Archive for July, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Simple Camcorders Are More Difficult to Use

For accomplished cameramen and women shooting run-and-gun with the latest compact HD camcorders can be an exercise in frustration. Network broadcasters and news magazine shows including the top brand names with millions of viewers are turning more and more to these (relatively) cheap cameras not just for the occasional B-roll or specialty shot but for complete assignments top to bottom including craft intensive run-and-gun coverage of live events.

Even with my thirty years experience tackling such assignments I find the use of camcorders like the diminutive Sony Z5 very difficult to manage in a professional environment. Focusing in HD on a tiny EVF or swing-out LCD screen is not for the faint of heart, especially in bright sunlight. The awkwardly arranged, very exposed controls for manual-auto focus and the viewfinder diopter are easily bumped and inadvertently reset in the normal bustle of an actual assignment. The manually focusable lens while indeed adjustable is grossly ineffective; the entire focal range from near to far is covered in a maddening mere 1/8 turn of the focus ring!

Thus my usual method for achieving critical focus in these small camcorders proved ineffective in the Z5. Typically under run-and-gun conditions I use the distance readout in the viewfinder to roughly zone focus the camera. This avoids the need to constantly check and search mid-scene for critical focus. Owing to the short lens rotation however the readout is impractical in the Z5; the display toggling constantly critical focus info with a landscape or other cryptic icon. Grr.

Let’s remember as broadcasters and news directors cut corners wherever they can that it is easier to accomplish professional results with professional equipment. More and more correspondents and/or their producers are assuming the responsibility for capturing their own video and sound. The use of prosumer equipment with all the many compromises outlined here only makes this transition to one or two-person crews that much more difficult.