I'm using a XH-A1s to shoot wedding videos and would like to replicate something ive seen in other wedding videos. Those shots where something close is in sharp focus and the background is blurred out. Or vice versa. Is there an easy way to shoot like this with my camera, or do I need to purchase some kind of special adapter or lens?
To do it with existing equipment, the best you can do is shoot with as long a focal length as possible (i.e., zoom in as much as you can), and make sure the lens iris is wide open to its maximum.
This will soften the background a little bit by making the depth of field as shallow as possible, although that amount is limited because of the small sizes of the chips in the camera. Bottom line, you can do it a little bit, but not too much.
To do more, you need a 35mm DoF adapter. Do a search on "depth of field" or "DoF adapter" and you'll find what are probably literally hundreds of COW posts about this.
You might also read the DoF article I wrote for Creative COW mag a while back, you can read that here...
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
...and it appears I posted the same thing as Todd at the same second.
Thanks for the advice guys. Any idea how the camera you mentioned compares image wise to the 7D? I keep hearing a lot of good things about it and know that some video folks are shooting weddings with 7Ds only. I wonder if the footage would look ok if cut together with footage from the XH-A1s cameras I have?
I have the T2i and know someone who has the 7D. The footage is practically indistinguishable.
Both cameras share the same image sensor, so the main difference is in the ruggedness of the camera body itself (7D has a fully weather-sealed magnesium body, but the plastic T2i is plenty sturdy for most uses). The 7D also uses Compact Flash cards while the T2i uses SDHC, and the 7D has more processing power which allows it to take full quality stills faster (doesn't do much on the video side of things).
The T2i is so much cheaper that I'd go for it unless you really, really need one of the specific features of the 7D. I think it'd cut together fairly well with your camera.
What you want is known as selective focus or shallow depth of field.
There's several factors affecting depth of field; lens focal length, lens "speed" (maximum aperture size), size of the video sensor in the camera. 35mm film has always given a narrow depth of field look due to the large size of the image surface compared to a video camera (35mm vs. 1/3" on your Canon, for example). This changes the lens focal length relationship (50mm on film is the same as 6mm on your Canon) and gives the video camera much deeper areas in focus. This is a large part of what distinguishes the look of a Hollywood film from something shot with a cheap video camera.
Your Canon has a fairly small chip, so it makes it difficult to narrow the focus that much. Some free tips to try are to zoom in all the way and make sure your iris is all the way open (you may need to use the neutral density filter for proper exposure if there's too much light). Make sure there's a large distance between the in-focus subject and the background. Even with these tips, you may find the results unsatisfactory.
There's some other options. You can purchase a depth-of-field converter that allows you to use 35mm film lenses on your camera (read this article here on the COW for details). These produce an outstanding image but are cumbersome and eat up lots of light. They can also be quite expensive.
Another option is getting a video DSLR camera. Popular models include the Canon 5DmkII, Canon 7D, and Canon T2i (which I own). They produce a great HD image and allow for selective focus shots just like 35mm film. There's a forum for them here on the COW as well (DSLR Video). They do have some ergonomic and functional challenges since they're intended to be still photography cameras first and video cameras second. However, the image they can produce is incredible for the price (the Canon T2i is under $900 and looks phenomenal). One would be a great addition to use in conjunction with your XH-A1.