Onboard camera monitor works only as a guide. To step up the filming game, you need to understand that.
The onboard camera monitor does not show you the actual end picture, in fact, sometimes it shows you a better version of what you are actually recording.
I have been disappointed many times in the past when I saw the results on the computer monitor. I suffered in focusing, exposures and flickers constantly when I used to rely only on the onboard camera monitor.
The first rule of digital cinematography is to not trust the camera monitor. This is what I have learned after three years of filming. Let me go through the issues and the solutions that helped me to get a stronger and reliable results.
Onboard camera monitor is small and so it is hard to tell whether the image is in focus or not. I used peaking as a guideline, but, when looked on a bigger computer monitor, I have found that it was not in focus. Peaking on camera monitor works only as a guide.
Use expand focus on the camera to digitally magnify on the subject you want the camera to focus.
Because it is zoomed further, it gives you extra detail to focus.
Understand the numbers on the focus ring. They indicate which distance in the image is in focus. For example, if the ring can only focus from 0.8 metres onwards, it is better to at least stand 0.8metres away from the subject. I have made so much mistake in the past. When doing a street interview, I used to place the camera close to the subject, the monitor indicated that the subject was in focus, but when we watched the footage on a bigger computer monitor, the background was way more focused than the subject. You need to adjust the focus ring according to the distance the subject is. Filming with numbers.
Of course there are other solutions such as using autofocus, but as a professional cameraman, I feel it is better to do it manually. Only then you have more control over the camera.
I used to rely on Zebra. But the issue was that the image looked accurately exposed on the onboard camera monitor than it actually is. When I watched the footage on a bigger monitor…. Well, the brightest bits were clipped and darkest bits were crashed. “What the f○○k?” The director would say. Again, just like peaking, zebras work only as a guide.
The best solution for me was to display the waveform monitor on the onboard camera monitor. You can see all the exposure accurately in single glance. It shows the exact data that the camera sensor is receiving, rather than transformed image on the camera monitor.
100 percent at the top is white, if it goes over that it is over exposed and you will lose details. The image will be clipped. 0 percent at the bottom is black, if it goes below that, then the details in the dark areas are lost. The image will be crashed.
Never make histograms look crashed on top or bottom. When you fail to properly expose, they make your pictures look like… home videos.
Again, camera monitors are small, flickers will appear small too. They manage to blend into the picture well. The image would look clean on the camera monitor, but again, on a bigger computer monitor the image suffered from flickering.
The first solution is to adjust the shutter speed. Depending on which country and the frame rates you film, you may need to change that until you get a clean picture.
Again, it is good to use the waveform monitor. When the image is flickering, the waveform monitor will be trembling because it constantly gets dark and bright. This helps you to spot flicker.
I am point and shoot cameraman. I record news and documentaries, so there is always little time to setup. I don`t use an external monitor. What I have found is that onboard camera monitors are not accurate.
You can use peaking and zebras as a guide, but depending on the camera, it will display things differently. Sony, Cannon, Panasonic etc have different ways of showing the image. But Waveforms are unity. It`s the most reliable way of exposing. Waveforms help you to see whether the image suffer from flickering as well. Understanding focus numbers give you more confidence logically whether your image is properly focused.
If you have the technical knowledge, your pictures will begin to improve, you can record more accurate image.
I am a documentary/News cameraman based in London.