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Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming

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Larry Watts
Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 6:30:51 pm

I've taken over a position as head of TV production where the former director and present camera operator
relied on using the zoom function extensively. Way, way too extensively in my opinion. The CEO has never expressed any problem with the final edited programs, however.

We aren't shooting "motion picture films" aka Hollywood, we shoot documentaries and on location educational productions and some travelogue type videos.

My sense is to use a zoom only when it is absolutely necessary. I need to change the culture of zooms, I believe.

This is affecting what new camera I can purchase, since if we stay with the pullouts and zooms I'll need a standard camera, but, I would prefer something along the lines of a Panasonic AG-AF100 with the interchangeable lenses, or one of the new Sony nexcams. I personally own a Canon 5D Mark II and love the ability to control depth of field easily.

So, how do I educate my boss and introduce a new style of shooting?
( There are times when I'd like to use a zoom to pull out and reveal more information, or tighten a shot for more intensity.) If I point out that hollywood films hardly use zooms, he'll say we are not making movies. He'll say we need to hold the viewers attention by constantly zooming.

I can't remember the term, buy I understand the psychological difference between a zoom and a dolly move, but how do I teach my boss?
I need some type of authority figure/standards that I can appeal to.

Anyone have any ideas? It would be most helpful for a person of years of experience answer my questions. Thanks



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Todd Terry
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 7:35:22 pm

Wow... it's not often that I get the chance to climb on my anti-zoom soap box, so I'll certainly take advantage of this golden opportunity.

I, for the most part, hate zooms.... and (again, for the most post) never use them. I usually only shoot with prime lenses, but when I do occasionally pop the zoom lens on I typically just use it as a vari-focal prime, and rarely if ever zoom during a shot.

You're right... zooms are rarely if ever used in feature films today. Watch a movie from beginning to end and you'd often be hard-pressed to find a single zoom shot. Conversely, watch most any film from the 1970s and they're full of zooms. The zoom lens was just coming into prevalence for motion picture work then, and people felt the need to use the heck out of them.

Zooms look unnatural because, well, they are unnatural. They are the only camera move that the human eye cannot reproduce. With our eyes we can dolly (walk), track (step sideways), pan and tilt (move your head), crane (stand up), and dutch (tilt your head). But, unless you are Steve Austin the Six Million Dollar Man (or the Terminator) your eye cannot zoom. It's unnatural.

Compare a zoom-in with a dolly-in to an actor, or through a scene. Both make the subject get bigger in the frame. But the zoom is a very flat, 2D move. It's much like holding up a painting and just bringing it closer to your race. A dolly, on the other hand, is very organic and very dynamic. As you move to the subject, the size and relationships of all the objects in the frame are constantly changing, each at its on rate. You're moving into a scene, rather than just bringing that painting closer.

A zoom is ok, when used sparingly, if you use it in the same way that you use any other camera move... that is, if you do it for a reason. There has to be a "why" as to why the zoom is there.... not just doing it for the sake of doing it. If your boss actually thinks that constantly zooming is a method of holding viewers' attention, then you might have bigger problems.

Maybe some of the above explanation will help you with your boss.

As for a camera recommendation, I haven't used either yet, but the one you mentioned specifically (the Panasionic AG-AF100) and the one you alluded to (the Sony PMW F3) were both recently used by a colleague of mine. His review of the Panny was "a plastic toy," while he called the Sony "finally, a real camera." Then again, the Sony is about three times the price.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Larry Watts
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 7:57:17 pm

Terry,

That is what I wanted! An anti zoom soapbox preacher! Unnaturally distracting is a term I shall use.

My ultimate motive here is that we need a new smaller field camera. We have a JVC 250U which draws too much attention, especially when we go overseas.

I can't send my shooter with a DSLR (I own a 5d markII) because he will need too much retraining and doesn't have the background for it.

If I give up interchangeable lens functionality, I would consider the new line of Canons: 100,105,300, 305.

Since you use and like the XL-H1do you think these new cams would be as good? 50mbs, 4:2:2, canon glass sounds good....

Any ideas?

La



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Richard Herd
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 7:57:20 pm

Zooms are silly.

Good luck changing the culture. I mean, they've done what they've done and made a living. Don't mess with that. You might be able to tell the editor, "Just because I'm curious, can you cut that by removing/cutting-out the zooms?"


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Todd Terry
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 8:06:58 pm

Hi Larry...

(incidentally, one of my dogs is named Larry)....

I couldn't really say much about that line of Canons... I have never used any of them and don't know much if anything about them. But I have bought many Canon cameras (of all types) though the years and can't recall ever being disappointed with any. We're still using the XLH1 (or at least the body), and it has been my favorite camera ever.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Rick Wise
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 8:11:24 pm

A strong second to zooms look "unnatural." It is, of course, possible to hide a zoom move if you combine it with either a pan/tilt or a dolly move and best of all with a mix of both. Just make sure the zoom stops exactly when any other moves stop or the viewer will see the stop. Takes practice.

Rick Wise
director of photography
San Francisco Bay Area
part-time instructor lighting/camera
Academy of Art University/Film and Video (grad school)
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Mark Suszko
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 8:16:26 pm

I like everything about what Todd told you, and I too like to use the zoom as a "variable prime", though I don't get to use dolly moves as often as Todd. I tend to keep my cameras static and add motion thru the pacing of the cuts, myself.


Back to how to argue with the boss: first off, why even make a deal about teaching him this? He wants to know the time of day, not how you build the clock. You do it this way because your expertise says this is the best way to do something; that's easily communicated to anybody. I don't question the plumber's choice in wrenches, I want the (redacted) flooding to stop. Don't feel the need to justify your own expertise to the unschooled, even if they ARE your boss. I recently had to "shush" a VIP during a shoot so I could get a little room tone. "Why are you just standing there quiet, I thought we were doing something?" "I AM doing something: I NEED to record the quiet, with you in the middle of it, to use it later. Please, I need another 20 seconds of quiet to help you sound good, and you will be all done". " ...Okay."

If that's not good enough, break it down this way to the boss: it's all about subconscious audience perceptions. Don't get hung-up on the methods, boss, look at the results. The zoom and the dolly shot both get you more or less to the same place visually, but their psychological effects are different on viewers. The change in 3-d perspective thru a 2-d lens subconsciously is better percieved by the brain, activating more of it's perceptual mechanisms, and it also subconsciously connotes that your subject and the production have higher-dollar values than zoom shots do. A dolly move, online or thru cutting, feels "richer" to the eye. A jib or crane move, even more strongly so. Even a small trucking move on a dolly take the entire shot to a higher level, and the audience feels that, even if they can't say why they do. You're trying to involve that audience as deeply as you can, right? So let the plumber pick his own wrenches!

The brain and eye are activated by changes in the visual field. Every time the position shifts, or the relationship between objects in view shifts, there is more in the frame that is different, and this demands the brain's attention. Since we were lower on the food chain, our eyes and brains evolved to detect changes in the environment that meant we were going to get to eat that night, or be eaten that night. Static, unchanging imagery thus relaxes us. Sudden changes of any kind activate our attention.

That's why cutting edits, shakey-cam, online zooms and dollies, any kind of camera movement in space, all activate viewer attention. But we need to use a mix. What you want are more tools in the toolbox to vary the *means* of that activation, like the dolly shot and short DOF, so as not to burn out an audience, and you want to deploy those tools with skill and purpose and to not over-use them.


You're worried about short DOF at the same time you lust after it for it's ability to focus attention on certain things in a frame, and to de-emphasize others. You should know, or can learn, how to increase or decrease DOF as needed, and not be "stuck" with just one or the other. The plumber has more than one wrench for different tasks.

With that, I'll pull my pants up and my shirt-tail down:-)


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Bob Cole
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 9, 2011 at 9:03:10 pm

[Todd Terry] "watch most any film from the 1970s and they're full of zooms."

Very true! There are some fine films from that era, but when the lens zooms they really lose the mood. (I think "Laugh-In" used zooms for comic effect.)

The chief offense of the zoom is that it tells the viewer what is important. My first Angenieux 12-120 zoom was the devil's toy. I have sinned in this regard quite a lot, but I'm trying to improve. I still like a slight "push" during a shot occasionally, to underline a moment.

But one of my favorite documentary moments of all time was in "The Farmer's Wife." Husband and wife are having a tough time economically, and maritally. They sit in facing kitchen chairs, in a two-shot. They argue. The husband is so angry that he stands up and leaves the frame. And the cameraman intuitively does just the right thing. Where many documentary shooters would zoom in on the wife's tear-streaked face... this shooter did... nothing. He kept rolling on the two-shot, showing the wife in her chair, facing the now-empty chair across from her. Wow.

What to tell the boss? Zooms can be great, but nowadays, they're a bit out-of-fashion, unless they really help tell the story.

Bob C


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Rafael Amador
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 8:24:29 pm

[Larry Watts] "If I point out that hollywood films hardly use zooms,"
Video and films are different things, uses different tools and most of all, different languages.
If you are making video, think in video terms; if you are making Hollywood films think in Hollywood films terms.
In video, zoom is an invaluable tool.
The reasons that Hollywood films do not use zoom too often do not dismiss the use of zoom in video.
rafael

http://www.nagavideo.com


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Todd Terry
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 4, 2011 at 9:20:14 pm

[Rafael Amador] "in video, zoom is an invaluable tool."

It is, yes, when used as a tool.... only exactly when and exactly where zooms are needed. Unfortunately, most people don't use them as proper tools, they use them as shortcuts and "quick fixes."

I'm willing to bet that if you took the average video shooter and forced him or her to only shoot with primes for a week or two... they'd get better at what they do, even after you give them the zoom lens back.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Rafael Amador
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 6, 2011 at 8:16:23 pm

[Todd Terry] "I'm willing to bet that if you took the average video shooter and forced him or her to only shoot with primes for a week or two... they'd get better at what they do, even after you give them the zoom lens ba"
The average video maker have no time to change lenses neither money for PLs and can't carry a dolly to get a natural camera movement.
rafael

http://www.nagavideo.com


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Todd Terry
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:32:30 pm

[Rafael Amador] "The average video maker have no time to change lenses neither money for PLs and can't carry a dolly to get a natural camera movement."

True. That's one of the reasons they're "average."

The good ones, though, find a way to make it happen. No one ever posted a question in these forums or asked for advice on how to be average. I think everyone's goal is to be better than that... and a project full of needless zooms is one of the fastest ways to make it look amateurish and "videoy."

Just my two cents.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Rafael Amador
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 7, 2011 at 10:18:43 am

[Todd Terry] " No one ever posted a question in these forums or asked for advice on how to be average. "
Todd, is you who mentioned "average', no my self.

And yes, all what you say about doing things well is like that, but that is very easy to say when you live in Alabama and you have your check book and the Golden Pages beside you.
When you work alone and have to drag 50 kilos of gear by your self, things are different. You do things as you can, not as you would like to do.
rafael
PS: What makes no sense is to look for advice on "zoom on video making" in a Cinematography forum.
Is like asking "how would you cook the beef?" in a vegetarian forum

http://www.nagavideo.com


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Todd Terry
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 7, 2011 at 4:17:28 pm

I don't want to belabor this, but I think you're missing the point a bit (and just for the record, while we are blessed to have many of the things we need, we do not have infinite resources, deep pockets, and Alabama isn't exactly Hollywood).

The issue is not having or using a zoom lens per se, that's all fine and good. We have a number of cameras that do not have interchangeable lenses, and we happily use the zoom lenses on them. The issue is how you use them.

Just because you don't have a dolly or a big case full of prime lenses, that shouldn't be a license to fill productions with unnecessary zooms. I'm sure you don't do that, I just mention it as a worst-case scenario. Just because someone only has a zoom lens, that certainly doesn't mean you have to use the zoom function during a shot... it's just as easy (easier, actually) to not touch that zoom rocker switch as it is to use it. You can simply use your zoom lens as a varifocal prime, and avoid zooming during a shot unless necessary or when doing so for a good visual reason that demands it.

Lets say you want a closeup of someone walking out of an office, but you also want to see the entire building to establish the location. An amateurish zoom-happy shooter might likely start with a closeup of the door, then zoom out to show the whole building. That usually looks cheap and unnatural, more like bad news footage or someone's home movie. The same shooter with the same camera and same zoom lens might instead choose to shoot a closeup of the door (not zooming), and cut to a wide shot of the building. Much more filmic, natural, and professional. All with the zoom lens.

And as Rick mentioned, gentle zooming can be useful if you combine it with another camera move (and it doesn't have to be a dolly move, it can be a pan or a tilt, of a combination of them), which can help "mask" the unnatural effect of a zoom alone.

Good, well executed, and needed zooms aren't a bad thing... they can be good. It's the poorly executed and needless ones that are bad.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Richard Herd
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:06:24 pm

Yesterday, I watched a documentary and it used a widen appropriately...a very rare occurrence. Here's what happened.

As the VO was narrating that Katrina victims were stranded and 1,000s waited outside the Dome, the camera was on a very long distance zoom of a couple of individuals sitting on the curb. During the course of the widen, we could see the 1,000s of people. Okay, pretty cool, but...

I still believe a variable zoom and static cut treatment would be better.


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Richard Herd
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:49:09 pm

...variable prime...


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Alan Lloyd
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 13, 2011 at 7:25:34 pm

[Todd Terry] "An amateurish zoom-happy shooter might likely start with a closeup of the door, then zoom out to show the whole building. That usually looks cheap and unnatural, more like bad news footage or someone's home movie. The same shooter with the same camera and same zoom lens might instead choose to shoot a closeup of the door (not zooming), and cut to a wide shot of the building. Much more filmic, natural, and professional. All with the zoom lens."

And a shooter who'd also edited would likely include at least some small angle change as part of that cut.


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Larry Watts
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:13:06 pm

I intentionally posted here because I knew I would reach a more professional group of shooters and I received some very quotable material.

We aren't shooting for the big screen and making features, but my predecessor allowed our shooter to zoom every shot because the boss seemed to demand it. I need to break the culture and needed some ammo.

I use zooms in certain instances with compound moves, but only when it is the best technique in the tool box.

Thanks everyone for the responses. It generated a lot of interest.

Thanks



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Louis Eguchi
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:37:36 pm

Zetl is a good place to start "sight sound and motion" you should be able to find this book at a library i would quote it now but lent it to my girlfriend yesterday.
http://www.amazon.com/Sight-Sound-Motion-Applied-Aesthetics/dp/0534526772

on that subject your are correct zooming can be very distracting form of motion and as with all cinematography techniques itshould be used carefully.
when i get the book back i will quote it.
Best
Louis

----------------------------------------------------
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> Mac Book Pro 13'' 4 gig Ram Nvdia320m intel dual core.

> PC - 16GB Ram Quad core intel 1TB 2x24'' HP monitors
SLI 2X nvidia Geforce GT9800 windows7 ultimate +ubuntu

CAMERA
> Panasonic HDC SD700 2x8 GB


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Larry Watts
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 5, 2011 at 3:46:04 pm

Thanks!

I'm searching for the book already.

L



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Jeff Cadge
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 6, 2011 at 3:53:10 am

Hey Larry,

Here's another way to explain it, like Todd said when zooming it has a flat look because the perspective is not changing you’re simply cropping the shot. With photograph the only way to change perspective between the objects your photographing is NOT to change your focal length of the lens but to change the distance you are from the subject, hence by moving the camera.

If you photograph a group of people using 3 different prime lens or a zoom using 3 different focal lengths and not change the distance from the camera to the subjects the prospective will be exactly the same in all 3 shots only the crop will change.

So when the camera dollies in or out the perspective of what you’re filming changes
making a much more interesting shot vs. a zoom which is simply cropping the frame.

Features and commercials have bigger budgets and more time to use dollies, jibs, steadicams etc.

When working in corporate with limited time and budget slower shorter zooms along with a pan/tilt move can work. Also consider a wide lens for hand held dolly shots or using a cart or wheelchair with wide lens for a smooth dolly shot. I have also stood on a sound blanket pulled by 2 Pas and got a smooth tracking shot (we had smooth wood floors).

Jeff Cadge


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todd mcmullen
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 10, 2011 at 6:51:02 pm

I love zooms for the simple fact of speed. I hate to halt production just to change a lens. When that happens the hair people run in, the make up people run in, the actors come out of character and the craft service person runs in with sandwiches. And if you do this 2o times a day your into an 18 hour day.
Now I am not saying this is always the case but with all the accessories on these cameras, motors for focus and iris, it is not always a quick change.
I Am currently shooting a 2 camera hand held Pilot using the Alexas and optimo zooms, and while we are not zooming during shots we are certainly able to re-frame and to keep shooting without stopping. The Actors love it.
So for me I love the idea of zooms. They also take a bite out of the sharpness of HD.
So while you may have the time to change lenses on your productions and you feel you need to change the culture of zooming, I am relying on zooms to keep the culture of employment.
cheers

Todd McMullen
Flip Flop Films
Austin
http://www.toddmcmullen.com


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Todd Terry
Re: Professional camera technique: changing a culture of over zooming
on Apr 10, 2011 at 8:02:50 pm

[todd mcmullen] "...while we are not zooming during shots we are certainly able to re-frame..."

And that's the key. Nothing wrong with a zoom lens, as long as you don't zoom during a shot (unless really needed).

I love primes and that's almost all I shoot with... but if I had an Arri Alexa like Todd M I'd probably shoot with zooms, too.

Also keep in mind that with glass you tend to get hat you pay for... and those Optimo zooms are more than $20K apiece, and you'd probably want two of them in order to be prepared for most situations/focal lengths.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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