• Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint
Share this Page URL

Chapter Four. Using Your Camcorder Like a Pro > Record and Playback Settings

Record and Playback Settings

Most of the time you don't need to worry about what's going on inside the camcorder, but, if they're available, the following controls are worth knowing about.

Record Controls

The following settings control how the camcorder's image-processing circuits handle the output from the CCD before it goes on tape.

Full Auto Mode

This setting, which is sometimes simply called Auto, means just what you'd expect: the camcorder makes all the technical decisions (such as autofocus, auto-exposure, and sharpness enhancement ) while you run, gun, and keep the action in frame.

As we've said before, when you get serious about videography, we encourage you to shuck those training wheels and turn Auto mode off. News-style videographers (or guerilla filmmakers chasing an actor through the streets) may occasionally turn it on to help keep things from going to pieces in a totally frantic situation. Film-style shooters will want more control.

AUTO: Camcorder full automatic mode in which most if not all critical camera settings are determined by logic circuitry.

Modes for Extreme Conditions

Camcorders offer automatic modes that compensate for harsh lighting conditions: Spotlight, and Sand & Snow modes, for instance. When you select one of these modes, image-processing circuitry allocates more or less signal bandwidth to the bright parts of the picture so you don't blow them out.

If you are shooting news style with a photo floodlight, try turning on Spotlight mode (which assumes your subject is brightly lit) and see how it looks. Sand & Snow (which assumes the background is brighter than your subject) is obviously handy if you're shooting at the beach or on the ski slope.

ZEBRA PATTERN: A slanted-bar symbol that appears in the camcorder viewfinder indicating overexposed areas. Also called zebra stripes, or zebra, it is superimposed over just those parts of the scene that are overexposed; a feature on some prosumer and all professional camcorders.

Film-style videographers, whether working at the beach or ski slope or anywhere else will get better results if they turn off these features and use the zebra pattern to help determine the correct exposure. (For more information, see “Use the Zebra Pattern” later in this chapter.)

Manual Mode

Manual mode is where the real film-style videographers live. It means you make all the choices yourself. Obviously, this requires practice and skill, especially to keep up with fast-moving action. But if you know what you're doing, you can capture just those images that will achieve precisely what you intend.

Shutter vs. Aperture Priority

Unless you're shooting in manual mode, you'll probably select either shutter priority or aperture priority, two different kinds of semi-automatic exposure control. If you choose shutter priority, you pick the shutter speed manually and the camcorder sets the exposure (f-stop). Aperture priority is just the reverse: you pick the f-stop and the camcorder sets the shutter speed.

News-style videographers will generally use aperture priority in low light, and shutter priority to capture fast-moving objects. And film-style shooters will be in full manual.

SP/LP Mode

In the Mini DV format, SP mode sets your camcorder to record at 3/4 ips (inches per second). To expand the recording time you get on a given tape, you can switch to long play (LP) mode. All DV camcorders have this feature. In LP mode the tape speed is slower—1/2 ipsand the camera switches to a narrower track that increases recording time. Recording on a standard Mini DV cassette at LP speed, you get 90 minutes as opposed to the usual 60.

Don't use LP mode. Here's why:

  • When you increase the recording density, you also increase susceptibility to imperfections or damage on the tape.

  • DVCAM or DVCPRO decks may be unable to read LP recordings.

  • Tape manufacturers make special Mini DVs designed to provide 80 minutes in SP mode or 120 in LP mode. Because the tape stock used in these tapes is thinner, and the density of magnetic material is higher, it is less durable and reliable than standard tape.

You might need LP mode if you're shooting a long-winded CEO news style and you know there won't be an opportunity to change tapes. However, if you absolutely must have unbroken continuous recordings lasting more than an hour, a better solution is to buy or rent a professional-level camcorder that uses Standard DVC cassettes, which can hold three hours or more.

Shooting-Mode Settings

On many prosumer and most professional camcorders, you can select the shooting mode to change the video frame rate. (For more information on why and when you might want to do so, see “What Are NTSC/PAL/SECAM Broadcast Formats?” in Chapter 3.)

You can generally choose from three shooting modes: normal, frame, and photo.

Normal Mode (News Style)

On an NTSC camcorder, normal mode is 29.97 fps, interlaced, which captures two fields every second—also called drop-frame mode. You may also see it written as “30I,” even though the frame rate isn't truly 30. News-style videographers who are producing in NTSC should stay in this mode.

DROP-FRAME MODE: Standard NTSC frame rate of 29.97 fps.


NTSC video is often said to run at 30 fps, but in fact it runs at 29.97 fps. The term for this slightly slower rate is “drop-frame” video. All consumer and most prosumer NTSC DV camcorders record at 29.97. Other models can record either 29.97 or true 30 fps. Even if you have the ability to switch between modes, don't. Stay in “normal” drop-frame mode; your editor will thank you.

Frame Mode (Film Style)

Switching to frame mode changes scanning from interlaced to progressive, capturing images as full frames (as movie cameras do) rather than as two separate fields. On an NTSC camcorder this mode is called 30P, and it's one of the ways you can give your video a film look.

Photo Mode

In photo mode, you can use your DV camcorder as a still camera. Handy enhancements to this feature may include a self-timer, which counts down the number of seconds until the shutter snaps, and support for a flash-photography attachment. Some camcorders capture the still image to a removable memory card; others record a few seconds of the still image on the DV tape itself.


Photo mode in a camcorder isn't the same as single-frame or stop-frame mode in a motion-picture camera. Photo mode actually takes several video frames and interpolates the result to give you a composite picture, reducing or eliminating any recording artifacts. It's therefore not feasible to use photo mode to shoot animation with a camcorder.

Playback-Mode Controls

Switching the camcorder to playback mode lets you review your recording and upload it to a computer for editing.

The buttons that control video playback follow the same familiar pattern you'll find on VCRs and audio cassette decks: Fast Rewind, Play, Stop, Fast Forward, and Pause.

Some camcorders also have a search mode which will fast-forward the tape between still-photo takes, or different recording dates, based on the camcorder's timecode.

IC INDEX: Feature on some camcorders that logs each take's starting point and its timecode location on the tape by creating an electronic table in an embedded chip, or integrated circuit (IC), in special Mini DV cassettes.

If your camcorder supports the IC Index feature, you can use special Mini DV IC tapes to record the starting point of each new take. Then you can shuttle rapidly to the beginning of a scene during playback or upload.


It's not a good idea to shuttle Mini DV tapes back and forth unnecessarily in your camcorder. The magnetic coating of the tape can become damaged, causing loss of data in spite of redundant storage (recording of the same take on multiple tracks to permit recovery from data loss). Upload the show to an editing system; then you can review it to your heart's content. For the same reason, it's a bad idea to reuse Mini DV tapes. Once you've uploaded a tape, keep it as a data backup. And while we're on the subject of bad things to do, it's a bad idea to review scenes in the camcorder right after they've been shot. Doing so increases the chances you'll create a break in the timecode (an editor's nightmare), or accidentally erase something you meant to save.

  • Creative Edge
  • Create BookmarkCreate Bookmark
  • Create Note or TagCreate Note or Tag
  • PrintPrint