Our field is like many, where technology and technique leapfrog as time goes by.
At this particular time, it's the two- camera shoot that is becoming more popular, and two
cameras at the same location need to match if the production is going to look as good as
possible. While today's CCD technology offers easy set-up, different camera models, from even
the same manufacturer, can pose a problem when it comes to getting pictures to match on a
simple two-camera shoot.
Some companies have, or have had, a camera set-up/shading standard. Some techs just do it by
experience, which may mean that nobody ever told them to work in conformance with a particular
standard. In today's market there are many shops, and the likelihood of one standard being observed
in any two separate shops has proven to be small.
Some companies provide crews with a video technician, others assemble crews without a tech and rely
on various independent shops for camera set-ups and maintenance. Needless to say, an on-site tech
is the way to go, but not always provided for in this tight-budget world.
In this world, non-uniformity of set-up standards translates into post production time and expense,
as organizations are spending time in post production, color correcting before actual editing is
started. There's no reason that this extra step is needed if it can be eliminated up front.
A Call to Arms
From the very diversified experience of Macie Video Services in Dedham, MA, Roger Macie expresses
the following: "There is a call to fill the need of both sides of the camera market [camera person
and client] to create a de facto standard that can be set up away from location and be equal, or at
least very comparable, on sight, without on-site adjustment."
In other words, we need to have a uniform national standard. One person from one area of the
country should be able to meet with one from another and have a match much closer than is routinely
"It's a huge problem," continues Macie. "From my clients, I hear frequently of situations that
demonstrate the need for a standard. It amazes me how many cameras seem not to be set up to any
standard with consistency when I get them into the shop."
According to Macie's experience, gammas and flare compensation are two adjustments critical in
matching. Flares, for instance, are frequently not set correctly. One quick telltale sign of this
can be seen while a camera is pointed at a "pure" white chart with an "absolute" black reference in
the center. If the pedestal moves consistently more than a few units while opening and closing the
iris through its range, flares should be adjusted.
While researching this article, it was observed that a clear filter, with coating imperfections due
to wear, caused a remarkable change in flare performance, showing the need to use top-quality
optical equipment. Any changes in lens components after set-up may affect flares and therefore,
matchability on site.
Gammas are simple enough to see on any standard chart, but what is tough to see is consistency in
gamma level setting from one camera to the next.
Another interesting point of note is that the traditional 7.5 unit pedestal is not well-suited for
today's cameras, as 7.5 tends to clip some of the signal. Pedestals of 8.5 and higher are becoming
typical, but so far there is no real standard for this "new" setting.
Macie is experimenting with DSC's rear illuminated charts, also called "Optical Signal Generators" by
the manufacturer, to study the implementation of a standard. The rear-illuminated charts provide
a consistent level of light, without reflection. Macie has had a lot of success with this system
and is looking to expand its use in seeking a standard.
Another reason to use the "Ambi-illuminator," according to Macie, is that it's the only chart that
can provide a stable reference for color matching matrix adjustments. The term "optical signal
generator" is accurate in terms of how it allows for a reproduction of a standard bar's test signal
on waveform, vectorscope and video monitors through a camera's optics.
"The charts allow me to be very specific when making color adjustments." Macie adds.
A second method of creating a uniform set-up environment is used by Steve Finer of Finer Associates
in Watertown, MA. He had similar feelings about light source consistency and uses Sony's "light
box" to obtain what he feels are his "Finer" results.
"Starting with a calibrated uniform light source is probably the most important step," Finer
offers. "You can take any of the cameras I have worked on, put them side by side and they will
match. The newer cameras don't drift like older models. If not [field-adjusted] they should stay
pretty much as set up in the shop."
There are opinions that rear-illuminated charts or light boxes may not properly reproduce test
patterns. For this reason, some technicians shy away from any rear-illuminated concept.
S.H. Traditional Method
Brad Reed, a veteran operations and maintenance professional associated with Broadcast Technical
Group of Hopkington, MA, is a traditional chart person. He prefers to use the standard
Porta-Pattern charts for set-up.
"I've seen a lot of projected image devices," Reed says, "and don't feel comfortable with the
transfer characteristics versus the standard charts. If kept clean, taken care of properly, and
renewed if faded, the chart is a proven method.
"Many times a camera set up in the shop does not look good in the field, and needs adjustment,
right then and there. Charts are easy to carry along and fairly inexpensive compared to projection
But this leaves us with three different devices to perform the same task. Each technician has a
solid opinion and makes the adjustments he or she believe are in the best interest of the camera,
the client or the job.
There is an acknowledged need for uniformity. We've evolved to a point where a new standard is
needed for field gear, as crews come from all over the place and their various shading values are
"all over the place" as well. Without a video engineer on a crew, a show may be condemned to cost
more in post.
While the concept of a new uniform standard sounds "perfect world"-applicable, it may not sit well
with everybody, just like the present standards do not.
Frank Governelli, Director of Bureau Operations for CBS, is very aware of the situation with
mismatched camers. He confirms his awareness of the situation and offers some perspective which may
speak for many.
"Some of our freelance people come into our shop so we can set up their camers to our standards.
However, many shows still have built-in set-up time for color correction before post so we can get
the tapes where we want them to be. In terms of a national standard though, we have to ask
ouselves, 'Do we want to look like everybody else?'"