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Sony HVR-Z5 / HDR-FX1000
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Old February 24th, 2010, 06:36 PM   #1
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When (why) shoot auto mode?

I was curious to read in a recent thread that two experienced shooters use Backlight and Spotlight, features that don't function in manual. I'm particularly intrigued by the usage of the latter since I, too, shoot stage events. I've always been leery of shooting Auto, and all the more so now that I've moved up to this professional level camera. Which leads me to the question: under what circumstances would you want to shoot in auto mode?
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Old February 24th, 2010, 07:12 PM   #2
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I use Spotlight all the time to shoot our theatrical events. I always use Auto mode. When I first started out I followed everyone's advice and shot exclusively in manual mode so I wouldn't look like an "amateur" -- I was a Manual Snob. The footage always sucked. You cannot possibly respond quickly or accurately enough to shoot manual for a live event. The only times I'm ever unhappy with our footage is when I shoot manual. The only issue we have is that when the lights go down (out, actually) the auto-focus goes crazy, but usually locks in when the lights come up in less than a second.

Shooting on a soundstage in an environment where you must (and have the time to) control every variable and tweak endlessly -- sure. On a live stage with people moving about and light levels dramatically changing all the time -- fuggeddaboutit. We're happy to get it to stick to the tape, properly exposed, in focus, and with all four cameras roughly in the same color balance.

The Z5 and FX1000 (I've used both) are astonishingly good at handling this. You may want to tweak some of the settings, such as SMOOTH GAIN, AGC LIMIT, AE RESPONSE and AT IRIS LIMIT. Also, learn how to use the SHOT TRANSITION function -- it's not perfect but it's the best way to get a nice slow creep of a zoom.

I will admit I never use Auto White Balance. That's always locked on Indoor.

Let the flames begin.
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Old February 24th, 2010, 11:53 PM   #3
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no flame here ;-)

after years and years of pro shooting from 3 tube thru betasp rigs etc., i find this generation of hdv cameras (well, v1 and now z5) to be as accurate in auto mode as my setting them in manual ;-)

ok, not every situation perhaps, but in general i'm happy to let the camera take care of the technicalities while i concentrate on the aesthetics....
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Old February 25th, 2010, 09:48 AM   #4
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very interesting

I almost always shoot in manual. But after reading these posts I may have to re-think that.

Stage shows do seem to be the most difficult to shoot. I'll have to look into this more. Taking away the stress of always nailing the exposure, focus, etc, etc, on every frame of video during a performance is indeed stress inducing. jm
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Old February 25th, 2010, 10:11 AM   #5
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I have filmed a number of stage shows, musicals, dance etc for a number of years and have to agree the auto setting is almost bullet proof now a days especially the Z5.
You do have to adjust the exposure though depending on the lighting in the scenes and the costumes worn but this is required even in alot of outdoor shooting. For example someone wearing a black dress, in auto their face will be over exposed - same on stage.
Also to film a show effectively you need at least 2 camera with one at the side set on maunal focus, manual exposure normally down a couple of F-Stops and spotlight on ( I have never used backlight filming on stage). This way you can cut between cameras if you do get an out of focus shot or miss an important part of the performace if for example you were zoomed in.
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Old February 25th, 2010, 11:44 AM   #6
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Wow. I'm shocked. Good to know I'm not alone.

It's important to note that especially in stage productions, if the light is a particular color it's supposed to be that color. And if it's really dark, it's supposed to look that way. Our instinct is to always compensate for this (and the cam thinks this way too) so you have to do some tweaking and not even try to expose everything like you would when shooting a feature.

Mark, the "Spotlight" mode will take care of that Black Dress situation just fine. If it doesn't, you could use AE SHIFT to compensate even more. (Note that SPOTLIGHT does not work in Full Manual Exposure mode, so if it's on it's not doing anything.) Also, take a look at both KNEE POINT and BLACK STRETCH and play with those -- they can both help in the very contrasty situations we face with stage lighting.
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Old February 25th, 2010, 12:32 PM   #7
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I've had numerous shooters who virtually refused to shoot in auto mode, and their footage always looked the worst.
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Old February 25th, 2010, 12:50 PM   #8
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We use 3 or 4 cams for stage show. 2 FX1, SR11 and XR500. SR11 and XR500 spot focus one mid stage and one back stage but both full stage view and fixed. SR11 manual exposure set with lights at average stage light for the show, XR500 auto exposure with AE shift at -3, I have found this a better solution than spotlight setting. One FX1 for closeups full manual all the time, the other usually higher gain( usually about 9db) to get iris at between F4 and F5.6 so the depth of field is most of the stage and which is used for mid wide shot. Iris is manual but focus is usually left for the show after close focus at mid stage before show starts. This way one gets what the director wants, when the stage is dark the video is dark etc. But I have the option with the XR500 of getting a brighter scene that I can always darken a little to match but which has shadow detail etc. When stage goes to black it is black, when lights come up it is from black just like being in the theatre with no focus hunting etc.

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Old February 25th, 2010, 12:55 PM   #9
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For me it's all about the percentages. I need the highest percentage of usable footage from each of our four cams as possible. While Auto may not get you the best shot every time, when someone screws up on Manual the whole day's worth of footage from that cam can be ruined. On our last shoot, Cam4 had a shooter who insisted on Manual focus; trouble was, he fixed the focus about four feet behind the performers so when he zoomed in everyone was soft, and at low light we had the shallowest DOF imaginable. He could have just kept using the PUSH AF button, but he didn't. So we got about a 10% yield from that cam.

I was irritated.
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Old February 25th, 2010, 01:23 PM   #10
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For live events, it's almost impossible to anticipate changes in lighting and focus. Auto mode is useful. As some have mentioned, my WB stays manual and will forever. The rest just really depends on how well you know what you're shooting. Last stage show I did, I was lucky enough to shoot a dress rehearsal so I was able to take notes for more locked down manual settings.
Since I use a remote focus/iris/zoom and monitor it allows much finer control without bumping the camera. other cool thing is if I have a question about iris or focus, I can remotely switch to auto to "check" myself.

For me, I use every function on the camera that they charged me for! Feel like I'm getting my money's worth that way! HaHa!
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Old February 25th, 2010, 01:44 PM   #11
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Adam, I have to agree that if the camera man is going to zoom in and out he either has to focus all the time or use auto focus. I assume you used someone else next time!!!! My wife uses the SR11 some times and is really good at using the spot focus feature which is nice to stop the focus hunting especially when the lights are changing a lot. I have to admit for what I do auto focus is not something I would use on any of the cameras. Spot focus or push auto I use on all of them.
I use the XR500 for family stuff and it stays on full auto in this situation!!!

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Old February 25th, 2010, 01:51 PM   #12
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You guys may just need some help from camera people that know how to shoot. There should be no reason that you can't manually focus, especially with the peaking feature. It's mandatory at times. Shooting manual vs auto is just based on the situation. We all wish we could shoot in the same environment all the time but we can't. Some people are hell bent on using only manual. Auto is just another tool and you need the right tool for a particular situation. If you don't use all the tools at your disposal then you're doing yourself and your client a disservice.
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Old February 25th, 2010, 06:43 PM   #13
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manual vs. auto

Thank you one and all for sharing your expertise re: shooting on manual or auto. I've always shot dance performances manually, more out of comfort zone than snobbery. And since getting my Z5 in November, I've done 4 Nutcrackers, one dance, and one musical with very good results, and so much easier than my old VX1000 where I had to ride gain and exposure all the time. Truth to tell, I do use auto when I'm shooting sporting events (except for the close up "game faces"), but I just never thought of going auto w/stage events. You've encouraged me to learn more about auto features like spotlight, AE shift, and spot focus. That's what you've all been saying; this camera comes with a lot of goodies; play with them.
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Old February 26th, 2010, 12:17 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Morse View Post
Auto is just another tool and you need the right tool for a particular situation. If you don't use all the tools at your disposal then you're doing yourself and your client a disservice.
rob is absolutely spot on with this statement! there are times when auto is perfect, and times when manual is - it's knowing when to let the camera do its thing, or jump in and do it yourself.

i found i could trust my v1 / z5 to do certain things without a second though, but have also found that there isn't a camera yet that will hit focus on a horses head in the middle of a paddock - manual and peaking is the only guaranteed way!

btw. love the red peaking highlight!
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Old February 26th, 2010, 03:21 AM   #15
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The spotlight mode on my Z1 is very intelligent indeed, not altering the exposure at all on an evenly lit scene, but able to compensate by up to 5 stops(!) if bright highlights appear on dark backgrounds. Amazingly useful, and I wouldn't be without it for spotlit performers on stage.

The 12 piece band I filmed last Saturday night were all white men dressed in black, on a black stage, illuminated by RGB flashing lights. Spotlight mode + locked down artificial light WB.

On the other hand the backlight button is an unthinking idiot. Like a stopped clock it'll be right twice in 24 hours - not a lot of use.

At all other times I shoot in manual, locking down the exposure to stop black cars and white shirts from making my diaphragm bounce.

tom.
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