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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old October 14th, 2011, 12:50 PM   #1
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Help with DSLR Focusing

I need some advise on focusing a DSLR during a live, indoor event: How the heck do you guys do it?! I recently shot a Sweet 16 birthday in a large hall using a Canon T3i (600D). Done as a favor for the girl's father, he wanted me to use his daughter's own camera, which had only the kit lens (18-55mm, f/3.5-5.6). I had never used that particular camera before. As I soon learned, live mode focusing was useless in that lighting, even for pre-focus. I switched to manual focus, which was a challenge to do using only the LCD with no other focusing aid. Looking at the clips I mostly nailed it but I was totally unsure at the time. I'm sure the slow kit lens didn't help the situation, but aside from using a different lens is there anything I could have done differently to achieve sharp focus in that situation?

PS. The quality of the video is also disappointing, again probably due to use of the kit lens in less-than-adequate lighting. As it turned out the battery on the camera died midway through the proceedings (they had been using it throughout the day before handing it to me!) so I had to switch to my HD camcorder that I brought as back-up. The quality of the clips from that in the exact same lighting is MUCH better - and with no focusing problems during the shoot.
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Old October 14th, 2011, 01:09 PM   #2
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

Focusing with DSLR is all about practice and more practice.

If you're not sure about your focus, you can use the magnifier button to zoom in a certain area on your screen to make sure the focus is right before you start recording.

Lenses with wider aperture will also definitely help you better see when the focus is off as the shallow depth of field will make focus appear more obvious

You can also get something like the Z-Finder which will magnify your LCD screen to see the focus a bit better
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Old October 14th, 2011, 04:12 PM   #3
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

Long hit it right on the money, practice, practice and more practice. Also, it helps if you've used the lens before, as each lens is different to work with.
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Old October 14th, 2011, 04:55 PM   #4
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

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Originally Posted by Long Truong View Post
If you're not sure about your focus, you can use the magnifier button to zoom in a certain area on your screen to make sure the focus is right before you start recording.
As I understood the manual (I had no time to experiment at the event and I don't have the camera now) the magnifier is disabled in movie mode with this model. Theoretically, it might have been possible to switch to a still picture mode, magnify, adjust focus and then switch back to movie mode, but there was little time to figure that out and it wouldn't have helped once I started moving around (changing distance and hence focus).

I can see how practise would be necessary - too bad I wasn't given the chance.
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Old October 14th, 2011, 05:57 PM   #5
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

I apologize if I am misdirecting the OP's original question, but I think a lot of people here use the Z-Finder for this purpose. My question is, has anyone used the Neewer DSLR viewfinder? The Zacuto is $600 bucks, while the Neewer is only $70. It got high marks on Amazon, so I am wondering how it can serve the same purpose for so little...
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Old October 14th, 2011, 11:23 PM   #6
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

I only have the Neewer viewfinder myself and can say that it is extremely useful for focusing, especially outdoors. It is the 3x version and shields out other light sources for easy visibility. For focusing on my T3i I let my lens determine how I focus. On my Sigma 30mm there is a large focus ring so it feels very natural to me to be able to pull focus manually. On my Canon EF 50mm 1.8 (nifty 50) the focus ring is almost non-existent. I basically set my autofocus point in the middle, and before recording I do a quick focus and recompose using AF Quickmode. Once you get used to it, it is very easy. The kit lens 18-55 has a very narrow strip for a focus ring, not ideal. Try out the AF Quickmode. You have to enable it in the menu under AF mode (the default is Live View, just select Quick mode). Just point your middle focus point on what you want in focus, and press shutter release halfway, before recording then recompose your framing.
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Old October 16th, 2011, 10:49 AM   #7
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

As already stated it takes practice but using the Quickmode AF to nail focus before you start rolling is a good start. Then using any sort of a loupe helps with focus & keeping the camera stable. For the T3i/600D you don't need to lash out $300 on a Zacuto Z-finder when a $30 loupe will do the job 2.8x LCD viewfinder loupes for Canon 600D 60D 7D T3i | eBay
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Old October 16th, 2011, 12:29 PM   #8
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

Thanks for the link. Re using quick mode AF to prefocus, I wish it had "nailed" it but it spent several seconds hunting and ended up badly misfocused. I tried twice, gave up and switched to manual. The s/n ratio of the resulting video was quite poor too. My take-away is to use a faster lens in that kind of lighting (if I had had a choice...) to allow the AF to do it's job and get better s/n.

As it turned out, the hall operators did turn on additional lights for the stage midway through the speeches and the s/n for those shots is distinctly better. Amazing what a few extra lights will do. Looking at the footage as I'm trying to color match between them, it seems clear someone simply forgot to turn on the stage lights before the speeches began. At live events I suppose that's SNAFU.
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Old October 17th, 2011, 02:28 AM   #9
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

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Originally Posted by Alen Koebel View Post
Re using quick mode AF to prefocus, I wish it had "nailed" it but it spent several seconds hunting and ended up badly misfocused. I tried twice, gave up and switched to manual.
That sounds like Live mode focusing which I think is the default. Quick mode flips down the mirror & focuses just like when taking a still photograph & then flips the mirror back up. There is an explanation of the different AF modes available in Live View here Canon 60D: AF Modes for Live View Shooting
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Old October 17th, 2011, 07:59 AM   #10
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

Depending on the lighting, I can get away with aperture at 16 or 18, if I keep my iso around 800. Helps a ton with the depth of field!
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Old October 17th, 2011, 02:33 PM   #11
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nigel Barker View Post
That sounds like Live mode focusing which I think is the default. Quick mode flips down the mirror & focuses just like when taking a still photograph & then flips the mirror back up. There is an explanation of the different AF modes available in Live View here Canon 60D: AF Modes for Live View Shooting
Yes, you're right. I stand corrected. I did not think to try the quick AF mode. Too little time, not enough experience with the camera.
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Old October 18th, 2011, 10:37 AM   #12
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

If you really want to nail the focus I would look at third party support options. SmallHD monitors have focus peaking features that make it a lot easier to determine your focus. Another trick is to place your finger on the top of the lens and make that your focus mark (zero position). That way you can rack focus and use the zero position to keep things in focus.
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Old October 19th, 2011, 11:40 PM   #13
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

Can you recommend a good low-budget monitor that has focus peaking?
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Old October 20th, 2011, 11:12 AM   #14
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

I bought a Z-Finder, used it once, and then decided I didn't like it. I prefer looking at the screen. It just takes some getting used to.
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Old October 27th, 2011, 01:21 PM   #15
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Re: Help with DSLR Focusing

I am using T3i for weddings too! I'm very happy with the result.

I have tried external monitor, LCDVF, and follow focus. Now what I did is to add only the focus gear to the focus ring on the lens. Then load Magic Lantern. It has the Focus Peaking feature that absolutely improve focusing.

I also use battery grip with T3i. It helps reducing internal heat (over heating was a problem with T2i). It also double the battery run time (using 2 batteries). What I noticed, when the camera battery gauge is showing half the juice is gone, it's time to change battery.
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