There has been a great shift from staff camera operators with company owned gear to owner-operator
videographers. Networks which had control of "their look" with staff technicians, are now living
with "the look" of independents. This, coupled with the increase of magazine shows being shot with
multiple cameras and the general need for matched cameras, is causing a headache for independent
Producers usually call crews with similar model cameras, in the hope of achieving a matched look.
When these cameras are put side by side, why is it that they often look so different? Today's
cameras are so stable and have enough adjustments and range to easily match each other. The problem
is that these cameras are often set up by different technicians using different charts, lighting,
techniques and standards. In addition to that, manufacturers have standards for set up that often
differ between models.
There are three things that videographers can do to ensure that producers are happy with their
look. The first is to learn how to set up cameras to match while out in the field, or to hire a
video technician for each shoot. Test charts, waveform and color monitors, along with time for
setup, will be needed. With today's budgets and time restraints, this would be difficult.
The second way is to have the cameras set up and matched prior to the shoot by a qualified
technician. Off-site camera setups, which are the least expensive method, are usually impossible
because of short notice and scheduling problems. There is also a lack of available, local
The third, and best overall method, requires that your camera be set up to a "uniform standard".
Cameras set up with identical pedestal, gamma, flare, matrix, detail and a few other parameters
will closely match. For years, I have been setting up all sorts of cameras. I have found that even
cameras of different manufacture, closely match the set up with the same parameters. There are many
other qualified, seasoned camera technicians, who similarly set up cameras to look great, and at
the same time, closely match each other's. The problem is that there is no uniform standard that
has been adopted by the industry. This has forced each individual technician to adopt his own
Gamma setting, for example, involved much controversy. Gamma is the setting of the gray, or
mid-levels of the video signal, which is used to match the corresponding mid levels of the picture
monitors or television sets. A low gamma setting makes pictures look darker and have more contrast,
colors are richer. A higher gamma brightens the picture and tends to wash it out. You are probably
familiar with gray scale chip charts that have a crossover on a waveform monitor. This crossover
corresponds to the gamma setting of a camera. This particular crossover point varies with camera
technicians. Manufacturers have recommended values for this setting by sometimes admitting that
this is user preference.
Master black pedestal setting also varies between technicians. Some like it set to 7.5 IRE which is
called Set Up. Others prefer 10 IRE which keeps blacks from clipping. Another important alignment
is flare compensation, which is through the lens black level adjustment. When adjusted properly,
true blacks in the picture remain the same as capped black, even when iris, or picture is varied.
If set improperly, black levels will rise or fall when iris is opened and overall picture level
will increase. If it did rise, think of what would happen to the video if talent, for example, was
shot with a lot of blue sky in the background. The predominant color blue would have its black
level rise higher than the red and blue channels resulting in an unbalance in black level. Changing
the background to another color would cause the color of dark regions to shift again.
The encoding of the color difference signals is performed by the camera's matrix circuits. Each
camera has a factory preset setting along with a customer adjustable matrix that can be used to
match colorimetry with other cameras.
There are gray scale charts in use that have been available since the development of color cameras.
It has always been easy to match cameras to look the same when shooting these charts. The problem,
especially with cameras of different manufacture and models, is that each cameras colorimetry
differs slightly. CCD blocks, lenses and different circuitry vary among cameras. These differences
can usually be compensated by what is called the "matrix" adjustments. The matrix can be switched
off, which is a factory preset, or turned on and set to another setting which could be the uniform
A high-quality, standard color reference chart will be needed in order to accurately set up a
camera matrix. There is a chart available that was developed in collaboration with the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation and manufactured by DSC Laboratories of Ontario, Canada. This is not a typical test chart,
but a precision Optical Signal Generator (OSG).
With this chart and an agreed upon standard setting of gamma and matrix settings, a true, uniform
look can be achieved. Factory service centers, networks and individual service technicians have
begun to acquire these OSGs, the only true color reference tool available.
This "uniform standard" should satisfy most end users of video. Having a camera set up at the
highest, most acceptable standard, will result in better looking video than the average setup
today. Even cameras made by different manufacturers set to the same standard will closely
Once a camera is set up to a uniform standard, each videographer will still have the option of
changing their camera's look. Adjustments using filters, balancing through gels to get "the warm
look", or even learning the basics of some alignments themselves and resetting to the uniform
standard before the next multi-camera shoot will allow the videographer to change their camera's
I am working with some key networks, retail companies, factory engineers, and the DSC Company (Optical Signal Generator maker) in attempting to develop a
uniform standard, using an OSG, that broadcasters and end users will be satisfied with.
Hopefully, by the next newsletter, this uniform standard will be available to you, as a camera
owner, to adopt. When your camera or camcorder goes in for service, just ask that your camera be
set up to this standard.