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Shooting With HDV

Expert, Well-Tested Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your HDV Camera By Heath McKnight

In my previous article (click here to read), I discussed the many different HDV (high definition video) camera options out there, from JVC, Sony and Canon, with Sharp, the fourth party involved in the HDV consortium (http:///www.hdv-info.org), not yet discussing or shipping any HDV cameras as of yet. The ultimate advice I can give is, no matter what youre shooting, any one of those cameras can handle all forms of digital videography and cinematography. I will recommend sticking with HDV cameras that give you 100% manual control. This article will give you expert, well-tested tips on getting the most out of whichever HDV camera you choose.

All the ?rules of standard definition videography still apple, focus, zoom, framing, etc., but with some new twists. Im going to take a few moments to go through each one:


High definition (HD) can be anywhere from around twice (720p) to over four times (1080i/p) the quality of standard definition video (NTSC, 480i/p or PAL, 576i/p); with those numbers, focus becomes critical. I cant stress this enough?in SD, being slightly out of focus wont tip of viewers that something may not be right. Ive shot and screened enough SD video on anything from a small calibrated monitor to a movie theatre screen, and if something was slightly off focus, the audience gave no real indication they noticed it.

However, when shooting on 720p or 1080i/p, if something is even very slightly off, the audience will see it. Again, Ive shot and screened both 720p and 1080i/p HDV on everything from SDTVs to HDTVs and in a theatre on a big screen, and its very noticeable. Many in the audience in one screening commented that a shot looked a little soft.


So what can you do to ensure your footage will be in focus? First thing is, get yourself a calibrated monitor, and make sure its not just an off-the-shelf TV, SD or HD. If you cant afford a professional monitor, which both Sony and JVC sell, among others and starting at $1000, buy a small Sony Vvega TV. Many of the components are similar to Sonys higher-end monitors and can be used to effectively monitor your video and know there will be a level of accuracy. Try to buy one of the larger Vvega Tvs, as they support letterboxing, while the smaller ones do not.

When calibrating the monitor, use the Blue Gun, or Blue Only, and calibrate the color. Turn that off to adjust the image brightness/contrast, and always remember to use SMPTE color bars to ensure accuracy. If youre using a Vvega, hook up your HDV camera to the TV and put up the color bars (standard bars are fine), then hold a 47B CTB (color temperature blue) gel to your eyes to calibrate the color.

Using a monitor also helps with framing, image quality, etc., in addition to focus. Now, what if youre in the field and a silent generator isnt nearby? This is where Sony, JVC and Canon have really intergrated some wonderful tools into their cameras.

Sonys Z1u (and V1u?I need to double-check) is/are the only HDV cameras that come with the only LCD that can be calibrated and used as a monitor, but thats the only camera in this price range that can do that. If you decide to use the LCD, make sure you calibrate it accurately, and use a lens hood, like one from Hoodman (http://www.hoodmanusa.com). But remember, if you dont have a Z1 (or V1?Ill double check), do NOT use the LCD to set up focus or brightness. It wont be accurate; use the viewfinder, which is more accurate, but not 100%.

All the professional cameras come with focus assists, and the Sony FX1 has some options, too, similar to the Z1 and V1. Sony provides Peaking, which can be set in the menu to ?draw a color around objects when theyre in focus. The colors can be either red, yellow or white (the FX1 can only do white), and can be set to three levels of ?thickness. I recommend using red, if you have the Z1 or V1, because this color isnt seen as much as white or yellow.

The other cameras have Peaking, too, which only shows up in the viewfinder or LCD, but not on an external monitor or tape, and include other colors, like blue. Remember, peaking helps out because the objects or people you are focusing on will suddenly have a colored outline around them when the image is in focus.

Another great tool on most of the HDV cameras, is the ability to have the image double, usually while not recording though this may change soon, to help with focus. Even if you feel like you have your focus, by zooming in and grabbing it, hit the expander button to get in twice as close, and youd be surprised to see its likely still a little soft.

With HDV being focus-critical, always use a combination of calibrated monitor, peaking and expanded focus to ensure youre getting a clear shot. Nothing screams amateur and unprofessional more than an image thats out of focus. That and bad audio, but thats another story.


If youve never shot in widescreen 16x9 (thats 16 long and 9 high), now is the time to ?go back to school, so to speak. When shooting in 4:3 (standard, square image), how you compose the shot is very important. Too many empty spaces can distract the viewer, and things should try to look laid out nice. The best way to do this is was to break the image up into thirds, vertically and horizontally. This is called the Rule of Thirds. You end up with nine equal-sized boxes that help with shot composition. This is big in both photography and cinematography.

Rule of thirds for 4x3 DV footage. ? MPS Digital Studios

However, shots are limited because of the amount of space within the frame. Interviews have to be done with the two people sitting so close, there knees are touching; two- or three-shots have to shot wider, losing intimacy with the subject and the viewer; and so on.

But with widescreen comes added ?real estate on both the left and right sides of the frame. Ive seen some videographers shoot in native 16x9 and still frame it in the dead center with two-shots, which would look good in 4x3, but not in widescreen. So how can one re-learn how to frame in widescreen? Easy, the Rule of Thirds.

Rule of thirds for 16x9 HDV footage (no color correction). (c) MPS Digital Studios


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Related Keywords:HDV, shooting video in HDV, videography, acquistion, camerman, cinemaography, film production, professional video camera, independent film production


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