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Shoot Some Tests

You'll only know your new camcorder well enough to trust it under field conditions–after you've worked with it under field conditions. So shoot lots of tests. Tape is cheap, and that old saw about an ounce of prevention is time-tested wisdom.

We know a man who bought a DV camcorder in order to record meetings at his social club. He bought a lightweight tripod to hold the camera, since several speakers were scheduled and he didn't want to hold the camera that long. He knew that Mini DV cassettes hold only 60 minutes of video, so he had a pocketful of them. He figured he would reload between speakers.

After the first speaker had gone on for almost an hour, there was a short break. But when our videographer attempted to eject the used tape he discovered to his dismay that this particular camcorder loaded from the bottom. And since it was securely screwed to the tripod, the bottom-ejecting loading door wouldn't open.

Needless to say, he took the camcorder back to the store the next day and exchanged it for a top-loading model.

Both authors have had similar experiences. Take our advice and run some tape through your new camera before you're on the set and it's too late.

TIP

Electronic gear is relatively delicate compared to mechanical equipment. Heat, dust, vibration, and humidity destroy chips—and like many of us, camcorders crave air conditioning. If you're heading out into the world with your brand new camera, take reasonable precautions to protect it from harm. Identify a good service facility in the area in advance. If it's a critical shoot, you might consider bringing two cameras. And if you must shoot in unusually harsh conditions—sweltering heat or freezing cold—you could go retro and shoot on film instead. Interestingly, there are some new compact 35mm cameras designed specifically to let filmmakers shoot “DV style”—highly portable with available light. (You still have to shell out for the stock and processing, though.) To see a film shot with this lightweight gear, take a look at Lost in Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola.


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