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The Digital Director Experience: Video Editing Fundamentals

Manual Labour

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Let's not be snobs about this, using a cheap (or not so cheap) camera on fully automatic settings is something we all do. You either don't have the time or the inclination when filming for fun, or filming to capture the moment. But sometimes, when those automatic settings simply won't do, you just can't do without manual adjustments. Two settings you'll always need are manual focus and manual white balance. How easy are those on your camera? Do you know where to find them?

So when will you need them? There's two basic scenarios when I've needed to override the automatic adjustment. The first is where you're locked out in a high zoom on a moving subject. You'll find that the automati focus starts to kick in sporadically, making your subject appear blurred every now and again. The second is in poor lighting conditions when the automatic white balance never seems to work, no matter how good the camera.

A classic example of both scenarios are wedding speeches. You'll find yourself zoomed in on a suject in a candelit room. Leave the settings in auto and you're simply asking for trouble. But that's a scenario where you should be resorting to manual settings anyway. You have the time to prepare.

What about if you don't have the time? Then you'll need to know how to access those manual controls. Take the time to read the manual now and save the hassles in the future! I recently bought a new point and shooter, and the heavy snow fall in the UK was the perfect opportiunity to put it through its paces. Unfortunately, I failed. The white balance gave me snow tha looked rather too yellow. And everyone knows that snow should never be yellow. I ended up spending the first 5 minutes finding the settings burried deep in the menus. It was fiddly, but needed to be done! I then had exactly the same problem with manual focus...

Unfortunately a mixture of poor menus systems and limited manual settings can make accessing manual ajustments a nightmare. If there's two settings which should aways be readily accessible, they are white balance and focus. The expensive cameras get this right, so why can't the cheap ones? It shouldn't be the reserve of the expensive cameras to get these fundamentals right.

So, what every camera should have are: manual focus rings and one touch access to white balance.

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  1. Mark W's Avatar
    Lols - ' dont eat the yellow now' - Zappa.

    You are so right - I recall back in 1934 that all DV cameras, nearly all had a manual focus ring and real buttons and switches - not bloody uselss and so modern daft fiddly menus accessed with a scroll device that you need fingers the size of a nano baby to operate.

    My habit is all manual with the small camera and hang the problems cos fixing them means the shot is gone. I may occasionally use spot metering as my sony pc4 has a cute touch screen that works well - certainly much better than the stupid tiny wheel button 28 function device that canon seem to think is a good idea on thier consumer cameras. It isnt - it is crap.

    My big pro jvc is all manual - and its a joy ti use with clunky switches and real mechanical lens rings for focus, aperture and length. It is a joy to use - almost sexy.
    Updated 02-08-2009 at 03:30 PM by Mark W