Focus advice anyone? at
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Sony HVR-V1 / HDR-FX7
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Old July 14th, 2007, 07:56 PM   #1
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Focus advice anyone?

Today I just shot a performance for an actor in a one-man shoe at a Theater Festival in Toronto. I had a short amount of time before the performance to set up audio, white balance and decide on camera settings based on the lighting that the tech person kindly went through for me.

I have the HVR-V1U ... I shot at 1/30 sec. and set the gain to 9 db letting the cam run in auto iris. Other than a little more gain than I'd like it was all good . . . EXCEPT FOR FOCUS.

Questions: What is the best way to achive good focus when taping a live show? In this case there is only one actor (with a few volunteers from the audience during the show) on stage. The actor MOSTLY stays center stage and doesn't move too much from this area. I am approx. 30 feet from the stage taping.

For the first half of the show I decided to use manual focus for where the actor is most of the time (he doesn't move too far from the spot). I used peaking and expanded focus to set the shot. For the second half of the play I set the camera in auto focus.

I reviewed the footage finding that the maual focus was okay - just slightly soft. But the focus really falls apart when zooming in on a prop, etc. that the actor is working with. not acceptable.

The auto fous is perfect when it isn't "hunting" for focus when there are lighting changes on stage, a roving actor and dim conditions.

What should I do when I return to tape the show again tomorrow. I agreed to reshoot when I wasn't happy with the final result.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Ian Campbell is offline   Reply With Quote
Old July 14th, 2007, 09:25 PM   #2
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I shoot a lot of performances, but I'm about 100 feet from the stage so focus isn't quite as critical. But I've found the best approach is to take a few minutes before the show and zoom all the way in, then focus on different objects on the stage and make a mental note of the distance readout in the viewfinder. Then I try to manually pull focus to match as best as possible when I shoot the performance. Seems to be working pretty well for me, much better than autofocus, which gets confused.

The further you zoom out the less critical your focus becomes since depth of field increases. Also, if there's enough light then shoot with smaller f-stops as that also increases depth of field. I'm using a Z1 but I'd think this would work on the V1 as well.
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Old July 14th, 2007, 09:29 PM   #3
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A couple of comments; firstly, I'm not sure whether you were describing back-focusing when you mentioned zooming in on a prop, but remember that by default the camera comes with macro switched on, which means you can get a soft focus if using that. I'd also be trying manual focus, as it sounds like you are since my experience of the low-light autofocussing on the V1 isn't too high - as you suggest it can hunt around badly.
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Old July 14th, 2007, 11:33 PM   #4
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The real answer to accurate focusing is an external monitor. The viewfinder just isn't good enough. On the Z1 we do have expanded focus that is a help, but not available while running. An excellent solution is DVRack (now called "Adobe OnLocation") on a laptop because it gives you all the needed scopes as well as capturing straight to hard disk (+ tape) and shows the full frame (the viewfinder underscans). Before it was bought by Adobe you could download a free trial, and that might still be the case for OnLocation. A cheaper alternative (free) is HDVSplit which now includes a preview/monitor option.


edit2: To check the worth of HDVSplit I've installed on on my laptop and looked at live video. How useful depends on having a fast enough laptop, because if it's slow the lag between action (focus change) and result on screen degrades usefullness. Does show full frame, which is certainly important to keep in frame only those things you want. Obviously the software can be used on a desktop, but that's not what you generally take on a shoot. Alternative to laptop is a portable DVD player that will accept composite video input, or other TV.
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Old July 15th, 2007, 02:56 AM   #5
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Hey IAN,
Sounds like there wasn't much light if you had to add in 9db gain to your pictures, I have shot 100's of dance concerts and live performances for more than a decade. I have done this in some of the worst conditions. I started with the Sony 537 before digital era, the Sony 300 and trv1000 and now Z1 and Jvc 101e. One thing has never changed and thats the way i operate the camera. I always shoot manual my hand/finger almost never leaves the exposure ring as for the focus. I highly recomend a field monitor if your view finder is giving you grief and also shooting manual.
How deep was the stage for talent ?? I would of thought from 30feet your DOF would of made focusing a sinch. Are the pictures out of focus or bleeding from too much gain??

Allan Coy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old July 15th, 2007, 06:57 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Serena Steuart View Post
and shows the full frame (the viewfinder underscans)
These terms are a constant source of confusion for me as well. But underscan means you can see the full frame, and overscan means the edges of the image are chopped off. They come from analog displays which sweep an electron beam across the face of the picture tube. When the beam underscans it stays entirely within the face of the tube. When it overscans then the beam sweeps across an area wider than the face of the tube, thereby not showing the full frame.

I think your advice is good, but should also point out that the Z1, V1 and A1 do have an underscan mode which will show you the full frame. It can only be activated by programming one of the user buttons - it isn't available in any other menus (or at least that's the case on the Z1, not sure about the V1). Sony calls this "ALLSCAN" mode - see your manual for details.
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