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From the author of Essential Features

Essential Features

You get some really helpful features when you jump up a class in equipment from consumer cameras to what are commonly called prosumer cameras. The quality of your video will depend on the quality of your lens, how fast the lens is (aperture), and the size of your CMOS or CCD image sensors. A larger LCD screen will make it easier to monitor your video.

When you know the features you want, reading spec sheets is a good way to compare models. Look for manual controls named like those in the following list; they let you adjust camera functions that are automatic on most consumer cameras:

  • Focus
  • White balance
  • Exposure
  • Audio controls

The following sections describe each of these controls.

Focus

Manual focus frees you from keeping your subject in the center of the frame, allowing you to create more interesting shots. Some cameras have a more sophisticated auto-focus, so facial and phase recognition can be problematic. Make sure that you can turn off these features. On auto-focus, your lens constantly adjusts, searching for the optimal focus. If you're trying to shoot handheld, this adjusting can happen several times in a minute. These constant changes can create video that's uncomfortable to watch, or result in larger file sizes, making it harder to compress the video for the Web.

Look for features (such as the one labeled "expanded focus" on Sony cameras) that let you zoom in and back out again automatically to focus.

White Balance

White balance controls let you adjust for the fact that the camera doesn't see light in the same way your eye does. Use manual white balance to adjust for slight variation in color and make your video look more natural. When you use automatic white balance, your camera guesses what the right color should be for the scene you're shooting, which can cause problems during editing.

Exposure

Many consumer cameras can shoot in low-light conditions, but the video will look muddy and have less color. Take control over exposure to make your video look better. Auto-exposure settings allow your camera to determine settings based on the brightest object in the shot. This may or may not be the most important thing in the frame, particularly when you're using available light. This feature can result in brightly lit backgrounds with poorly lit subjects.

Deciding whether you have too much light is a more difficult—and very common—problem. Your camera has two settings that can help you with this question: zebra and peaking. These settings add indicators in the viewfinder to show you when the image contains too much light.

Audio Controls

The key audio controls help you to control levels and adjust for the quality of sound you input into your camera. Automatic gain control (AGC) keeps sound from being distorted when something loud happens unexpectedly; for example, during a rock concert or firefight. More advanced cameras let you adjust for "line level" sound from a mixing board, or "mic level" sound that you input directly. Monitoring your sound by using your camera's or mixer's volume or gain controls will give you a better quality of sound.

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