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Old March 11th, 2008, 01:42 PM   #1
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Shallow Focus with XL1S

Hi all. I just started a job where I am shooting with Canon's mini DV XL1S. I like shooting interviews with shallow focus -- where the background is blurry behind the subject.

There was a way with Panasonic's DVX to do this by tightening the apeture and zooming all the way in. Is there a trick with the XL1? Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!
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Old March 11th, 2008, 02:10 PM   #2
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There's no real "trick" to it.

what you're seeking is called shallow depth of field.

Unfortunately, 1/3" chip cameras like the XL1s make it difficult to achieve this.

Several factors contribute to giving you shallow DOF, like the fstop, focal length, and the distance from the camera to the subject, as well as between the subject and the background.

The best things you can do are
1) zoom in as much as you can
2) open the iris as wide as you can
3) get the subject as far from the background as you can.

Now, you'll have to find the balance between these things.

The iris is pretty easy, just open it all the way (although, sometimes, with the XL1s and its stock lens, this can make your image soft--some lenses don't keep sharp focus once they're opened too far; you might have to stop down to 2 or 2.8 to "crisp up" the focus). It'll close down on its own, if it's the stock lens, as it reaches the telephoto end of its zoom range. So, you want to be as open as you can without making the image soft. If this makes your lighting too bright, dim the lighting, DON'T close down the iris. Adjust the lights to the camera, not the other way around.

As for how far you can zoom in, that'll be determined by how close your subject is to the camera, and how much of him/her you want to see . The more you zoom in, the shallower your depth of field will be. However, you don't want to be too tight, 'cause that'll look weird. The XL1s has an advantage over the DVX here, 'cause the XL1s has a 16x zoom range, where the DVX's is 10x.

This relates to how far your subject is from the background. The farther you can get them from the background, the easier it is to make the background go out of focus.

How big is the room you're shooting in? Often, on lower-budget type shoots, you're forced into a small room, and can't really get shallow DOF at all.

So, you have to find that balance between how close to the camera is too close, and how close to the background is too close.

Usually, you end up settling for something like 6-8 feet from the camera, for the subject, and then whatever distance is left between the subject and the background.

If you're blessed with a big room, keeping moving the subject back from the camera, so that you really have to zoom to get the correct framing (usually, from the waist or chest to head). You don't want to move them so far back that they're too close to the background, however, 'cause that'll negate the purpose of moving them back from the camera in the first place.

So, again, find that balance. You need more distance behind them to the background than in front of them to the camera.

One thing that can help is to shoot corner to corner in a room. What I mean is, put the camera in one corner and shoot toward the other corner. There's more distance on the diagonal than from one wall to another. More distance = greater chance to get shallow DOF.

Hope some of this makes sense. I can make a diagram and upload if that'll help clarify.

Another alternative is to get a 35mm lens adapter and a 35mm lens, which inherently have much shallower DOF than the lens on the XL1s. I don't know if this is in your budget to buy/rent, however.
Josh Bass is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 12th, 2008, 08:04 AM   #3
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The Letus adapters can allow 35mm still camera-like depth of field.

If shooting interviews against a fixed backdrop, one work kludge around is to print an "out of focus" backdrop.
Don Palomaki is offline   Reply

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