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Basic Video Camera Settings Improve Footage Quality

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One of my favorite sayings in this business is "we'll fix it in Post."  But in all reality, there are some very basic camera settings that you can adjust that will improve the quality of your footage; whether you're using a small consumer video camera that doesn't have all the settings or a high end pro camera, such as the SonyEX1, the concept is the same.


IRIS:  the Iris is the part of the lens that opens and closes to let in more or less light.  You can see big differences in your shots just by adjusting the iris.  Usually you will see the iris setting on your video camera screen shown as the letter F and then a number which defines how open or shut the iris is.  Your camera may limit how far you can open your iris, depending on the amount of light it detects.  Usually you'll want to start with it as far open as possible, which is usually F2.0, or in some cases F1.8; then close it til your footage darkens to the appropriate level. 
Remember:
  • the higher the number, the more closed the iris is and less light is allowed in
  • the lower the number, the more open the iris is and more light is allowed in
SHUTTER SPEED:  your shutter speed describes how long the camera's sensor records the image coming into the camera.  Just like in still cameras, how fast the shutter opens and closes when taking a picture.  Shutter Speed usually shows up on your video camera screen as a fraction, such as 1/60.  Shutter speed will affect the appearance of motion being filmed; the higher amount will allow for smoother shots in high motion subjects, while a lower number will result in jerky movements.  The shutter speed affects lighting as well:  a higher shutter speed will darken your image due to the sensor spending more time closed.  A lower speed allows more light in due to the sensor being exposed for a longer time. 
Remember:
  • higher shutter speed allows for smoother shots of higher motion, but darkens shot
  • lower shutter speed results in jerkier shots of higher motion, but brightens shot
  • if you adjust your shutter speed, you'll most likely need to re-adjust iris setting in order to get back to the correct light levels 
GAIN:  gain basically amplifies the electrical signal being recorded by your camera's sensor.  Gain allows the shooter to enhance the picture in low light situations, which can be helpful in situations where you don't have any external lighting, for example at a wedding reception where lights are turned down low on the dance floor.  Gain is shown on most video camera menu screens as a number followed by DB, for decibels.  The default setting on your camera should be set at 0DB.  Any number higher means that your gain is turned on.  A major disadvantage to using gain however, can cause your picture to be distorted, so use with caution! 
Remember:
  • gain helps in low light situations
  • can lower image quality with distortions
  • try to avoid using gain as much as possible
WHITE BALANCE:  probably the most important setting of all; even the lowest end of consumer video cameras will have a white balance setting, or at least in the form of automatic white balancing.  Often you'll notice that regardless of lighting, the coloring on your camera seems "not quite right" when you first turn on the camera.  White Balance tells the camera what the color white is supposed to be, and once it knows that, the rest of the colors are shown more accurately.  If you can, you should always set the white balance on your camera manually because leaving the white balance on automatic will constantly change the white color as the lighting changes and that will show up on your camera.  When it comes to setting your white balance manually, it may differ from camera to camera, so it's a good idea to refer to your camera users manual to make sure it's done correctly.  Basically the idea is to set your white balance by zooming in on a White Balance Card, or simply just a piece of white poster board. 
Remember:
  • most important setting
  • always set white balance manually if you can
It's important to understand that some video cameras do not have all of these settings and you may have to refer to your camera's user manual to find out which settings or features your camera has and how to access them.  But by taking the time to adjust your settings correctly you can get the best possible image on film and take your footage to new heights!

Be sure to check out our Video Production Class which teaches a contemporary video production workflow, and give us a call today!

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