Getting Quality on screen

6 replies [Last post]
tom hardwick
Joined: Apr 8 1999

Many folk equate "quality" with dollars and specification sheets. It's not an uncommon generalisation and is a good basis from which to start, but quality footage is more than that. Quality footage is a perceived condition that comes about not only with sharp cameras but with good technique.

Ray's a friend of mine who has a TRV900 (and doesn't read this list). Lovely camera; huge potential for breath-taking quality. But Ray
throws it away. He can't keep it steady, he's not prepared to learn how to set the exposure manually, he doesn't clean his thumb prints off the front element and he can't be
bothered with that silly lens hood. All he's
interested in is airshows, and if the jets rush by at 800mph, then that's why the footage is a little jerky. Good pal though, I like him a lot.

You could quite easily get a higher quality film out of a VHSc camcorder. It'd help of course if you could control the shutter speed and aperture and set them to precise figures. You'd know that tripods will easily double the lens' sharpness at a stroke. You'll know that the humble lens hood is worth far more than the upgrade to S-VHS. I mean this. You'll understand composure within the 4:3 frame, the rule of thirds, the danger of
overexposure, the beauty of close micing.

So quality footage is independent of bank balance and much more proportional to experience. The latter tends to come with age but with the instant teaching power of video the learning hour has become the learning minute.


Alan Roberts
Alan Roberts's picture
Joined: May 3 1999

Good advice. I remember, in my youth, looking at photos in the Observer, and trying to work out why they were so good. It transpired that I was looking at Jane Brown's portraits. I later discovered that she always used a manual camera, never used a light meter, guessed exposure. BUT, she always lit the scene (by that I mean she arranged the subject so that natural light gave the effect she wanted). The results were always stunning, I could never get close to doing as well as she.

It isn't money that shows, it's talent, or the "knack" as you reported here on another occasion.

Alan Roberts

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Joined: Oct 8 2000

I know what you are saying is true of quite a few camcorder users, I have been one of them. As most of my filming over the past couple of years has been of motocross racing when I came to film a wedding I had to learn quite a lot very quckly. I have been fortunate to get some very good advise from various sources but I would like to know more, especialy about seting and using the camcorder properly. As I cant really aford to go on a course yet,I wondered if there are any worthwhile books or videos or web sites where this information can be obtained from Paul L

[This message has been edited by paul-L (edited 16 November 2000).]

Joined: Oct 30 2000

Good post Tom,

interested in what you say about a lens hood , care to elaborate on what this is and how / why it improves the picture

looking at some stuff I shot recently it struck me that the lighting side of things was the next thing to concentrate on. Extra lighting outside was making all the colours radiate and sparkle.

Any tips for lighting ? Anybody using reflectors ??

Joined: Sep 7 2000


A lens hood is a device usually - but not always - made of rubber, which screws onto the front of the lens and prevents stray light shining onto the lens causing glare and flare.
If you have the sort of camera that takes screw-on lens attachments, that's fine. Otherwise you'll have a problem fitting it.
Some people use their hand - just as you'd do to shield the sun from your eyes - not a good idea as nine times out of ten your hand ends up appearing on the screen and looks even worse than the glare from the light source!

Cheers, Chirpy.

P.S. Sorry to poke my nose in...just doing a Tom!!!

Chirpy's Big Breakfast can be heard on Radio England International. These are repeat shows (he's retired now) played Monday to Friday 8am-12 noon and repeated in the evening from 8pm-midnight. Also, Sunday 8am-12 noon. (Click link to listen)

Alan Roberts at work
Joined: May 6 1999

The lens hood reduces flare in the lens. If you're using a zoom lens, you have a problem since the front element of the lens must be able to "see" the full field that it looks at when zoomed fully wide. When fully zoomed in, most of that field is invisible to the sensor, but the light from the wide field is still getting into the lens body. A lens hood can help with that by pushing the actual aperture further forward. So strong lights at the edge of the field don't get into the lens.

If the lens is well designed, this sort of stray light gets absorbed in black painted surfaces, but they're never perfect, and add a background level of light to the entire image, raising the black level. This, in turn, desaturates colours and makes the picture look anaemic. Fine, if that's what you want, devastating if it isn't.

BTW, this isn't the same as the light that's refelcted from each glass/air surface, that is dealt with by coating surfaces, and it is down to good design to deal with it.

Clear control over lighting is the single biggest thing that marks professionals from amateurs. Plus, professionals often resort to prime lenses (non-zoom) for best quality. Under those conditions, the lens hood can be designed specifically for the purpose, rather than have to cope with a zoom range.

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tom hardwick
Joined: Apr 8 1999

Poke my nose in? Watch it Chirpy.
There's image forming light and there's non image forming light. It's the former you want on your chips and the latter you want to avoid (generally, as Alan says).

In reality a lens hood should be aspect ratio shaped and designed for the focal length in use. In other words it should zoom as you zoom the lens. In reality we use a wide angle lens hood at all times, pretty damn useless but a whole lot better than nothing at all.

DOPs use repositionable flags to shield the lens (see Chirpy's note re hand flags). If you can stop bright lights (that aren't included in the picture) from hitting the front element you're more than half way there.