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Sony HVR-A1 and HDR-HC Series
Sony's latest single-CMOS additions to their HDV camcorder line.


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Old May 12th, 2006, 01:13 AM   #1
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Focus...manual or auto?

I know that manual focus is more accurate when used by experienced people, but I am wondering what my best options will be. I am shooting my sons H.S. Graduation. Besides the obvious stage, I will be shooting the walking to the stage. Is this best done with auto or is there a manual technique for this? Much learning to do so all help is appreciated.

p.s. I will be using the A1u on tripod with fluid head and the stealth varizoom.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 02:54 AM   #2
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I use auto a lot with great results. If it looses focus I zoom out a little and zoom back in again and then the focus is on track again.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 03:04 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Fredrik-Larsson
I use auto a lot with great results. If it looses focus I zoom out a little and zoom back in again and then the focus is on track again.

Thanks...that is good to know. How about exposure etc..
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Old May 12th, 2006, 03:25 AM   #4
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I typically use most on auto but exposure I tend to click on the exposure button to get the default setting then click on it again and bring it down one notch.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 05:32 AM   #5
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Auto-focus seems to go out of focus randomnly sometimes (or maybe when there's some motion). It's unreliable sometimes, but good most of the time.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 09:52 AM   #6
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Auto focus will only serve you well if:
-Light levels are good (no low light)
-Subject stays in the center of frame

Personally, I don't use auto focus for anything-period. Some cameras this is hard to do on and it will limit you to locked down cameras and very little in frame-depth motion, but the pictures you can get will look heads and tails better with manual focus.

Same with auto everything else. While the convenience of not having to use all the little dealies on your camera is nice. As the camera operator, your job is to control the light being captured to tape. The more you let the camera do, the less control you are exerting over your images. On the fully auto end, you really don't even have control over framing as you have to center everything to get the auto stuff to work.

Bottom line, spend the time to learn the manual controls on your camera. You should be able to operate them without having to look for the controls.

--Some cameras dont allow this kind of control, but anything > $500 should have manual control either tucked away in the menus or right out in the open for you to play with.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 10:00 AM   #7
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My question is how to use manual focus if you are zooming in/out constantly and if you are moving the camera around to try to focus on things that are closer and farther from the camera.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 12:17 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Thames
My question is how to use manual focus if you are zooming in/out constantly and if you are moving the camera around to try to focus on things that are closer and farther from the camera.
That is what I am looking for as well. It may just be a matter of practice, but any tips would be helpful. I knew a person that was a pro camera man and they did not even have auto focus ability. He said they would never rely on it.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 01:20 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Michael Stowe
That is what I am looking for as well. It may just be a matter of practice, but any tips would be helpful. I knew a person that was a pro camera man and they did not even have auto focus ability. He said they would never rely on it.
In my opinion, for the majority of users, i would tend to suggest using Auto-focus as a default, but always be aware of the image in the LCD/viewfinder and if it drifts off or the cam starts focusing on the background etc (unwanted focus) then be ready to instantly do a spot focus or flick the switch to manual focus.

I agree you can't always rely on auto-focus, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't use it as your default focus method, and be ready to jump in on the rare-ish occasions when the cam loses focus or 'picks' the wrong subject.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 02:06 PM   #10
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What are you shooting that you have to zoom in/out all the time and move the camera? How long do you have to setup each shot, what is your inteded audience for the footage?
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Old May 12th, 2006, 04:57 PM   #11
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There is no time to use push auto focus (which doesn't even work unless you have a Manfrotto Lanc controller) or flick it to manual as the out-of-focus moments happen so fast while shooting.

I use zooms many times when recording festivals or even on short films. Motion? That's in plenty of my shots where I'm following a subject as he's moving down hallways, opening doors and peeking in (or going in), going in and out of rooms, everything.

I've experienced loss of focus on several occasions when doing this, and then it takes a few seconds and then it's back to focus. In fact, one time (not on the Sony camera, but on a Panasonic DVX-100), I was fixed on a tripod, at a fixed zoom setting, and the focus still suddenly went in and out of focus on its own. Not sure if this was because of a changing in stage lighting (although if so, it was very subtle as I couldn't see a change in lighting).

In any case, I need to know how to use manual focus while zooming in and out and when there is motion and when there is a change of lighting (which there usually is if moving around).
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Old May 12th, 2006, 11:39 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Thames
There is no time to use push auto focus (which doesn't even work unless you have a Manfrotto Lanc controller) or flick it to manual as the out-of-focus moments happen so fast while shooting.
Focus is a range of distances from the lens. With your auto focus turned off, pick a point in front of the camera and manually focus on that, anything the same distance from the lens will be in focus. You can then run wild keeping your subject the same distance from the lens and they will be in focus.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Thames
I use zooms many times when recording festivals or even on short films. Motion? That's in plenty of my shots where I'm following a subject as he's moving down hallways, opening doors and peeking in (or going in), going in and out of rooms, everything.
Zooms will generally keep focus as long as you are still the same PHYSICAL distance from the subject you've focussed on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Thames
I've experienced loss of focus on several occasions when doing this, and then it takes a few seconds and then it's back to focus. In fact, one time (not on the Sony camera, but on a Panasonic DVX-100), I was fixed on a tripod, at a fixed zoom setting, and the focus still suddenly went in and out of focus on its own. Not sure if this was because of a changing in stage lighting (although if so, it was very subtle as I couldn't see a change in lighting).
Sounds you've left the auto focus turned on, then tried to manually focus it. In lower light, the camera won't get enough information to focus correctly, so it'll "fish" for focus. Again, this could be corrected (especially on a tripod) by focussing on a given distance and zooming from there shouldn't change the focus.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Thames
In any case, I need to know how to use manual focus while zooming in and out and when there is motion and when there is a change of lighting (which there usually is if moving around).
I'm not sure about the DVX, but the XL1s won't allow zoom and focus at the same time. If you focus on a range and keep your subjects in that range, you should be able to zoom freely without affecting the in focus range...the trick is to stay the same distance from your subject.
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Old May 12th, 2006, 11:52 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cole McDonald
Focus is a range of distances from the lens. With your auto focus turned off, pick a point in front of the camera and manually focus on that, anything the same distance from the lens will be in focus. You can then run wild keeping your subject the same distance from the lens and they will be in focus.



Zooms will generally keep focus as long as you are still the same PHYSICAL distance from the subject you've focussed on.



Sounds you've left the auto focus turned on, then tried to manually focus it. In lower light, the camera won't get enough information to focus correctly, so it'll "fish" for focus. Again, this could be corrected (especially on a tripod) by focussing on a given distance and zooming from there shouldn't change the focus.



I'm not sure about the DVX, but the XL1s won't allow zoom and focus at the same time. If you focus on a range and keep your subjects in that range, you should be able to zoom freely without affecting the in focus range...the trick is to stay the same distance from your subject.
Thanks for all of the tips. What about having to go off a stationary tripod and basically pan from to different distances? I am filming my sons HS graduation and the position I will be shooting from will cause me to pan from a range of appox 20 feet (seating -> isle) and then zoom in slightly from a range of 40 feet (stage).

Best way to maintain focus with panning and zooming from a stationary position?

Thx
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Old May 12th, 2006, 11:53 PM   #14
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Thanks, I will try that. But one thing, about the "fishing" for focus - I left it on full-auto always, never tried to flip to manual focus.
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Old May 13th, 2006, 12:46 AM   #15
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I'm a big proponent of turning off all the auto bits and taking the time to learn to run your camera manually...it's a practice thing like anything else. at 20ft, you should be able to focus out and have everything from 20 ft to infinity in focus. Run some test on it by having someone walk away from the camera util they start to come into focus (might want to run through a largish tv for this). This will be the minimum focal distance...with the focus all the way out, you should focus from there to infinity, then just setup that far away from your minimum and the rest is all you, zooms, pans and everything. Learn to ride the focus manually with practice for faster, more reactive focussing, you'll eventually get a feel for it that will allow you to tweak the focus instinctively.
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