Things to Check on Your HD Camera Before Shooting

Canon XLH1

Using a digital storage format on an HD camera is much different than the standard digital video format. The HD format is obviously higher in quality and easier to use in the end, but there are a lot of small things that can cause a problem when you do not have a hard format like a mini DV tape. When using the digital transfer system, such as a P2 storage card or another type of other card based format, you will have to adjust the settings on your HD camera to get exactly what you want and so that the files are easy to use when you enter the post-production workflow. This is not just a type of workflow or what you have to expect someday, but the standard right now for prosumer and professional HD.  Here are a few things that should be checked before filming onto a digital storage format.

Time Code

Always make sure that your beginning time code is set correctly on your HD camera. This is especially important when importing so things remain organized, do not get lost, and are not mistaken in the saving process. Setting the time code is another part of simply getting things back to square one so that you do not have any of the previous shoot in or around your camera. This can also help to prevent time code breaks.  This is often working differently in true HD than it does in Standard Definition because you are recording onto separate files that exist individually.  This is going to be important for a number of situations, though for a lot of wild filming you will do fine to just have the recording time.  Timecode will be important, however, for using multiple cameras where you use multicamera editing techniques later and for fiction films that will utilize multiple takes from multiple angles into a singe sequence.

HD Video Settings

It may seem obvious, but often times people think that they are already set to be filming to their digital storage device and are not. Most HD cameras allow for standard definition digital tapes to be used, so you have to make sure that the camera is set to record to a P2 storage card or other digital storage space.  True HD is at 1080i, and for a full image quality you want to go up to 1920 by 1080.  This can often be set right near the frame rate options.

Video Image Settings

The digital storage space utilizes all of the video information and qualities that you find in the post-production process as well as those found in video production. This means that while you have to be concerned with frame rate you also need to think about codec. Most people will be shooting in 24P, but there is no universal standard as each project and filmmaker has to decide the visual aesthetics they prefer. If you do want to shoot the standard 24P then you will likely want to make sure that you are capturing at 24PN, which is native. You will also want to bring it up to 1080i in most situations, as was mentioned in the HD video quality.  In a general sense you want to be set for using 24 frames per second, which gives that more general “film look” and looks better for broadcast.  News and talk shows are shot on 30 fps, which often deters viewers and can negate its quality.  You may want to choose between 24 and 23.98 fps, which is a fine distinction.

Good CF Card Option

Digital Storage Formatting

Always make sure to properly format the digital storage device you are going to be using on your HD camera. If this is a P2 storage card then you should make sure to dump out all the media on it before moving on. A portable hard drive can be a little easier as you can deal with this on a computer and have a more visual set of controls.  Many of the HD cameras today, especially the DSLRs, are running on compact flash or SD cards.  These are better options than proprietary hardware since they are cheaper, can be used in a variety of cameras, and have easier to work with peripherals.  What you want to look for here is the speed at which the card records as well as its size.

LCD Calibration

Before trying to compose image make sure that your LCD panel display is properly calibrated. Generate color bars so that you can make sure that the colors being portrayed are accurate, and then adjust them if they are off in any way.  This is actually a true situation for post-production where color correction will depend on the color accuracy of the monitor, and most computer monitors are not set for perfect color distinction.

Normal Video Settings

Much of these settings can be distracting from the camera elements that are common among all digital video cameras. Make sure not to neglect any of the other features, especially white and black balance. Also make sure to properly pull focus, adjust zebra stripes settings, turn off the gain, and set the iris according to the light meter readings.  This is also going to include looking at ISO standardization on DSLRs as this is going to be directly correlated to your overall image quality and the amount of grain you have in the image.  Where you set it should be in relation to the aperture and shutter speed, which is a standard equation for digital photography.

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