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Old June 2nd, 2015, 07:09 AM   #1
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a5100 video dance theatre settings

I'm hoping to get some advise about settings that might work for my a5100 which is the wide shot camera using the kit lens all the way out (from the back of the theatre). This is for video and it is not recording rather it's hdmi out to a switcher. An Ax100 is feeding the switcher via its hdmi out as well and I live cut between the a5100 pretty much locked down static covering the whole stage and the ax100's medium and closeup shots

I am really impressed with the speed with which the a5100 focuses when the scene changes from totally blacked out (no light at all) to theatrical lights with dancers on stage. The a5100 takes about a second or less to focus (just snaps in) whereas the ax100 sometimes takes 5 - 10 seconds to focus.

Have tried it on program auto with exposure comp -2 and also experimenting (reason for the post) Although the focus snaps in quick, I think it is focusing on the curtain behind the dances because it is not even close to tack sharp. Pretty muddy. I guess I'd like every thing on the stage in focus because as many as a dozen people are moving around on the stage all over the place.

As a side note I used this combination of cameras in a well constantly lit venue and the 5100 was outstanding in that it resolved crowd images really well, I could see facial detail on individuals from 150 ft away but in a theatre I am struggling to get even marginally acceptable video.

The camera is not recording during the shoot (overheats) so it can be in whatever mode. Sure would like some assistance

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Old June 2nd, 2015, 04:28 PM   #2
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Re: a5100 video dance theatre settings

another disappointing attempt to get answers
I have half a dozen posts with no responses
used to be good around here
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Old June 2nd, 2015, 04:52 PM   #3
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Re: a5100 video dance theatre settings

Hi Bruce. I don't own any of those cameras but my thought would be that the camera at the back could be manually focussed at a predetermined point on stage and left like that and rely on depth of field. That and the motion I think would hide any out of focus stuff. It depends obviously on how far back you are and what's going on stage but I don't think AF stands a chance in the scenario you outline.
I just shot a theatre show using full frame DSLRs with one locked off focussed at about 20-25 feet away at about 18mm @ f5.6 and even with people moving backwards and forwards through the point where I prefocused it all looks sharp on my 24 inch Eizo screen. Maybe that technique could work for you.
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Old June 2nd, 2015, 05:24 PM   #4
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Re: a5100 video dance theatre settings

@ Bruce:

I second what Patrick is saying. You do not want to use autofocus on a stage performance, unless you are filling your frame with dancers (meaning a lot of tight shots). As your camera is wide, your focus won't change and you need to pick a spot on the stage to be your focal point, stop-down your lens a bit to increase the depth of field, and you will get consistent results.

The same goes for exposure, to a certain extent. Your auto exposure is going to struggle on a wide shot to properly expose your dancers, because they are so small on your scene, relative to the stage. The camera will likely ignore the dancers little faces when determining overall exposure and will try to expose the cyclorama. Setting exposure compensation to -2 is helpful but locking-off the exposure might work if lighting is consistent. My more professional studios have very dramatic lighting so I need to ride the gain between 0-9dB of gain as the lighting changes but dance competitions, for example, have no lighting changes and you don't change your exposure once you set it.

I know it is a locked-off camera but if the lighting changes are that dramatic the only other option without an operator would be to lock-off another inexpensive camera at a different exposure and when you multicam edit or live-switch, just pick the correct exposure.
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Old June 3rd, 2015, 06:28 AM   #5
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Re: a5100 video dance theatre settings

thank you Patrick and Shawn
I've been shooting these with a single cam for the past number of years and pretty much as per your suggestions. This year I can finally live switch several cameras at the theatre all from my tripod and now realize that all cameras need the kind of constant attention I gave to just the one cam previously.
They make it extremely challenging with their pure black stages and "artistic" lighting and then there is the audio....
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Old June 3rd, 2015, 11:43 AM   #6
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Re: a5100 video dance theatre settings

In terms of pre-focusing -- get an idea of the actual range of motion the performers will cover. Often there will be little or no use of the furthest back part of the stage. Remember that whatever distance you are focused for, the lens has approximately twice as much depth of field behind the focal plane as in front of it. (this if you have a range of distances from 40ft to 70ft that you want to keep in focus, you would set the camera focus at 50 feet and stop down accordingly. If in doubt about DOF, I'll tend to focus a little closer, since performers tend to be downstage more than upstage.

I'm not clear on why you are feeding a switcher -- are you sending a live signal somewhere? I'd be careful when switching HDMI signals. There is typically a processing delay on the signal from an HDMI source, and different cameras may produce different delays - thus throwing the camera feeds a frame or two out of sync with each other - which can be annoying if cutting on motion. Likewise you may run into audio sync issues, depending how audio is feeding into the system.

I'd definitely suggest keeping your exposure manual. I'm not familiar with the 5100's options, but using a gamma setting that limits your highlights gently can often be helpful. I occasionally have shoots of off-Broadway shows where we have two manned cameras and an unmanned wide shot (using either an F3 or an A7s). I try to set the unmanned camera close enough to one of the other cameras (with a monitor facing the other camera's operator) that it's possible to reach over and adjust the exposure quickly when necessary. Recording in S-log can also be valuable because it provides more room to adjust exposure in post. (Not doing a live switch). Of course when we shoot Broadway shows there's enough budget to make sure that every camera has its own operator to make adjustments on the fly...
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Old June 3rd, 2015, 12:03 PM   #7
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Re: a5100 video dance theatre settings

Practically all our work is in theatres, and IMAG to screens is getting more and more common, and frankly, locked of cameras don't help that much, because on a permanent wide shot, they see what the audience is already seeing. Fine for hiding camera moves for a video, but when we do it on a proper budget, it's a person per camera plus a person to manage the mixer/switcher. When we have a cash strapped client, we negotiate based on people, not cameras - so they are paying for staffing levels really. We will use auto iris on our cameras because this works for the majority of the time - any particularly problematic sections might need manual - but we can cope. We're planning on proper remote control for our next upgrade. However, autofocus is simply no good to us for the reasons you state - long lockup time and then probably locking onto the wrong subject. All our ops are pretty decent with focus, and it's generally only small excursions from the setting line we need to adjust for. Light levels are good enough now to not make it a problem.

When we are running to screens, most of our output is closeup work, rarely full stage or wider, so focus accuracy is paramount - and you cannot get that with auto.
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