Having experimented with HDV as documented in previous posts, this week was one of the first occasions to shoot a full day of open surgery with this format, using the Sony V1U.
In the viewfinder or flip-out LCD screen, one cannot really see a difference in clarity. Focusing is, in fact, more difficult, especially since there is often some distance between the screen and my eyes.
If I lean in too close I could potentially lose my balance, which is usually precarious to begin withstanding on three stacked 1'x2' step stools. Thus I alternate between autofocus and manual focus with frequent use of the push auto button to let the camera check focus.
Let me elaborate. If shooting wide, the autofocus works pretty well, as the background is the primary target. Hands working in the wide shot do not alter the focus too much, due to the focal length. When zoomed to a closeup or extreme closeup, the autofocus goes haywire, always trying to focus on the nearest objects, which inevitably are the constantly moving hands closest to the camera, yet the least important part of the image, although it varies.
Thus, I try to find a moment when the hands are out of the field so I can grab focus on the background, then go to manual until I move the camera. I move the camera a lot.
With a strategy for focus sorted out next comes exposure. I experimented with no zebras as well as the selectable 70% and 100% zebras, just to figure out how the levels relate to iris position. I prefer to shoot with the zebras off normally. As you know, most DV and HDV cameras use an electromechanical iris control, not a true iris ring like on more expensive lenses. I'm not sure if the V1 is electromechanical or pure electronic. In either case, the dial is in an improved location versus the PD170.
The V1U's LCD display does not always produce a discernable difference between slight iris adjustments. Again, I keep iris on manual, but frequently use the auto button to check a level. However the nature of open surgery is a severe contrast ratio that few video cameras can handle with elegance. The highly focused OR lights are pointed at the working area, sometimes only a few square inches, while the skin and blue drapes are bathed in shadow. Thus a wide shot has a bright center surrounded by shadow. If the universe has a bright center, we're on the planet that it's farthest from. Thus again, the auto iris may need to be tweaked to expose what you are actually looking at. If you want to see the setup of the wide shot, you have to live with the bright spot in the middle. In most cases, however, you are on a medium or closeup shot.
Now on to framing. I keep the on-LCD display set to show 4:3 and 80% protection lines.
While the eventual DVD version of an HDV project will likely be 16:9 anamorphic, not 4:3, the presence of the 4:3 reticle gives me a real-time indication of the framing differences from the 4:3 cameras I have been using since the late 1980's. In other words, the shots can in fact be more creative. The law of thirds in widescreen is a beautiful thing.
Next step is to fly home, capture the HDV into a Premiere project, and get editing. I recently discovered that you can start a Premiere project and designate one of your two LCD monitors for full screen monitoring. This does not do DV any favors, but HDV looks as spectacular as it can look without buying an HD monitor and 3rd party card or software. To view HDV at 100% within the Premiere interface is darn near impossible.
Oddly, Premiere does not know to move your windows from the video playback monitor to the active window, so you can get some hidden windows and dialog boxes. Just select one of the default single monitor workspace setups. Premiere CS4 supposedly makes this full screen monitoring much easier.
I tell my friends and family that a day in the OR shooting surgery is some of the most fun I have. The addition of HDV and the nuances described above, aside from keeping me on my toes for 12 hours, makes things really exciting.
That being said, nothing hits the sopt after a long case better than a delightful tray of hospital cafeteria food. Some hospitals actually have fast food restaurants - seems sort of counter intuitive - but many hospitals have pretty good food. It's like being back in the college dining hall.
Thanks for reading.