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Video Camcorder Accessories for Image Management

By Jack Fettman

Peripheral to the art of video capture is a wealth of accessories, available to assist us as we shape and craft our sentiments and sensibilities into story form. Your main tool is a "proper"; video camcorder. Each camcorder manufacturer implements manual controls in various configurations and for various functions to allow the filmmaker options to fine-tune image tonal qualities. When speaking to the scores of shooters in the industry, you'll learn about their techniques-how they manipulated, tweaked, and adjusted the settings on their camcorders "just-so," in order to get the desired look for a scene. This article is intended to offer the director and filmmaker a look at some noteworthy accessories that can help shape your vision and complement the work flow of your filming projects.

White Balance Management

Even though it is a great asset that we can manipulate and fix our imagery in post-production with Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, for example, on our NLE system, wouldn't it be practical to streamline our work flow by calibrating our camcorder with proper specifications? For starters, under the various conditions in which we film, it would be beneficial to adjust our camcorder with proper white balance. The correct reference calibrated for white, within our camcorder, will give proper reference for the other colors and color management in our scenes. This can be achieved by aiming the camera at a neutral reference for the color white within your shot. You can adjust the camera's white balance with a reference of white such as a subject's white shirt. To capture a more accurate white balance reading, you can read a white-balance card in front of the camera, such as the Porta Brace white balance card. Whether in the studio, a wedding hall, or in the field, under fluorescent, tungsten, or HMI lighting, aim your camera at this card to acquire a custom white balance in your camera, quickly and easily. To utilize another white-balance solution, try ExpoDisc digital white-balance filters. They affix to the front of your lens and allow you to take an incident white-balance reading and calibration-without reflectance. You don't need to worry about zeroing in on a card. ExpoDisc's white-balancing correction solutions are consistent and accurate. ExpoDiscs are available in standard sizes from 58 to 82mm, and 4x4 and 4x5.65 configurations for professional video filter box systems.

The ExpoDisc white-balance filter disks come in several sizes
The ExpoDisc white-balance filter disks come in several sizes

Exposure Management

A camcorder is constantly evaluating light. The color black possesses negative reflective characteristics, and the camcorder reading black thinks it is dark and will try to compensate for the perceived lack of light, which will overexpose the scene, ultimately. The color white has great reflective characteristics, and the camcorder reading white thinks the exposure is bright, and will try to compensate by underexposing the scene.

Lasolite's EZYBalance collapsible cards come in 3 sizes
Lasolite's EZYBalance collapsible cards come in 3 sizes

There arises a classic situation in video shooting in which you have a bride in a white dress in front of a light background, or the groom in a dark tux in front of a dark background. In such a scenario, a camcorder's exposure needs to be adjusted for accuracy. First take an accurate white-balance reading for your camera's custom white-balance setting from a card or disc, as described above. Then, to adjust your exposure, take a reflected reading from an 18% gray card, and lock in that reading. This will give you an accurate exposure reading whose source is neither too dark nor light, for those particular lighting conditions. It is sometimes tricky to acquire an accurate gray reading. There is a terrific accessory from Lastolite known as the EZYBalance cards. These collapsible cards come in 3 sizes, 12, 20, or 30 inches. One side is an accurate reference for 18% grey, while the reverse side has an accurate reference for white balance.

Photovision One Shot Digital Target
Photovision One Shot Digital Target

Another great target offering advanced exposure calibration is the collapsible Photovision One Shot Digital Targets. They are available in 4 sizes, 6 to 34 inches, large enough to fill the frame in most situations. One side is an accurate reference for white balance, while the reverse side has an accurate reference for exposure if your camcorder features a histogram mode. A histogram is a graphical display that depicts the range of values from shadows to highlights (dark to light) in your imagery. This enables you to judge if your shot is over- or underexposed. Advanced camcorders feature a histogram mode.

In shooting video, especially in high-definition, focus is crucial
In shooting video, especially in high-definition, focus is crucial

Focus Management

While we're on the topic of the variety of combination white-balance cards, DSC Labs offers us a significant calibration chart. Their CamFocus test charts, which come in 2 sizes, combine a focus chart with a true white balance on the reverse side. When you are faced with a critical scene where your focus must be accurate, especially when shooting in high-definition, place the CamFocus chart next to your subject and calibrate to this card to lock in an accurate reading for focus.

Color Management

Even with the proper registration reference of white, your colors may be over-, or under-saturated in the particular lighting conditions. This may not be evident as you look through your viewfinder or at the camera's LCD screen, but it would be apparent on the editing technician's display screen. A vectorscope is a sophisticated device that, when connected to your camcorder, measures the interrelationship of colors in the video signal electronically. It is a tool of measurement that informs you if the colors being recorded by your camcorder are all in phase. This registration needs to be correct, especially if your footage is destined for the world of broadcast video. Computer software designed for video processing incorporates the results of a vectorscope reading. If you have a laptop, connect your camcorder to it and manually adjust the color saturation levels on your camcorder to obtain accurate color phase measurements via the vectorscope reference display on the laptop.

DSC Labs manufactures very accurate, patented test charts that come in various sizes.
DSC Labs manufactures very accurate, patented test charts that come in various sizes.

If this is not possible, then it would be advantageous to insert an accurate color test pattern chart at the beginning of your scene. If this can't be filmed at the beginning, then do it during or at the end of your shoot. This will give the editing technician a reference benchmark for color to fine-tune colors accurately within your imagery. DSC Labs manufactures very accurate, patented test charts that come in various sizes. Their color charts are designed to mimic familiar electronic signals. Anyone familiar with waveform and vectorscope instrumentation will find the use of DSC charts to be pretty intuitive. Another reason to include a test pattern in the scene would be to enable images to be corrected according to the international color standard at any later date.

Color management can be difficult under varying lighting conditions. As a creative visionary, develop your scene before filming by simply incorporating these accessories for white balance and color management into your work flow routinely. They are practical and proven tools that can assist you, save time, and give you greater success in producing footage that has accurate imagery, thereby eliminating guesswork for color reference.

Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to videofeedback@bhphotovideo.com