Prepare yourself before you go out there and shoot
Learn the basics of photography
- Before everything else and if you’re not already familiar with all that, learn about exposure, iris, shutter speed, focus, depth of field, …You just can’t work around ignoring those things if you’ve already spent your money on an FX7.
- The FX7 is not a Point & Shoot camcorder that would make your life easier just because it is more expensive. It will instead make your life more difficult with a promise for much better results — so you really need to master the basics.
- For that, Wikipedia is your good friend but you might better want to buy a book.
Read the manual
- HDR-FX7E manual (Operating Guide) – GB English PDF
- HDR-FX7 manual (Operating Guide) – US English PDF
- Other languages (FX7E): more manuals from Sony Europe
- And when you’re done reading the manual, read it again.
- And finally, when you have spare time on your way travelling… just read it once more.
Get Steve Mullen’s handbook
- As Steve writes, the HVR-V1 and HDR-FX7 Handbook is not an “HDV for Dummies” book that simply expands upon the often poorly written camcorder manuals. It is a comprehensive introduction to HDV technology, HDV shooting, HDV post-production, and distribution.
Major choices you have to make when shooting
Or manual focus?
Autofocus is your best friend, and most appropriate in many occasions.
Autofocus has several key advantages:
Use autofocus in these typical situations:
1. Don’t use autofocus and switch to manual focus instead in low-contrast situations. Autofocus requires picture contrast to function properly. If there is insufficient contrast, the camcorder cannot choose any detail to focus on, and therefore “focus hunting” occurs.
Learn to identify low-contrast situations where autofocus may cause you trouble:
2. If your subject is off-center (camcorders usually focus on the center of the frame), focus on your subject first, then switch to manual focus and reframe your shot last. Otherwise you will lose focus unexpectedly because of the camcorder focusing on other parts of the picture.
3. If you expect that someone or something might cross your shot and come between your camcorder and the subject, switch to manual focus beforehand. Otherwise the camcorder will shift focus when that happens (focus hunting).
4. There are other situations where the camcorder can have trouble finding where to focus on, therefore requiring you to switch to manual:
Or manual exposure?
Auto exposure is only really useful when the light intensity around you, or the incoming light onto your subject, changes rapidly beyond your control:
Other than that, avoid auto exposure.
Manual exposure has several key advantages over auto exposure:
As a conclusion, take a close look at professional video on TV, documentaries, or even feature films: exposure is fixed, it never changes while the camera moves. Manual exposure is a downright professional best practice.
However, it does not need to be complicated. Setting manual exposure can be as simple as pressing one single button on your camcorder. So read on for helpful tips that will simplify your life in setting exposure.
DO’s and DON’Ts with the HDR-FX7 / HDR-FX7E
Setting manual focus
Focus is critical in HD, maybe the single most critical setting you should care about. Adopt safe focusing practices to always be “on the safe side”, regardless of how much of a back focus issue you think you have (or not) – this just isn’t a binary situation.
To set focus manually, use the technique that’s described by Steve Mullen in the thread Back Focus Again:
And if you change any optical settings of the lens (zoom factor or iris aperture), always check focus again.
Special note: shooting landcapes and wide open spaces is best achieved by using [FOCUS INFINTY] after you have assigned this function to one of the assignable buttons.
The HDR-FX7 / HDR-FX7E manual explains in the section [Adjusting the focus manually]: “Tips for focusing manually / It is easier to focus on the subject when you use the zoom function. Move the power zoom lever towards T (telephoto) to adjust the focus, and then, towards W (wide angle) to adjust the zoom for recording.”
Don’t do that. Really just don’t.
Zoom lenses (actually most of them aren’t true zooms but varifocal lenses) cannot retain focus when you change zoom factor or iris aperture. This is called “focus shift” and is compensated by the camcorder adjusting focus automatically as you change zoom factor. This servo-controlled “back focus adjustment” happens behind the scenes and you don’t notice anything ordinarily.
However, this is not a perfect process. How well this really works depends on lens calibration and factory quality tolerances. Some HDR-FX7 or HVR-V1 units were shipped with a “back focus issue”, which means that they lose focus when you zoom out towards wide angle. The result is a picture that is slightly out of focus, with frustrating sub-HD sharpness. This is not a manufacturer downright flaw, just a manufacturing imperfection – maybe due to loosened quality assurance standards. Affordable zoom lenses all carry the risk of back focus issues to various degrees, and this basically applies to any manufacturer or model.
So pay close attention to focus. Carelessness to set focus correctly would remove any reason for you to buy an HD camcorder.
If you do have a back focus issue, then there is no way for you to fix it yourself inside the camera – you can only use the work-arounds explained here, so as to alleviate the problem. Or try & get the camcorder serviced and adjusted (back focus re-calibration), but with a consumer-grade camcorder such as the FX7 that you have purchased through consumer retail channels, the probability is extremely slight that you will find anybody able to understand the issue and ensure a reliable fix for you.
Be extra careful about your iris settings:
Don’t close the iris further than f5.6, otherwise picture blurring will occur due to diffraction and the small 1/4” sensor size.
Best HDV video sharpness
There are 6 key aspects in HD video sharpness: focus (already explained), light, gain, optical settings of the lens, in-camera digital sharpening (computerized image processing), and stability.
Light and gain:
In-camera digital sharpening:
Light and gain:
In-camera digital sharpening :
For further detailed reference about lens MTF and its impacts on picture sharpness, watch and read:
Setting manual exposure
Setting exposure correctly requires you to use 3 key monitoring tools:
Setting exposure manually does not require you to set iris, shutter speed, and gain individually. You can achieve all that quickly and easily with one single button:
In summary, when [EXPOSURE] is assigned to the iris dial, you have 3 exposure modes:
For shooting outdoors during daylight:
Under bright daylight:
Best colors for shooting outdoors
To obtain best colors (esp. to preserve the green of trees and avoid yellow cast):
Optionally if you like vivid colors, you can also set your picture profile with [COLOR LEVEL] = +1
Never use AWB (Auto White Balance) under the bright daylight. It will ruin your footage with random color casts (like yellow, green, blue).
If, for any reason and against the advice, you want to use AWB in some specific situation, go to the menu and set [AWB SENS] to LOW in order to minimize the random color casts introduced by AWB.
For further detailed explanations with extensive illustrations, read the comprehensive primer on obtaining best colors when shooting outdoors with the HDR-FX7E / HDR-FX7.
Other picture quality issues
Avoid flash photographers like the plague. Not that they aren’t nice people, it’s just that they will be causing 2 problems to your videos:
There are no solutions or work-arounds in your camcorder for these issues.