3D – How and when it works

There's been many types of 3D films, but recently they've become more sophisticated

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 2 years, you’d have noticed a massive boom in the rise of 3D movies and games. There’s a lot of criticism out there about it – It doesn’t really work, it’s a gimmick being pushed down our throats, it’s simply not good enough, etc… Well, I prefer to take a more constructive approach when it comes to film criticism, so here I’m going to list both when it works and how it should be done.

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A quick guide to camera operations!

I’ve noticed that some people may not be able to work a camera without setting it to automatic. That’s fine if you’re going for something simple, but if you want something special, you may have to do it manually. This is true of both still image cameras and of movie cameras also. So here’s my crash course in camera operations!

  • Focus. Focus is important. It keeps an image sharp and the detail vivid. With auto focus though, it’s often the case that the camera won’t focus on where you want it to. Faces that are meant to be clear are blurry. So how do you do manual focus? Well, on an SLR camera, you can rotate the lens (make sure it’s set to manual focus first though). What does this do? It changes where the focus is. You can play with it yourself, but a nice effect is to get what is known as a shallow Depth of Field. This means that if you’re focusing at something 1.7 metres away, that the background which is further away is blurry while the person is not. You can also move the focal point while filming to give a change of focus, say a character in the background instead of the foreground.

    Notice the shallow depth of focus - the flower in the background very blurred, but the blades of grass in the foreground very focused!

  • Light Sensitivity. This is what’s known as ISO. It’s how powerful your camera is at capturing an interpreting light. The higher the ISO, the more you can see in the dark. Most cameras on the market can be anywhere from 1600 ISO to 12800 ISO. Obviously the more expensive your camera is, the further it can go up – and the more in the dark you can see. But you can make it brighter can’t you? Well, you can, but the quality can rapidly degrade producing a grainy effect, rather than a nice sharp clear image.

    Getting pictures of stars can be difficult without a powerful sensor!

  • Optical Zoom. There is a massive difference between optical and digital zooms. Digital zooms look at the picture you have in the camera and blow it up. Imagine printing out something on an A4 piece of paper and then moving it close to your face – the quality of the picture seems to get worse the closer you look at it. With the optical zoom though, you’re moving the lenses before the picture gets to the camera rather than after, which means that you still retain the crisp edges of the image without the grain.

    The higher optical zoom is generally better

  • FPS. Frames Per Second is specifically for video cameras. It denotes the rate at which frames are created. For the UK, you’re looking at 24fps or in HD 50i (50 interlaced frames) or 50p (50 progressive frames). American framerates are 30fps or in HD 60i or 60p. You can go higher, which is ideal if you want to make slow motion footage.

    The higher the FPS the smoother motion seems to be

  • White Balance. This is useful for shooting in different colour temperature environments. It’s a way of telling the camera “This is meant to be white”. It’s good practice to do this regardless, but if you’re finding that your photos come out too red, too yellow, too blue, etc… Then this will sort that out. It can only be done easily while you’re actually taking the photos though. Afterwards if can be a little more difficult.

    A selection of different white balance settings. Try it out yourself!

  • Zebra. What does this mean? The zebra mode tells you which bits are so bright, they are off the sensor. So why is this bad? Well, if you have to reduce the brightness in post, you’ll lose a lot of information and the white will become more of a light grey. Use the zebra mode to tell you when you need to reduce the brightness or contrast. This is usually a fairly easy task. Just play about with some settings for a bit.

    In this instance, the sky is too bright. Bring down the contrast or brightness to accomodate

  • Output. This is the size of the frame that you’re outputting. You have to decide which you need more of; quality or quantity. Quality needs a larger frame (on a video camera, it could be 1080p – on a still, it could be well beyond that), but has a larger file size, quantity is the other ways around. Be careful though, it’s easier to shrink an image down and retain quality, than to blow it up!

    Frame sizes. To scale (just don't ask me what the scale is!)

So there you have it. My quick little guide to cameras.