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Autofocus or manual focus camera for steadicam?


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#1 Jose Milan

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Posted 16 February 2008 - 07:05 AM

Hello,

I'm brand new in this steadicam world and want to buy one, for medium size cameras in the like of glidecam x-10 for example. But the question comes from what would be a good type of camera to use with a steadicam, I know trully profesionnals might be using only manual focus cameras, but trully don't know how they do it?...keep the rig steady and focus at the same time?

I was thinking of using a JVC 110 E ...but thinking about the focus aspect worries me a little and would probably would need a big lcd screen to check focus from a distance...whould it be better to buy an autofucus camera and not worry to much about the focus. I would like to learn with the JVC better, but if going to take too long to get the feel of it, maybe it would be better to choose an autofucus camera (maybe a Canon XH G1 or a Sony HVR-Z1) and worry a little less about this topic. Or would be possible to learn to use the JVC and the steadi rig in a resonable time?

I want to use the steadi system for realstate and car promotions.

Thanks in advance for all experts out there.

Jose
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#2 Charles Papert

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Posted 16 February 2008 - 03:45 PM

In most situations, a camera assistant handles focus remotely with a wireless system. Some folks who do broadcast events have focus pots on the gimbal handle so they can set it themselves, but usually the shots do not require the same sort of constant attention in focus as they do on feature-type situations.

Most 1/3" cameras, like the ones you specify, can be left at around 6 feet on the lens and they will hold just about everything in focus until you zoom in significantly. You should probably pick whichever camera serves your overall needs and not worry about the presence of autofocus for your stabilizer shots.

For the type of work you are describing, I would imagine that you would not only be shooting at wide angle most of the time, you'd probably want a camera that has a wide lens. You can buy wide angle adaptors for all, but some are better than others and you'll need to factor this into your budget.

Realistically, you should be able to learn the ins and outs of your camera in much shorter time than you will learn to get good at working the stabilizer, and you will probably own your stabilizer through a few generations of cameras, so consider them as separate items when figuring out what you need to buy.
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#3 Jose Milan

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Posted 16 February 2008 - 05:09 PM

In most situations, a camera assistant handles focus remotely with a wireless system. Some folks who do broadcast events have focus pots on the gimbal handle so they can set it themselves, but usually the shots do not require the same sort of constant attention in focus as they do on feature-type situations.

Most 1/3" cameras, like the ones you specify, can be left at around 6 feet on the lens and they will hold just about everything in focus until you zoom in significantly. You should probably pick whichever camera serves your overall needs and not worry about the presence of autofocus for your stabilizer shots.

For the type of work you are describing, I would imagine that you would not only be shooting at wide angle most of the time, you'd probably want a camera that has a wide lens. You can buy wide angle adaptors for all, but some are better than others and you'll need to factor this into your budget.

Realistically, you should be able to learn the ins and outs of your camera in much shorter time than you will learn to get good at working the stabilizer, and you will probably own your stabilizer through a few generations of cameras, so consider them as separate items when figuring out what you need to buy.


Hello Charles,

Your answer makes much sense from start to end...and clearify some things. From what I said in my post I'm thinking of three camera models: JVC 110E, Canon XH G1 or the Sony HVR Z1...I've been using the Canon XL1S from a long time and I like been able to change lenses, thats why the JVC seem to have a similar workflow, even though more profesional (than the XL1S), I know this is not a camera forum but would be good to know what you people think of working with a steadi and these types of cameras. Buying a wide angle lense would be out of the question at this point, so whould have to use an adapter.

Will probably have to work solo, without the help of a remote wireless focus assistant thats for sure, and most likely work will be going around cars, in an out and the realstate. But the 6 feet focus tip is a good one, so having an autofocus camera like the Canon or Sony doesn't imply things would be much simpler right? Maybe the autofocus might go into search mode while making the shots and is best keep in manual, I really don't know...I have a sense that most people work in manual mode but either they have assistants or have years of practise, right?

Thanks for giving answers.
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#4 Rob Vuona SOC

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Posted 16 February 2008 - 06:23 PM

[quote Maybe the autofocus might go into search mode while making the shots and is best keep in manual, I really don't know...I have a sense that most people work in manual mode but either they have assistants or have years of practise, right?

Thanks for giving answers.
[/quote]

Jose,
That's a Big Noooo on the auto focus, Charles has the exact right idea for you, you won't achieve the shots you are hoping for with any camera set on auto focus, while moving you camera will be hunting for a focus point. Set on 6-10 feet keep the lens wide and fly safe . . . .

You also asked , "would be possible to learn to use the JVC and the steadi rig in a resonable time?

Reasonable time is what? a month . . .NO longer maybe . . .to get the shots you are hoping for

Hope it helps
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#5 Jose Milan

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Posted 17 February 2008 - 08:31 AM

[quote name='Rob Vuona' post='33371' date='Feb 16 2008, 11:23 PM'][quote]Jose,
That's a Big Noooo on the auto focus, Charles has the exact right idea for you, you won't achieve the shots you are hoping for with any camera set on auto focus, while moving you camera will be hunting for a focus point. Set on 6-10 feet keep the lens wide and fly safe . . . .

You also asked , "would be possible to learn to use the JVC and the steadi rig in a resonable time?

Reasonable time is what? a month . . .NO longer maybe . . .to get the shots you are hoping for

Hope it helps[/quote]

Hello Rob,

This is what I wanted to now...that autofocus is a big No...now choosing a camera would be a little easier and not base in either if the camera has autofocus or not.

So Rob and Charles thanks for the insight.
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#6 Peter Hoare

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Posted 17 February 2008 - 10:03 AM

Just for the record, I have flown a JVC 110 on the flyer (at broadcast live :-) ) and it has auto focus. From what I could tell, it handled quite well, but the only problem with auto focus is that it assumes that what is in the centre of the screen is what you want in focus so the focus can constantly jump around all over the place. You can always close the iris down as much as you can to deepen your depth of field and hope that your subject doesn't stray out of focus...
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#7 Dave Gish

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 08:36 AM

A shallow depth of field (DOF) looks great on a tripod, with the focus guiding the viewer to a particular actor or subject.

But on a steadicam shot, it seems nice to really see everything thats going on the in the frame. The movement and framing of the shot appears to guide the viewer, so a shallow DOF doesn't seem desirable.

For newbies like me with low/no budget productions, a wireless focus puller AC just isn't going to happen. But as Charles says, most 1/3" cameras can be left at around 6 feet on the lens and they will hold just about everything in focus until you zoom in significantly. And since we're talking about Steadicam newbies here, zooming in significantly on a Steadicam shot will usually be a problem anyway.

Also, as Peter says, you can always close the iris down as much as you can to deepen your DOF. For low/no budget productions, I interpret this as stringing up china balls and/or whatever soft lighting I can get a hold of in low light situations. You can also turn up the gain as long as you don't mind the grain. I've also set the shutter speed to 200 degrees, and this seems to help a lot with the light and still looks good to me.

Is this a good approach? Is there anything I'm missing?

----

Steadicam Pilot, HVX200, AVX434Mini 434 MHz Video Transmitter
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#8 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 09:44 AM

Dave,

Having the ability to control what is in focus (and out of focus) is a huge tool for a cinematographer. To take that away is a big deal. I love Steadicam shots with limited depth of field. They are common and effective just as shots where the entire world is in focus - different looks for different shots. Steadicam is a tool that requires two people to operate it (one in the rig; one pulling focus - and often a third person spotting). You are limiting your creativity and those you work with my residing yourself to the fact that you "can't" get a focus puller. Find a way.
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#9 Greg Roth

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 10:57 AM

The JVC 110 has a focus assist feature that will highlight the areas in focus (usually in some color like blue or red). I've noticed that if you're at a very short focal length, much of the image seems to be in focus.
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#10 RobinThwaites

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 05:15 AM

Peter

The JVC 110 does NOT have autofocus, it is a broadcast style lens where the rotating barrell actually moves the glass rather than a servo system. What you saw at the show was the huge depth of field that you get with a short focel length lens under good lighting conditions.

Best
Robin
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#11 Dave Gish

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 07:49 AM

Having the ability to control what is in focus (and out of focus) is a huge tool for a cinematographer. To take that away is a big deal. I love Steadicam shots with limited depth of field. They are common and effective just as shots where the entire world is in focus - different looks for different shots. Steadicam is a tool that requires two people to operate it (one in the rig; one pulling focus - and often a third person spotting). You are limiting your creativity and those you work with my residing yourself to the fact that you "can't" get a focus puller. Find a way.

OK, you got me interested. Maybe I could get a wired remote focus/iris controller and wrap the cable around my left arm. Any other solution seems like it would go over the 10 pound weight limit of the Steadicam Pilot.

So the next question is (forgive my ignorance, I'm a newbie), how does a person pull focus? Where are they? What are they looking at? For shooting 1080p video, I would think you would need a fairly good sized high-def monitor to really see focus details with a shallow DOF. Are there any high-def wireless video solutions that don't cost an arm and a leg? Or maybe for the min DOF that a Steadicam shot would require, a focus puller could just eyeball the focus distance? Is it possible for a focus puller to also spot you on stairs? How does this all work? Any info appreciated.
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#12 Charles Papert

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 08:26 AM

The JVC 110 does NOT have autofocus, it is a broadcast style lens

Thanks for the clarification Robin, I'm a bit embarrassed I missed that considering I made a promo video for JVC about this camera...!

OK, you got me interested. Maybe I could get a wired remote focus/iris controller and wrap the cable around my left arm. Any other solution seems like it would go over the 10 pound weight limit of the Steadicam Pilot.


I know various parties are hard at work coming up with something either wired or wireless and inexpensive/lightweight for you folks--maybe give it a few months and your solution will pop up.

So the next question is (forgive my ignorance, I'm a newbie), how does a person pull focus? Where are they? What are they looking at? For shooting 1080p video, I would think you would need a fairly good sized high-def monitor to really see focus details with a shallow DOF. Are there any high-def wireless video solutions that don't cost an arm and a leg?


While some focus pullers use the monitor as a focusing aid, there are still plenty who do it the old fashioned way, which is by eye, marks on the ground, intuition, triangulation and/or dedicated electronic devices that display distance. A good AC can stand in front of you and tell you just how far away you are, down to an inch or two. It's one of those skills that doesn't come easily or quickly, just over practice, rather like Steadicam. Part of the process is not just keeping things in the focus, it's making choices of WHAT to keep in focus and when to switch the plane of focus from subject to subject. With the advent of 35mm adaptors and affordable large sensor cameras like RED, a lot of people are wondering the same thing you are (and unfortunately many of them are convinced it is as easy as buying the camera or follow focus and just bashing away at it).

Or maybe for the min DOF that a Steadicam shot would require, a focus puller could just eyeball the focus distance? Is it possible for a focus puller to also spot you on stairs? How does this all work? Any info appreciated.


once again, I think you may be assuming that Steadicam shots have deep focus and are easier than other types of shooting platforms. Steadicam shots are some of the hardest to pull focus on because both subject and camera are moving and with less repeatability than a dolly, for instance. Most interiors or night exteriors are shot at a 2.8 or less, and it's not unusual for a Steadicam to wear a 50mm or more (most of us here have shot with a 100mm or even 150mm on the odd occasion) where the depth of field is mere inches. And then there's anamorphic, which has half the depth of field.

As far as spotting, given that holding a follow focus is at best a one handed and more likely a two handed job, they wouldn't be of much help spotting on stairs! Not to mention that once again, they are doing their best to instantly calculate the distance of the camera to the actors often from behind the operator, a truly thankless task...sometimes I don't know how they do it.
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#13 Dave Gish

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 09:55 AM

Thanks Charles!

Once again, you've not only answered all of my questions completely, but also given me a lot more to think about.

Right now I'm just ramping up. I took the 2-day workshop with Peter last weekend, so I have PLENTY to work on just learning the Steadicam - practicing hours a day. But when I'm not practicing, I'm wondering how it will all work when I get better.

I'm currently shooting on my own HVX200 with just the stock lens (no 35mm adapter). If I zoom in a little and open the iris all the way, I can get the back edge of a normal water glass in focus with the front edge noticeably out of focus, or vice-versa. So it seems like I can get a shallow DOF with the the HVX's own lens. This is also widescreen, so I guess it's kind of like anamorphic (1280x1080 CCDs lens stretched to 1920x1080). The shallow DOF looks great on a tripod, but I haven't tried it on the steadicam yet.

So anyway, I'm wondering:
1) How viable is the HVX with just the stock lens for a beginner Blu-Ray (feature wanna-be) type project?
2) If the stock lens is viable, how viable is the built-in HVX focus/iris jack? Could a wired focus puller use this?

Right now I'm just winging it with ammeters, but this Summer I might be involved in a kids horror project with a real screen writer and professional editor person involved. I'm told that kids horror is really hot right now, so even a not-so-great production might get some distribution. Getting the actors isn't a big problem, since we're connected with a few acting schools in NYC.

As usual, any input is appreciated. These forums are very helpful.

Edited by Dave Gish, 02 April 2008 - 10:03 AM.

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#14 soren k jensen

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 01:44 PM

I use a Flyer with a HVX200 and a wired varizoom remote on the gimbal. It works for me, and I can't afford a focus puller and wireless gear. I do documentaries so a Flyer is a good addition to the techniques I use. Can't use shallow dof on the FLyer, but use a 35mm adapter for handheld, monopod and tripod stuff. The combination works fine, particularly if you plan the style of the shot in accordance with the content.
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#15 Charles Papert

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 10:39 PM

Dave:

The macro-type shot you describe with the glass is not really applicable to most types of Steadicam shooting--depth of field is always shorter the closer you get to the lens. To get a medium shot of a person with a soft background, you have to be much more telephoto than that. I personally don't "force" 1/3" cameras to get shallow focus all that much, it usually requires too much jumping through hoops and I prefer to just embrace the medium and create depth through the lighting.

THe HVX is a good camera and for the level you are describing, you can make great looking stuff with it. However by the "anamorphic" I was referring to the film use of the term, where a 2:1 squeeze is applied to an Academy-sized frame which when unsqueezed results in a 2:40 frame. The shallow focus is a result of the doubling of the focal length for a given field of view, where say a 40mm lens delivers the width of a 20mm spherical lens. The video use of anamorphic is generally a 1.33 to 1.78 converter, which does not deliver the same type of results with the depth of field.
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