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SONY Z1: BBC TRAINING COURSE NOTES

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by Karim Attia; June 2007.

These are my notes from a four-day full-time course run by the BBC for training people in the operation of the standard issus HD mini-DV Sony Z1 digital camera.  This camera is relatively cheap, simple to operate, and returns tolerable quality images.  For these reasons, it is pretty ubiquitous in the TV industry.

NOTES:

•    WHAT’S THE STORY?
•    WHAT’S THE ACTION?
•    WHAT ARE THE SHOTS?
•    SHOOT FOR THE EDIT!

Before leaving base:
1.    Check Kit (including menu settings)
2.    30sec test recording
3.    Always set to DV/DVCam mode NOT HD

Before taking the shot:
1.    Shutter Speed (always set to 50fps)
2.    Framing (Rule of Thirds, Looking Room, etc) N.B. loss of border in view-finder!
3.    White Balance (WB)
4.    Exposure (Zebras set to 70%, ND filters, Gain)
5.    Focus (Push Auto, Expand Focus)
6.    Sound (XLR)
7.    Safety

5secs to speed
Hold every shot at least 10secs
Labelling

Depth of Field (DOF): the zone in which things appear to be in focus.  Established using zoom and exposure.

On a Z1, the hyperfocal distance (the setting that results in almost everything being in focus) is 0.9-1.0 meters whilst fully zoomed-out (very useful on fast-moving/unpredictable shoots, or where time is limited).  Also, the more light the better, as this will require a closed down/narrow iris/aperture e.g. f11.  Note: to maintain the DOF requires that the zoom remain at 1meter, thus must only ‘zoom with the feet’.

TIP: tape the focus ring to prevent accidental movement.

By reducing DOF one can blur the background but this also means that the subject has a very narrow area in which to move and yet remain in focus (N.B. Macro-shot, portraits/static-interviews).  For maximum background dissolve, ensure the distance btw the subject and its background is maximal.  Likewise the distance btw the camera and the subject – to allow for maximal zoom (N.B. poor quality of lens at extremes).  Also, the less light, the greater the blurring.  Thus, wider the aperture/iris the better e.g. f1.6.  Can force the scene darker by applying an ND filter.

N.B. the relative distances btw the subject and background will affect depth-perception.

KEY SHOTS:
•    SHOT OF SUBJECT
•    SHOT OF OBJECT
•    SHOT OF BOTH TOGETHER

•    Stick to the settings you start with even if they are wrong.  This continuity of error is easier to fix in the edit / grade.
•    Whenever the camera must remain impartial, ensure that shots between parties are comparable.  Be aware of things like the height of the shot – a high POV gives the camera dominance over the subject (equivalent to the psychological effect of a tall person over short).
•    Always plan so that the most important shots are bagged first i.e. before you lose light/power/the subject/etc.  Any other shots are a bonus.
•    Pans and all shots of motion: ensure that the subject walks into and out of shot – DO NOT follow to the bitter end!
•    Do not waste ‘emotional ammunition’ i.e. if you’ve used an ECU on the subject merely making a cup of tea what more dramatic options do you have left when the hamster dies?
•    When framing a shot try to keep the bottom clear for subtitles, tickers, logos, etc.
•    WIDE = panoramic
•    LONG SHOT = panoramic including human subject/s
•    Medium Shot = mimics personal space POV i.e. torso and up.  Most common shot.
•    MCU = shoulders and up
•    CU = head
•    ECU = eyes

TIP: generally, try to keep the camera at 45 degrees to the subject; light behind the camera; both eyes visible.

TIP: frame up one’s tightest shot, then ‘Push Auto’ to focus.  By and large, the rest of one’s less tight shots will also be in focus.

SOUND:
•    When setting record levels, meters should average at 70%.
•    ALWAYS listen for quality of sound via cans as meter will not warn of interference, crackles, etc.
•    ALWAYS use a softie when outside.
•    Headphone volume to half.
•    Scratch mic to check levels.
•    Always re-set levels with a mic change.
•    Attach lapel-mics upside-down.
•    Gun-mic will give most natural sound as it’s directional.
•    Sound should compliment action i.e. if the action is far away, the sound should reflect that.
•    Most mics phantom-powered.
•    Menu setting should be on Input unless sound is being fed from an external source (e.g. PA system), in which case should be set to Line.

TIP: ‘Status Check’ button very useful – shows all the camera’s settings.

Macro-shot: must get lens as physically close as possible.  Therefore, remove lens cover.  Useful as cutaway as the background is too blurred to identify any particular moment in time.  Also, very dramatic – move in/out of shot.

EXPOSURE:
•    ALWAYS expose for the lightest/most important part of the shot (usu. the face).
•    Z1’sees’ at 50:1 contrast ratio, whereas the human eye is capable of 2000:1.
•    If correct exposure set to 70% in the menu, use Caucasian skin, or a Grey-card, to set level.  Adjust aperture from dark to light, stopping back when Zebras start to merge into ‘burnt-out’ zones.
•    Zooming in reduces the light available to the camera.

TIP: Where time is at a premium either set exposure to Auto, or point camera at the most average part of the scene and then press ‘Iris’ to lock that reading in.  Can also use the auto feature to tell you what the f-stop is.

WHITE BALANCE:
•    ALWAYS set exposure to Auto prior to establishing WB.
•    Focus tightly in on a white surface to determine ‘white’ in that location.
•    Focusing on blueish surface will fool the camera into warming up all the colours.  The same ‘warming’ can be achieved by white-balancing in the shade.
•    Do not change WB unless the lighting changes dramatically e.g. moving from interior to exterior location.

SEQUENCES:
•    VARIETY OF ANGLES
•    VARIETY OF SHOT SIZES
•    REPEATING/OVERLAPPING ACTION
•    CUT ON MOVEMENT
•    CLOSE UPS!
•    CUTAWAYS (definition: does NOT show any of the action)
•    DO NOT CROSS THE LINE (which way is the nose pointing?)
•    START AND END WITH EMPTY FRAME (or reveal from black)

•    Motion toward/away from camera is always most dramatic.
•    The audience will take its cue from the face/s presented.  Therefore, ensure face shown is communicating as desired and is frequently on screen.

TIP: can cross the line if shoot directly along it, or if the shot travels to the other side in a fully observable way.

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