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16. Take Low-Light Movies

Video camcorders are often rated by their lux value. Although lux values are subjective (and seem to be often exaggerated by manufacturers), a 2-lux camera can work in very low light, even in candlelight. Such shooting is not always optimum quality, however, so you'll learn from this task how to gain better quality in low-lighting conditions.

Although you can film in low-light situations with most camcorders, keep these items in mind for best results:

  • Auto-focus systems fail in low light. You might need to resort to manual focusing if you're filming by candlelight.

  • The quality of light varies dramatically in a dark room. When you set the white balance, put the white card exactly where you plan to film (see 15 White-Balance Your Scene).

  • The quality of video recorded in low light will be dramatically lower than the quality of video recorded in daylight.


Lux value— A measurement that states how low a light level can be before registering on your camera. Lux values determine how much candlelight, or unit of light, falls on a surface.


When you shoot action sequences, low lighting levels will more dramatically and adversely affect your filming than adequate lighting. Pay extra attention to light levels when you film movement.

Set White Balance

Low-light situations are almost certainly outside the camera's preset white balance values. Whenever filming in these situations, the first thing you should do is set the camera's white balance. If the lighting changes during the shoot, reset the white balance as often as necessary.

Use Lights

Camera lights are often harsh and unforgiving, but they are essential if you're trying to film in very low-light conditions. Your camera might have a built-in light and if so, you should use it.


Camera stores sell clip-on lights you can add to your camcorder if your camcorder has no built-in light or if the camcorder's light is too weak to be helpful.

Avoid Digital Zoom

In low-light situations, the image will probably be grainy—this is digital noise that occurs when there isn't enough light to make a good shot. Digital zooming introduces noise of its own, so avoid digitally zooming when you film in low light.

Use Low-Level Vision

In near or absolute darkness, you might be able to use another feature: infrared recording. Some video cameras include infrared recording to help nighttime shooting. Others specifically adapt better than most to low-lighting situations. Your budget and subject matter will determine how much extra you want to pay for a camera with better nighttime capabilities.

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