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Shooting a stage in dim lighting

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Ryan Santos
Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 15, 2007 at 9:39:22 pm

A couple of days from now and I'm shooting with a Canon XL1 a dance presentation that's gonna be done on a dimly lit stage. The event organizers told me they're gonna use stage lights. What will I do to get a good shot without increasing the gain (which will result to a grainy footage)? I thought of using red heads but that will hurt the dim lighting effects created by the stage lights. Thanks.


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Matte
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 15, 2007 at 10:43:33 pm

If its as low as you say,
you really need to rent a camera that's better in low light conditions.

Nothing in DV beats the Sony PD170 or VX2100.
Those cameras (and the older PD150 and VX2000) offer astonishing images in low light.
-------------
Now, as to what the overall show will look like as the dancers move in and out of the pools of light...

It can be a nightmare for video exposure.

You must shoot with manual iris (auto-iris will ALWAYS guess wrong in pools of stage lighting) and you will need to "ride" the iris most of the time.

Good luck!

I've been there many times.


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zrb123
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 16, 2007 at 12:46:23 am

The Most important thing is to use manual focus. Dim situations like that can easily cause focus to go in and out.

Also like the last post said, do a manual iris.

Just do manual every thing.


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Ryan Santos
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 16, 2007 at 2:48:43 am

Yes, I'll do everything manual. I also noticed that camera's auto focusing gets confused when shot those situations.

I've watched concerts on tv and noticed that the cameras can get good images even in low light. Did they add lights (aside from the stage lights) to get a good image? Or did they simply used a camera that's good in low light?



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Matte
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 16, 2007 at 3:33:30 am

[Ryan Santos] " Did they add lights (aside from the stage lights) to get a good image? Or did they simply used a camera that's good in low light?
"


Too many variables to say just how each situation is handled.

But in YOUR situation, you likely won't be able to add your own lighting to the stage, so your only hope is to get a better low-light camera or boost the levels (along with video noise.)

And, since a PD-150/170 is so much more sensitive in lower light, its auto-focus will likely perform vey well (unless the stage is in virtual darkness... then, NOTHING will work.)

I shoot auto-focus on stage productions 100% of the time with a PD-150.
Unless I'm coming out of a "black-out," the focus is perfect.




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P. J. in Hollywood
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 18, 2007 at 5:41:57 am

With the XL-1 you need (of course) to keep everything in manual (focus and iris). You'll have to ride the iris throughout your dance recital. Your venue will not light for the camera and if you go to gain, you may also get video noise. If you can, test the camera in the venue after the lighting has been set.

When the camera has been fully warmed up (30 minutes or more) adjust the back focus using a back focus chart, so that you have focus the entire length of the zoom. If your focus goes out after that has been done, or if your lens breaths, you may need to get the lens serviced. Professional lenses don't breath.

Matte suggests you use a VX-2100 or PD170. While those cameras have nice low light gathering capabilities, they have those little iris wheelies thingies on the side of the camera which adjust the iris in steps and can be a nightmare to use in the dark.

An XL-1 is probably your best choice in prosumer gear, but you're limited to Mini-DV, unless you can get the producer to pop for professional gear rental, if it is available where you live.

If you can get the production designer to up the ambient light level so that you can get an image, you've gotten lucky. In more than 7 years of doing weekly events, I've always had to negotiate with the lighting designer about the light. If the producer really wants a good video and plans to release it, you may get some sway. If, on the other hand, it's for mom and pop video copies, you still may have a chance, depending on the politics involved.

Since you asked about why pro shoots look so good, here is a short run-down. The images you see on TV are better because they use full size professional cameras with real lenses that have real controls on the lens, which prosumer cameras don't usually have. Also, they don't shoot on mini-DV.

Just for comparison,if you care to know, professional cameras use professional formats such as Digital Beta Cam or Beta SP (not miniDV), leaving HD aside. Even DVCam is a better format than miniDV.

These formats have 4:2:2 sampling rates with 2:1 compression and 2/3 inch imagers, not the 1/3 inch imagaers with 5:1 compression and 4:1:1 sampling rates,that the prosumer cameras have. So they have much more image information on a format that is much less compressed. Their data rates are at least twice that of miniDV. They use full size 1/2 inch tapes, not mini DV tapes. They can go to gain and have still have a nice image, but frequently luminance is boosted up in post as needed where there is much more control.

They also use professional lenses ($6,000) that cost more than an entire XL-1 camara and don't have focus or breathing problems.

They use professional tripods that cost more than $6,000 and are frequently in studio configuration with an on-camera monitor with zoom and focus controls on the pan handles.

When I shoot a pro gig, the camera has an external "paint box" in a "video village" and large pro monitors. Color, gain and iris are operated by an engineer with a video switcher to switch between cameras. All the camera operator adjusts are zoom and focus, in addition to composition of his shot. This will not be the case with a dance recital.

This is why their images look so good. It's a whole different world from mini-DV on a prosumer camera. Hope this helps.

Good luck.

PJ



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Ryan Santos
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 18, 2007 at 6:55:15 am

Thank you. I'm very new to this and your post is very helpful. I have two questions 1st, why is it important to warm the camera up? 2nd, What do you mean by a lens that "breath?"


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P. J. in Hollywood
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 19, 2007 at 4:44:24 am

Hi Ryan,

Those are excellent questions:

1st, why is it important to warm the camera up?

Back focus is only an issue with interchangable lenses where there is a back focus adjustment. Cameras with fixed lenses (Sony VX-2000 and PD-150) have no back focus adjustment.

The reason to let the camera warm up is so that it comes up to operating temperature and the distance between the rear lens element and the imagers reaches its normal distance and isn't going to change. Heat expands and cold contracts. This may not be an issue with your camera with 1/3 inch imagers and greater deplth of field, but can be with larger professional cameras with 2/3 inch imagers and shallower depth of field.

2nd, What do you mean by a lens that "breath?"

Here is a nice definition from Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breathing_(lens)


Hope this helps and good luck,

P. J.


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George Socka
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 19, 2007 at 11:43:33 am

2 points to keep the original poster from running our and renting a Viper because his gear might be deemed inferior:

The XL1 that the original poster has does indeed provide a backfocus adjustment, but only with Canon tech magic.

When wide open with the stock lens, he will get as shallow a depth of field as anything else at f 1:1.6. What would make a so-called professional camera with 1/2 inch chips camera a shorter depth?


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P. J. in Hollywood
Depth of field vs. size of format/imager
on Oct 19, 2007 at 5:18:36 pm

When wide open with the stock lens, he will get as shallow a depth of field as anything else at f 1:1.6. What would make a so-called professional camera with 1/2 inch chips camera a shorter depth? (George)

Thanks for asking. The same question has been asked by may others.

I could be wrong, but personally, when using a video camera at an event with a 2/3" imager, I have found that depth of field is less and focus is more difficult to maintain than with a 1/2" imager, all other factors being equal (target size, distance from camera to target, f-stop and lighting conditions). I have made the same observation when working with a


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George Socka
Re: Depth of field vs. size of format/imager
on Oct 20, 2007 at 12:59:56 am

The referenced article talks at length about the not surprising difference in Dof between a 35mm film camera and a 1/3 inch SD television CCD. I suggest that the original poster not worry about the minuscule difference in Doff of his XL1 and, lets say, a 2/3 inch Varicam at 10 times the price.

If you use the calculations referred to in http://www.dof.pcraft.com/dof.cgi
and change c from say .033 to .008 (4 times larger imager area, same number of scan lines) you get even shallower depth of field for the smaller imager. I suggest this because in SD you get only 480 or so scan lines. On the larger chip, each line is simply fatter - thus a larger circle of confusion. The strange pixel shifting function of the XL1 may poke a hole in this argument however.

His XL1 will work fine.


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George Socka
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 18, 2007 at 10:39:21 pm

DV = DVcam 100 %


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P. J. in Hollywood
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 19, 2007 at 5:14:30 am

DV and DVCAM are definately not equal to each other in all aspects though they share the same standard.

Although they both record to the Rec 601 standard and have a 5:1 compression with a 4:1:1 sampling rate, DVCAM has a switchable true drop frame and non-drop frame time code where DV does not. The format is also a bit more robust and there is more professional gear to take advantage of the differences. See Sony's DVCAM web site:

http://www.sony.ca/dvcam/support.htm

If one cares to compare the related formats further, here is a nice link to compare the differences between DV, DVCAM and DVCPRO:

http://www.adamwilt.com/DV-FAQ-tech.html#DVformats

Hope this helps.

P. J.








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George Socka
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 19, 2007 at 11:32:49 am

None of these will change the low light quality or lack of it of the camera. My V1U is equally bad in low light whether I put in a DVCAM tape or miniDV. Just Sony marketing Koolaid. Sip with care.


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Kerry Brown
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 20, 2007 at 6:28:30 pm

[P. J. in Hollywood] "adjust the back focus using a back focus chart"
Fixed lens cameras do not have a back focus adj available to the user.

[P. J. in Hollywood] "Even DVCam is a better format than miniDV"
DV and DVCam are the same format except that DVCam has a faster tape speed and different track pitch. "MiniDV" is a tape cassette size.
[P. J. in Hollywood] "Digital Beta Cam or Beta SP"
Beta SP is analog thus has no data rate. The DV format is very, very close to the resolution
of Beta SP.



KB


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George Socka
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 21, 2007 at 1:40:10 am

The XL1 that started all this is not a fixed lens camera, but it does not have a user accessible back focus adjustment.


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Reg from AB
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 16, 2007 at 5:59:46 am

I live this problem and can echo the "manual iris" advice (although I rarely use manual focus).

I just wanted to add though that I shoot with VX2000 and VX2100, and their exposure setting is on a "clicky wheel" - which makes the setting changes somewhat visible.
I read somewhere that the PD150/170's exposure setting is "continuously variable", so I'm guessing that setting changes are less noticeable. So if that's true, and you're planning to rent, consider the PD150/170 over the VX2000/2100.

Can anyone with experience on both the VX and PD versions comment?



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Matte
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 16, 2007 at 12:59:42 pm

[Reg from AB] "I live this problem and can echo the "manual iris" advice (although I rarely use manual focus).

I just wanted to add though that I shoot with VX2000 and VX2100, and their exposure setting is on a "clicky wheel" - which makes the setting changes somewhat visible.
I read somewhere that the PD150/170's exposure setting is "continuously variable", so I'm guessing that setting changes are less noticeable. So if that's true, and you're planning to rent, consider the PD150/170 over the VX2000/2100.

Can anyone with experience on both the VX and PD versions comment?"


Yes, the auto-focus on the PD and VX is astoundingly accurate and fast!
I don't think I coluld ever follow the focus as well as the camera does it
(and I have shot a lot of location video with BetaSP and earlier.)

The PD-150 has the same "clicks" as the VX2000.

The PD-170 has "clicks", but the STEPS (larger number of clicks, if you will) have a much smaller difference in exposure between the clicks.

The PD-170 has 3 times the number of "clicks" but the same RANGE of iris as the VX2000.
That means that when you change the iris manually, the level change is not nearly as obvious (much smoother) compared to the VX2000 or PD-150.

As to the VX2100, I'm not sure as to its "Clicks vs. iris resolution."

I think its odd that there ARE only "clicks" on the manual iris.
I wish it were simply a smooth transition as it is in "Auto-Iris" mode.
I know that it has to do with the iris info that is recorded on the Data Code file, but to heck with that... give me smooth iris control.

I'd love to be able to adjust the iris (smoothly) via the LANC cable, but apparently that is not a LANC function.


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Jeff Carpenter
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 17, 2007 at 6:26:07 pm

Ryan,

As videographers it's our job to often come into situations with low lighting and find ways to fix that and get nice images on tape. The average bride doesn't care how dark her church was...she still wants to see herself and the color in her flowers.

This leads us into easily forgetting that stage shows are designed by someone to look a certain way. Don't forget that! It's intentional! If they have made the stage look dark then it means they WANT it to look dark. It's very possible to use some of these cameras to get an image far brighter than it looked to the human eye. As techies we applaud that, but you'll be giving the client something they don't want; a well-lit stage!

That being said, you'll still have to brighten sometimes. I have done modern-dance shows in the past where the audience could see the dancers but the camera could not without using some gain. In those cases I used 6 db of gain to get an image and then brighten the high and mid-tones a little in post. The results are better than boosting lots of gain because I can leave the black levels alone and the noise is very minimal.

So in certain conditions I DO have to brighten the camera in order to match the audience's perception. But don't get trapped into boosting it MORE than that. In those situations I could have easily boosted the brightness a LOT more with my computer, but I didn't do it. I tried to keep the look as close to reality as possible.

So while you'll still need to work at this (minimal gain, boosting high and mid-tones in post) don't start worrying that you'll have to actual make the image BRIGHT. A little can go a long way when you're only trying to brighten the image up to "dimly lit stage." Remember that goal and the task isn't as hard as you think.


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Ryan Santos
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 17, 2007 at 11:31:18 pm

Thanks Jeff. That's exactly what I wanted to do. I'd like to make the video look the way my eyes see the stage. But when I look at the EVF, that's not what my eyes are seeing. The EVF shows a very dark stage and almost nothing is visible. I'll be following your advice of boosting the gain to 6db and some correcting in post.


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George Socka
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Oct 18, 2007 at 10:45:47 pm

2 points:

put an external monitor on the camera rather than the canon EVF.

set to manual focus, but don't even think of playing with the focus ring. Use the push-focus button frequently - but unless you have a huge depth of stage, and a wide open lens, you shouldn't have to focus a lot. If its an xl2, then you will find noise is not that bad, some say better than anything sony makes under 10K


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duendesoy
Re: Shooting a stage in dim lighting
on Nov 5, 2007 at 6:25:54 am

On a related topic - I just completed a somewhat dimly lit dance show and the videographers that I hired locally did a horrible job with the footage. They used 2 - Canon XLH1s and 1 - Sony V1U and shot in HDV 1080i60. I have always used Sony Z1Us for my previous shows and had some great footage in the past that looked exceptional and made post-production very easy.

As I digitize the tapes right now, all of the current footage is grainy and one cameraman did such a horrible job with white balancing that the entire tape is very dark, even in parts where the whole stage was lit up. He also had a difficult time with the manual focus.

My main question is: Using FCS 2, what is going to be the best approach to get all of the footage to look the same in terms of color balance and light exposure? What is my best resources online or elsewhere that will give me the best pointers to try and fix all of this.


Mac Pro dual-quad Xeons, 8GB RAM, 1 - 500GB HD, 1 - 750GB HD,
Mac OS X, Dual - 23" HD Apple Monitors


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