surrender control to the photographer? This seems crazy to me.

#3. Shouldn't the settings of the camera (body) be able to force the lens to stop auto adjusting, and just keep the manual settings that the photographer chooses?

#4. I'm looking to get a Cannon Rebel T3i or a Cannon 60D soon. (I need the full HD resolution, otherwise I'd be looking at a T1 or T2, etc...). I'm nervous to buy anything, because I'm unsure exactly what else I need to even be able to use it. lol... Apparently the lens socket is EF-S, which I've read is backward-compatible with SLR lenses, and still compatible with EF lenses. I read here that SLR lenses don't have the flicker problem, so does anyone know for sure if I could use an SLR lense on this camera, and if it's also true that SLR lenses don't create flicker?

In general, I'm simply overwhelmed with confusion about why the only solution to avoid flicker caused by digital lenses seems to be to get a Cannon body, a fotodiox lens adapter, and a Nikkor lens... Why is this the case? Are the big studios that film animations like Box Trolls and Coraline and Corpse Bride needing to do this as well, or is this just a problem with consumer-grade DSLR cameras? It just seems so silly to me that this is even something to worry about. In my mind, I'm finding it hard to accept that there isn't a way to turn all these auto-features off, and - bing - problem solved. 

I'm just having trouble understanding how to get around the issue in the least complicated and least expensive way, despite reading an overwhelming amount of information on this "DSLR Flicker" topic for weeks. Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

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the focus distance of a lens is usually listed as part of the technical specs. look at b&h's website, they often state the minimum/close focus distance. and also- if you are going to be using a 7d or one in the rebel range (t3i etc) you might want to consider a 35 mm as a starting point. again, you'll make what you get work, but on those smaller sensor cameras a 35mm behaves more like a 50mm on a full sized sensor camera like the 5d (or 35mm film camera) in that a 35mm lens yields about a 1:1 ratio when compared to your eyeballs. in any case, its a good one to have in your kit. 

I really can't thank you all enough. This is all so helpful to me, and I would imagine a lot of other people will find this thread very useful as well. The whole community here seems very friendly. Couldn't have found a better place to learn and share stop-motion. :)

So on my quest to build a starter camera kit, I've went ahead and got the mount adapter, a metal macro tube set, and the 55mm macro I shared a link to earlier.

I did want a 35mm, and that would cover mid-close range based on what Nick and Ri have shared, so I'm looking at a couple of those as well. It looks like a prime 35mm is not a very inexpensive lens, so I'll have to see how this plays out.

As an all-purpose lens that would pair well with the macro tubes, I'm also still looking for an 18-70mm (or round about there) zoom, but I haven't found any yet that are AI or AI-S, so the search continues. I will probably get a 35mm before I get a zoom if I find a good deal on one. 

At the end of the day, I think I want to make sure I at least get a 24mm or 28mm, or all my shots will be close ups with what I've got so far. hahaha. But it would be great to get a 35mm or zoom as well at a good price and in good condition if I can find it.

Am I kidding myself trying to get all three lenses (24, 35, 18-70 zoom) under $300 usd, or even just the 24 and 35? It probably seems excessive, but the more the merrier when learning what makes things unique, right? :D

I might be wrong but a 24 or 28mm is a "wide angle" lens, it does not have to say "wide" in the description. you just need one with low mm.

Mike said:

24mm (normal) F2.8 - I think I'm looking specifically for "wide" though.

28mm wide angle F2.8

Had some pretty good luck on ebay. Finally ended up going with these.

Nikkor 24mm F2.8 AI-S
Nikkor 35mm F2.8 AI-S (Nippon Kogaku)
Nikkor 55mm F3.5 AI Micro

I'll get a body after I save a bit more. Think I'm definitely leaning toward a 60D, or a 7D if I can find a good one used. Really excited to get to use these soon.

Thanks a bunch everyone! All of your insight really helped me make much more informed decisions instead of just picking at random and hoping for the best. I really appreciate it alot. I learned quite a bit here in this past week.

Can't wait to make some films. Yahoo!

This has been a really interesting thread, with great detailed advice from Nick.

I'll just add my two pennyworth, from the POV of someone who took the plunge with equipment a year ago. I had some old OM lenses, so that was the obvious way to go. I bought a Canon 600d/T3i, and it performed faultlessly until I suddenly got a flicker problem. Having eliminated just about everything else I assumed it was the camera, sent it back and Canon fiddled with it but didn't really seem to say anything was actually wrong. See the 'Mysterious Flicker' thread for the gory details.

Now I have found the problem at last. It was nothing to do with the camera, but with settings in Dragonframe. There is a little padlock way down on the Cinematography page which links the exposures together, and I had inadvertently left it open, so the software was treating each exposure as if it was a new take. So do check this when you get started!

Sorry if this seems a little off-thread, but you started by asking about flicker. FWIW my combination of Canon body, manual lenses, some close-up adapter lenses and long exposures are now giving lovely results. I needed some ND filters as well to keep the long exposure with small aperture.

One last thing - some people use a power conditioner - Nick mentioned his very sophisticated set-up - but I have read that the cheap Furman ones are not much more than the surge preventing adapter cables that one can get quite cheaply everywhere. It seems a good idea to protect the gear with at least one of these. 

Thanks for that tip, Simon! With the way this project has been going, I wouldn't be surprised if that ended up catching me by surprise when I finally get to shooting  hahaha.  Sorry it took this long to reply. I must've missed an update for this post. 

Well, I got my lenses, and borrowed a T2i to experiment with them. Lot's of fun. My favorite so far is the 24mm (which works out to basically be a 38mm when you take the sensor size into consideration. But I'm finally getting ready to make the plunge to get my own camera! yahoo!

As far as I can tell, my Nikkor Ai-S lenses are not digital, so does that mean that I could (in theory) go ahead and get a Nikon DSLR and not worry about a lens flicker issue? 

Originally I was looking at getting a Canon T3i or a 60D, but now I'm considering getting a Nikon D5100... It has a larger sensor and much better light sensitivity. I haven't checked to see if it has live-view, but I'm pretty sure all DSLRs do.

So I guess the final question concerning this thread is: Are Ai-S lenses full manual, and is that all one would really be looking for to negate the lens flicker issue, or will I run into lens flicker if I try to use these on a Nikon camera?

I first got my Nikon AI and AI-S lenses to use on a Nikon D70. As general purpose cameras I prefer Nikons - more sensible controls, less assuming the photographer is an idiot than Canon. Your lenses would be fully manual, no electronics in there.  Focus and aperture can only be set by turning the rings on the lens barrel with your hands.

I found I had to partly unscrew the the lenses - not because of the camera trying to control them automatically, but so the iris would not open up between shots, and stop down again the instant the shutter is released.  That's normal practice for still cameras, so you get a bright view through the viewfinder, but movie cameras don't do that.  The lens does not always stop down exactly the same each time,  so you get some very small exposure variations.  If I correct in TV paint, it is about 1 % to 1.5 % variation, perfectly fine for stills but a noticeable flicker for animation.  Rotating the lens in the mount means the little levers can't physically reach each other, so the iris stays stopped down to where you set it, all the time.    

You can see the lever on the back of your lens, push it with your finger and the iris opens up, let go and it springs back to whatever f-stop is set.  

The view is darker, so you have to use more compensation in Dragonframe or StopMotion Pro to brighten up the live view, but it gets rid of that cause of flicker. 

The D70 was before live view on DSLRs, that's the main reason I updated to a Canon body. I had to use a little spy cam sitting behind the viewfinder for video assist, and it was getting dodgy, with colour cutting out and coming back in.  (Also had uneven AC voltage, but I thought it was the camera. )  But at the time, the Caliri Bros (dragonframe developers) found that the Nikon with live view had a habit of shutting itself off to prevent overheating, but the Canon bodies just kept on going.  

I don't know about the recent model Nikons.  If that one thing is fixed I would prefer them.

Great information, Nick. Thank you. That's exactly what I needed to know.

This is a tough choice. The Nikon bodies seem to have the best bang for the buck. On snapsort.com they rate the image quality of the Nikon D5200 at 84 compared to the Canon 60D at 66, and the Nikon is $50 less.

Doing a bit of searching, I found that the newer Nikons do have a menu to adjust the length of the auto-off timer, but I can't find a specific list of options for it. The self timer can be set for up to an hour, so I would assume you could at least set it to match that.

I went to a lecture by Tristan Oliver, who did the cinematography on Paranorman and others. His view is to prefer Nikon, on the grounds that Canon seem to regard a higher rate of dead pixels as acceptable, but Canon have some better features and a better Live View. He was using 60 Canon 5D MkIIs at a go, so should know.


Interesting. Makes me wonder why he still went with Canon MKIIs.

He says in the article, "We tested every off-the-shelf digital SLR camera that can provide live view and the high-resolution raw image files we needed, and we found that the Canon EOS 5D Mark II live view is far superior to any of the others."

As far as I can research, Canons seem to be the body of choice for all major stop-motion films. I guess live-view is considered one of the more important features. I would assume image quality would take higher priority, but that's me. As long as there is just *a* live-view, one can still animate easily. Maybe it's a compromise to accommodate the cinematographer's needs as well?

This is a very interesting subject. 

There is an auto-off timer on my Canons that comes in when you don't take a frame for too long, like when setting up lights and working out best camera position.  Dragonframe just gives you a prompt to re-start,  you hit the key (no. 4 key I think, but the prompt tells you) and carry on animating, so that is no big deal.  It switches on instantly, and all the camera and scene settings are still the same.  Seems to be around 10 or 15 minutes to me, but might be more, I haven't checked the time.  Once I am off and animating I rarely see it, only if I have a problem like if I have to drill a new tiedown hole, and move the puppet out of the way and put it back and fiddle about to match the position, something that takes a long time.  Or answer the phone. Taking a shot every 2 minutes, it doesn't switch off.  I think that may be a different thing to the switching off to prevent overheating.  If that is to prevent damage, you wouldn't be able to set it to a longer time.  But if it is switching off because the camera thinks you aren't using it and just forgot, it makes sense to be able to set the timer.

When Corpse Bride first used the Canon body/Nikon lens combo, the Canon sensors had better image quality, with less noise.  That is no longer true.  But that probably kicked off the use of Canons for stop motion.  I didn't find it an issue anyway, because I kept my Nikon D70 set at the slowest setting of 200 ISO.  The noise only came in at 400 or 800 ISO, and with longish exposures I didn't need that, so I was very happy with the images from my Nikon, even back in 2006.  Without live view the overheating issue doesn't come up, so I never saw that on my old non live view model.

We've been following this thread since its inception, taking notes and learning quite a bit from the experiences of others. So yesterday I had another look at one of our walk test clips (#3) to see how bad the flicker was. And, no surprise, it was really bad.  Funny, but neither of us had ever taken notice of it before, being more concerned with puppet movement and the use of tie-downs.  All three clips were shot with a Canon T2i with the stock kit lens. We had a 50mm Nikon AI-S lens to use but just wanted to fool around a bit with the puppet and Dragonframe (trail version) so it stayed in the box.  

So, here's an example of really bad stop motion flicker. Next bit of filming we do with the Canon will be with the Nikon lens on it. Also looking for an AI-S 28mm on eBay for a reasonable price, but that might take some looking.  They usually go for a price.


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